January 19, 2015

Gov’t plans to do away with qualifying exams for civil service

The ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party) government has prepared an action plan to remove the obligation for candidates for positions in the civil service to take a competitive exam in order to pave the way for partisans to get employment in the government, the Taraf daily reported on Monday.

The document, designated as "top secret" and "submitted to the gentleman" -- a name commonly used to refer to President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan by people around him, was published in the newspaper's edition and indicates how the government would go about removing the State Personnel Examination (KPSS) and replace it with an interview-based process, which would give an advantage to candidates with “references” from AK Party politicians.

The obligatory status of the KPSS -- a standard exam for employment at entry level in the civil service -- was introduced during the term of the late Prime Minister Bülent Ecevit in order to remove favoritism and nepotism in the government. The system has by and large provided equal employment opportunities in the civil service.

The two-page document presented to Erdoğan states that the KPSS must be removed because most candidates who are affiliated with the ruling party received low scores on exams, thereby disqualifying them from being considered for government jobs. It underlined that party officials at the grassroots level often receive requests from party members to intervene on behalf of partisan candidates to facilitate securing them government jobs, but they were prevented from doing so due to the exam requirement.

The report emphasized that “the employment of people who will work with our party [AK Party] with 100 percent loyalty must be secured without any preconditions in all key positions in state institutions” in order to have strong links between the AK Party and state institutions.

The report lamented that Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu's pledge to fight the "parallel structure," a derogatory term used by Erdoğan to refer to members of the Hizmet social movement that was inspired by Islamic scholar Fethullah Gülen, has not been fully realized when it comes to screening Hizmet members for government jobs. It noted that some members of the Cabinet remained neutral to Erdoğan's battle with Hizmet and as such presented a grave threat to the viability of the AK Party in the future.

Recalling that 600,000 candidates with bachelor's degrees took the KPSS exam in July of last year, the report indicated the success rate was 12 to one, resulting in disqualifying most AK Party-affiliated exam takers. It said most complaints by party members centered on the requirement of high scores for placement in government jobs, leaving tens of thousands of AK Party members frustrated.

As if the removal of the written exam would not be enough to secure partisan entry into the civil service, the report claimed the oral exams were also manipulated, allowing people who are affiliated with opposition political parties such as the Republican Peoples' Party (CHP) and the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) or people who are affiliated with Hizmet to get a job in the government.

The report indicated that party members usually do not prefer low-status and low-paying jobs such as a driver or secretary that do not require the KPSS exam score. It said since most party members aim to get a position in the A-Group civil service, which requires a high KPSS score and a bachelor's degree, it suggested removing the requirement of having a bachelor's degree for this category as well.

If that happens, about 2.5 million high school graduates who apply for low-paying jobs will also be able to apply for the A-Group in the government. The A-Group exams determine appointments to posts at important government institutions such as the Prime Ministry, the Treasury, the Banking Regulation and Supervision Agency (BDDK) and the Ministry of Finance. The report suggested that, if needed, the Ministry of Education may provide courses to high school graduates to bridge the gap with university graduates.

As part of the public relations campaign, the report listed a number of steps to make sure government-controlled or subsidized media outlets run stories to discredit the KPSS system. It said the media should publish articles portraying the KPSS system as not being secure, and to rehash old claims of exam cheating from five years ago. If that is not enough, similar claims must be raised about other exams administered by the government centrally.

It asked the media to interview candidates who were unsuccessful in exams to endeavor to show that they were subjected to unjust treatment and their rights were violated by Hizmet.

In the current system, the appointments of new personnel to state institutions are determined by the candidates' scores on the KPSS exams, which take place nationally. The candidates are then placed in order according to the points they attained on the exam. The candidate then has to pass internal written and oral exams for a given institution.

However, if the obligation to take the KPSS exam is eliminated, candidates will only have to take the internal exams of institutions and undergo an interview process, potentially enabling the practice of nepotism and preferential treatment in the hiring process.

Taraf said a comprehensive report was prepared by several deputy chairpersons in the ruling party in close coordination with Erdoğan's advisers. The two-page summary of the report was submitted to Erdoğan. The paper claimed that the government was not even aware of the report.

Considering many of these recommendations were actually covered in the pro-government media with a smear campaign against the KPSS, it appears the action plans were already put into practice.

Taraf earlier reported claims that the project to remove the obligatory status of the KPSS exam began after the Gezi Park protests erupted in May 2013 over government plans to destroy the park, located in İstanbul's Taksim Square, and build an Ottoman-style military barracks in its place. The project gained speed in the wake of two major graft probes that went public on Dec. 17 and 25 of that year.

Opposition reacts to Taraf story

The opposition in Turkey reacted very strongly to Taraf daily's report, saying the AK Party is trying turn the civil service into a partisan bureaucracy. “The KPSS was set up during the Eecevit era and is a very objective qualifying exam for public employees. The AK Party government is trying to place loyalists in the government by removing this exam,” Akif Hamzaçebi, the CHP's parliamentary group deputy chairman, told Today's Zaman.

“The goal is to establish a partisan state,” he said, stressing that in the new system candidates will likely be asked how long they have been members of the AK Party and how many times they voted for the AK Party.

MHP Deputy Chairman Oktay Vural also lambasted the government for removing equal opportunities in public employment. He said the document published by Taraf exposing how Erdoğan is plotting to remove the KPSS is very important. “This shows a real parallel state was established by Erdoğan in the presidential office,” he told Today's Zaman.

Published on Today's Zaman, 19 January 2015, Monday