ISLAMABAD: As part of preparations for general elections to be held next year, the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) has received the names of 635,000 federal and provincial officers who have been proposed to be appointed as the polling staff. Their training will commence in July.

A senior ECP official told Dawn that a total 735,000 polling staff were required for the gigantic exercise and an active coordination was under way to fill the gap. He said the proposed names for polling staff comprised officers of various departments working in BPS-16 to 21. Their names have been sent to the provincial election commissions (PECs) for scrutiny by district election commissions (DECs).

He referred to a recent meeting of the planning committee, with ECP Secretary Babar Yaqoob Fateh Muhammad in the chair, in which the secretary had stressed that the PECs must prepare a data-bank of polling staff at the district and tehsil levels, and that the officers be scrutinised thoroughly as per the criteria to ensure neutral and unbiased polling staff in the coming general elections. “If an officer is appointed for elections in violation of the criteria for eligibility, the DECs concerned shall be held responsible”, he quoted the ECP secretary as saying.

Official says 50 election tribunals are seized with 2,380 petitions filed since 2013 polls

The ECP secretary had also stressed that only those officers who had a good reputation and were not politically affiliated with a political party would be considered for appointment as DROs, ROs and other polling staff. During the scrutiny process, the DECs, the RECs (regional election commissions) and the PECs should ensure that the officers are computer literate, know how to use smartphones and are below 55 years of age.

He said it was decided that in the next meeting, the PECs would brief the planning committee about complete lists of officials and staff working in various districts, on the data-bank and the scrutiny of requisite staff on the prescribed performa circulated by the Election Wing.

He said a committee has been constituted to make a development manual for training DROs, ROs and other polling staff. The draft manual will be submitted to the relevant authority after enactment of the Elections Act, 2017 and the rules made there-under.

A three-tier approach will be used. In the first phase, 100 lead trainers will be trained in four sessions. After that, 92 trainings will be conducted for 2,300 master trainers. In the third phase, 22,471 trainings of an estimated 561,788 presiding officers and other senior officers will be conducted throughout the country. Their orientation will be organised by the relevant ROs.

The official said Rs1.83 billion had been spent from the ECP’s Rs2.225bn budget for the current financial year. As the next financial year will also be the election year, a budget of Rs5.73bn has been estimated for regular and capacity-building activities, while additional funds of Rs1.8bn will be required to establish a monitoring wing, maintenance and security of office buildings, purchase of photocopiers, refurbishment of office vehicles, purchase of new computers, printers, UPS and scanners for the Result Management System (RMS).He said an amount of around Rs5.5 billion would be demanded as supplementary grant after announcement of elections. He said the required number of IT equipment, scanners and printers had been sent to the PECs for further distribution in field offices.

The geo-coordinates of all polling stations will be shared with the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority chairman to match them with the signal strength of Telcos. A detailed report will be sent to the ECP for further instructions regarding the use of the RMS from polling stations.

Chief Secretaries will be asked to cooperate in districts where there are accessibility problems in obtaining data due to extreme weather or other problems.

Election tribunals

The official said at present, 50 election tribunals were occupied with 2,380 election petitions filed since the 2013 general elections, by-elections and the local government elections in 2015. Under the law, election tribunals are supposed to complete their work within four months. A huge expenditure is incurred on the operational costs of these election tribunals.

The ECP official said all 50 election tribunals working on the disposal of election petitions will be asked to attend a meeting at the Election Commission to apprise the ECP about their progress. They will be told to expedite the disposal of all petitions.

Published in Dawn, March 26th, 2017