Govt probes ECAC appointments

IT ministry hires members without advertising posts; law minister blocks approval

Zafar Bhutta May 25, 2021


The government has started investigation into the appointment of members of the Electronic Certification Accreditation Information Technology Council (ECAC) without advertisement.

The issue was raised in a recent meeting of the cabinet when the Ministry of Information Technology and Telecom sought approval for the appointment of ECAC members.

However, the law minister blocked the appointments without placing advertisements in the media.

During the meeting, the law minister pointed out that Section 18 of the Electronic Transactions Ordinance 2002 envisaged appointment of ECAC members by the federal government on prescribed terms and conditions.

He said that any such appointments without advertisement would be cancelled by orders of the Supreme Court. He advised that the agenda item be deferred and the IT and telecom secretary should consult him on the issue.

In this regard, the cabinet considered a summary titled “Appointment of members of ECAC” submitted by the IT and Telecommunication Division. It directed the IT and Telecom Division to consult the Law and Justice Division on whether the appointments, without advertisement, under the provisions of relevant law would amount to violation of Supreme Court’s orders. The summary, after consultation, would be re-submitted, if needed.

The IT and Telecommunication Division briefed the cabinet that ECAC was established under Section 18 of the Electronic Transactions Ordinance 2002 (ETO 2002) with the mandate to provide accreditation to electronic certification providers and cryptography services as well as to ensure compliance by the accredited certification service providers.

ECAC comprised five members, with four members from the private sector. Members of the council were appointed by the federal government under Rule 18(4) of the ETO, which states, “The members of the certification council shall be appointed by the federal government for a term of three years and shall be eligible for reappointment once for another term of three years after the expiry of their first term of appointment.”

As per Section 19 of ETO 2002, following qualifications are prescribed for the members of ECAC: He/she shall be telecommunications engineer with at least seven years of work experience, of which at least one year in the field of cryptography services.

They shall be professionals or academics with at least seven years of work experience in the field of information technology. One member shall be an advocate with at least seven years of experience and adequate knowledge of laws relating to information technology and telecommunications.

Existing members of the council had completed their term except for Mahir Mohsin Sheikh, nominated by the Pakistan Software Export Board (PSEB), who would complete his tenure on February 27, 2022.

Nominations were obtained from telecom operators, PSEB and IT ministry member (legal).

In view of the above, the Ministry of Information Technology and Telecom proposed that following persons may be appointed as members of the council for a period of three years with immediate effect.

It recommended Shahzad Sami, who is the Chief Telecom Adviser on Regulatory and Government Affairs, Zong (CM Pak Ltd), and Abdul Wahid Khan, who is the Chief Operating Officer of Zigron Technology Pakistan.

Other candidates included Islamabad Administrative National Telecom Corporation managing director and Pakistan Telecom Company Ltd Executive Vice President Law Ghulam Mustafa.

The ministry sought approval of the federal cabinet to appoint them as ECAC members.

On the other hand, the minister for science and technology informed the cabinet that the National Radio and Telecommunication Corporation (NRTC), National Institute of Electronics (NIE) and Commission on Science and Technology for Sustainable Development in the South (COMSATS) had sought time until the third week of July 2021 to develop the prototype of indigenous Electronic Voting Machine (EVM) but he had called a meeting to curtail the period.

He said that in parallel the option of EVM imports was also being explored which included Korean, Spanish and US models.

The minister for IT and Telecom also gave an update on the progress achieved on I-Voting for overseas Pakistanis.

He said that things were on the right track and final report of the consultants would be ready by May 31, 2021.

Responding to a question regarding cost of locally manufactured EVM compared to the imported one, it was informed that the local EVM would be of around Rs90,000 per unit whereas the imported EVM would cost around Rs200,000 per unit. The total requirement of Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) is roughly 300,000 units.

Published in The Express Tribune, May 25th, 2021.

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