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February 18, 2015

Sindh Education Sector Project clarifies report


February 18, 2015

This is in response to the report published in your paper, ‘Misuse of Rs13.53 bn funds detected in Sindh Education Department’ (February 06, 2015) and the subsequent editorial on the same subject, ‘Educational rot’ (Op-Ed, February 09, 2015). To begin with, the figure of 13.53 billion rupees quoted in your headline and repeated in the report is deliberatelymisleading. No such amountwas allocated or used, let alone misused, by the Reform Support Unit (RSU) during the financial year 2013-14. The ‘problem’ areas cited in your report refer to a World Bank-funded project, the Sindh Education Reform Programme (SERP), being implemented by the RSU. The final budget for SERP was just 5.202 billion during the financial year 2013-14.We fail to understand how the entire budgeted amount for this project, alongwith an additional 8.328 billion rupees, could bemisused, as your report alleges. To clarify, the original budgeted amount was 12.25 billion, ofwhich 6.922 billionwas surrendered. A further amount of 3.7 billionwas not utilised at the district level.Decisions to surrender funds are made in the interest of transparent financial management. Wewould rather surrender funds than allow themto bemisappropriated. Your report alleges that “Rs38 million were used in excess on account of Public Private Partnership”. In fact citing this figure reflects a lack of understanding of government accounting procedures. Funds amounting to 38 million rupees were ‘booked’ in advance. However, the government’s financial management systemdoes not allowfor expenditure in excess of the overall budget. It is further alleged that “Rs13.704 million wasted on preparation of schools”. This statement reflects the slipshod research conducted by your reporter. In fact the funds were allocated for the preparation of school budgets—not schools— as part of a larger effort to help schools and district officials operate according to systematic rules for procurement and to monitor

school budgets. The errors in your report do not end here. Your story refers to “non-production of record of free text books [sic] amounting to Rs1.4 billion”. Perhaps your reporter was not aware that the matter of textbooks does not fall under the scope of the RSU. That said, the “non-production of record” refers to financial data that is audited at the district level. It is not within the ambit of the RSU to provide this information. Another glaring error in your story involves the “distribution of Rs6.346 million free text books [sic]”. This figure refers to the number of textbooks, the delivery of which was delayed, and not a rupee amount as stated in your story. Similarly, your report alleges “non-deduction of income tax amounting loss of Rs0.448 million” whereas the deduction was made in June 2014 and records are available in our office. Besides glaring factual errors, your story alsomisrepresents the situation. It refers to the “nonachievement of disbursement link [sic] indicators (DLI) resulting in non-release of Rs1.294 billion” without providing readers with the context. The amount stated was set aside for educationmanagement reforms that involved the induction of a separate overallmanagement cadre in the Education Department. The proposed reform is currently being contested in the Sindh High Court, as a result of which no further action can be taken towards achieving those particular disbursement linked indicators until the case is resolved. The story claims there was a failure to “obtain grant from European Union amounting to 10 million Euros [sic]”. Here again you present only half the picture. The stated amount wasmeant to be released following an external review scheduled to be held in July 2014. However, the EU team itself postponed the external review visit owing to security reasons, as a result of which the funds could not be released according to schedule. That visit was made in October 2014, following which our project progresswas deemed to be satisfactory, and the EU funds are to be made available next month, March 2015. Similarly, your story refers to “non-account of machinery and equipment valuing Rs17.108 million” without providing any background or context for the situation. This account should have been prepared by June 2014 but logistical difficulties involved in collecting data from close to 50 district-level officers resulted in delays. The account was prepared in January 2015. Your report also claims that RSU has “remained unsuccessful to achieve its primary objectives [sic]”. This is once again factually incorrect. The World Bank and the European Union, our main funding agencies, are currently partnering with us for a second round of funding. The second round of finding was approved upon successful achievement of targets under the first phase of funding (FY 2008-09 to 2011-12). There weremore than 40 project development objectives for the first phase of funding, all of which were achieved according to the donors’ own assessment of the programme. The fact thatwe have secured a second round of funding demonstrates a show of confidence on the part of donor agencies regarding the performance of the RSU. Finally, your story contains a comprehensive list of closed schools and missing facilities. Your reporter failed to point out that these are RSU’s own figures. While we do not deny that the state of schools in our province is dire, the situationwas not created overnight and cannot be resolved in the matter of just a few years. The RSU was established in 2006 to undertake the daunting task of reforming Sindh’s education system. Since our establishment, net enrolment at the primary level has gone from 50.3% in 2006-07 to 68% in 2012-13. Similarly, net enrolment at the middle level went from 27% to 36% during the same period. At the secondary level, net enrolment during this period went from18% to 26%. Based on these and other successes, including the successful achievement of more than 40 separate targets, our donor agencies have approved a second round of funding, demonstrating their confidence in our work. The process of reformis slow and gains will be incremental. Whilewe appreciate the fact that newspapers of your calibre are concerned about the state of education, you do a disservice to readers—and, more importantly, to the children of this province— by levelling baseless allegations against an entity attempting to implement reform and bring about positive change in the system. Saba Mahmood Chief Programme Manager Sindh Education Sector Project, Reform Support Unit Education and Literacy Department, Government of Sindh Imdad Soomro responds: I have read the letter of clarification by Saba Mehmood, chief ProgramManager RSU, and I am of the view that Ms Mehmood should consult with the department of the Auditor General of Pakistan instead of sending a clarification to The News. My story was fully based on the correspondence of the Director General Audit Sindh, Sooho sb, the country head of theWorld Bank, the Secretary Education andMsMehmood herself. All the figures regarding the misuse of funds and status of schools and education quoted in the story werementioned in official correspondences and all the letters are available with this reporter.

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