Members of two intelligence agencies have been verifying the political involvement of the Election Commission (EC) secretariat officials and their family members separately ahead of the upcoming (12th) Jatiya Sangsad (national parliament) elections. They are also collecting different types of information about the officials.

Several officials and employees of the EC secretariat confirmed the matter to Prothom Alo. However, the commission, a constitutionally autonomous institution, did not ask any agencies to collect intelligence information about its officials.

Such intelligence activities one and a half years before the polls have created a certain kind of panic among the EC officials while many vented anger over the issue.

An EC official, on the condition of anonymity, told Prothom Alo that a representative of an intelligence agency came to the EC secretariat late last month and took a photocopy of his educational qualification certificates.

Within a short time, a field officer of another intelligence agency visited his village home and asked for various information. He sought to know from a relative whether the EC official is connected to any political party.

The official described the issue as embarrassing for him as well as his family.

The commission has asked no intelligence agency to collect information about its officials
Ashok Kumar Debnath, Additional secretary, EC secretariat

The ruling Awami League, during its dialogue with the EC in July, said in its proposal that the BNP-Jamaat government recruited a large number of party men in the commission through the 'Hawa Bhaban' and they are now holding various crucial positions.

The commission should take effective steps in this regard to keep the election neutral and free from influence, the AL delegation led by the party's general secretary Obaidul Quader, also road transport and bridges minister, told the EC.

It was learnt from conversations with eight EC officials that the information of all officials, irrespective of level or position, are being verified. The intelligence officials started the verification process in August and are collecting information about the EC officials’ prior political affiliations and present political state of their family members. Besides, they asked the EC officials questions about various personal issues over the phone.

The government generally collects different types of information about an official through the intelligence agencies before his joining in the service. But the scenario is quite different here as the long-serving officials are also facing scrutiny this time.

The law does not authorise any control of the government agencies over the election commission. So, it has been called to question why the officials’ information is being collected despite no such request from the EC.

The EC officials said it was not the maiden case of intelligence inquiry at the EC secretariat. They went through a similar experience before the previous national polls

Ashok Kumar Debnath, additional secretary of the EC secretariat, said the commission has asked no intelligence agency to collect information about its officials. However, they asked for intelligence information on those who have recently joined the identification system for enhancing access to services, a project undertaken for providing national identity (NID) cards.

The additional secretary also said the commission has been made a key institution (KPI) under the ‘C’ category. There is a provision that all employees of a grade ‘C’ KPI institution require verification and the ongoing process might be due to the formal obligation.

However, the EC officials said it was not the maiden case of intelligence inquiry at the EC secretariat. They went through a similar experience before the previous national polls. The detectives then enquired about the political connections of the persons who were initially selected for serving as presiding officers and polling officers.

Some EC officials told Prothom Alo that the intelligence agencies are inquiring about their educational certificates and other personal information as well as their political affiliations. They are collecting information from the houses of the in-laws of female officials, in addition to their own houses.

The election commission is constitutionally independent and its secretariat also enjoys autonomy as per law. The secretariat is autonomous on the administrative and financial front as it is not under the administrative jurisdiction of any ministry, directorate or department of the government. Its sole authority is vested on the chief election commissioner (CEC).

Several election monitoring organisations said the way the intelligence agencies are collecting information about officials and employees is tantamount to interfering in the autonomy of the EC secretariat. If the commission deems it necessary to inquire into the officials, they can carry out the job themselves or may request the government to do so.

Badiul Alam Majumder, secretary of Shushashoner Jonno Nagorik (SHUJAN), said collecting information through intelligence agencies is the reflection of the fact that the commission is not really autonomous. It seems that the work is being done with the theory of ​​having their own people everywhere.

Information should be collected and action should be taken against the corrupt officials in the election commission and those involved in election rigging. EC has to do the work, he added.