ECP verdict: officers punished sans personal hearing

Published February 26, 2021
An administrative officer said it should also be verified who was in charge of the “operation” to pick the POs. — AFP/File
An administrative officer said it should also be verified who was in charge of the “operation” to pick the POs. — AFP/File

GUJRAT: Senior serving and retired officers of administration and police have expressed their reservations at the action the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) has taken against some government officials in the wake of Daska NA-75 by-polls fiasco, saying it seems to be “against the norms of justice”.

Declaring the by-poll null and void, the ECP ordered the establishment division to suspend Sialkot deputy commissioner (DC), district police officer (DPO) and Daska assistant commissioner (AC) from service. It also ordered the Punjab government to transfer the Gujranwala commissioner and regional police officer (RPO), besides suspending two deputy superintendents of police (DSPs).

The senior officers Dawn talked to on Thursday were of the view that none of the suspended and transferred officials had been given a fair chance of hearing unlike the Punjab chief secretary and inspector general of police, who had been asked to appear in person before the chief election commissioner on March 4 as per ECP’s Thursday verdict.

Seeking anonymity, the officers deplored that before taking any decision, the ECP should have issued notices for the personal hearing to the Gujranwala commissioner, RPO, DC, DPO and the AC and two DSPs.

Besides, they said the ECP could have ordered an inquiry into the matter to know from where the directions were issued to those involved in the “kidnapping” the 20 presiding officers (PO). Similarly, they said a probe could also be conducted into the whereabouts of the missing officials and the policemen deployed for their security through their mobile phone data.

Kaira sees it as a healthy sign

A senior police officer said that only relying on the statements of a few POs without considering other relevant evidence in the matter, how the ECP could fairly fix the responsibility for the episode.

Terming the ECP action discriminatory, he said it seemed to be a continuation of the tradition of making scapegoats of only subordinate officials in the country.

An administrative officer said it should also be verified who was in charge of the “operation” to pick the POs.

Reliable sources said Gujranwala RPO Riaz Nazeer Gara and Sialkot DPO Hasan Asad Alwai had responded to the phone calls by the Punjab election commissioner at around 3:30am on Feb 20 and also dispatched additional force to the office of the returning officer (RO). A police team was also tasked with locating the missing POs soon after the call of the provincial election commissioner the same night, they added.

However, local politicians are lauding the ECP’s order, as they say it is for the first time that responsibility has been fixed in such a matter by the commission.

Former parliamentarian Nawabzada Ghazanfar Ali Gull said the summoning of the CS and the IGP by the ECP was also a sort of censure for the both senior officers.

Adding the ECP’s verdict was also an indicator that the establishment was becoming neutral in the political affairs of the country.

PPP Punjab President Qamar Zaman Kaira says though the suspension or removal of some senior officers by the ECP could not be taken as a proper punishment, still the decision should be taken as a positive sign as it was first such instance in the history of the country that ECP acted so responsibly and questioned the government officers’ conduct.

Talking to Dawn, he said the ECP had taken two major steps recently; first by opposing the government’s wish of holding the Senate elections through ‘show of hands’ without a constitutional amendment and the second by announcing re-polling in NA-75.

“These are healthy signs [showing] that the ECP was trying to perform its due role as per law and the constitution.”He said the ECP should now investigate the role of all the government officers in Daska violence and punish the culprits without any discrimination.

He said the ECP should suggest to the parliament and political parties how the institution could be made fully autonomous, having legal, administrative and financial powers to ensure free and fair elections in the country.

Published in Dawn, February 26th, 2021

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