THE Election Commission of Pakistan’s ban on fresh recruitments and on the diversion of development funds comes against a background of concerns voiced by many people who say such practices by the government amount to pre-poll manipulation. There is little doubt the federal and provincial governments are motivated by political considerations when they resort to “mass recruitments” to follow what is being seen as a “jobs for votes” policy. This recruitment spree has pitfalls, the gravest being the appointment of people who do not have the necessary qualification for the job. However, the ECP exempts appointees who go through the federal and provincial public service commissions. Banning all other appointments raises some questions, because this would have a bearing on the state’s obligations towards its citizens — providing employment being one of them. For instance, the inauguration of a dam or hospital cannot be put on hold in the pre-election period — one that may remain unspecified — simply because this would cast the ruling party or coalition in a positive light. In matters of recruitment, too, the planned expansion of a given department or autonomous corporation may occur in the pre-election period, and for that reason recruitment cannot be deferred. A distinction can be made in some cases; for instance, had the decision to regularise the services of 100,000 lady health workers — a laudable, much-needed move no doubt — come earlier , it could have dispelled impressions that the move was linked to elections.
As for the other complaint, there is absolutely no justification for diverting the money for development projects to the prime minister’s discretionary funds with a view to using the largess for obliging people in his constituency in return for votes. Development money being given to parliamentarians is itself a debatable practice. As experience shows, not all lawmakers use them for genuine purposes and many misuse funds. Monday’s ECP statement doesn’t specify cases where such diversions have taken place. It merely speaks of the “concern being voiced by people”. The federal government should take notice of the ECP’s warning because it specifically speaks of the prime minister’s constituency.