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A Pakistan Province Failing To Spend Modest Education Budget

Schoolchildren flee as army soldiers conducting an exercise on how to terrorist attacks (file photo).

Guli Khandana often dreams of one day getting everything that her modest primary school in the mountainous northwestern Swat district needs.

“Our school building was badly damaged by the earthquake [in October]. Four classrooms are close to collapsing,” she told RFE/RL’s Gandhara website. “We don’t have running water, so our toilets are a mess.”

Khandana says most of the couple hundred students in the school still sit on the carpeted floors because the school lacks furniture. She needs more teachers and new equipment, and a library would be a great help, she says.

Her school in Swat’s Matta region is one of tens of thousands of schools in Pakistan’s northwestern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province that need repairs, furniture, equipment, electricity, running water, and protection against terrorist attacks that have destroyed hundreds of school buildings over the past decade.

Only just over half of Pakistan’s estimated 200 million people are literate, and poverty and the lack of schools play a major part in depriving tens of millions of Pakistani children from receiving an education.

Despite the urgency, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa’s government appears to have spent only a portion of the money allocated for education with the financial year ending next month.

“During the first three quarters of the financial year that ended in March, the government has been able to spend less than half of the allocated budget,” said Malik Masood, a program manager at the nongovernmental Center for Governance and Public Accountability.

Massod said that, last year, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa’s government allocated $160 million for developing the education sector but had only spent a little more than $50 million by the end of March, which now poses the authorities with the challenge to spend more than half of their development budget in the final quarter.

Pakistani law requires government agencies to return their development budget to the exchequer if they fail to spend it within the financial year.

“There really is a lack of proper planning, and a lot of the development budget is spent through the lawmakers [in their constituencies], which defeats the purpose and is against a judgement of the Supreme Court,” he said. “Lawmakers should only be responsible for legislation and should not be involved with the government’s development and service delivery work.”

Idress Azam, a senior bureaucrat in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, says they had spent nearly half of the $160 million development budget for education by the end of April.

Sardar Hussain Babak, a former provincial education minister and leader of the secular Awami National Party, accused the provincial administration led by the Pakistan Tehreek-e Insaf (PTI) party of failing to deliver on its promises despite declaring an “educational emergency” after assuming office three years ago.

“They have not been able to even complete all the [development] schemes initiated by our administration because they have been unable to fund them,” he said. “To convince us, they should show us all the schools they have built during the past three years.”

Khyber Pakhtunkhwa’s current education minister, Atif Khan, however, disputes such criticism. He told Radio Mashaal that last year their administration spent more on education than it had earmarked in its annual financial plan.

“Utilizing the budget is not a problem for us. It is customary in the government circles here to utilize the bulk of allocations toward the end of the budget cycle,” he said. “We are even capable of using extra money.”

He says the PTI has opened hundreds of new schools since assuming office in 2013.

But back in Swat, Khandana is still waiting for real help.

“With huge cracks in the walls and ceilings, we always fear that our school building will collapse if there is a powerful tremor,” she said.