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Wednesday February 28, 2024

A fair investigation: a challenge for the KP govt

September 25, 2023

PESHAWAR: Pressure is mounting on the government as the candidates, who failed to qualify the test for admissions in the medical and dental colleges, wanted the authorities to re-conduct it, while the successful applicants are opposing this demand.

Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Chief Secretary Nadim Aslam Chaudhry constituted the Joint Investigation Team (JIT) following media reports that the Education and Testing Evaluation Agency (ETEA) staff had recovered the latest devices of Bluetooth from 219 candidates during the entrance examination and lodged the first information reports (FIRs) against them.

Can the test be cancelled on the basis of hue and cry by those who did not do well if no proof of unfair means is available against other candidates?

The JIT, which had representatives from different government departments, handed over its report on the use of unfair means in the Medical and Dental College Admission Test (MDCAT) to the chief secretary.

The JIT revealed some alarming findings, saying each of 219 applicants had paid Rs2 million to Rs3.5 million for passing the test.

“If we multiply 219 by Rs3.5 million, the number we get is Rs766.5 million. This amount of corruption has been identified and stopped by ETEA,” one of the JIT members told The News.

Pleading anonymity, he said if the government decided to cancel the test and get it re-conducted through the Khyber Medical University, ETEA would lose credibility in the public eye and become a victim of its success, and that’s exactly what the mafias were trying to achieve.

ETEA is not only responsible for MDCAT but also other tests including entrance tests for engineering and written and physical tests for recruitment and promotion in government departments.

It has also helped bring transparency in the public sector recruitment. Last year, an external audit of its tests was conducted which found not a single wrongdoing.

It was well before the MDCAT, when ETEA had announced that the applicants would not bring any electronic devices, including cellphones and Bluetooth to the examination centres with them.

They had not even allowed the applicants to bring a piece of white paper for rough writing, and the candidates were rather directed to use the answer sheets for this purpose.

Another member of the JIT argued that their mandate was exposing perpetrators behind the scam, saying they successfully did their job by identifying the culprits including their mastermind.

He said presently there existed no law to deal with those responsible for unfair means in exams. The JIT in its report mentioned that the prime suspect and mastermind of the scam had been involved in these practices for the past few years but were spared due to unknown reasons.

“The police arrested the mastermind of the scam, identified as Zafar Mahmood and his brother, an employee of Rescue 1122 from their native town in Karak district and shifted to Peshawar for investigation. It’s not a simple scam. It needs enough time and thorough investigation to bust the entire gang,” the JIT member said. According to sources, ETEA had made it easy for the JIT and the police to go after the perpetrators of the scam.

It had shared all the information of the prime suspect and mastermind of the scam, Zafar Mahmood, from 2016 to 2023, with the JIT and provincial police.

ETEA had filed a case against him and got him arrested earlier when found him using unfair means. It pursued him in the court and gave him a tough time and even lost his government job, but he managed to get bail.

The bail had enabled him to apply for another lucrative job in FIA. He was caught by the police in 2016 in similar activities first in the entrance test held for the engineering and then medical and dental colleges. He was however freed quickly apparently because of his connections.

ETEA had provided complete information of all the nine applicants who registered the same contact number for all of them while applying for the MDCAT with the PMDC. One of them was 40-year-old, but was neither noticed by the PM&DC nor KMU.

According to official sources, they were planted by their gang members in MDCAT to leak the question paper to their central command and then they share their answers to the applicants who made payment to them.

The PMDC has no strategy to check previous records of the applicants. As usual, it forwarded the same record of the applicants to the KMU and KMU then dispatched the same data to the ETEA for conducting the entrance test.

Each applicant has to pay Rs6000 to PM&DC, half of which is paid to KMU. Rs1000 is paid to ETEA for conducting the test.

According to high-ranking officials, ETEA had taken a number of preliminary measures for prevention of paper leaking and using unfair means in the entrance test. The mafias found themselves in trouble and had to introduce the latest technology for cheating purposes.

According to the JIT report, children of senior government and police officials were among those 219 applicants who were caught using the Bluetooth devices in the MDCAT. The son of one of the JIT members had obtained 136 marks in the test.

There were also rumours that the government was likely to hush up the issue due to involvement of the children of senior government and police officials in the scam. However, the chief secretary pledged to thoroughly investigate it and recommended strict punishment for the perpetrators.

The JIT in its report also mentioned that children of high-ranking government and police officials were also involved in the cheating. The JIT has reportedly pointed out some deficiencies in ETEA.

While there is always some room for improvement in every system, it should be kept in mind that the issue is recovery of Bluetooth devices and not any loophole within the ETEA system.

In fact, ETEA not only maintained foolproof security of the question paper but also recovered Bluetooth devices through an efficient body search mechanism.

“Had any member of ETEA been hand in glove with the mafia, the candidates would have been told the answers before the test. Why would they need to take the risk of using unfair means in the hall,” an insider of ETEA argued.

It was ETEA which single-handedly recovered more than 219 devices. He said ETEA had thoroughly checked the data of 46,000 candidates received from PM&DC and found the “gang of nine” two weeks before the start of the test.

“Arrangements were made to deal with this gang and eight of them were arrested as soon as they arrived for the test. The 9th member of the gang remained absent,” said the official.

He said candidate Muddasar Naseem from Karak was among those nine candidates, who was an old accomplice of Zafar Mahmood.

“This man appeared as a candidate in MDCAT 2022 from Abbottabad and sent a picture of the paper outside at 11: 20 minutes after it had been distributed in the centre. A source sent the picture to ETEA which worked on it and traced the candidate who was involved in it,” he recalled.

He was freed later and the same candidate appeared in the test from Dera Ismail Khan this year and his cousin impersonated him in Abbottabad.

“Both have been arrested and handed over to the police. The mastermind Zafar Mahmood was caught red-handed twice in one week in Peshawar by ETEA in 2016 and handed over to the police. His accomplice was caught in Malakand in 2017 for being an impersonator and he was handed over to the police. A case was registered against Zafar Mahmood on the basis of his information,” the official in ETEA explained.