KARACHI: The acquisition of school furniture during the former education minister Syed Sardar Shah’s two-year term was reportedly marred by widespread mismanagement, irregularities, and substantial corruption, as per a government report submitted to the Sindh High Court (SHC).
The report reveals that an astonishing Rs7.36 billion was utilized for school furniture during this period, sparking serious apprehensions about the appropriate use of public funds. Submitted in response to a case filed with the SHC regarding the absence of furniture in public schools, the report further indicates that between 2012-13 and 2022-23, an enormous Rs28.13 billion was earmarked for furniture purchases through the school education department.
However, only Rs9.35 billion was expended, with a significant Rs7.37 billion allegedly misused during Shah’s tenure. Furniture valued at Rs3.21 billion was procured in the fiscal year 2021-22 alone, followed by an additional Rs4.16 billion spent in 2022-23. Remarkably, no furniture was acquired during four fiscal years from 2016-17 to 2019-20.
Significant disparities in purchase costs become apparent from additional information gathered from various sources. Allegedly, dual tables were purchased at an exorbitant rate of Rs29,000 per table, despite the market price ranging between Rs8,000 and Rs9,000 per table.
Even accounting for inflation, the current market price is estimated to be between Rs15,000 and Rs17,000 per table. Despite these irregularities, the National Accountability Bureau has not taken action regarding this alleged scandal. Suspicions of corruption have also arisen at the level of school education directors in several locations.
Directors in Karachi, Hyderabad, Larkana, and Sukkur are accused of disbursing Rs360 million for tables from a supplier who disappeared after receiving the order. Another corruption case involving Rs700 million to Rs800 million resulted in the suspension of the Sukkur school education director and his staff.
The Sindh chief secretary’s report highlights the misappropriation of funds, thereby indicating that despite the staggering expenses on school furnishings, schools in the province are in a deteriorating state and susceptible to damage.
As revealed in the report following an inspection conducted by the Umerkot family judge, SHC’s Justice Salahuddin Panhwar has taken action against the supplier involved in the alleged corruption.
These disconcerting revelations raise serious concerns about accountability and transparency in the procurement practices of the Sindh School Education Department. The condition of the province’s schools continues to be a matter of concern due to their poor state and widespread lack of essential infrastructure, particularly suitable furnishings.