News Analysis |
Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) on 2nd August, had asked the Cabinet Division of the Federal Government to form an inquiry committee to investigate the causes of RTS breakdown during the election. Surprisingly, to this day, Cabinet Division has failed to initiate that Enquiry.
In a letter, the ECP asked the Cabinet Division to form a committee comprising technical experts from National Telecom and Information Technology Security Board (NTISB) and the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) to probe the matter. TORs include analysis of original concept and project of RTS and its preparation and finalization by NADRA, analysis of quality of training imparted to various users under the project, fixation of responsibility and to make recommendations for the future course of action.
Rehman also asked the National Database and Regulatory Authority (NADRA) to brief the panel on August 20 about the RTS failure on the election day
In a separate move, Senator Azam Swati of Pakistan Tehrik e Insaf (PTI) had approached the Senate Standing Committee on Interior to launch a probe. Standing Committee on Interior had ordered an inquiry into allegations of rigging in the July 25 polls and the failure of the Results Transmitting System (RTS).
Senator Rehman Malik, heading the Senate standing committee, said on August 8th, that a parliamentary committee will look into the complaints regarding the failure of the RTS, adding that the new National Assembly speaker will constitute the committee to probe the allegations.
Rehman also asked the National Database and Regulatory Authority (NADRA) to brief the panel on August 20 about the RTS failure on the election day. Senator Chaudhry Tanvir stated that NADRA should also share the expenditure required for forensics of every single vote. Sources familiar with the initial proceedings of Standing committee point out that ECP officials attending had leveled the charge on NADRA pointing out that NADRA, as a contractor on “turn key basis” was responsible for the successful working of the RTS till the end.
However, IT experts and sources inside NADRA familiar with the situation think that Senate Standing Committee has limited expertise for any meaningful probe into the matter and it will be a ceremonial activity raising the question that why the matter, that is being agitated by the opposition and the international media is being dealt with in such a casual fashion.
Umar Saif and his colleagues kept explaining that PITB had never any nexus with Election results and the whole process was managed by NADRA that had developed the Android App
Earlier Dawn newspaper carried a story, citing unnamed NADRA officials, that alleged that RTS never failed but was actually shut down on orders of ECP after 11 pm, on the election night on July 25. Later NADRA’s official spokesman denied the story and called it an attempt to create a rift between two national institutions.
However, all those familiar with the RTS failure consider the Dawn story as very meaningful. To them, it appears that some elements inside NADRA were trying to shift blame towards ECP which was only a legal custodian of RTS and had no actual physical control over the functioning of RTS. In a similar fashion, earlier, attempts were made to blame Umar Saif, Chairman Punjab Information Technology Board (PITB), for RTS failure.
Umar Saif and his colleagues kept explaining that PITB had never any nexus with Election results and the whole process was managed by NADRA that had developed the Android App. Dawn stories made the role of NADRA very suspicious. It was obvious that elements inside NADRA are continuously trying to shift blame towards PTIB or ECP despite the fact that both institutions had no control over RTS.
Read more: RTS system failure: Who is responsible?
Sources point out that Usman Muneeb was re-appointed as the Chairperson of NADRA on February 6, 2018, and NADRA concluded RTS contract with ECP on Feb 14. Sources point out that criteria laid down in the initial advertisement by the Ministry of Interior for the post of Chairman NADRA were later revised. The initial criteria included 15 points for Ph.D. degree and 10 points for foreign experience.
When a shortlist was made according to these criteria, Mr. Usman Mubeen ended up at 5th slot as he neither had a Ph.D. nor foreign work experience. However later the criteria were revised; Ph.D. points were reduced to 5 from 15 and, the foreign experience was completely waived off. This apparently helped Mr. Usman Mubeen to climb up to top from number 5 in the original shortlisted.
Ahsan Iqbal was then the Minister of Interior. Sources point out that Imran Khan of PTI, now PM-elect, is on record demanding resignation of Mr. Usman Mubeen. PTI had alleged Usman Mubeen to be playing a partisan role in the investigations of Lahore constituency from which Ayyaz Sadiq had won against Imran Khan. When Election Tribunal finally opened this seat, in 2015, two years after the May 2013 elections, for investigations more than 6000 vote counterfoils were found issued against fake NIC numbers.
PTI sources point out that Senator Rehman Malick had been the interior minister, during PPP government, 2008-2013, and has been very close to the key officials within NADRA.
So those who are familiar with the appointment of Mr. Usman Mubeen raise the question that why outgoing PMLN government went out of the way to reappoint Mr. Mubeen at this important position before the general elections. However, they agree that this does not prove anything in itself and a forensic investigation is needed to check records, log books and internal communication that happened inside NADRA on the evening of Election day, July 25. However, they wonder why the Cabinet Division has wasted so many days in initiating this inquiry.
NADRA had reached out to ECP, in January 2018, with the proposal to develop RTS android application. ECP at that time was experimenting on its own to design such an application for elections and had successfully test tried its own Android App in by-elections. On 14th February, NADRA signed a contract with ECP for designing RTS on a turn-key basis for Rs. 180 million. (some sources argue for Rs. 150 million) As per the contract, NADRA developed the RTS App, NADRA operated it, and NADRA trained POs for using that application too.
ECP had developed its own Result Management System (RMS) with the financing of UNDP, that system connected Returning Offices with ECP, for sending Form-47 on Election Day. RMS worked 100% and all results were successfully transmitted by July 26. PTI sources point out that Senator Rehman Malick had been the interior minister, during PPP government, 2008-2013, and has been very close to the key officials within NADRA… Hence, PTI sources suspect, a fair inquiry cannot be expected from him being in the saddle – and any such activity will merely be cosmetic in nature.
They demand a full forensic investigation by relevant bodies like National Telecom and Information Technology Security Board (NTISB) supported by the agencies like FIA or ISI. ECP had demanded the investigation by NTISB – but the interim government has not initiated any action so far, which is surprising.
The data was coming through the intermediate and Central Data Base Servers, housed inside NADRA, and it was being transmitted to ECP, Returning Officers and Ptv
All other political parties who have lost the elections, including Rehman Malick’s PPP, have already rejected election results on alleged rigging and have blamed ECP for not been able to conduct fair and transparent elections. RTS failure provides the main force to their arguments which they keep on repeating again and again – however, they keep attacking ECP which was only a legal custodian and not the technology in charge of RTS.
What was the Result Transmission system(RTS)?
RTS was not legally mandated, it was RMS that was legally mandated for ECP which ECP operated itself. RTS was merely meant to transmit results (Form-45s) from polling stations, to the Returning Officers for speedy completion of Form-47 from From-45s for onward transmission to the ECP in Islamabad. However, the way RTS App worked was through the servers inside NADRA. PO of every polling station was to take pictures of Form -45 (the result of a polling station) and transmit it to RO’s through RTS – that transmitted data to the RO’s through the NADRA servers in Islamabad.
The data was coming through the intermediate and Central Data Base Servers, housed inside NADRA, and it was being transmitted to ECP, Returning Officers and Ptv. It could only be viewed by ECP but was to be compiled by RO’s for making Form -47 (Total Result of a Constituency). Ptv was only provided access to the text of the results (and not Form-45s)
Given this technical background, the news story in The Dawn newspaper, citing unnamed sources inside NADRA claiming that RTS never failed and Presiding Officers (POs) were directed by the ECP officials to stop using RTS at 11.47pm, on July 25 becomes very significant. Many consider that story to be the Dawn Leak -3 because it was totally misleading for public, politicians and became the basis for allegations by opposition parties and international media.
RTS was designed by NADRA, not ECP. NADRA should have known the loaded app would be facing with the peak results pouring in. It should have been prepared for any malfunctioning of the RTS app and should have contingency arrangements in place. NADRA had set up a hotline service though, which received almost 7000 telephone calls, from Presiding officers, mostly after 10 pm, out of which 2500 were actually attended by helpline agents. POs complained them about their android RTS app not working well and getting stuck, to which they were told to switch off and restart their phones or to uninstall and reinstall the RTS app from Google Play Store.
A fair forensic investigation should have been carried out to find if the RTS had collapsed or had been shut down. If it had collapsed, who was responsible for malfunctioning of the app and if it was simply shut down, who in NADRA had given such instructions and why
It is to be noted that NADRA had designed two applications and placed these on Google Play Store. These Apps – ECP RTS android app and ECP RTS training app – both were to be downloaded by presiding officers onto their phone devices. But after the RTS allegedly collapsed, both apps were removed, apparently by the developer: NADRA. Now IT experts wonder if the Apps developed by NADRA had some defects – or bugs inbuilt in these to begin with. All of this needs to be investigated by a special forensic team.
The Cabinet Division on 11th August, recommended handing over the issue of Result Transmission System (RTS) malfunction in the general election to the new government as no investigation committee has been formed so far.
The claims of all political parties about rigging stand on one statement that RTS failed and ECP was not able to conduct fair elections, excluding the part NADRA had to play in the election. These claims come with no evidence so far but just the conspiracy theories apparently to delegitimize the success, the winning party, PTI bagged in general elections.
It was the responsibility of interim government to initiate the forensic inquiry straight away after all these allegations while suspending the chairperson of NADRA to make sure there was no influence on the inquiry process and no fiddling with the log records, internal communication, and results. However much precious time has been wasted – three weeks have passed since July 25.
A fair forensic investigation should have been carried out to find if the RTS had collapsed or had been shut down. If it had collapsed, who was responsible for malfunctioning of the app and if it was simply shut down, who in NADRA had given such instructions and why. Not to forget, by the time it allegedly collapsed, PTI already had emerged as winning party.