ISLAMABAD: A reduction in the house rental ceiling, also called occupancy costs, in the 2019-2020 fiscal year budget is forcing teachers at federal government (FG) colleges to choose between paying their rent and paying for groceries and heating.

FG colleges are one of two kinds of colleges under the administrative control of the Federal Directorate of Education, the other being model colleges. Model college teachers have not seen a cut in their rental ceilings, but FG college teachers are facing an increased burden because of the reduction in funds and the decline in their real income because of inflation and the condition of the economy.

Teachers said the decrease in the allocation of funds in the head of ‘house rental ceiling’ was pushing them into poverty and homelessness. They said the situation was such that they were having to choose between paying their rent and buying food and clothing.

They said that the ceiling was reduced significantly in the allocated budget. The teachers used the funds they were provided under the rental ceiling to pay their landlords, but because of the cuts the money was not enough to meet their expenses. The colleges have said they are running out of funds and cannot provide more.

Sources in the FDE said a large number of schoolteachers do not have the money to pay their rent and are facing eviction. They are being forced to borrow money to pay rent, they said, and with heating bills in the winter some have to choose between rent and staying warm.

The sources said the Islamabad Model Postgraduate College H-8 saw the highest reduction in rental ceiling of all the FG colleges in the capital. The college received Rs13.2 million in the 2019-20 fiscal year, 37.3pc less than the Rs18.2m it received in 2018-19.

The Islamabad Model College for Boys (IMCB) F-10/4 saw a 27.1pc cut in its allocated budget for occupancy costs, and the IMCB H-9 saw a 25.6pc cut.

The Islamabad Model College for Commerce H-8/4 saw a cut of 17pc, the Islamabad Model Postgraduate College for Girls F-7/4 saw a cut of 13pc and the Islamabad Model College for Girls G-10/4saw a cut of 12pc.

Although most of these colleges are named ‘model’ colleges, they are still considered FG colleges in terms of administration. Their names were changed under the last PPP government.

The money the colleges received was not enough to cover six months’ rentin the current fiscal year.

“After paying rent, buying essentials such as food, clothing and utilities, there is nothing left for unforeseen circumstances of emergencies. My family could not attend our relatives’ weddings, and I have forgotten about savings for my children,” a teacher said.

In addition to creating problems for teachers, rising rents are also an issue for other government servants. An extreme shortage of accommodation for government employees and low-income families is pushing up rents in the capital.

The rental ceiling government servants receive does not rise in proportion with rent, and while accommodation on the outskirts of the capital is cheaper, most people try to find homes near their place of work to cut down transport costs and time spent commuting.

A representative of the Federal Government College Teachers’ Association (FGCTA) has called on the government allocate funds to FG colleges in the head of occupancy costs through the re-appropriation of funds.

He said there was also an urgent need to begin developing sectors to overcome the shortage of housing.

Malik Ameer Khan from the Federal Government School Teachers Association said that schoolteachers have also been hit but by the funding shortage, and have been visiting the FDE to obtain funds to no avail.

“We are being told that government is not releasing supplementary grants because of its agreement with the [International Monetary Fund (IMF)]. We have nothing to do with the IMF. We are nation builders and we should be given our due right,” he said.

An FDE officer said the directorate demanded an annual budget of Rs2 billion to pay employee rents, but was only allocated Rs971m, which it has spent.

A case for a supplementary grant worth around Rs1bn was sent to the federal government, but there have been no developments, he said.

Ministry of Federal Education Joint Secretary Syed Umair Javed, who is also the acting director general of the FDE, confirmed that the directorate and its affiliated schools and colleges are facing a funding shortage.

He said the FDE has taken up this issue with the relevant forum and is also streamlining its budget wing.

Published in Dawn, January 16th, 2020