ISLAMABAD - Voicing concern over the regularisation of contractual employees by the federal and provincial governments, an electoral watchdog has likened the move to ‘pre-poll rigging’ while demanding the Election Commission to declare the initiative as ‘null and void.’

On the other hand, a top ECP boss has asserted that the populist measures that serve the public interest of lower-middle class cannot be reversed on the mere recommendations of ‘certain quarters.’ During their last days in power, the provincial governments of Sindh, Punjab and Balochistan regularised over 300,000 provincial governments’ employees, over 100,000 each in the respective provinces.

Overwhelming majority of the regularised personnel comprises of low-rank government officials who had been performing duties for several years on contractual basis without any job security. While their jobs regularisation has generally received applause from the segments representing lower-middle and middle classes of Pakistani society, some electoral observers and watchdogs have voiced reservations over this move dubbing it a facet of pre-poll rigging.

A statement from Pakistan Institute of Legislative Development and Transparency (PILDAT) on Thursday quoted its Citizens Group on Electoral Process as having termed the move as pre-poll rigging and expressed  “serious concern over the actions taken by the federal and provincial governments in relation to mass regularisation of contract employees, transfer and postings of federal and provincial employees and increase in perks and privileges of functionaries, etc. The CGEP has asked the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) to take note of these actions and declare these null and void.”

The statement demanded the caretaker governments to reverse the initiative.  “The CGEP also requested the forthcoming caretaker governments in the centre and provinces to review such actions by outgoing governments and reverse these,” it added.

The Chief Election Commissioner Justice (Retd) Fakhruddin G Ebrahim, when contacted, said that the ECP had banned the appointments in the federal and provincial government departments, which, he said, had nothing to do with the regularisation of government employees.

He said that the ECP had taken notice after the Punjab government had regularised 100,000 contractual employees while the provincial government had explained its position to the electoral body in this regard.  “We sought a reply from the provincial government. Its reply was that Punjab government did not make any fresh appointment but simply regularised the contractual employees and it was well within the mandate of the provincial government to do so. That’s what we were told,” he said.

To a query regarding the job regularisation move been linked to pre-poll rigging, the CEC said. “We need to look at the matter in a broader perspective. It’s not as simple. In the democratic societies across the world, the populist measures cannot be reversed just like that, particularly when they serve the larger public interest.”

The former Supreme Court judge said that the democrats and republicans provided maximum jobs ahead of the last year’s presidential election in the United States. “The US has one of the strongest democracies in the world. Can we even smell foul play in the job opportunities introduced before the presidential election there?”

The regularised employees, the CEC said, mostly represented the ‘downtrodden’ segments of Pakistan’s society. “We’ve been told that they were the deserving candidates who were awaiting regularisation for years. Now that this has been done and largely appreciated, is it that easy to declare this development null and void just because some quarters have reservations and they recommend so?” he asked while informing that the ECP had already discussed the matter in the internal meetings and had received briefings from the government officials concerned. 

Meanwhile, the PILDAT’s Citizens Group on Electoral Process also expressed concern “on the news that some speakers of the National and Provincial Assemblies reportedly got hefty packages of perks and privileges approved for themselves for lifetime just before the expiry of the term of assemblies.”