ISLAMABAD: Reverberations of the failure of the Election Commission of Pakistan’s (ECP) Results Transmission System (RTS) echoed in the upper house of the parliament on Wednesday and senators from both treasury and opposition benches said that the matter needed to be thoroughly probed.
Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf’s (PTI) Senator Azam Khan Swati and Ateeq Shaikh of the Muttahida Qaumi Movement-Pakistan (MQM-P) moved a call-attention notice in this regard.
Stressing the need for a detailed forensic audit, Swati said it was crucial to affix responsibility and recommend appropriate action against those responsible for the system’s failure.
“Why this system failed … needs to be thoroughly investigated. This is not possible without initiating a forensic audit,” he said.
Interestingly, Prime Minister Imran Khan had formed a committee, headed by Swati to investigate the RTS failure.
The committee, mainly composed of information technology experts, had been tasked to probe the collapse of the RTS application which was designed and operated by National Database and Registration Authority (NADRA) to electronically transmit 2018 general election results on the polling day.
Recently, Swati met PM Khan and discussed with him the report’s contents.
Later, Senator Azam Swati told The Express Tribune that the report, compiled by the committee, would be released soon.
He confirmed that the report suggested suspending three top NADRA officials – its Chairman Usman Yousuf Mobeen, Director General Projects Zulfiqar Ali and DG Software Projects Ahmareen Ahmed, who is also the brother-in-law of the chairman NADRA.
“An impartial inquiry cannot be conducted in the presence of these officials. All of them should be suspended till the completion of the inquiry.”
However, Senator Swati said that the failure of the RTS did not have any impact on the election results.
“The elections results were delayed but there’s no possibility the RTS failure changed any result. The election results sent by the presiding officers on RTS along with ‘Form 45’ can neither be modified nor changed. So, the credibility of free and fair general elections 2018 is beyond doubt. The question is; why the RTS failed to transmit results in a timely manner?”
Swati said that the committee also recommended initiating a forensic audit of RTS failure from National Telecommunication and Information Technology Security Board (NTISB), comprising forensic and software experts from intelligence agencies, Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA), Ministry of Information Technology, Ministry of Science and Technology, NADRA, Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP), Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) and other relevant organisations.
Asked to comment on the demand from all political parties to form a parliamentary panel to investigate the RTS failure, he said that the constitution of parliamentary panel should follow the conduct of forensic audit.
“Forensic audit is necessary before forming any parliamentary panel. Parliamentarians barely understand IT-related issues. I served as the federal minister for science and technology in the past but even then I have little understanding of technical complexities of IT-related matters. Technical input from experts through a forensic audit would help parliamentary panel launch an effective and transparent probe.”
Asked if the PM supported the idea of launching a forensic audit, Swati said, “Absolutely. The PM supports an impartial and transparent probe to find out why the RTS failed. He has directed that the input of forensic experts be included in the report that is being finalised under my supervision. If all the stakeholders, including political parties and ECP, want (to conduct a) fair probe, why not go for a forensic audit?”
Earlier, former chairman Senate Raza Rabbani said that the RTS failure should be probed by the parliament and the Senate should be actively involved.
He accused the government of trying to hush up the matter.
“To whitewash the RTS failure, the matter was referred to a committee instead of having it probed by the Parliament,” he said.
Meanwhile, Railways Minister Shaikh Rashid briefed the Senate about steps being taken by the government to improve the performance of Pakistan Railways.
He said Railways had incurred a financial loss of Rs30 billion in 2013 against Rs41 billion in 2018. Railways had 20,000 acres of land which was unused and the cabinet would decide how to utilise this land, the minister said.
“Railways is not anyone’s personal property,” the minister said, adding that mafias had encroached upon Railways land in the past.
His remarks infuriated the opposition.
Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz Senator Chaudhry Tanvir responded that Lal Haveli (Shaikh Rashid’s residence) “is also not the property of anyone’s father and it belongs to the Evacuee Trust Property Board.”
Later, the session was adjourned by the Acting Chairman, Saleem Mandviwalla, due to lack of quorum.