LAHORE: The Punjab government has in a surprise move on Thursday posted a new secretary to the local government and community development (LG&CD) department and committed to the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) to hold the local government elections before Sept 30.

LG&CD department secretary Dr Sajid Mahmood Chauhan who accompanied law minister Basharat Raja to hold a scheduled meeting with the ECP chairman and members, was transferred even before he could return to the provincial capital.

Sources claim there were reports that Chief Minister Usman Buzdar, who himself is holding the portfolio of LG&CD department, was not happy with Dr Chauhan’s performance and transferred him even before his return after presenting Punjab’s case of preparations for LG polls to ECP chairman Sikandar Sultan Raja and other provincial members.

Dr Chauhan did not respond to calls and WhatsApp messages asking clear-cut question about his transfer over his “poor performance”.

The Punjab government made Dr Chauhan OSD and replaced him with Noorul Amin Mengal, who was awaiting posting in the S&GAD department.

Law minister says province is ready to hold local polls before Sept 3

The government also transferred LG&CD department special secretary Babar Aman Babar and posted him as special secretary primary and secondary healthcare department, in his own pay and scale, against a vacant post.

Law Minister Basharat Raja told Dawn that the Punjab government critics should get their apprehensions removed about the holding of local government elections as the government committed that the LG elections could be held before Sept 30. He said the Punjab government had in August last year also committed that the ECP could give dates for the holding of elections but the raging prevalence of coronavirus pandemic had blocked the holding of elections.

“The National Command and Operation Centre (NCOC) had also written to the ECP not to schedule elections during the coronavirus infections in the country and particularly in Punjab,” Mr Raja said.

The law minister said the ECP had written its last letter to the Punjab government on Jan 15 asking it to present its preparations case and give a clear-cut time-frame for holding the LG elections otherwise it would itself give election dates.

“We presented the Punjab government’s point of view that it was ready to hold the LG elections and readily assist the ECP in holding complete elections before Sept 30,” he said and added that the Punjab government would like to hold the elections in two phases – village councils and neighbourhood councils’ elections in the first phase and LG elections in the second phase.

Mr Raja said the Punjab government representatives also told the ECP that there were some anomalies in the Punjab Local Government Act 2019 and these would be removed by the Punjab Assembly as it was beginning its upcoming session on Jan 25.

With regard to announcing the election dates, the law minister said the Punjab government had requested the ECP that it should consider three upcoming events – Ramazan, Hajj and Muharram – falling between now and Sept 30.

A Punjab government’s handout says the government has reduced its 25,238 Village Councils (21,678) and Neighbourhood Councils (3,560) to only 8,000 councils across the province and the process of amendments to make Punjab Local Government Act 2019 more effective would be completed in time too.

The ECP chairman said the Punjab government had given its cut-off date and now the ECP would plan and announce the election schedule.

Iftikhar A Khan reports from Islamabad that the meeting chaired by Chief Election Commissioner Sikandar Sultan Raja was assured by the Punjab law minister that details about village, panchayat and neighbourhood councils would also be provided to the Commission in the next 15 days.

The commission will now determine the dates for LG polls in Punjab in the light of the recommendations of the provincial government.

Published in Dawn, January 22nd, 2021

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