EC, finance ministry at odds over training allowance

The finance ministry has rejected the commission's proposal of an honorarium for election commissioners for training courses ahead of the election.

Election Commission BuildingFile photo

The election commission (EC) and the finance ministry are engaged in a dispute over determining the honorarium for trainers at the election training courses. The EC had fixed an honorarium of Tk 7,500 for the chief election commissioner and other commissioners for a one and a half hour session. But the finance ministry expressed disapproval regarding the decision and reduced the amount fixed by the EC for various posts of trainers.

The commission believes that the ministry has no authority to cut down the amount of remuneration fixed by the EC. The commission and its secretariat, as per the law, have autonomy from the administrative and economic aspects. Hence, it is now considering issuing a letter to the ministry, pointing out that the ministry’s move does not comply with the law. 

The election commission trains election-related officials, including presiding officers, assistant presiding officers, polling officers, before every election. The previous commission, led by Nurul Huda, also faced objections after it had created various posts for training and paid allowances to the officials concerned before the national polls in 2018 and upazila parishad election in 2019. 

The commission then created several positions for trainers – such as special speaker and course advisor – and paid them an honorarium of more than Tk 30 million in total. Even the election commissioners took allowances as special speakers, which sparked widespread criticism.  

The directorate of revenue audit looked into the matter and reported that the new posts of speakers for electoral training courses were not sanctioned by the finance ministry. The directorate objected to the practice and said the state suffered losses due to the payments against the newly created posts. The objection is yet to be settled.  

According to EC secretariat sources, after the commission led by Kazi Habibul Awal took charge in February, the issue of trainers' allowance was sent to the finance ministry for its approval. But the ministry’s finance division expressed disagreement with the issue as the CEC and election commissioners get benefits under the Privileges Act for their duties. Hence, the ministry did not endorse the allowance. 

Election commissioner Ahsan Habib Khan told Prothom Alo that the law has ensured the financial autonomy of the commission. The section-7 of the election commission secretariat act mentioned, “For the expenses of the election commission in every financial year, the government shall, after considering the proposal received from the election commission, allocate a specified amount of budget in favor of it. And it will not be necessary for the election commission to take the prior approval of the government in the case of spending from the allocated money in the approved and prescribed sectors.”

The election commission will write again to the finance ministry highlighting its legal position.

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In the EC proposal, the course director's honorarium was proposed to be Tk 6,000 per course. But the finance division said it is routine work of the course director and hence it did not give its consent. 

Also, the honorarium of the course coordinator was fixed at Tk 5,000 and that of support staff  Tk 500. The finance division disagreed with this proposal too, saying that it is also routine work of the staff.  

In cases of other posts, the finance division cut down the honorarium proposed by the commission. For example, the EC had proposed an honorarium of Tk 5,000 for senior secretary, secretary, additional secretary and other equivalent officials for a one and a half hour training session. The ministry reduced it to Tk 3,000. It also axed allowances of other officials in the similar fashion. 

According to EC sources, the election commissioners have discussed among themselves whether the ministry can revise an amount fixed by the EC. They argued that the EC is free to use the budget allocated by the ministry and no prior approval is required in this regard. 

Some expressed views in favor of giving a strong counter letter to the finance ministry. Also, some others said there is no need to take the ministry’s decision into consideration. The commission will provide training allowance as per its own decision. It, however, will trigger objections during the audit. Hence, there are also views in favour of taking approval of the ministry.   

Badiul Alam Majumdar, secretary of Shushashoner Jonno Nagorik (Shujan), said it is irrational to receive special allowance for training as the election commission and its officials receive government salaries and allowances. 

If they do so, it will be double dipping, he said, adding that an autonomous organisation cannot do whatever it wants. 

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