Finding facts

December 15, 2013

Finding facts

The unceremonious removal of Chairman National Database and Registration Authority (Nadra) Tariq Malik and his subsequent reinstatement by the Islamabad High Court has stirred a lot of debate around the issue.

Sources in Nadra tell TNS that the date and timing of the termination of Tariq Malik is important. "He was supposed to meet the newly-nominated interim Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) on December 4 at 11am at his office. The thumb verification in NA-118 was on the meeting’s agenda. The CEC refused to visit the Nadra office on December 4 after the controversial sacking of Tariq Malik," the source says.

Nadra officials say things were going well between Tariq Malik and the government before November 19 when an election tribunal ordered Nadra to verify thumbprints on the ballot papers cast at some polling station of NA-118, Lahore, in the May general elections.

Earlier, the MQM had problems with Nadra, especially with Tariq Malik -- as in October the authority revealed that only 6,805 votes out of the 84,448 votes cast during the May 11 elections in NA-256 Karachi could be verified. The MQM had won the seat.

The Nadra verification process revealed that around 57,642 votes cast in the election could not be verified, 5,893 votes were cast twice and 741 votes were not related to the area.

In some other national and provincial constituencies in Sindh, the election tribunals directed the authority to verify thumb impressions which revealed that the majority of votes cast during the May elections could not be verified. In one constituency, for instance, it was found that one person cast his vote 34 times.

"The government has no problem with thumb verification in Sindh or Balochistan but once the election tribunal had ordered to initiate the process in a Lahore constituency, the initiative was met with great opposition. Malik Riaz, the PML-N member of National Assembly who won the NA-118 seat in May came to Nadra office and asked Tariq Malik to stop the process. We have a record of his entry into the Nadra office. Also, the Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar used harsh language against Tariq Malik during official meetings," says a close aide of Tariq Malik.

The results of thumb verification process of NA-118 cannot be revealed as Malik Riaz has filed a writ petition in Lahore High Court against the election tribunal’s decision to conduct thumb verification. On the contrary, Chaudhry Nisar claimed that the government was ready for thumb impression verification of all 272 (directly elected) seats of the National Assembly under the supervision of the PTI’s member Justice (retd) Wajihuddin Ahmed.

He also told the parliament that if verification process was initiated, it will not be possible to verify 60,000 to 70,000 votes verified in each constituency as magnetic ink had not been used during the May election process.

The interior ministry sent a letter to the parliamentary party leaders clarifying the government’s position on the sacking of Nadra chairman Tariq Malik. The letter claimed that this had nothing to do with the issue of alleged poll rigging or verification of thumb impression of voters.

Babar Sattar, counsel of Tariq Malik, rejects the government’s claim that Malik’s appointment was ‘illegal’. "If that was the case why did the government not mention this as the reason in his termination orders," he says.

Sattar argues that Tariq Malik’s appointment was made in line with the laid-down rules and procedures as he fulfilled the criteria for appointment set in Section 3 of the Nadra Ordinance 2000.

Experts believe Nisar does not have the mandate to decide on thumb verification process in a constituency. "It is the mandate of election tribunals to order it or not. Under Article 225 of Constitution, no other authority can do so," says Kanwar Dilshad, ex-secretary Election Commission.

At present, there are around 400 complaints from more than 100 national assembly constituencies pending in election tribunals. Reports of Nadra both for NA-256 and NA-258 were revealing and cast doubts on the sanctity of the May elections. Reports about NA-118 are not encouraging either. The PTI has already announced protest against election rigging from last week of December. Dr Tahirul Qadri has also been giving signals to start a movement on the issue.

It seems the issue of Tariq Malik’s sacking is going to create problems for the government.

Tariq Malik also wrote a letter to the interior ministry on December 8 in response to the allegations of not doing audit of the authority. "I am submitting this clarification concerning audit of Nadra to allay any misperception and assure that Nadra is maintaining financial discipline. This is evident from the finding of Audit Report of 2012-13 of the Auditor General wherein financial position of Nadra has been described as satisfactory," reads the letter.

Nadra sources say the Authority has never denied the auditors access to its accounts. "It also cooperated with the auditors for special audit of the Authority. An audit officer wrote a letter to Nadra in July seeking details about financial and administrative matters of the Authority as well as a report on the elections," says a source in Nadra.

The source also says the government was more interested in getting access to Nadra’s report on general election through the additional audit. "Nadra chairperson refused to provide sensitive record of elections, including thumb impression of voters, because under the directives of election tribunals he cannot share such details with any individual, government department or even the Election Commission of Pakistan," he says.

According to him, the auditor’s letter sought 17 kinds of details, including a complete report on verification of thumb impression of voters in the May elections, complaints received from MNAs, MPAs and the public about voter lists and reports prepared on the elections with regard to transparency and services provided by Nadra.

According to the procedure, the audit report of any department can neither be finalised nor leaked without getting a reply from the concerned department, ministry and only after it is presented before the parliament.

All opposition parties have been condemning the government’s sacking of the Nadra chief and they have been linking it to the verification of the voters’ thumb impression, especially in Punjab, the PML-N’s stronghold.

When contacted, federal minister of Information and Broadcasting Pervaiz Rasheed said his party’s version had already been stated by the Interior Minister on the floor of the house.

Finding facts