Mismanagement, chaos mar distribution

Presiding officers complain about lack of facilities, delays in delivery of material

Asma Ghani July 26, 2018

ISLAMABAD: The apex polling body on Tuesday distributed polling material to presiding officers to set up the material and arrange the booths in polling stations as the country goes votes today.  However, the process was marred by mismanagement and a slothful process.

The presiding officers of all three national assembly constituencies in the federal capital, including NA-52, NA-53 and NA-54, were called to the Islamabad Model College for Boys in Sector F-8/4 by the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) to collect their polling material.

Presiding officers, along with other polling staff, had been directed to report to the school at 8am. However, they were still collecting election material till evening.

A presiding officer complained that after reporting in the morning, he only got a chance to sit down at 3pm after standing in queues for most of the day and only returned to his assigned polling station at 5pm in the evening.

He further complained that there was insufficient water available for them.

“I have to set up polling booths at the station and I have been directed to stay there all night,” the official said.

Even women presiding officers had to wait for hours to collect ballot papers, boxes, stamps, ink pads and other material.

Transferring the material to the station was also another hassle since there was no coordination amongst the drivers and staff.

“We kept waiting for the bus since we were told that we had been assigned to bus number 60 [to take us to the polling station],” a female presiding officer said.

“When the bus never showed up, we asked if we could be provided with any other available bus. But by then the security staff had disappeared,” she said, adding that it had taken them all day just to collect the material and arrange it at their polling stations.

The women presiding officers, however, had been exempted from staying overnight at polling stations.

During the material distribution process, there was a moment of confusion which caused delays when the material distribution team refused to hand out the materials to those presiding officers who did not have the Result Transmission System (RTS).

It was not until the District Returning Officer intervened and directed that the system was not necessary for distributing the material, that distribution resumed.

“After complaints were made to the DRO, he once again stated that the RTS was not necessary. But the RO for NA-53 kept insisting on RTS,” a presiding officer said.

Some presiding officers complained that distribution of election material for NA-53 was especially mismanaged, while for NA-52 and NA-54 was relatively better managed.

“The Returning Officer for NA-53 was too lethargic as he did not pack the polling material last night. Delays in distribution were caused by the RO's staff were packing and distributing polling material simultaneously,” complained another presiding officer.

Meanwhile, presiding officers have complained about the functionality of RTS mobile application developed by the ECP to transmit the results electronically. Some say that it was not working at all.

Presiding officers are required to use the application to take the pictures of the prepared results and send them to the ECP.

Preparations in Rawalpindi

The district returning officers have handed over polling boxes, stationery bags and screens to all 2,576 polling officers under the supervision of Pakistan Army officials on Tuesday.

The provision of ballot papers would be completed early morning on Wednesday.

Strict security arrangements were in place while the supplies were delivered at Judicial Complex.

However, the distribution took place at a snail’s pace, heavily stressing out the polling officers who had come from distant parts of the city.

In spite of sweltering heat, there was no arrangement of water dispensers at Judicial Complex, prompting women and men to buy water bottles to quench their thirst. There was no arrangement of shade, either, polling staff stood under the open sun along with army jawans to collect the election material.

Every polling officer was accompanied by a soldier to take the election material to the respective polling stations.

The administration had provided transport facilities to for the polling staff to comute to their respective polling stations, however,  lack of vehicles prompted several officers to hire taxis and rickshaws to carry the supplies.

The plight of women polling officers was worse. They were perturbed about the long wait and improper arrangements. Women teachers of Rawalpindi were deployed to polling stations of Kalar Saidan while those residing in Kalar Saidan were stationed in Kotli Satyan, all localities miles away from their homes.

Several polling officers could not even arrive for collection of election supplies. Consequently, they sent their juniors to perform the tedious task. Women teachers were called up at eight in the morning for collecting supplies, but the distribution started two hours later at 10am. The process continued until five in the evening.

Many polling officers in the capital had to spend the night at their respective polling stations to make arrangements for the elections. From there they came to collect the election material and hauled it back to the polling stations. These people will now perform election duties count votes and then go to home on Wednesday or in early hours of Thursday.

School heads had arranged mattresses, dinner and breakfast for the polling staff.

Emergency in hospitals

To deal with any emergency situation on Election Day, the holidays of staff at state-run hospitals has been cancelled.

Arrangement for all the important medicines, blood, excessive beds have been made, officials at Benazir Bhutto General Hospital said.

The ambulances of hospitals will also be on stand-by position.

Rawalpindi Medical University VC Prof Muhammad Umer and Cantonment General Hospital Executive Director Sibtain Raza in their separate directives have stated that victims brought in amid emergency during the election process should be provided with all medical facilities.

In all the four hospitals, the medical superintendent (MS) will be present from morning till late at night to supervise the emergency, operation theatre and medical aid facilities and will also ensure that all the doctors, professors and paramedical staff were there on the duty.

The security arrangement in hospitals should also be checked, in case of any untoward happening in any polling station, ambulance should be sent immediately in the meanwhile, presence of doctors and paramedical staff should be ensured before the injured is brought in.

Published in The Express Tribune, July 25th, 2018.

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