THIS is apropos of Sahito Zaheer’s letter ‘Making general election transparent’ (Dec 30). The writer aptly highlighted the basic problems in the Election Commission of Pakistan( ECP) of partiality and knowledge of local staff, their basic needs and capacity building.
Much has been printed in the form of letters, articles and editorials in Dawn about issues ranging from appointment of the Chief Election Commissioner, electoral reforms and preparedness of the ensuing general election. However, apprehension remains about the conduct of free and fair elections until the basic problems in the ECP’s structural setup are not addressed at this opportune time, which have still been overlooked.
In the ECP hierarchy, the most crucial office is at the district level, headed by the District Election Commissioner (DEC). The appointment in officer cadre at entry level in the ECP is held through lateral entry or officials from lower ranks in the ECP are promoted to the post of DEC, mostly ignoring merit. Hence, the officers so appointed are neither trained properly nor are competent enough to comprehend the elections laws, constitution, amendments, rules and regulations and other legislative affairs pertaining to election laws.
As work of the ECP is not only administrative but legislative in nature also, the qualification for appointment to the post of DEC must have an LLB degree and appointments should be made through the public service commission only.
Although there is an election academy in the ECP secretariat, it is virtually dysfunctional as there is no provision of mandatory training for local staff in the ECP to teach election laws and to impart training to them, at par with other civil service cadres.
Although the ECP is a constitutional body and is assigned very delicate and crucial task of conducting general and local government elections, its employees are, however, not compensated the fringes and benefits like other constitutional bodies, i.e. the judiciary, Senate, National Assembly and provincial assemblies.
Only the CEC and four members are entitled to these perks and privileges. This is indeed institutional discrimination. This is one of the major reasons that local staff of the ECP establishes political affiliation with political parties and leaders, especially at district level, and indulgees in corruption to meet their basic needs.
Besides the human resource, the infrastructure of the ECP’s offices is diminished due to the meagre budgetary allocation and financial constraints. The ECP does not have its own offices in districts and is dependent on provincial and local governments for accommodation. Owing to this, the provincial and the local government always seize an opportunity to intervene and dominate in the electoral process. Further, the poor infrastructure of the ECP’s offices devoid of furniture and fixture lacks decorum and dignity which leaves a bad impression about the ECP’s image on the people.
As all decisions are finally implemented at the administrative unit of the district where constituencies do fall and elections are virtually conducted, it is imperative the CEC took notice of these issues to enhance the salary of his local staff on the pattern of the judiciary, build their capacity and strengthen physical infrastructure of his organisation to avoid administrative and legal lacunas so that they work impartially to ensure free, fair and transparent elections.
TUFAIL AHMED MASHORI Karachi