Collapsed RTS system gaining consciousness

Soundbite from phone call regarding RTS failure on July 25 sent to FIA for forensic audit

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News Desk

Islamabad

The Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) on Wednesday said that a soundbite from a phone call — made on July 25 regarding the failure of its Results Transmission System (RTS) — has been sent to the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) to determine who had given the instructions.

Members of the ECP, including DG IT Khizar Aziz and DG Law Arshad Mehmood, shared this information with the Senate Standing Committee on Parliamentary Affairs during a briefing on the alleged failure of RTS on election night.

At the outset, the committee expressed dissatisfaction at ECP Secretary Babar Yaqoob Fateh’s absence from the meeting.

“The by-polls are about to take place and the ECP secretary is not even in the country,” members of the committee remarked when they were told that Fateh was abroad on an official visit.

A letter from the ECP to the FIA was also produced during the briefing, chaired by Senator Sassui Palijo. The letter, dated August 30, said that a USB drive containing the soundbite has been sent to the FIA to run forensic tests to identify the person that had made the phone call.

According to the letter, FIA has been asked to respond to the matter swiftly.

The Senate committee was told that the RTS had only yielded 20 per cent results when it was tested in PP-20 (Chakwal) ahead of the General Elections.

“A number of returning officers in the district did not have the kind of mobile phones required [to upload the results],” the ECP members said.

At this, Senator Javed Abbasi asked why the ECP had not objected to the use of RTS if it had such faults.

“In fact, at that time, the ECP had claimed to have a backup system,” Abbasi pointed out.

“The ECP had expressed its reservations regarding the RTS system. In fact, it was said on May 21 that the RTS trial had failed,” Senator Palijo added.

According to members of the ECP, the RTS was not even part of the Election Act [then bill] till August 6, 2017.

“The system was made part of the bill on August 22, 2017,” a member of the ECP said.

Separately, the committee was also told that the ECP still has reservations on the functioning of the iVote that is to be used by overseas Pakistanis in the Oct 14 by-polls.

“The Supreme Court has been informed about the ECP’s reservations on the iVote system,” the ECP team told the Senate committee.

RTS controversy

The RTS controversy came to surface when transmission of election results abruptly stopped around midnight after daylong polling. Later, ECP Secretary Fateh appeared on TV screens and informed the perplexed nation that the RTS had “collapsed” and that the ECP was now returning to the traditional and manual method of tabulating the results and, therefore, there could be an inordinate delay in the announcement of the unofficial results.

According to sources, soon after the secretary’s news conference, the senior and top officials of National Database and Registration Authority (Nadra) — the creators of the RTS mobile app — had protested with the ECP and claimed that the RTS was fully functional and they also provided some documentary evidence to prove their claim.

However, Nadra officials were simply told by ECP officials that they had decided to stop using RTS since it had started “malfunctioning”.

The RTS was developed by Nadra after an agreement with the ECP in February when the commission had expressed the desire to receive the results directly from polling stations as done by newspaper and TV reporters.

The system, they said, was only meant for the quick announcement of the results for the media through the ECP and that was why its link was provided to the PTV.

Some Nadra officials allege that perhaps it was the ECP’s own costly Result Management System (RMS), installed at the offices of the returning officers (ROs) for tabulation of the results, that had stopped functioning and the commission had put the blame on Nadra only as a cover-up as the RTS and RMS were independent systems and there was no integration between the two softwares.

On the other hand, a spokesman for the ECP had refuted Nadra’s claim that the RMS had failed on the election night, reiterating the stance that the RTS had crashed.

He alleged that Nadra was making these claims only to hide its own “weaknesses”.

PPP Secretary General Farhatullah Babar had stated that traditionally the polls day manipulation took place in the RO offices at the time of consolidation of results and the RTS had been introduced to reduce the role of the ROs.

“The RTS worked perfectly well on the election day for some hours until someone was scared by prospects of eliminating the role of ROs altogether and decided to discontinue it,” he had alleged, while calling for a “forensic audit” to find answers to a number of questions.

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