ECP in the lurch sans provincial election commissioners

Establishment division refuses to send top officers from other cadres

Irfan Ghauri February 26, 2017

ISLAMABAD: The years-old policy of ad-hocism has now taken a toll on the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP), which is working now without a single Provincial Election Commissioner (PEC) — the officers who actually conduct elections in their respective provinces.

The PECs of Punjab, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (K-P) and Balochistan retired this month. The PEC office of Sindh has already been vacant for the past year or so – leaving the provincial wings of top election supervisory body practically headless in all the four provinces.

PEC Punjab Masood Malik retired on Feb 1, the PEC K-P Musarat Khan on Feb 6 and the PEC Balochistan on Feb 13. Sindh has already been run through a junior officer with additional charge.

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The PEC is a grade-21 post. Besides these four posts, the ECP needs another six officers of this grade to run the affairs smoothly. Of these 10 grade-21 posts, the ECP currently has only three officers.

Sources in the establishment division told The Express Tribune that the ECP had requested the government to provide it grade-21 officers to fill its vacant slots.

To the ECP’s chagrin, the request has been flatly turned down. “There is already a shortage of 190 such officers in different departments. It would be difficult for us to spare anyone on the ECP’s disposal right now,” an official privy to the communication quoted the government’s reply.

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Besides the PEC offices, vital grade-21 posts — of directors general (DG) budget, elections, administration, and local governments – are either vacant or being run by junior officers with additional charge or by the officers who are about to retire or those already on extension.

With elections due the next year, the shortage of competent officers on key posts would leave the ECP in the lurch. And in case early elections are called, the ECP will not be in a position to adequately perform its task.

Why ECP fell short of officers

Despite this shortage of manpower, only three ECP officers have been selected for the ongoing Mid Carrier Management Course (MCMC) mandatory for promotion from grade-18 to grade-19.

In the ongoing course that started from Feb 20, more than 300 officers from different other government departments are participating. Held twice a year, the ECP would get another three officers qualified through this course.

With this ratio, the ECP would ultimately have only six officers eligible for promotion from grade-18 to grade-19 by next year. The same thing is with the National Management and Senior Management Courses mandatory for officers to get promoted from grade-19 to grade-20 and grade-20 to grade-21.

A top official of the ECP told The Express Tribune that the ECP had not made full use of its own academy to train its officers in the past. “If the ECP utilised its own academy for this purpose, it would have a pool of trained officers who would also be better equipped for their jobs,” he said.

Illogical postings

The ECP could not only get its officers trained for promotions into the senior grades and but also made illogical postings and transfers during the past two years for the district election commissioners (DEC).

After the PEC office, the DECs are the officials who actually conduct the elections and mostly act as district returning officers (DROs). They are the most important field officers in updating electoral rolls and conducting delimitations. They can be easily manipulated if they are unaware of local geography and demographics.

Data collected by The Express Tribune for some key districts of North and Central Punjab is sufficient to describe the situation. Of the two DECs of Rawalpindi one belongs to Malakand. The DEC Gujrat is from Karak, the DEC of Gujranwala is from Dir, the DEC Sargodha is from Swabi, the DEC Jhelum is from Swat. One of Lahore’s three DECs is from DI Khan while the DEC Okara is from Peshawar.

Published in The Express Tribune, February 26th, 2017.