Foreign service examination 2001
What happened to the results of the above examination which was first scheduled to be held in December 2000 and later postponed to early 2001? A correspondent wrote in your newspaper about manipulation of the examination. The recruitment was understood to have been stopped under the direction of the new Foreign Minister. It was also reported that a successful candidate has filed a fundamental rights case over the cancellation of the examination results.
Can the Foreign Ministry clarify the situation with regard to this examination held under the previous government? The following points are relevant:
1. Applications were called and closed at a time of the year [August 2000) when the Universities had not still released final examination results of the Bachelor of Arts/Science examinations held in 1999. Some University results were due in respect of previous year as well. This was obviously due to the disturbed conditions in Universities earlier. This shut out many prospective candidates from applying for the advertised foreign service examination. A little bit of consultation with Universities before the closing date of the examination was fixed, could have allowed time for the successful University students to apply for this examination. The Open University released the results of the final examinations 1999 and 2000 before the foreign service examination was held but these students were precluded from applying for the foreign service examination as applications had been closed.
The other Universities such as the Colombo University also released results before the prescribed date of the postponed Foreign Service examination but were not afforded an opportunity to sit the examination. The least that should have been done was to extend the date of closing of applications to enable successful University students who obtained good results in the Degree examination in respect of the years 1998 and 1999 to sit the examination. This ws not done. To this extent there was deprivation exercised even against University students who graduated in respect of years 1998, 1999 and 2000 before the examination was held. Protests were made through newspapers, and understandably in writing also to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs over this unsatisfactory situation but they fell on deaf ears.
2. The advertisement in the gazette notification dated June 9, 2000, itself was flowed. The scheme of recruitement prescribed the education qualification as a Degree from a recognized University; but the Application form which was also gazetted provided for "Other Qualifications" and provision to quote the name of the Institute from where such qualification was obtained. However, a note under it referred prospective applicants to the Scheme of Recruitment which was a "University Degree." What confusion in respect of an important examination? The Foreign Ministry then did not seem to know what it was doing!
Obviously, the application form attached was prepared on the basis of an existing form under an earlier recruitment scheme which provided for qualified persons holding equal qualifications to a University Degree to apply. For example, the foreign service was earlier open to Barristers quailfied in England, and Attorneys-at Law who passed out of the Law College, which qualifications were as good as a Degree for a career in the foreign service.
3. Some students who applied for the examination quoting evidence that they expected results shortly and adducing other qualifications were understandably sent admission cards for the foreign service examination, however, notifying them that the receipt of the admission card was no guarantee that they would be allowed to sit the examination. The question is whether any such students who qualified in 1999/2000 [before the foreign service examination was held] were later excluded from being called for the interview and deprived of an opportunity to make a bid at this examination. Transparency is lacking on this point and there is reason to suspect that this has happened. The Foreign Ministry should make this point clear through a statement.
4. As advertised in the gazette notification, the scheme of examination consisted of two parts a written examination and a Viva Voce examination. The gazette notification stated that selections would be made on the total aggregate of marks obtained in both parts of the examination taken together. This is important. That has been the basis for selection to the previous civil service and other services. However, a proviso was included that only those candidates who obtain sufficient high level marks would be notified to appear for the Viva. It was also stated that the Secretary of the Ministry would determine this level of high level marks.
When the total aggregate of marks in both the written examination and the Viva Voce Examination are prescribed, it is incumbent upon the authorities to give an equal opportunity to all candidates without introducing a selection criteria before that, which criteria is left in the hands of an official rather than made part of the examination scheme. A mere mentioning of it in the notification does not give any special sanction. The practice from the days of the civil service examination was to call all candidates for interview as the scheme prescribed. Records should show that quite a number who were selected to the civil service and the foreign service and other services had scored heavily in the Viva Voce examination. Every candidate who sat the examination received a mark sheet showing the marks gained by each candidate in the written exam and in the interview and the aggregate. In fact, the Foreign Ministry has selected candidates to the Foreign Service solely on the criteria of a Viva Voce examination as Prime Minister S. W. R. D. Bandaranaike did and later followed at times.
Even if calling all candidates for Viva today may be a cumbersome procedure, at least the cut off point should be made more flexible to permit a broader basis for final selection taking the aggregate marks of both sections of the exam. A correspondent has pointed out in your newspaper that the cut off point was determined at 50 percent of aggregate marks in the written exam. If this is right, this appears to be too high and excluded a wider basis for selection. A material consideration for such flexibility should have been that the examination is held in three different languages and the standards and criteria for making differ considerably. This is seen from the preponderance of candidates answering in Sinhala and Tamil languages being selected. Some of them had, reportedly, become problems for the Foreign Ministry later. Quite a few recruits had been Sinhalese and Tamil School principals who were found unfit. A more recent recruit, an ex-Buddhist priest who could not keep pace is alleged to have committed suicide in the jungles of Hambantota not so long ago! A more flexible and wider basis for determining the cut off point for the Viva could adjust any imbalances in marking of scripts and unjust exclusion of candidates, particularly in the absence of any standardisation of marks in the respective medias.
The least that the present Minister of Foreign Affairs could do is to hold a full inquiry into the affairs related to this examination through competent persons drawn also from outside the Foreign office and hold fresh Viva Voce examinations calling candidates from a wider group if all candidates who sat the written examination cannot be interviewed. For guidance one could see that in the past when more saner counsel prevailed, the cut off point was determined at 40 marks; and in foreign service examinations the pass marks in subjects, e. g, departmental examinations was 33 1/3.
I hope the Foreign Ministry which has selected the role of non-transparency by stating
that the decision of the Secretary of the Ministry is final, even in this age when
Fundamental Rights are held above administrative decisions, would respond to the points
raised in connection with this examination held under the previous government.
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