Leaked exam papers, errors in the question papers, and persisting systemic problems, the PPSC needs not just investigation but also a major rethink
In the backdrop of a paper-leak scam and malpractice by the Punjab Public Service Commission (PPSC), the authorities are likely to overhaul the testing procedures, examination patterns and mechanisms.
Brainstorming is under way to reduce, even abolish, the role of a government recruitment agency like the National Testing Services (NTS) as well as private recruitment agencies like the Candidate Testing Service (CTS) among others. This institutional tweak has been discussed after it came out that some of the suspects had direct or indirect links with the NTS and the CTS.
The idea of holding fresh exams for the posts embroiled in the exam paper leak scandal is also under serious consideration. As per initial findings, not only question papers of the test for tehsildar’s posts were leaked but also previous exam papers for the posts of inspector and ACE assistant director, as well as lecturers in chemistry and education.
A set of recommendations incorporating inputs of Anti-Corruption Establishment (ACE), Chief Minister Inquiry Team (CMIT) and the PPSC are on the cards. A new code of oversight would be introduced in the wake of compromised examination and to purge out black sheep within the system.
Data of all officials who served or have been serving on the posts engaged with recruitment of government seats through any tier of examination are being collected. The process is also under scrutiny. Efforts are afoot to detect the smallest of malpractices and incriminating connections, says Muhammad Nawaz Khalid Arbi, the PPSC secretary.
Arbi says that PPSC is weighing all its options.
“We have been working to finalise the internal inquiry, leaving no loose ends. As soon as findings and recommendations in the investigations being conducted by the ACE are furnished and submitted, the PPSC will be in a position to take adequate action accordingly,” he adds.
So far, as many as seven arrests have been made. They include Fahad Ali, a Higher Education Commission (HEC) consultant, Furqan Ahmed, the PPSC Bahawalpur regional head, Waqar Akram, the PPSC junior computer operator, Abdullah, a PPSC clerk, and Ghazanfar, a Punjab University law student, Gohar Ali, a Finance Department worker and MPhil student and Mazhar Iqbal. In another development, it has been revealed that exam data was stolen from three computers of the PPSC.
The crisis had gained greater urgency after strong protests and sit-ins against alleged errors in exam and the leaking of the exam paper by candidates soon after the test was held on December 20. Later, a number of candidates took to Twitter to highlight their grievances and demanded that PPSC authorities look into the issue.
Ifrah Shareef tweeted that the PPSC had become a hotbed of corruption. “Institutional reforms are very important so that deserving candidates get their rights”, she said.
Social media voices have been pressing for reforms in the PPSC. Some have urged Prime Minister Imran Khan to intervene. A few social media activists have asked the CJP to take suo motu action. A significant number have also demanded that the authorities dismiss the PPSC secretary for high-profile delinquency.
At least 12 exam papers for recruitment to government posts through Punjab Public Service Commission (PPSC) were leaked.
Leakage of the question papers for the written test was detected for the 58 posts of tehsildar, consolidation/hill torrent officer and reader to member Board of Revenue (BoR) in BS-16. As many as 103,487 candidates had applied for the 58 advertised posts in the Revenue Department.
In response to a query, Waqar Azeem Jappa, the ACE spokesperson said that a factual appraisal was in progress to figure out how institutional imperfections were manipulated and taken advantage of by corrupt elements: Keeping in view loopholes, it is being determined how does a breach ensue? How is it capitalised upon and what security features may be installed to prevent this in the future?
The ACE inquiry is deliberating cancellation of only the leaked exam papers.
“We have extended the scope of the probe by looking into affairs of all government and non-government recruitment agencies after tracing glaring clues that have led us to more suspects in the case”, he adds.
“ACE recommendations will submit multi-pronged and multi-layered strategies to repair the system. Changes in the paper format are also expected,” he says.
Musarrat Jamshaid Cheema, the Punjab government spokesperson, says that Chief Minister Usman Buzdar has constituted a committee under Ali Murtaza, the CMIT chairperson, on the issue. The committee, she says, is to submit its report soon. It seems to be the handiwork of a gang,” she adds.
In the exam paper leak scandal, the ACE has been extending the scope of its investigation by collecting data of complaints filed over the last 10 years.
This is not the first time that an exam paper has been leaked. In 2014, the CSS exam was compromised, resulting in a reexamination. Later, in 2017, the FPSC came under fire when the question papers were found circulating on the internet. In 2019, the FIA had busted an inter-city gang of government officials involved in leaking the CSS exam.
The writer is a freelance journalist. He can be reached at [email protected]