ISLAMABAD: An official audit has unearthed embezzlement worth billions of rupees in the federal government’s Basic Education Commu­nity Schools (BECS) programme.

According to the audit brief laid before the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) by the office of the auditor general on Wednesday, Rs800 million was unlawfully disbursed for this project and a five-member inquiry committee from the Ministry of Federal Education and Professional Training had established that the amount was disbursed illegally.

The BECS programme was the successor of an earlier non-formal basic education project, started in 1995. The current project, dealing with the “establishment and operation of basic education community schools in the country”, ran from 2006 to 2012, with an aim to set up 20,000 schools across the country.

During its scrutiny of the BECS accounts, the office of the auditor general pointed out that the National Database and Registration Authority (Nadra) had also detected over 2,000 fake CNICs of BECS teachers. The report said that a sum of Rs140 million was disbursed to these fake teachers every year, but no inquiry was initiated to fix responsibility for the scam.

According to the report, the BECS administration paid Rs80 million for a bogus project and Rs160 million was paid against teachers’ salaries. The amount was disbursed secretly; the BECS administration did not even maintain a list of the teachers who were paid.

Auditors informed the PAC that they had detected 349 ghost schools — something the BECS administration admitted before audit authorities — but there was never any effort to recover the embezzled amount, nor was any action taken against the officers involved.

The audit report states that BECS Project Director retired Brig Sirajuddin and Assistant Director Abdul Hanan transferred Rs790 million from an assignment account to a private account, when this amount could only have been deposited in a prescribed bank.

The report also pointed out that as per the record, the education department collected Rs66 billion between 1985 and 1995, but no details of its utilisation were available.

PAC Chairman Syed Khurshid Shah was shocked by the discrepancies in BECS accounts and circulated the audit brief among committee members. The PAC will take up the relevant audit paras in its next meeting.

The committee also examined audit paras related to the illegal promotion of 39 project employees. The audit report disclosed that the BECS project director not only upgraded his post, but also promoted 39 project employees, in some cases giving five-step promotions to employees originally hired on a contractual basis.

The PAC referred this matter to the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) with directions to complete the probe within three months.

The High Education Commission (HEC) informed the PAC that the PhD thesis of Federal Urdu University Vice-Chancellor Suleman D. Mohammad was plagiarised.

In response to a query from the PAC chairman, HEC Executive Director Arshad Ali said that a committee had declared his thesis ‘plagiarised’.

Published in Dawn September 22nd, 2016