Uganda National Examinations Board (Uneb) executive secretary Dan N Odongo has said the ordinary level examination leaks were deliberately done to undermine the body.
Odongo told a news conference on Wednesday that the motive was two-sided: money and to undermine Uneb. He did not say who would be interested in damaging the board’s image.
“This was an act meant to tarnish the image of Uneb and probably the education sector because even those who are not teachers or school owners were also receiving the papers circulating on social media,” he said
Last week question papers for Biology, Chemistry and Christian Religious Education were posted on social media hours before candidates sat.
Odongo said preliminary investigations have, however, cleared their staff of any wrongdoing. The board has also established that while Kampala was awash with the leaked papers, Uganda Certificate of Education (UCE) examinations were largely unaffected around the country.
“I very strongly refute baseless allegations made by one Etukuri who writes for one of the dailies that in Uneb there are cartels that make millions of shillings every year on examinations,” Odongo said at Uneb offices in Ntinda.
“If you continue to say sources [to] cover up what you are imagining, it continues to hurt other people who do not have the ability to spread that kind of falsehood using the media.”
Uneb statistics indicate that 325,695 candidates registered for this year’s UCE examinations in 3,620 centres. The examinations are running from October 16 to November 20.
Below is a slightly abridged transcript from the media briefing addressed by Uneb’s executive secretary Odongo and deputy police publicist Polly Namaye.
How did Uneb learn that examinations had leaked?
We did not receive the news through media reports. I got a call from one of our officers in Kawempe that somebody was talking to a head teacher that he has an examination he can get for them.
This person, who was also a teacher in another school, was the first to be arrested. I got his number, sent it to the police team working on the conduct of the examinations and they swung into action to have him arrested.
When they looked at his phone, it led them to another person after he confessed that he was not the source of the examinations.
That other person was also picked in the afternoon and led us to a chain of people. They included Entebbe (5), Mbarara and Ibanda (5), Bunyangabu (4), Serere (2), Amuria (1), Kampala (9) and Iganga (1).
Total number of arrests were 27 by Wednesday…
Yes, but they are still looking for more. Of the 27, at least 24 are teachers, mostly from private schools; one student, an area supervisor, a director from a private school and a school bursar from a government school both in Iganga.
I am not at liberty to name the schools because police is still conducting its investigations. As investigations intensified, it emerged that the epicentre of the leakages was Iganga. The key suspect was arrested over the weekend.
This person revealed to the investigating team that the source was an examination storage station in Busesa located after Iganga. It involved the connivance of the area supervisor and a scout who had been posted [there].
The scout was arrested on Tuesday morning and I had an opportunity to interface with him. He confessed that he had been paid Shs 1 million to surrender the keys he was meant to protect from the fraudsters who later freely accessed the examinations.
Initially, the aim was for the director of the private school who was also an accomplice and his area supervisor to help their own schools but later the motive of making money also came in. They got other people who started sending the question papers through social media.
What does this tell us given that teachers are majority of the suspects?
We have a big problem. That tells you about the commercialization of education in this country and the negative effects it has on the system.
Some teachers are ready to drop all their ethics; this is an indictment on teachers although the overwhelming majority of them are doing a fantastic job under difficult circumstances.
How bad was the leakage?
I am still getting information from the field. Much as this thing was so loud in Kampala, a lot of people who got this information on their phones did not even use it. I am sure other candidates got more confused when they saw the information.
In most cases, malpractice will not help candidates very much except for those who are very intelligent and are reminded a little of what they could have forgotten.
I was talking to a head teacher who immediately called an assembly and told her teachers that whoever has received the information on social media should keep it to themselves.
The association of secondary school head teachers agreed on their platform that nobody should attempt because this is a shame and there is nothing that we are going to do about it. Yes, many people received those things but those that did [but] did not use them were so many.
Is Uneb and police ready to say those who have been arrested are guilty?
I am not saying anyone is culpable. But when the investigations eventually find out that they are not innocent, then we shall apply the regulations.
As a board, we have preached to everyone against examination malpractice including the students who are the biggest losers when this thing happens. For now, everyone is innocent until they have been proven guilty.
When this leak happened, we imagine students did not have phones to whistle blow.
But for instance, if I go to a student and wake him/her like it was happening at 2am; take him/her to class and begin to give him/her information, they can tell straight away that this is not normal.
Remember, you willingly participate in this late class knowing that there are consequences. Does this make a student innocent? These children are 16 and 17-year-olds who are not like nursery kids who can be lifted from the bed and taken into a room and given information regarding examinations.
What is the fate of the student who was netted?
This student from Iganga was found with a biology practical paper that was given to him by a teacher but is continuing with the examinations.
We do not stop a student from writing examinations even when one is found with notes inside the examination room. We only confiscate the notes and write statements but allow the student to complete all the papers.
Our people in the field are not the final decision-makers because there must be a hearing conducted by the board’s security committee. A decision can be made thereafter. The only incident where you don’t continue with examinations is when we find out that you are an impersonator. You are arrested there and then.
Are there plans of resetting other papers for the affected subjects?
We have almost 340,000 candidates who are writing UCE examinations. We are talking of about 500 candidates or less who actually benefited from the leak.
So, why would you want to punish those who did their examinations under the regulations by subjecting them to write another paper yet you can actually isolate those candidates who had the problem? It cannot be a blanket decision to set other papers because you need to have very good reasons for doing that.
Are you able to detect schools that used the leaked papers?
I am still receiving information of possible centres that could have used this information. We can only establish this when we get all students’ scripts.
Even those that we are hearing now, we are not holding onto them until we get the evidence. We are just taking note of suspected schools because they [woke] up students at around 2am and later sleep at 4am which is unfair to the candidates.
Should candidates worry about change in the pass marks for the affected subjects?
Not at all. Nothing like that will happen. Candidates should write their examinations with ease because it is only when the impact is established that appropriate decisions can be made.
Is this the biggest examination leak?
No. The other incidents were just not publicised on social media and in the media as well. There have been incidents where some of our security in some small stations has been breached. This time round, the print media came in to write stories.
When do we expect the investigations to end?
By the time we get to the release of results [early next year], the processes will be over.
A-level examinations are expected in a week’s time. Candidates at this level are adults and have access to social media…
I want to encourage them that by the time they get to A-level, their level of maturity has increased. However, incidents of malpractice are lowest at Uganda Advanced Certificate of Education because of the complexity of the tasks.
If you get a question and you have only two hours to finish, if you were not well prepared, chances are slim that you will give this question good answers.
Now, similar with leaked UCE examinations, if you got a chemistry paper and you have never known how to balance an equation for the last four years, how can you learn how to do it in an hour? So, this whole leakage was just a very unfortunate incident.
What are your views about penalties for examination malpractice in the Uneb Act?
The current law is very bad. We are revising the law and have reached the level of presenting a cabinet paper. Once cabinet says yes, it will instruct the parliamentary counsel to write the draft which we already have in their language for presentation.
The current punishment for a convicted person is a maximum of two years of imprisonment or a fine of Shs 50,000 or both. Our proposal in the draft is a fine of Shs 5 million and at least five years of incarceration. We made these proposals about two years ago when the efforts to amend the law started but it has been a bit slow.
I am sure that when the parliamentary counsel drafts it, we can revise the figures. We will also borrow from other legislations like in Nigeria where they fine you over Shs 20 million and more than five years of imprisonment and Kenya which has a minimum of five years.
What charges has police preferred against the arrested persons?
There are different forms of malpractices but in this case, those who leaked and spread the examinations are charged under the Computer Misuse Act and Uneb Act. So, police investigators are going to look into these laws and we shall be able to prosecute them in court.
Unfortunately, we are still having a [strike] in the DPP’s office but we believe that as soon as we have them back in office, these people will be taken to court and charged. Currently, the suspects are detained at various police stations in the districts.
Examinations were leaked from a storage station and the assumption is that there was a police officer on duty. Did this officer connive?
Unfortunately, police officers do not keep keys to storage rooms of examinations. All that our officers do is to keep the storage area as secure as possible. However, from the arrests that we have made, we see connivance from the school director, area supervisor and storekeepers.
Police cannot actually know that the person coming in is not authorised. It is a bit technical but we are still investigating. We cannot rule out connivance of police officers but if any of our own was involved, they will also be netted. For now, there is neither a police officer nor a Uneb staff that has so far been arrested.
Why is police working with Uganda Communications Commission and Internal Security Organisation?
We are actually working with all intelligence organisations. It is very important to use UCC in cautioning the players in the examination process to desist from leaking the examinations through social media platforms.
We have our media desk under CID which is doing a commendable job to track down anyone misusing WhatsApp, Twitter and Facebook, among others. This desk has worked together with UCC.
Even when it comes to prosecution, we shall need the support of UCC in ensuring that whoever had a hand in spreading the examinations via social media is brought to book.
Other security agencies like ISO are also helping us in the investigations and to ensure that we have no more leaks while UPDF will be very pivotal in accessing and transportation of examination material in hard-to-reach places. We are carrying out joint operations internally and at the borders. We shall bring in other security agencies as we deem necessary.