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Freedom of Election Commission PDF Print E-mail
Friday, 01 February 2008

The countrymen have long demanded independence of the Election Commission from the control of the executive branch of the state. However, successive governments have dragged their feet on the issue on one pretext or the other. Hopefully, the decision will be implemented through requisite legal procedures without any further delay. Here, it is pertinent to point out that the draft ordinance that the law ministry prepared and the council of advisers approved on Tuesday falls short of even the expectations of the Election Commission itself. The commission, in fact, had sent a modified proposal for the separation of its secretariat, as it felt that the law ministry draft did not ensure complete financial and recruitment authority for the constitutional body to be effectively autonomous. We believe the commission’s reservation about the draft ordinance is justified. According to the draft ordinance, the commission will have to place its annual budget proposal before the government for scrutiny and approval. Clearly then the government will retain some control over the finances of the commission, which means that the commission will still not have complete financial autonomy and is, therefore, not acceptable. Ideally, the commission should place its annual budget before the parliament, not the cabinet, and the parliamentarians, not the ministers, should approve or disprove the proposal. As for its accountability, financial and otherwise, the commission should submit every year a comprehensive report on its activities to the parliament for evaluation. Similarly, only the authority to make necessary decisions to expand its activities to upazilas and appoint officials in line with its need and choice will not afford the commission complete administrative independence, either. As we have written in these columns before, the commission should have complete administrative independence, from the centre to the periphery. It should have a countrywide network of election offices so that it need not depend on civil administration officials and employees to conduct any elections – parliamentary, municipal, union council or what have you. The objective should be to legally empower and logistically equip the commission in a manner so that the district election officials may officiate voting in their respective areas, in place of the deputy commissioners, with the civil administration at their beck and call. It will be only possible if the election officials at every tier are afforded equal, if not higher, rank and status compared to relevant officers of the civil administration, and, of course, adequate logistics. These are just the minimum requirements for the commission to become truly independent of the control of the executive branch of the state.

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