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March 17, 2019

Majority of out-of-school children enrolled in KP found fake, schools ghost

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March 17, 2019

ISLAMABAD: The KP chief minister was informed by its own agency- Elementary and Secondary Education Foundation (ESEF)- that among 41,000 out-of-school children enrolled in the targeted six districts of the province till 2017, nearly 21,000 students are fake, whereas out of a total of 90 schools established in just one district for the same purpose 70 were found to be ghost.

Under Iqra Farogh-e-Taleem Voucher Scheme (IFTVS), the provincial government was funding millions of rupees to the “fake” students as well as the “ghost” schools from public kitty without conducting any audit. Since 2014 when the PTI launched this scheme to address the serious of out-of-school children, each student was funded around Rs1100 per month. The Chief Minister referred the issue to the Provincial Inspection Team, which reportedly also endorsed ESEF’s findings, but surprisingly suspended the officer-MD ESEF Zulfiqar Ahmad- who dug out these wrongs and sought corruption cases against those responsible.

Except one audit challenged by the MD, no audit of ESEF was done either in the case of this particular scheme for out of school children or for any other project the agency is running for over last 10 years. When contacted, Zulfiqar Ahmad said no rules dealing with financial, human resource, procurement and administrative matters exist in the ESEF which he tried to fix but not allowed to do so. The MD ESEF appointed Ferguson & Co to carry out the audit of the financial year 2016-17 but the audit was suspended midway as Ferguson failed to get the go-ahead from the agency’s Board of Director. Zulfiqar was suspended by the same Board last month.

Adviser to Chief Minister KP and Chairman of ESEF Board of Directors Ziaullah Bangash told The News that the MD was suspended for failing to achieve the target he was given. He said the government wanted to address the issue of out of school children but the MD was not releasing funds under IFTVS schemes.

He complained that the MD was talking about corruption in the department and was even approaching other agencies including NAB. Bangash said that it was not the MD’s job. He added that Zulfiqar Ahmad was unilaterally taking decisions and was disliked even by most of his sub-ordinates.

The CM's Adviser said the government is initiating an inquiry against the MD as well as other officials of the agency. Bangash said the government is now trying to revamp the organisation for better results. He said that during his stint as MD, Zulfiqar’s performance was what he called “Zero”.

The official documents, however, reveal that the MD in August last year wrote to secretary education (and sent a copy to chief secretary) a detailed account of how hurdles were created for him since his joining the organisation (August 2017) to bar him from correcting the wrongs of the institution. According to a document, Sarfraz informed the first Board meeting he attended as MD on 19th September 2017 that no policies and rules exist (financial, HR, procurement and other administrative rules); the audit by Chartered Accountant’s firm of ESEF was conducted only once since 2003 i.e for the years 2014-15 and 2015-16 which was flawed and questionable; and that no audit was even conducted by the Auditor General's office despite reminders and letters. After what he sought from the Board meeting, the MD received a hostile environment from some senior officers of the agency.

The document added that the MD approached the government to initiate a probe against certain officers some of whom were suspended by him, but got no response.

Referring to another scheme Rokhana Pakhtunkwa Taleemi Programme (RPTP), the document quotes MD as telling the government that when he found irregularities in the project he sent a report to Secretary ESED with a request to conduct a detailed audit besides reporting the matter to the Board. Following this the Minister Education directed that criminal action should be initiated against those responsible but no audit was conducted. Under RPTP programme, the ESEF was paying for tuition fee, books and uniform to the deserving students in low cost private schools. The project was concluded on 31st March 2018 but owing to alleged corruption in it the provincial Ehtisab Commission (now defunct) had filed a reference of Rs214m against three senior officers of the ESEF, who are still working in the organisation.

In his August 2018 letter, the MD wrote to the government, “Despite the hostile environment, I have achieved my target of enrollment of 130,000 out-of-school children for 2018, cleared the backlog of payments of Rs350 million after suspending DF in Feb 2018, saved ESEF a huge loss of Rs200 million by taking different internal control measures, development of policies and rules is in process, hired A.F.Ferguson & Co (Chartered Accountants) for audit and a good Legal Adviser to contest the cases of ESEF which is under heavy litigation and has lost numerous cases.”

When approached Zulfiqar Ahmad said since August 2018 he was trying to convene the meeting of the Board to decide critical issues facing the ESEF including the corruption cases but the meeting held on 7th February 2019. He said that four major cases of corruption were on the agenda but the Board completely ignored the agenda and decided to suspend the MD.

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