ISLAMABAD: The country’s premier poll supervisory body, which has been mired in controversies of late, appears to be in hot water again following detection of serious anomalies in appointments against top slots in its bureaucracy.
Before the appointment in July this year of four new Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) members, important posts in the ECP top bureaucracy had already been filled by its management.
Mass postings, transfers and promotions had been made in the ECP bureaucracy and new roles had been assigned to hundreds of officers of different cadres, before the new members took over.
The move had raised many eyebrows because the outgoing members had no say in the process. It also left no room whatsoever for their successors to intervene even if any of them would have wanted to.
The Office of the Auditor General of Pakistan (AGP) has raised serious objections on some of these hirings made last year. These include appointment of a former military officer – Brigadier (retd) Abbas Ali Khan as director general administration.
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Appointed on May 19, 2015, Khan was in charge of all administrative matters related to mass reshuffle in the ECP. He is in hot water now, not for his actions as DG admin but for his own appointment.
The AGP, in its report presented before the National Assembly earlier this week, pointed out that the ECP management hired the retired military officer in Grade-20 in sheer disregard for its own rules and law laid down to hire ex-servicemen.
Quoting the Armed Forces Officers in Civil Post Establishment Order, 1961, the AGP pointed out that every institution that needs to hire a serving or retired military official has to consult the defence ministry before appointing him against a civil post.
For this purpose, the recruiting department needs to get a written approval from the defence ministry. In Khan’s case, the ECP did not do so. Not only the ECP management violated the forces rule, it also did not adhere to its own rules while making this appointment, the AGP said.
According to Clause-59 (1) of the Election Commission (Officers and Servants) Rules of 1989, the commission can fill vacant posts by promoting a person working in its central secretariat, provincial offices or subordinate offices at divisional and district levels.
The ECP can also hire the services of an officers serving in other federal or provincial departments on deputation or fill the post through direct recruitment, the rule states. In the case of Khan’s appointment, the ECP did not follow any of these rules.
“The appointment was made in violation of rules and was, therefore, irregular,” the AGP said, adding that the ECP management did not reply to points raised by its auditors. The AGP office asked relevant authorities to probe into the matter and fix responsibility.
The AGP also pointed out a flagrant irregularity in the May 6, 2015 recruitment of an additional director general (ADG), also in Grade-20, in its newly constituted Gender Affairs Division.
The post was created without approval from the competent authority. In this case, the ECP management needed approval of the President of Pakistan as per Article 221 of the Constitution.
The said article binds the ECP to get a formal approval from the president before making any changes in its service rules or for that matter creating a new post in its top bureaucracy.
The ECP did not comply with the constitutional provision when it created this post, the report said. The AGP further objected that the person appointed against the coveted office even did not qualify for the post. “The selected candidate did not possess the required experience of 16 years as laid down in the advertisement.”
The official appointed to the post had done her masters in 2008 and LLM in 2012-13.
There is no evaluation record of candidates interviewed by the appointing board that conducted interviews of the applicants. Moreover, the ECP even does not have any record about who else had applied for the post. It did not provide the auditors with any list of total applicants or those who were shortlisted.
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The ECP had been facing criticism from different quarters on issue of its impartiality, especially since the 2013 general elections. None of the political parties, including those that came to power, was totally satisfied with the results, though all parties accepted them despite their strong reservations. The appointment of the new members engendered a hope for the ECP to establish its credibility.
However, steps taken by the ECP management in appointments and the reshuffle in the bureaucracy would now be looked with suspicion after AGP’s report. These compelling objections by the AGP are likely to give credence to suspicions on the intent of the ECP management for next general elections, according to observers.
There had been serious discontent among the ECP officers over what they considered autocratic decisions taken by their top management first in the process of hiring for the top slots. And later those who were hired from outside also did a rigorous reshuffle.
Key office-holders hired from outside for top posts included ECP’s secretary, additional secretary, DG admin besides a few others. ECP Secretary Babar Yaqoob got an unprecedented extension for three years in September 2015.
The current bureaucratic setup – completed through new hirings, postings, transfers and promotions before the new commission took office – will be in charge of the next elections due in 2018.
Given that it is mainly the field staff and bureaucracy, which actually holds the elections on ground, the members will have very limited role in conducting polls. The ECP management also revised its promotion policy and made new promotions in all grades conditional to ‘satisfactory performance’ of an officer.
The ECP management claims that by doing so it aims to improve performance of the staff. But staffers view it as a move where the top management wants to maintain its hegemony. They would be working under a constant state of fear of demotion if ever tried to resist orders from the top bosses. This would compromise their independent decision making, they added.
The ECP secretary was not available for comments on the AGP report despite phone calls and SMSs.
The commission’s director general media, Suriya Jamal, however, said audit paras were taken up in the Public Accounts Committee (PAC). “The ECP will provide its point of view once the PAC takes it up,” she said, adding that the AGP pointed out irregularities in different departments from time to time, but usually these paras were settled in the PAC.
“The ECP will submit before the PAC its detailed response with all relevant documents.”
Published in The Express Tribune, October 9th, 2016.
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