‘HED secretary, IT consultant and board officials all culpable’

Judicial commission continues inquiry into inter results debacle.

Express November 14, 2011

LAHORE: The Higher Education Department secretary was not qualified, the IT consultant corrupt and board officials incompetent, and all are to blame for the intermediate part 1 results fiasco, the new chairman of the Lahore Board of Intermediate and Secondary Education (BISE) told a judicial commission investigating the matter on Monday.

The commission, consisting of Justice Shahid Saeed, was conducting the third day of hearings into why the results were so riddled with errors and whether a newly introduced computerised system of tabulating results was to blame.

Lahore BISE Chairman Allah Bakhsh submitted that Dr Majid Naeem, former IT consultant for the Punjab’s eight BISEs and the man who designed the new system, had bought equipment worth Rs200 million from two firms that were owned by friends of his. He said that no tenders were invited for the purchases.

The judge asked who had appointed Naeem, a responsibility that no official has yet owned up to. Bakhsh said Ahad Cheema, then Higher Education Department secretary and now Lahore’s district coordination officer, was the appointing authority, though Cheema himself denied this a day earlier.

Bakhsh said Cheema’s appointment as secretary was against the rules, as when he was appointed he wasn’t even qualified to be an additional secretary. Asked who had made that appointment, Cheema said the summary for his appointment had been approved by the chief minister and forwarded by the chief secretary.

Bakhsh, who took over as chairman after the results fiasco, said that Cheema, Naeem and Naeem’s number two Bashir Ahmed were most at fault for the failure of the system, though blame also lay with the chairmen, secretaries and controllers of all eight BISEs. He said they should all be barred from holding public office, as they had made millions of young people lose confidence in the system.

He said that the system should be fully computerised, but only after staff were trained to use it property. Until then, he said, computerised and manual processes should continue side by side in all boards. The judge asked him why board officials had not raised their voice earlier against the new system as they would have known its faults. Bakhsh responded that it was probably because of fear of punishment. “The HED secretary appointed all the chairmen, so they probably felt they could not complain about a person that he had imposed on them,” he said.

Akram Kashmiri, the Lahore BISE chairman until the results came out, said that the computerised system had been imposed in haste. He blamed Naeem and Cheema. He said that there were no major errors in the tabulation of the matriculation and intermediate part 2 results, as this had been done both through the new system as well as manually. The inter part 1 results, which were riddled with errors, were prepared solely through the computer system. He said the Committee of Punjab Boards Chairmen had approved Naeem’s plans to computerise the system.

Kashmiri said he had repeatedly protested against the new system, but been ignored. Asked if he had made his objections clear in writing, Kashmiri said no. “Then you were part of the game,” the judge responded.

Dr Manzurul Hasan Niazi, former Lahore BISE controller, said he had also voiced concerns about the new system at high level meetings, though not in writing. The judge said that showed that “you are equally responsible”.

Syed Ijaz Hussain Naqvi, former controller of the Lahore BISE, said that Naeem had taken on the full responsibility to computerise the system on Kashmiri’s request. “It should not have been a one-man show,” he said.

He said that there was a lot of scope for human error in the new system. Students were required to fill out their roll number and an exam code on a cover sheet, known as the face page, with the exam sheet that was later read by computer. Many students had not been able to fill this out properly, which resulted in errors in their results down the line, he said. Even teachers and BISE officials had not been trained properly on how to deal with the new system, he said. Muhammad Qasim, chairman of the Rawalpindi BISE, said that computer operators appeared to have been involved in the deliberate mis-marking of papers. He said that scores had generally fallen after the results were checked again manually.

Ibrar Ahmed, who owns two private schools and has moved a petition against the new system, told the commission that the Rawalpindi BISE alone had spent Rs120 million on the new system.

Justice Shahid Saeed ordered his registrar, Additional District Judge Manzoor Hussain Dogar, to write to the National Accountability Bureau to produce Dr Majid Naeem at the commission’s hearings. Dogar later told The Express Tribune that Naeem was unlikely to be summoned before next week, as the testimony of several officials was to be recorded before then.

Published in The Express Tribune, November 15th, 2011.


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