ISLAMABAD: With the Nawaz Sharif government lifting the ban on recruitment by relaxing rules for inducting counter-terrorism officers, the assessment exam held last week was marred by so many blatant frauds that it has turned into a farce.
Around 500 candidates were caught solving papers through internet browsing on mobile phones and 50 of them were identified as ISI/IB officers who participated in the exam to try their luck, as lucrative packages are being offered to the new inductees.
The openings were announced to fill 130 vacant positions, 34 of them for officers, in the National Counter Terrorism Authority (NACTA) that the government is betting on for a decisive war against terrorism. Merit is, however, not a visible criterion for these appointments.
The NACTA chief national coordinator is also accused of nepotism as his personal staff, which was simultaneously involved in the assessment process and taking part in the exam and was also declared successful, raised further questions about the merit in these appointments.
The recruitment process became suspicious right from the beginning as positions were advertised on August 16 setting August 25 as the deadline for submitting applications and then holding exams on September 1, just a week later, sparing no time for scrutiny.
When the call letters for assessment exams were issued, the candidates at distant places received them a day before the test as a quota system was followed to invite applications from all the provinces.
The manner in which the exams were held at the Liaqat Gymnasium, Islamabad, was no less than a joke. The timing for the exam was 9am, however, the question papers were distributed at 10:30 am. Again, the candidates outnumbered the question papers as there were 5,000 hopefuls, included among them PhD degree holders. Half of the candidates were made to wait as the staff was busy photo-copying the question papers for the remaining lot who received them at 12:30 pm.
As the exam started, there were around 10 invigilators for 5,000 candidates, hundreds of them busy cheating since they were allowed to bring mobile phones. In certain cases, the invigilators were also found helping blue-eyed candidates.
Hundreds of candidates armed with smart phones used the internet facility for browsing as 80 percent of the paper comprised Multiple Choice Questions (MCQs) and 20 percent for writing a couple of paragraphs on their suggestions on how to eradicate terrorism.
As the candidates were openly browsing the internet on their smart phones in search of the right answers to MCQs and reading up on counter-terrorism for writing a para or so, there was nobody to stop them.
Later, the marking process was also questionable. Several NACTA officials had also applied for the advertised vacancies in order to upgrade their positions and included among them was also Zeeshan Anjum, a close aide of NACTA’s coordinator, Hyder Ali, who joined the authority as a deputationist before serving as assistant on EOBI.
Zeeshan had applied for the positions of assistant director and deputy director both. While his boss had prepared the question paper, Zeeshan’s seniors in NACTA were involved in
marking the papers. Then a miracle happened: he turned out to be among those three candidates short-listed from Punjab/ICT for the post of deputy director, though many of his colleagues question his ability of writing one line in English. While papers were marked by his seniors, Zeeshan led a group of NACTA officials engaged for their tabulation.
It is yet to be seen whether or not he is selected in the interview after qualifying in the written test for his wanted position (deputy director) as hundreds of candidates from Punjab failed. Interview panel has to be presided by his boss, Hyder Ali.
As The News contacted NACTA’s coordinator, Hyder Ali, he admitted gross mismanagement during the exams.He acknowledged that mobile phones were also used for browsing and question papers were delivered with inordinate delay to several candidates.
However, he offered a justification saying that they did not take back papers from the candidates found involved in cheating apprehending a law and order situation.Instead, he advised his invigilators to mark the cheaters so there papers could be cancelled later on and it was done, Hyder said.
Other than private candidates, according to him, the officials belonging to the intelligence agencies turned out to be the trouble-makers as they started quarreling when attempt was made to take their mobiles away.
“We later cancelled the papers of those found cheating,” he said explaining there were around 500 such candidates.A NACTA official confided to The News that there were 50 candidates marked cheaters who belonged to ISI or IB.
Another NACTA official contradicted the coordinator’s claim of spotting cheaters and cancelling their papers later on. According to that official who was part and parcel of the exam process, cancellation of papers took place as a face-saving attempt after complaints were sent to the Interior Ministry from the ISI officials and other candidates so as to paint the entire exercise as transparent.
NACTA that has long been used as a dumping ground instead of evolving as an active counter-terrorism authority, had tried in past to advertise vacancies during caretaker set-up but the request to do so was rejected by the interim government following Supreme Court’s directives.
When the NACTA coordinator was also questioned about Zeeshan, he said he was working as assistant director. Asked then why did he apply for the position of assistant director (if he is already serving) and deputy director, he said everybody was at liberty to do as he desired. He however denied giving any special treatment to Zeeshan.