By Javed Iqbal
LAHORE: A huge amount of colossal funding given by UK’s Department for International Development (DFID), amounting to many hundred million pounds, to Punjab to reform the archaic education sector was spent allegedly to meet temporal political motives of the then PML-N government led by Shehbaz Sharif.
The UK’s taxpayers, however, remained in the dark as necessary codal formalities like regular audit, documentation and PPRA rules, etc were fulfilled to show the British citizens that their money was being spent on the right purpose of giving education to the poorest of the poor. The PEF and its funding partner DFID also managed to get publish promotional stories in a well-known international weekly The Economist. A senior official told this paper on the condition of anonymity that both the PEF and the DFID wanted international projection of the reforms programme in Punjab to make the British citizens realise that their tax money was spent to meet the educational target.
The purpose of the political elite, then ruling the province, was to grab more votes by using the DFID funding. The mechanism adopted by the ruling party to materialise this motif was enrolling children of the influential people in the international donor agency as well as in the Punjab Education Foundation (PEF). Though a Board of Directors was constituted in the foundation but Chief Minister Shehbaz Sharif directly supervised athe working of this foundation through political personalities appointed as chairmen of the board including Raja Anwar and Raja Qamar-ul-Islam MPA. During the period 2008 to 2018, powerful bureaucrats were posted in the foundation on heavy pay packages to help achieve the PML-N agenda. Both the ruling PML-N bigwigs and the chosen officers accommodated their kith and kin in the PEF where DFID was a major funding source.
A PAS officer Dr Farah Masood also got her brother Nadeem Masood inducted in the foundation as director (FAS). He was later removed from the foundation as he was found involved in illegal selling of textbooks in Multan. Qamarul Islam Raja, a PML-N MPA and then chairman PEF, probed and found Masood guilty of illegally selling textbooks meant for the poor students and fired him from service. Raja himself was later arrested by NAB on the charges of corruption in Saaf Pani Company who was an earlier custodian of the DFID funds in Punjab.
Former Commissioner Lahore Division Tariq Shafi Chak also got his son inducted in the PEF as Director. Chak was serving in the Prime Minister’s office then. Some politicians serving in the cabinet also made entry and got their relatives recruited in the programme on high salary packages. Sources also revealed that both federal and provincial service officers who served in the PEF like Tariq Mehmood, Dr Farah Masood, Dr Aneela Salman, Ambreen Raza also succeeded in getting prized postings. Dr. Farah worked as DC TT Singh, DG Civil Defence, Secretary Labour Department and now she is working as Managing Director PEF.
Dr Anila Salman was posted in DFID programme, Tariq Mehmood was posted as Board of Revenue Member and then Secretary to the Government of Punjab Human Rights and Minorities Department and likewise, Ambreen Raza was posted as Secretary Schools Department and then Secretary Social Welfare Department. Federal officers had a special interest in the foundation because of heavy allowances and other perks like brand new vehicles, etc. Despite millions of pounds of funding, the PEF neither constructed its office building nor it has a timely payment system. It spends millions of rupees as rent for the hired buildings since it was established in 1991.
The Punjab government also funds the foundation and billions of rupees are allocated for it in the budget. The DFID had the highest funding programme in Pakistan in the social sector services. The UK-based aid spent through Punjab Education Foundation, a subsidiary of the School Education Department, Government of Punjab.
Though, both the DFID and the executing agency PEF claim to educate over millions of needy children in partner schools but hide the real facts. The then Punjab government used allegedly the UK’s taxpayers money to exploit political gains in the province. A DC of the remote district also confirmed that the government schools were given to political people. To meet the agreement conditions like enrolling a maximum number of students government schools were forcibly included in the PSSP programme and this weakened the SED at the grassroots. As per the official documents, and the audit report 2017, also available with The Business, under the agreement with the government of Pakistan, the DFID agreed that sum of 68.6million pounds would be released as financial aid to support PEF under Punjab Education Sector Programme Phase II till the financial year 2018-19. During the year, DFID released 15 million pounds to PEF.
However, according to amendment in the agreement of 2016, a sum of 10 million pounds was allocated under financial aid to support the foundation to increase the number of children enrolled in its partner schools and to achieve better learning outcomes in 11 low priority districts. The financial aid to the PEF by DFID is subject to timely disbursement of the release of tranches by the Punjab government to PEF. Moreover, as per the documents, other conditions included verification of performance indicators agreed with PEF and an annual increase of PEF budget by the government of Punjab. Third-party validation (TPV) was mandatory for additional monitoring of the component procured separately by DFID. Secretary Schools Muhammad Mehmood could not be reached for his version.