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Balochistan’s Combined Competitive Exams: Can We Trust That BPSC Chairman Will At Last Ensure Fairness?

By: Shah Meer Baloch

A few months ago, the Supreme Court of Pakistan declared the Combined Competitive Exam of 2013, conducted by the Sindh Public Service Commission (SPSC), to be null and void. The court ordered the government to appoint a new chairman and members as they had resigned when the apex court took this suo motu action. The court order read, “In view of large scale illegalities and discrepancies committed in the written tests and interviews of CCE-2013 the same are set aside and cancelled.” In other words, the written exam and interviews were found to be unfair, lacking in transparency, and not free of corruption.

In Pakistan, Sindh and Balochistan provinces have a dark history of malpractice when it comes to the competitive exams. Punjab and Khyber Pakthunkwa provinces have performed much better in that regard. Last year, the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) finally arrested the former chairman of the Balochistan Public Service Commission (BPSC), Ashraf Magsi, over allegations of irregularities and illegal appointments (Magsi had been removed from office in 2014). And though he remains in the custody of the NAB, the illegal appointments made during his chairmanship are still serving the province.

After years of mismanagement, the BPSC has now announced that interviews for 63 Assistant Commissioner and Section Officer positions – first advertised in 2015 – have begun on 10 July. There are two reasons that these interviews are so important for Balochistan and its growing cadre of educated youth. First, never in the history of the province has more than ten thousand candidates appeared for the competitive exam. This shows an upward trend in the number of young people in Balochistan who are struggling to join the ranks of government functionaries, and that they are eager to compete. Second, the appointment of Justice (R) Mehta Kailash Nath Kohli as BPSC’s new chairman has instilled hope in the minds of the educated youth.

Some candidates I have spoken with who have qualified in the written portion of the exam have applauded Kohli’s efforts to ensure that merit is the basis for advancement. But others are suspicious and fear that the talented may still be bypassed because the majority of the members of the BPSC are the remnants of Magsi’s corrupt administration. While the results of the latest written test clearly shows that merit was not compromised, keeping the process corruption-free and untainted by political influence will be the litmus test for Kohli. If he fails at this, the youth of this fragile province will once again experience disappointment. If he succeeds, it will be a substantial motivation for a new generation.

On condition of anonymity, one of the candidates preparing for the interview spoke to me candidly. He told me that he had burned the midnight oil to reach this stage. “Though my father is poor and I don’t have wealth, don’t I still deserve to serve in the bureaucracy?” He thinks that parts of the exam should be eliminated or significantly changed, pointing out that panelists ask very childish questions. Examples he gave: “What was the name of the dog that accompanied Ashaab-e-khaif? Do you know the name of Alexander the Great’s horse, and where it is buried? Can you name the elephant that accompanied the army of Abraha in 570 AD?” He went on to say that the prime task of an Assistant Commissioner is to deal with the administrative issues of a district, and a Section Officer is destined to serve in the Secretariat. “Do these questions help to measure the potential of any candidates? Would the panelists learn about a candidate’s intellect through these queries? Not at all.”

According to this candidate, questions should be open-ended to allow the candidates to express themselves, and panelists should not be drawing a line or expecting a particular answer because there is no one answers to an open-ended question. If a candidate with dissenting opinions comes up with logical thoughts, he or she should be marked well and supported; it is not necessary that every candidate see eye to eye with the panelists.

The points made by this candidate are well worth noting. The BPSC chairman should also take measures to ensure that merit is used as the sole basis for job appointment – perhaps creating a single panel headed by the chairman himself. The remnants of Magsi’s time as head of the BPSC or those members with a tainted history should not be allowed on the interview panel until their own qualifications can be assessed. Equal distribution of scoring marks among the panel members should be meticulously maintained so that a single panelist cannot influence the results. And test and interview results of all candidates – including the successful ones – should be made available.

In short, the BPSC should promote merit because merit begets competition, and competition creates a healthy environment for those educated but struggling. Above all, concealed corruption is the downfall of any nation.

Shah Meer Baloch is a correspondent with Deutsche Welle in Islamabad. He was formerly a Visiting Fellow with the Institute for Peace Research and Security Policy at the University of Hamburg, and a Fellow of the Swedish Institute. His research focus is on Asia-Pacific politics, Balochistan issues, extremism and human rights. He is from Pasni, District Gwadar, Pakistan.

Published in The Balochistan Point on August 9, 2017

Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are those of the author and The Balochistan Point does not necessarily agree with them.

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