By Muzaffar Qureshi
KARACHI: Despite safeguards in place to check pilferage in the World Bank grant of Rs1.108 billion for promotion of girls` education, about Rs10 million has been embezzled in 2010-11, it emerged on Tuesday.
The grant is aimed at encouraging girls to continue their education after completing their primary level. A stipend of Rs2,400 annually is given to deserving schoolgirls at the middle and secondary levels. For female students living in 45 remote tehsils, the stipend is Rs3,600 per month to help them bear the transportation cost as well.
Deputy programme manager of the girls stipend section in the education department`s reform support unit Hamzu Khan told Dawn that in some cases money orders were not delivered to the students concerned either by postal staff or teachers. In some other cases, students failed to turn up on the payment day to collect their stipend.
“Although a foolproof system of stipend distribution is in place, the reform support unit takes steps on its own to ensure that the stipend reaches all the deserving students on time, including those living in the remotest areas,” the official said.
He said the unit had acquired the services of a chartered accountancy firm to eliminate the chances of misappropriation, besides improving the delivery system.
He said the WB grant had been increased to Rs1.108 billion this year from the last year`s Rs952 million. According to him, the firm has selected 10 per cent of the total 3,100 middle and secondary schools to conduct a survey in order to ascertain what problems were being faced by students and their parents, as well as teachers with regard to the receipt of stipends.
Under the laid down procedure, heads of schools are required to recommend their students needing stipends for Class VI to Class X education. The prescribed application form contains full details of the applicant`s social status with the NIC numbers of her father or guardian. The information is endorsed by the district education officer concerned before it is submitted with the reform support unit.
The stipend is delivered to the student concerned through money order by postal staff at her school on a date announced in advance. An acknowledgement slip duly signed by the recipient is submitted with the unit`s staff concerned.
The stipend section has a complaint cell which students could approach to get their grievances, including non-receipt of stipend, addressed. In the outgoing year, the cell had received complaints of the non-receipt of 6,136 money orders supposed to reach 260 schools.
Mr Khan, quoting some complaints, said that in one school, five out of 50 money orders were not delivered by postman. In some other cases, he added, the teachers concerned delivered the money to their students only after the unit intervened on students` complaints.
Regarding corruption, he said some schools had sent `extra names` to the unit.
“At one school, located in Sachal Goth, signatures were obtained from the students concerned but stipend was not delivered to them,” the official claimed. He said the unit staff had to visit the school and get the stipend delivered to the affected students.
The World Bank had introduced the scheme in 2006-07 that benefited a total of 269,000 students. The number of beneficiaries has since increased to 380,000 this year.
In reply to a question, Mr Khan said it was not possible for the unit to visit each and every school, especially those in remote areas, to verify disbursement of stipends. However, he said, an improved system could ensure an effective check on corruption and embezzlement.