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ISLAMABAD: The Senate Standing Committee on Interior has recommended a forensic audit of the National Database and Registration Authority (Nadra) and Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) to determine who was responsible for the failure of the Result Transmission System (RTS) on July 25.

Committee chairman Senator Rehman Malik from the PPP said on Monday that the committee has held multiple formal and informal meetings on this matter, and has concluded that a forensic audit duly supervised by a parliamentary committee is necessary to investigate the allegations and complaints regarding, and failure of, the RTS.

“Before the elections, we asked the ECP about the arrangements and were told they were complete. However, after the elections we received a number of complaints, such as the unavailability of Form 45s or delays in handing over, the delay in the announcement of results, the failure of the RTS, the expulsion of polling agents from polling stations, etc,” Senator Malik said.

He went on to say that most political parties have been demanding an investigation through a parliamentary commission, and added that the “hacking of the RTS system cannot be rejected”.

“I suggest that a credible company should be hired to do a forensic audit of the whole process,” he said.

Senator Malik said his committee was nominated by Senate to oversee the execution of free, fair and transparent elections and their security.

He said the “grey areas” the committee is investigating include the delay in election results, the failure of the RTS housed in Nadra, issues related to the ECP’s Result Management System (RMS), observations of the members on the RTS and RMS, the shortage or non-provision of Form 45s, the ouster of polling agents from polling stations, the number of rejected votes, the failure of internet and telephone services in constituencies, the breakdown of the internet server at Nadra headquarters, reservations of parliamentarians such as the posting and transfer of presiding and returning officers, and the recovery of stamped ballot papers from roadsides, dustbins and elsewhere, and so on.

Senator Malik also played a voice message, that said: “There is a big issue of RTS all over the country. Therefore, you all [presiding officers] are requested that if the RTS system is not working, this is not mandatory option for us. Then leave this option of RTS and POs should bring the Form 45 directly to returning officers.”

He also said he was concerned that the certificate for the RMC was issued by the United Nations Development Programme through Kaulitatem Inc., a private company, while the role of the Ministry of IT in verifying a system dealing with national data was absent.

He emphasised that the relationship between UNDP and Kaulitatem Inc. needed to be investigated, adding that the company had the certificate verified by another company, EC-Council, which is an Indian-origin company with an office in Hyderabad, India, as well as one in New York in the United States.

Independent Senator Asad Ali Junejo questioned Nadra and the ECP thoroughly on technical aspects of both systems. He seemed upset that the RTS server was kept in the Nadra office rather than in the ECP, despite the fact that it just needed a few feet of space.

He told the committee that in order to reach a conclusion it was imperative that the audit logs of the two systems be investigated. He also asserted that routing data be examined, along with unused ballot papers. Some committee members suggested that members of the Free and Fair Election Network (Fafen) be summoned to the next meeting and the total costs of electioneering and their sources be delved into as well.

Senator Javed Abbasi from the PML-N said the ECP had assured that the RTS would not be hacked, but it is now being said that many people were using it.

“We spent Rs21 billion for the elections and in the end we got controversial results,” he remarked.

Muttahida Qaumi Movement Senator Mian Ateeq claimed he already had information about election rigging, which he had told the house on July 20 but no one paid attention.

PTI Senator Azam Swati added that the Nadra chairman should not be a part of the investigation committee, because according to his assumption Nadra could be involved in measures that had made the elections controversial.

ECP Secretary Babar Yaqoob said the RTS was not part of the election reforms but was included in the bill and became a part of the law. He said it was a significant challenge to arrange 85,000 smartphones, and it was suggested at one point to purchase mobile phones.

Food authority act considered

During Monday’s meeting, the standing committee also considered the Islamabad Pure Food Authority Bill 2018, which was introduced by Senator Swati.

The senator said he had taken important points from the Punjab Food Act and made a bill, but representatives from the Ministry of Interior said a similar bill is already being discussed.

The committee decided to club both bills and refer the bill to the Ministry of Law for their input.

Published in Dawn, September 4th, 2018