The ever-raging (and justifiable) debate surrounding cogency of the Two Nation Theory and the Islamic/Secular Pakistan muddle aside, the emphasis laid by our founding father on the great responsibility the civil services of the nation are entrusted with is without dispute. Recognising civil services as the fuel that would power Pakistan’s administrative, diplomatic, and economic engines, the Quaid called for the nation’s bureaucracy to make no political affiliations, to follow the will of the leader in light of the constitution, and to serve the people while maintaining “the highest standard of honour, integrity, justice and fair-play.”

However, if the same bureaucratic machinery is plagued with the rust of politicisation and incompetence on part of the authorities responsible for identifying individuals capable of leading the nation, then we don’t just risk jeopardizing our nation’s future, we also create an air of mistrust and uncertainty that sews discord among those looking to overhaul the system from within. If the very system designed to propel our best and brightest to the forefronts of the highest offices of the country becomes controversial then we have a serious problem on our hands.

One such episode that has put a big question mark over the reliability of the Provincial Civil Services exam – that has largely gone unnoticed in the media – recently occurred when the Supreme Court of Pakistan authored a ruling reserved since February terming the Combined Competitive Exams of 2013 held under the Sindh Public Service Commission “null and void”.

The suo moto case was initiated against an application filed by one Advocate Mohammed Junaid Farooqui, which challenged the eligibility of the SPSC chairman along with eight members of staff based on their qualifications and experience.

A three-member Supreme Court bench headed by Justice Amir Hani Muslim presided over the case which aimed to address the irregularities in appointments of the commission’s members. The verdict issued by Justice Mazhar Alam ordered the government of Sindh to take all necessary steps to appoint a new chairman and fill all vacant positions with “persons of integrity and competence possessing the prescribed qualifications.”

While action taken by the Apex Court in addressing a serious anomaly that could potentially collapse the competitive examination system conforms with the best practices of law; and whilst entirely plausible that ineligible officials were deemed eligible to hold vital positions in the SPSC (considering Pakistan’s affinity for corruption on the highest echelons of the government), one fails to see why the candidates who worked hard and appeared for the 2013 CCE’s were callously reduced to collateral damage of a war between two warring government factions – a due process that has completely overlooked the strife and study of successful candidates completely oblivious to the fact that they were being tested by an inept board.

Competitive examinations, whether federal or provincial, require significant research and study on part of the candidates to qualify. Upon successfully passing the written exam, an interview follows suit to further examine the candidates for their leadership, teamwork, and analytical abilities. Although the exams themselves adhere to a set timeline from start to finish, the interview process is spread out over several days designed to evaluate candidates in a comprehensive manner the written exam simply cannot.

For the unfortunate candidates of CCE 2013, setbacks marred the testing process from the get go. Unprecedently, initial screenings for an exam scheduled to start in 2013 took place in 2014, with the examination itself conducted in 2015 – two years after some 182 posts were initially advertised. To further add insult to injury, the examination result became a long, drawn out waiting game spanning several months. Those who had burnt the midnight oil finally found respite with the announcement of their success many months later. Their success, however, was short-lived. Several years of diligence on part of the students; conscientious efforts to learn the content and stand out from the competition was all in vain when the Supreme Court decided to intervene in a bid to fix the SPSC that had finally declared successful candidates after rigorous testing. As a result of SC’s intervention all controversial appointees including the SPSC chairman resigned, but the candidates were left stranded.

Although the Apex Court’s decision to iron out irregularities marred by gross negligence and charges of corruption is commendable, it was also imperative for the judgement to account for the hard work on part of the candidates to make the decision a more pertinent one. In spite of the fact that Justice Qazi Faez Isa’s judgment states clearly that “those who participated (in tests, interviews) cannot be blamed for the fault of the government and the commission”, the question why some 227 successful candidates who proved themselves worthy at every stage of the testing process have been required to retake the exam still needs answering.