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ECP asks caretakers to sack political appointees

By Our Correspondent
January 24, 2023

ISLAMABAD: The Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) Monday directed, through a letter, the caretaker governments of Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa to ensure immediate termination of services of all heads of the institutions appointed on political basis and to share their list(s) with it.

The Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) asked the caretaker governments to ensure the compliance of all the notifications, directives and the provisions as laid down in Section 230 of the Elections Act, 2017, not to post or transfer any public official after the issuance of this notification without prior approval in writing of the ECP, that all kinds of recruitments in any ministry, division, department or institution under the provincial governments and local governments of Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa are banned with immediate effect, except recruitments by the provincial public service commissions and those government organisations where test and interviews have already been conducted.

The caretaker governments have also been barred from announcing or executing any kind of development schemes in Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa provinces except those which are ongoing and approved before the issuance of this notification.

The ECP has asked the caretaker governments to assist the electoral body in the conduct of elections in accordance with law. In a set of guidelines issued for the caretakers in these provinces, the electoral body has sought vacation of the government residential facilities from ex-chief ministers and their advisers, ex-provincial ministers and ex-members of the provincial assemblies of Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa as well as ensuring withdrawal of official vehicles from them.

The guidelines include, “furthermore, the dignitaries shall be provided security/protocol as per their entitlement and any extra deployment of security/protocol be withdrawn from them forthwith”.

With reference to the guidelines, the ECP referred to Section 230(1)(b) of the Elections Act, 2017, which defines the functions of the caretaker governments. “Moreover, the provincial governments and local governments of Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa shall not issue tenders of such schemes till culmination of general elections of both the assemblies,” the guidelines say.

Likewise, development funds relating to the local government institutions of Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Cantonment Boards falling in the jurisdiction of the two provinces shall stand frozen with immediate effect till announcement of results of the general elections.

The ECP noted that it was mandated with the constitutional duty to organise and conduct elections in terms of Article 218(3) of the Constitution and to make such arrangements as are necessary to ensure that the elections are conducted honestly, justly, fairly and in accordance with the law and that corrupt practices are guarded against.

“It has become imperative that the ECP shall take all necessary steps under the Constitution and prevalent law for smooth conduct of general elections to the provincial assemblies of Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa,” the commission said.

The directives have been issued by the ECP in exercise of the powers conferred upon it under Articles 218(3), 220 of the Constitution, Sections 4, 5, 8(c) read with Section 230 of the Elections Act, 2017 and as supported by the Supreme Court judgment in Workers’ Party case and all the other powers enabling it in that behalf, the Election Commission of Pakistan, to ensure transparent election and to provide a level playing field for all contesting candidates and political parties. Section 230 (1) of the act requires a caretaker government to perform its functions to attend to day-to-day matters which are necessary to run the affairs of the government, assist the Commission to hold elections in accordance with law, restrict itself to activities that are of routine, non-controversial and urgent, in the public interest and reversible by the future government elected after the elections, and be impartial to every person and political party.

Whereas, Sub-Section 2 bars the caretakers from taking major policy decisions except on urgent matters, taking any decision or making a policy that may have effect or pre-empt the exercise of authority by the future elected government, entering into major contract or undertaking if it is detrimental to public interest, entering into major international negotiation with any foreign country or international agency or signing or ratifying any international binding instrument except in an exceptional case, making promotions or major appointments of public officials and attempting to influence the elections or do or cause to be done anything which may, in any manner, influence or adversely affect the free and fair elections.

Equally important is the fact that under the law, members of a caretaker government are required to submit their statements of assets and liabilities to the ECP within three days from the date of assumption of office.