Some of the accused, when contacted, claimed they took the money by performing their duties as special speakers, course advisers or directors, and no irregularities took place
Following a recent media report that claimed Election Commission (EC) officials misappropriated the honorarium that they were supposed to receive as speakers, course advisers and directors at various polls-related programs, EC officials have brushed the allegation aside.
Some of the accused, when contacted, claimed they took the money by performing their duties as special speakers, course advisers or directors, and no irregularities took place.
According to the report, all four commissioners, the chief election commissioner (CEC), and other high-ups at the constitutional body embezzled at least Tk2 crore during the last national election and upazila polls.
They took the money as special guest speakers during the national and upazila polls, it said, adding that then EC secretary Helaluddin Ahmed misappropriated at least Tk47 lakh alone.
When contacted, Election Commissioner Brig Gen (retd) Shahadat Hossain Chowdhury described the report as flawed, saying: “It has been published out of a certain interest, to stigmatise the EC.”
He accused the reporter of filing the report without any substantial information, but admitted taking his share of the honorarium.
Dubbing the amount as “not that high,” he said: “If I was given a handsome amount, I could even disburse some among others.”
Seconding his stance, another election commissioner, Rafiqul Islam, said the allegation was baseless.
“The information mentioned in the report was without proper verification,” he said.
Election Commissioner Mahbub Talukder refused to comment on the allegations on Tuesday afternoon, claiming to be busy with his official duties.
CEC AKM Nurul Huda, however, could not be reached for comment on the allegations.
Election Commissioner Khabita Khanam, EC Additional Secretary Mokhlesur Rahman, and at least four joint secretaries are also among the accused.
According to the report, nine officials “attended” 520 district and upazila level programs in just 18 days from December 7, ahead of the 11th general election.
Rafiqul Islam questioned how the accused could travel to so many places in such a short period of time.
“The EC officials concerned conducted training at their respective district headquarters, instead of travelling to the various upazilas as originally planned. The honorarium was adjusted accordingly,” he added.
“Considering our role in training the district and upazila level trainers, Tk1,200 (the honorium to each EC trainer) was not such a large sum,” he further said, mentioning that such an honorarium is nothing new.
Defending the allowances from the EC for conducting the training programs, Rafiqul said trainers of the Public Officers' Training Academy (PATC) receive 30% extra pay, unlike the EC officials.
A total Tk48.33 crore was allocated for the training of presiding, assistant presiding and polling officers, the report said, adding that nine special speakers took Tk1.04 crore of the amount. Helaluddin Ahmed withdrew Tk26 lakh as the course adviser.
Presiding and assistant presiding officers were allocated Tk500 each, while polling officers were allocated Tk400 each for participating in the training programs.
During the last general election, the EC trained “master trainers” to train polling agents in 64 districts, for which special speakers took Tk3.2 lakh in total.
During the election to 431 upazila polls, the honorarium for special speakers amounted to Tk43.10 crore. Course advisers received Tk21.55 lakh and the course director Tk19.40 lakh alone.
For the training on how to operate electronic voting machines, around Tk9 lakh was spent to pay the special speakers, course adviser and director.
TIB demands EC officials resign
In a press statement yesterday, Transparency International Bangladesh (TIB) demanded a fair probe into the allegations brought against the EC officials, and urged them to resign for the greater interest.
TIB Executive Director Dr Iftekharuzzaman described the anomalies as unwarranted and unethical.
“Misappropriating allowances without even doing the job properly is a clear violation of law and misuse of power,” he said.