ISLAMABAD - A ‘high drama’ took place outside the headquarters of Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) yesterday when journalists questioned the official status of spokesman for the election conducting body.

Reporters who had thronged the ECP for monitoring the second phase of Local Government (LG) polls in Sindh and Punjab through the control room established in the headquarters refused to attend briefing of the spokesman whose has outlived his three-year deputation period.

Information gleaned by The Nation revealed that Additional Director PR Iftikhar Raja, a BPS-20 officer of Information Group, has outlasted his deputation after his tenure as deputation officer expired on November 1, this year.

Under the rules, the officer on deputation has to report back to his parent department after expiry of his deputation period, however, the case of ECP’s spokesman is of a peculiar nature who still continues to act as spokesperson of the commission without having any official permission.

“In what capacity should we quote him as ECP’s spokesman? He should show us the official order that establishes him as spokesman,” a reporter questioned the credentials of the officer. “I don’t have any orders from the competent authority but you will soon know about my extension as spokesman for ECP,” the officer replied.

The post of spokesman for ECP carries crucial importance as the Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) Justice (retired) Sardar Raza Khan and other four members of the commission avoid interacting directly with media. The commission interacts with reporters through its spokesman.

Information revealed that the ECP has sought extra two-year extension for the officer from his parent department Pakistan Information Department (PID) that has been denied.

The PID has refused to grant the extension to its officer on the ground that its officer will reach the age of retirement on April 1, 2017. The ECP wants the officer to continue work in BPS-20 till November 2017.

Official sources said the PID has sent his case to the Establishment Division from where the issue will be forwarded to Ministry of Law and Justice as the grant of extra service period to an officer was a sensitive matter.

The post-retirement extension to the officer has not only landed the PID, Establishment Division and Law Ministry in an awkward situation but has also raised eyebrows of the Members of ECP who feel they are ignored in administrative affairs taking place in the commission. Under the rules, a commissioned officer cannot avail BPS-20 grade until passing through Senior Management Course mandatory for promotion into BPS-20. But sources said, Mr Raja was the first of its kind in the country to avail the top grade hence availing Rs65,000 extra money per month as monetization allowance.

Interestingly, not all officers in the ECP are treated the way Mr Raja is dealt. The ECP has already issued a notification that Joint Secretary Local Government (BPS-20) Attaur Rehman will reach the age of superannuation (60) in 2016 hence he would stand retired.

Similarly, Joint Provicnial Election Commissioner (Punjab) Ashfaq Sarwar will stand retired in January 2016 after reaching the age of 60. “But Iftikhar Raja who has completed his three years deputation period is needed to serve ECP even after retiring at the age of 60,” a senior officer said.

An officer said the Law Ministry will forward the summary of service extension to Prime Minister for further deliberations. “The question is what is so special in a single officer who has not met the basic formalities of a commissioned officer?” a source said.

When contacted, Iftikhar Raja told The Nation that any officer who reaches the age of 58 is not required to pass through Senior Management Course, therefore, he is exempted from the formality.

But interestingly, Mr Raja got promoted to BPS-20 in 2012 and at that time and he was just 55-year old. Senior officers in the ECP termed the episode as putting a big question mark on the credibility of the commission particularly at a time when political parties have come into open to blame the constitutional body of resorting to nepotism.

“Why we should want others to abide by the rules when the ECP itself does not comply with the established laws?” an officer commented.