ISLAMABAD: The Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) has sent to the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) an audio clip of a mysterious phone call containing the voice of an unidentified person ordering shutdown of Result Transmission System (RTS) on the election night, and requested its forensic analysis to identify the caller who had given the instruction.
ECP officials disclosed this during a briefing on RTS failure to Senate’s standing committee on parliamentary affairs, headed by Sassui Palejo, on Wednesday.
The officials also shared with the committee the copy of a letter, dated August 30, stating that a USB drive containing the sound bite has been sent to the FIA for a forensic test to identify the person who had made the phone call.
According to the letter, FIA had been asked to respond to the matter swiftly. However, the ECP has yet to receive a forensic report from the investigation agency.
The audio clip had also been played during the Senate proceedings by former interior minister Rehman Malik recently.
A senior ECP official when contacted rejected the rumour that it was some provincial election commissioner who was issuing instructions. He said it was not ‘humanly’ possible to pass on such instructions across the country within a short span of time. He said the RTS worked well on server side but had a glitch on client side.
Audio clip of mysterious phone call sent for forensic analysis, Senate committee told
The ECP officials, including Information Technology (IT) DG Khizar Aziz and Law DG Arshad Mehmood, candidly held the parliament responsible for imposing RTS in haste. They said there was no mention of RTS in the draft elections bill, 2017, but Section 13(2) was included in the bill that had been tabled in the National Assembly on August 22, 2017.
It was explained that there was no mention of RTS in the meeting of the parliamentary committee on electoral reforms held on July 19, 2017 though a proposal by Dr Arif Alvi, who now holds office of the president, was adopted by a sub-committee of the parliamentary committee on electoral reforms.
The Senate committee was informed that the RTS had only yielded “20 per cent results” when it was tested in the provincial assembly constituency of Chakwal (PP-20) ahead of the general elections.
Senator Javed Abbasi asked why the ECP had not objected to the use of RTS if it had such faults. “In fact at that time the ECP had also claimed to have a backup system,” he recalled.
ECP’s reservations over I-voting
The committee was told that the ECP also had reservations over the functioning of Internet-voting (I-voting) facility being provided to the overseas Pakistani voters for the Oct 14 by-elections in 37 national and provincial assembly constituencies.
An ECP official told the Senate committee that chairman of the National Database and Registration Authority (Nadra) had proposed before the Supreme Court in January that the overseas Pakistanis could be allowed to vote through internet.
He said to assess the workability of I-voting, the ECP had set up a task force that warned the system was highly susceptible to misuse. When members of the task force expressed their reservations over the I-voting facility, no political party came to the Supreme Court to oppose the idea, the ECP official added.
The RTS controversy erupted when transmission of election results stopped abruptly around midnight after daylong polling.
A couple of hours later, ECP Secretary Babar Yaqoob Fateh Mohammad addressed an urgent press conference and informed the nation that the RTS had “collapsed” and the ECP had returned to the traditional and manual method of tabulating the election results, and it was for this reason that there could be an inordinate delay in the announcement of the results.
Soon after the ECP secretary’s news conference, senior and top officials of Nadra — the creators of the RTS mobile app — protested with the ECP claiming that the RTS was fully functional when the ECP high-ups declared that they had decided to stop using RTS due to ‘malfunctioning’. The Nadra officials also provided documentary evidence to prove their claim that the app was working properly.
The RTS was developed by Nadra after an agreement with the ECP in February when the commission had expressed the desire to receive the results directly from polling stations as done by newspapers and TV reporters. The system, they said, was only meant for the quick announcement of the results for the media through the ECP and that was why its link was provided to PTV.
Senate adopts election report Meanwhile, in a related development, the Senate on Wednesday adopted fourth and final report on holding of free, fair and transparent elections presented by chairman of the Senate’s standing committee on interior Rehman Malik.
Mr Malik informed the house that on the directions of his committee, the ECP asked the director general of the FIA to conduct forensic audit for confirmation of a voice message containing orders to halt RTS use.
While talking to reporters, the interior committee chairman said he was shocked to know that over “4,200 presiding officers did not comply with the ECP orders” to install the RTS app in their mobile phones.
He also said a sitting member of the federal cabinet was consultant of the company that had a role in testing the system. He added that the company had one of its offices in a hostile country, India.
Published in Dawn, October 11th, 2018