FIA seizes record of upscale private schools in Karachi

Decision to freeze accounts deferred till the final forensic audit

Adil Jawad December 16, 2018

KARACHI: The Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) has been asked to halt the process of freezing the bank accounts of private schools. The new directive came a day after special teams of FIA raided 16 prestigious private schools in Karachi and took their records into custody. These raids were conducted on the orders of the Supreme Court of Pakistan (SC). The FIA had also requested the State Bank of Pakistan to freeze the accounts of schools, administrative heads and their owners.

The new instructions conveyed to FIA zonal offices on Saturday, however, said that a final decision about freezing of accounts would be made in the light of forensic audit report of schools.

SC directs private schools to reduce fee by 20%

Hearing a case relating to exorbitant tuition fee charged by these schools and arbitrary increases in them, the apex court, on December 12, had ordered a 20% slash in fee and also asked management of these schools to either return 50% of the fee collected for the two-month summer break or adjust the amount.

The SC had also directed the Federal Board of Revenue (FBR) to conduct a scrutiny of the tax record of the management of these schools. Meanwhile, the FIA was also directed to initiate an investigation into the administrative and financial affairs of these upscale schools.

Following the orders of apex court, FIA headquarters in Islamabad asked all its zonal directors "to conduct inquiries/investigations into large-scale corruption/corrupt practices embezzling huge amounts under garb of fees, etc." Zonal offices were directed to seize record of accounts, including those relating to the Chief Executive Officer, directors and owners of these schools and to conduct a forensic audit of the record. These zonal offices had also been instructed to submit a report in this regard within 15 days.

But on Saturday the FIA teams, who conducted operations in private schools on Friday, were told to refrain from action regarding freezing of accounts of schools, their administrative heads and owners.

Sources said that this decision has been taken by keeping in view the expected difficulties following this order that may be faced by the parents and students studying in these private schools. Sources told that the private schools argued that they would be forced to close the schools if their accounts were frozen.

According to the list provided to the zonal offices of FIA, the schools against which investigations are going on include Beacon House Schooling System, City School Private Ltd, City Schooling System, Froebel Education Center, Bay View Academy, Generations School, Civilizations School, Roots Schooling System, Roots Millenniums School, Learning Alliance, Lahore College of Arts, Lahore Grammar School, Head Start School, Resource Academia, Salamat School System, Alliance Resources, The Learning Tree School, City Public School and Eden Schooling System.

According to FIA officials, letters to State Bank had earlier been sent to freeze the accounts of private schools while bank account details of administrative heads and owners was also being acquired with the assistance of NADRA and State Bank.

Govt to form body to monitor school fee

FIA Director Munir Sheikh confirmed that FIA has acquired all the records of private schools under scrutiny.

Meanwhile, following the raids on Friday, the private schools have themselves started providing records to the FIA. Beacon House Schooling System's representative Tabraiz Bukhari told The Express Tribune that "FIA officials approached us after the orders of Supreme Court. We have provided all the records they sought. We are ready to provide any record in future as well. Beacon House Schooling System will cooperate in every way". He said that none of their accounts had been frozen yet.

However, on the issue of decreasing 20% in basic fees and increasing fees up to 8% annually he said that school's governing body will take a decision in this regard.

"We have accepted the Supreme Court's orders always and will be accepting it in future also"' he said.

Published in The Express Tribune, December 16th, 2018.


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