The Sindh High Court (SHC) has directed the federal government to provide details of how a US pledge of $70 million, or over Rs 7 billion, meant for girls’ education in Pakistan has been utilised.
The grant was pledged by former US first lady Michelle Obama in July 2016 during a ceremony marked to launch the “Let Girls Learn” programme. Maryam Nawaz, daughter of former prime minister Nawaz Sharif, had been the signatory from the Pakistani side.
According to the programme, Michelle had pledged $70 million for the “Let Girls Learn” initiative. The amount was meant to be utilised for educating girls across Pakistan, help build new schools and renovate hundreds of existing schools, affecting more than 200,000 girl students across the country.
The SHC passed the directive while hearing a petition regarding the programme. The petitioner requested the court direct National Accountability Bureau to investigate whether an embezzlement of funds had taken place.
The petitioner named Nawaz Sharif, Maryam Nawaz and federal authorities as respondents, maintaining that no progress had apparently taken place with regards to the initiative. The petition said that it needed to be found if the project had been halted altogether or the funds completely embezzled, as no practical steps had been seen taken to further the objectives of the Let Girls Learn programme.
The petitioner also prayed the court to direct federal authorities to explain the capacity in which Maryam signed the agreement with Michelle Obama at the White House.
A federal law officer informed the court that the respondents, including Finance Ministry, Maryam and NAB, had been asked to submit replies, but a response was awaited, seeking additional time to submit the replies. Adjourning the hearing, the court directed the deputy attorney-general to submit a response by October 16.
Given the rather unimpressive record of capitalisation of such funds for the actual cause, we sincerely hope the project has remained on hold until now. For if that isn’t the case, then the country has unfortunately added to the long list of failed projects that had the potential to change the fortunes of our future generations. With Pakistan consistently lagging behind in terms of literacy in general and female literacy in particular, potential misappropriations in such a massive project would indeed be a major lost opportunity. Not just for girls deprived of the chance to receive education, but for millions of Pakistani children that will be born to these, unfortunately, uneducated mothers.
Here’s to hoping against the worst.