Election Commission Building
Election Commission Building UNB File Photo

The Election Commission (EC) had imparted training to government and non-government officials of various levels before the 11th parliamentary election and the 5th upazila parishad election. At that time, the commission created several posts for trainers including ‘special speakers’ and ‘course advisor’ across the country and paid them more than Tk 30 million (Tk 3 crore) in honorarium.

The local and revenue audit directorate said, several positions including special speakers and course advisor created by the EC for election training are not approved by the finance ministry. Consequently, the honorarium paid to these persons state has cased financial loss to the state.

Sources at the EC said the list of special speakers include the chief election commissioner, four election commissioners, the EC secretary at the time and additional and joint secretaries. The ‘supervising’ trainers were the EC officials holding the position of deputy secretary and above, as well as deputy commissioner, superintendent of police of all districts and the respective election returning officers. Other trainers’ positions also included course monitoring officer, assistant course coordinator, regional course coordinator, additional regional course coordinator, district course coordinator and additional district course coordinator.

The 11th parliamentary election was held in December of 2018 and the 5th upazila parishad polls in 2019. Regarding the creation of new posts and remuneration for these posts, the EC said, as per the Election Commission Secretariat Act, the EC secretariat is not under the jurisdiction of any ministry or division. The commission authorities make the final decision on the spending of the allocation made by the finance ministry. So no approval from the ministry is necessary for the creation of these posts.

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Sources at the commission said, the audit department objected on the spending of a total of Tk 33.5 million (3.35 crore) for trainers in 2018-19 fiscal year. Objection arose on the spending of Tk 10.02 million (1.02 crore) outside Dhaka. As the money was spent in other heads, the audit department also objected to the spending of Tk 27.97 million (2.79 crore) allocated for training purposes.

Meanwhile on 14 December last year, 42 eminent citizens sent a letter to the president demanding the formation of a supreme judicial council to probe into the allegations of finance and election related irregularities and discrepancies against the chief election commissioner and other election commissioners. Taking honorarium as special speakers was among other allegations against the commissioners.

According to EC sources, the EC secretary at the time Helaluddin Ahmed was the ‘course advisor’ of training during the 11th parliamentary election. The audit said that Tk 1.97 million in losses was caused since allowance was paid by creating more positions than approved. Another objection was that the EC secretary Helaluddin Ahmed, additional secretary Mokhlesur Rahman, the director general of Election Training Institute at the time, Mostafa Faruk, received Tk 1.27 million (12.75 lakh) as ‘special speakers’. Since the position was not among the approved ones, the government faced a Tk 1.27 million loss. Another objection was that paying additional honorarium for the post of course directors also caused a Tk 1.49 million (14.93 lakh) loss.

The former EC secretary Helaluddin Ahmed is now senior secretary in the local government division. He told Prothom Alo, the expenditure on election training is approved by the commission. If audit objection arises, a reply will be given in accordance to the EC Act. He said, the EC is an independent body. All spending except operational costs are kept as block allocation in the budget. Usually, the commission can approve the budget.

Facing the backlash, EC’s Election Training Institute said, Section 7 of the EC Secretariat Act makes the commission financially independent. No prior approval from the government is essential to spend the money allocated for specific heads. The decision of the EC is final on the spending of allocated money as per the law.

Senior secretary of the EC secretariat Md Alamgir said, the audit department sought an explanation. If an explanation could not be given, the funds should be returned, they said. Thana, upazila and district election offices and the Election Training Institute have been instructed to respond to the audit objection. Many officials have already done so. These have been approved by the commission and will be forwarded to the audit department soon.

Sources at EC said, an audit objection said that paying honorarium at the different offices under the Election Training Institute and EC secretariat, in violation of the rules, has caused the government a loss of Tk 12.6 million (Tk 1.26 crore).

The audit found no evidence of the participants actually attending the training courses of the registration team for voter list update programme-2019 and of the election officials for the 11th parliamentary election, the 5th upazila parishad polls and different by-elections.

It was also found that same person has received honorarium for appearing on the same day at different offices around the country.

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Former comptroller and auditor general M Hafizuddin Khan told Prothom Alo, despite being an independent body legally, no organisation can do anything at its will. No independent government body can pay salaries and wages at its own whims. This requires the finance ministry’s approval.

A former advisor to the caretaker government, Hafizuddin Khan said persons holding constitutional positions are entitled to the allowance as per the laws. They can’t accept anything more.

This report, appearing in the print and online editions of Prothom Alo, has been rewritten by Hasanul Banna for the English edition