Whither Goest Thou, FPSC? (Editorial February 2016)

JWT editorial

Confusion is a word we have invented for an order which is not understood.
— Henry Miller

On January 26, the news emerged that the Federal Public Service Commission (FPSC) has — once again — decided to introduce a screening test for candidates appearing in the Central Superior Services (CSS) examination and that the proposal had been presented to the Prime Minister, Nawaz Sharif, who ordered to make it a part of the agenda item of the next cabinet meeting.

Since 2013, we have been intermittently told that the FPSC intends to conduct a screening test prior to CSS exam and that only those candidates who qualify the test would be allowed to appear in the actual exam. However, till this day no final decision has been made in this regard. It is again being claimed that ‘if approved’ the screening test would help filter out only the potential candidates and the workload of the examiners would be reduced.

The use of words ‘if approved’ throws aspirants into a sea of confusions.

Earlier, while addressing the “Second Pakistan Governance Forum” at Islamabad on 31st December 2015, Minister for Planning, Development and Reform, Prof Ahsan Iqbal, announced that as part of the civil service reforms, 16-year education would be mandatory for youth seeking careers in the Central Superior Services from 2017. But, it is quite perplexing to note that when asked about this proposal, Secretary Establishment Nadeem Hassan Asif told media: “I think that proposal has not been presented at any forum so far and is not a part of this proposal which is going to be presented before the cabinet.”

This, too, adds to the miseries of the CSS candidates especially at a time when the CSS-2017season has started and thousands of aspirants across the country have started preparing for the exam on which hinge their dreams of an illustrious future.

What’s going on in the policymaking circles depicts a sheer lack of coordination among various government departments. Minister for Planning says one thing while the Secretary Establishment says the other. The net losers out of this situation would be the aspirants who find themselves in a quandary regarding their preparations.

Up till CSS-2016, the educational qualification for CSS exam has been a Second Division or Grade “C” Bachelor’s degree in any faculty but, as indicated by Prof Ahsan Iqbal, a change in this criterion is in the offing. Although it is true that change is always for the good, yet one thing the policymakers have shown a complete oblivion to is that preparing for CSS exam is not a matter of days or weeks; it takes months of hard work to appear in the exam with some degree of confidence. If candidates would remain confused about matters like the screening test or age limit or qualifications, how could they concentrate on their studies? If the government wants to reform the CSS exam, then why so much dillydallying?

Another concern among students is the syllabus for the proposed screening test. What would be its contours? Which subjects would it consist of?  Would ‘General Abilities’, which previously was a part of it, be still there when the same has been added to the syllabus for General Science & Ability paper? The answers are not yet known.

With the new chairman at the helm of FPSC affairs, and the vigour honourable Minister for Planning has shown, it was being expected that all the issues would be resolved swiftly and all the confusions about exam policies would be cleared. But, the recent developments are further exacerbating the issue.
CSS exam is a real test of one’s capabilities, skills and, above all, one’s nerves. Unless the aspirants have the clarity as to what they have to do, they cannot prepare well for the exam.
The lack of continuation in policies in the country is our  Achilles’ heel. Rolling back of policies or changing them frequently proves detrimental to their effectiveness. Same is the case with FPSC; after all, when the Commission has revised the whole syllabus for CSS-2016 and onwards, then why it is so anxious to change that? It should go on with it for 3-4 years, at least. Trashing all the efforts made by FPSC and putting in place an altogether different system won’t be a prudent step. Nevertheless, if change is inevitable, it should be announced, and implemented, immediately because procrastination kills the aspirations of the aspirants.

The government, therefore, should clear the air at the earliest and should come up with the policy decisions to serve the purpose of recruiting best brains of the country to the civil service.

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