An electronic voting machine (EVM)
File photo

The election commission (EC) is going to procure 200,000 electronic voting machines (EVM) without any sort of examination of the market price.

A project proposal worth Tk 87.11 billion has been sent to the planning commission to buy EVMs ahead of 12th parliamentary election.

Each EVM will cost Tk 333,000, which is over Tk 100,000 more than the ones procured in 2018. The project has been taken hastily without any feasibility study.

EC sources said the EVMs they are buying are not used anywhere else in the world and that is why they could not check the price.

Yet the EC’s price assessment committee has surfed websites of election commissions of different countries. They, however, could not glean any information from the websites.

The EC has decided to use EVMs in 150 seats in the next general election amid a political controversy over the issue. EC now has 150,000 EVMs. Many of these are out of order right now.

The election commission can hold elections in 60-70 seats with the number of EVMs they have at their disposal at this moment. The EC needs 200,000 more EVMs to hold elections in 150 seats.

The EC held a meeting on 13 September to finalise the project proposal of EVM procurement. The EC did not approve the proposal in that meeting. The commission after the meeting said they could not finalise the proposal as the committee formed to assess the market price of EVMs has not finished its work.

The EC also said the assessment report of market price would be presented in the next meeting. Later in a meeting on 19 September, the EC finalised the project proposal titled ‘increasing the use of EVMs in the electoral system and sustainable management’.

Sources said the EC’s committee for assessing the market price did not contact any organisations that produce EVM. The committee in its report said they reviewed websites of election commissions of different countries for assessing EVM’s specification and market price but did not get any information. Moreover, the EVMs used by Bangladesh have no similarity with EVMs used in other countries.

The committee’s report said that Bangladesh Machine Tools Factory (BMTF) is the only supplier of EVMs used in Bangladesh. They collected all data regarding EVMs from the BMTF authorities. The price set in the project proposal is the same as that proposed by BMTF. The market price assessment committee’s report was also attached to the project proposal.

EC secretariat’s assistant secretary Ashok Kumar Debnath told Prothom Alo that the exact market price of the EVM is not available anywhere else since the same machine is not used elsewhere.

About not conducting any feasibility study of the project, Ashok Kumar Debnath referred to time constraints.

He said it would not have been possible to use EVMs in the next general election if they conducted a feasibility study. 

The EVMs currently used in Bangladesh were bought in 2018. Each machine costs Tk 234,000. The EVMs used in India cost INR 17,000 at that time. Although there were some dissimilarities between the specifications of the EVMs used in the two countries, the election experts termed such huge differences as abnormal.

EC maintains that the devaluation of the Taka against the US dollar is to blame for the extra cost in the procurement of EVMs. Also, the EVMs used in Bangladesh have the facility to identify the voters through biometric analysis, which is not possible in EVMs used in India.

On the contrary, the EVMs in India have voter verifiable paper audit trail (VVPAT) facility but EMVs used in Bangladesh don’t have this specification. Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology (BUET) earlier produced EVMs which cost Tk 20,000-22,000.

Shusasoner Jonno Nagarik secretary Badiul Alam Majumder told Prothom Alo that the EC procured EVMs at a price 11 times higher than India in the past. The allegation of irregularities in procuring EVMs was raised at that time. The biggest problem of procuring from a single source is that it creates a chance of financial irregularities.

He said there is an apprehension of wanton expenditure where there is no chance to assess the market price.

Badiul Alam Majumder said the best decision for the EC now is to move away from the plan to use and procure EVMs for the next general election.