NTS – a mystery

NTS claims to be “Pakistan’s first self-sustained testing organisation”. Ironically, the government has the wherewithal to prepare such crucial tests, but it relies on NTS – an organisation that is a mystery insofar as its status is concerned. NTS was set up in 2003 by COMSATS Institute of Information Technology (CIIT) to act as an “education training and testing service centre”. It has been in the business since, but surprisingly, nobody knows whether it’s a public sector or private organisation. The Securities and Exchange Commission of Pakistan (SECP), which regulates the corporate sector, is not sure; the Establishment Division calls it a private body; while NTS itself claims to be a “not-for-profit public sector company”. The NTS website proudly displays dozens of top public sector organisations  among them Federal Public Services Commission, Federal Investigation Authority, Ministry of Defence, Government of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa. Not just that, hundreds of other institutions also figure on the site. In 2014, the Lahore High Court ruled that NTS tests were not binding on state-run universities after the Higher Education Commission had failed to furnish a written order from the government. Until then, it was binding to qualify NTS test for admission to state-run universities. Former pro-rector of CIIT and NTS chief executive director Haroon Rashid was sacked after it transpired that his PhD thesis was plagiarised. Subsequently, Preston University, Islamabad, revoked his degree. According to documents available from different meetings and notifications of the Board of Governors (BoG), the NTS status has deliberately been kept dubious as a 2002 notification does not specify under whose authority powers would be exercised. Despite criticism from politicians, education experts and academia rising to a crescendo, the NTS has repeatedly avoided sharing details, including its financial function, testing mechanism and transparency in system. “We have been kept in the dark from day one,” a CIIT official privy to the developments told The Express Tribune. An SECP special audit states that the BoG had deliberately been kept unaware in 2003 of the company, while an application for grant of a licence also didn’t have consent of the governing body. No nepotism: Over 16,000 constable candidates appear for NTS test According to SECP rules, names of officials of a parent organization – CIIT in the case of NTS – must be mentioned with their job titles. But in the NTS case, the rector, pro-rector, registrar and controller exams of CIIT had been mentioned only by their names. To fix this anomaly, the BoG decided in its 37th meeting in 2016 that the CIIT would inform the SECP to reconfigure the BoD for the NTS and that all the staff from CIIT would be mentioned as ex-officio members. It was also decided that a new makeup of the BoD of NTS would be notified to SECP. The SECP has yet to approve the five names the CIIT had suggested for BoG. “The company lacks transparency in the management of its affairs and warrants deep probe,” says the SECP report. Direct expenses of the organisation have increased by 91.30% which is inconsistent with its revenue (47.75%) during the same period. “Income from the test fee is increasing which indicates that the association is charging fee on the higher side.” It further adds that a significant increase, 190%, has been observed in “advances and receivables” from Rs154 million in 2014 to Rs447 million in 2015. On August 8, a lawmaker asked about the mechanism of NTS tests in public sector, and five-year balance sheet of the body. In reply, the Establishment Division told the National Assembly that “NTS is a private organisation… therefore the Establishment Division has no role in its affairs”. The SECP public relations officer, Shakil Ahmad, told The Express Tribune that “since five of NTS members are nominated by the CIIT, who claimed to have been acting as independent persons, not ex-officio, the matter is being investigated to ascertain the exact status of the NTS”. Apart from that, the BoG of CIIT recently requested the Auditor General of Pakistan to conduct a special audit of NTS from the date of its inception in 2003 including it Rs5billion-plus assets. Acting CEO Air Commodore (retd) Dr Sherzada Khan said the NTS had been a project until 2013 but was later registered as a ‘not-for-profit public sector company with no shareholders. “There are no financial or managerial irregularities in the NTS and everything is transparent,” he told The Express Tribune. Asked why the BoG had no knowledge of the NTS until 2009, Khan didn’t have a satisfactory answer.–Published in The Express Tribune, October 19th, 2016.]]>

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