The two Malaysia-bound 'capacity building' trips for officials involved with the Sindh Education Reform Programme (Serp)-II are likely to be turned into summer excursions as the education department has enlisted its handsomely-paid consultants and lawmakers amongst the participants.
A total of 34 officials, including Education Minister Nisar Ahmed Khuhro and, additional secretary, Rehan Iqbal Baloch, have been shortlisted by the education department's reform support unit and the secretariat for the two 10-day 'exposure and capacity building trips' to Malaysia being held on August 15 and September 2.
The trips were linked to the six-month progress of Serp-II - a three-year project that was approved on November 28, 2013 - to focus on school rehabilitation, community mobilisation and school-based management with a World Bank assistance package worth $400 million.
"The inclusion of the consultants appears absurd because these experts were hired on contracts that range from six to 12 months, against Rs200,000 to Rs300,000 monthly salaries, to assist the education department," said an official of the education department's reform support unit, talking on the condition of anonymity. "The list of participants includes contractual officials who are in no way entitled to this kind of activity."
The official added that the department is spending the World Bank loan on consultants and contractual employees who will leave after a year or two to assist some other organisation.
Examples of the violation of rules can be seen in the appointments of electrical engineer Shafiullah Bughio and the mukhtiarkar of revenue department Fahim Chachar, who being education consultants are going for training. The list of other consultants who have been enlisted for the capacity building trip include Rana Asif, Wazir Chandio, Azeem Pathan, Sagheer Shaikh, Ayoub Lashari and Aftab Shah.
Meanwhile, provincial lawmakers, including Nawab Muhammad Taimur Talpur and Barrister Hasnain Ali Mirza - chairman and member of standing committee on education in the Sindh Assembly - will be amongst the delegates. Officials disclosed that the education department will spend an estimated Rs1 million on each of the delegates from the World Bank loan.
Talpur explained that he may be nominated by the education department because of his position as chairman of the standing committee for education.
Meanwhile, Khuhro, clarified that the list of delegates had been finalised by the reform support unit and the education department's secretariat and he had no knowledge of the list of delegates. However, he was quick to defend the selected list. "MPAs also work on the quality of education and there is nothing wrong in sending them abroad for training."
When approached, Saba Mahmood - a non-cadre officer who heads the Sindh education department's reform support unit against the rules and will be accompanying the delegates - told The Express Tribune that the selection of the participants, who had been involved with Serp-II for the last six months, was approved by the World Bank itself. "The media should ignore the hue and cry of the ones who failed to get their names approved based on their performances."
Mahmood maintained that there was a specific stipulation by the World Bank that the capacity building trip will be meant for both the government officials and the hired consultants, based on their six-month performance.
The visit, she added, will be an encouragement and exposure for the reform support unit's officials as it will help them gain understanding of the Malaysian education reform programme, their strategies, system of examinations and professional development initiatives.
The reform support unit was established in 2005, which is now being run with the financial support of internal donors including the World Bank and European Union (EU). Rs23 billion were allocated in the outgoing fiscal year and Rs16 billion has been earmarked for this year. Out of its total budget, the World Bank has given a Rs13 billion loan this year to reform Sindh's education sector. The EU has given €39 million in the past five years but no tangible result has come out of EU-funded projects because of the massive corruption in the department, claimed a source.
Published in The Express Tribune, August 11th,2014.