Election Commission Secretariat Act, 2009

Election Commission Secretariat Act, 2009 The need for strengthening the Election Commission has been a matter of public debate since 1991. The debate reached its peak prior to the elections of 2006, when it was alleged that voter list was abnormally inflated to suit the convenience of the then ruling party. In the result, Election Commission was reconstituted, and the demand for making the Commission independent of the executive branch of the government gained further momentum.

The non-party caretaker government led by Dr. Fakhruddin Ahmed, as part of the efforts to strengthen the Commission, issued an Ordinance titled Election Commission Secretariat Ordinance, 2008 (Ordinance No.5 of 2008). After 2008, the elected grand alliance government led by Awami League, in line with constitutional provisions, transformed the Ordinance into an Act in the Parliament on 24 January 2009. The Act repealed the Ordinance of 2008. The preamble to the law avers that, consistent with article 118 (4) of the Constitution, it was necessary to establish an independent and separate Secretariat for the Commission to enable it to discharge its duties quite independently. The law was given retrospective effect from 9 March 2008, the date on which the repealed Ordinance was issued. This had to be done to maintain continuity of the electoral governance thereby protecting all actions taken earlier under the Ordinance.

Prior to the Ordinance and the Act that followed, the Commission Secretariat was largely manned by government officials. The general perception had been that the previous Secretariat was nothing more than an extended arm of the executive government. To that extent, it was perceived to be remotely controlled by the executive. Thus the basic objective of the law was to put an end to this public perception by vesting in Commission Secretariat as much administrative and financial authority as was required under the circumstances.

The law consists of twenty sections. Majority of the sections set out in clear and unambiguous terms the authority of the Secretariat, the overall superintendence and control of the Chief Election Commissioner in terms of personnel administration, financial independence, transaction of the business, making it incumbent for the President to provide the number of personnel required to carry out functions in fulfillment of the requirements of article 120 of the Constitution, disciplinary matters of its personnel, rule-making authority with prior approval of the President, etc.

Some distinctive features of the law, which was hitherto non-existent, may be noted.

First, recognition of a separate and independent Commission Secretariat which is free of control of any ministry/division of the government. Second, constitution of the Commission Secretariat and its personnel in accordance with rules under the Act. Only in case of framing of laws, it has to consult the Ministry of Law, Justice and Parliamentary Affairs. Third, specific functions and responsibilities of the Secretariat. Fourth, expenditure of funds under the approved budget without any prior approval of government. Fifth, legally establishing the authority of the Commission to incur administrative expenses from the consolidated fund as envisaged in the Constitution. This means that such expenses of the budget are not subject to vote in the Parliament. Sixth, administrative authority of the Secretary to the Commission who is recognised, under the law, to be the administrative head of the Secretariat responsible to the Chief Election Commissioner. Seventh, authority of a person to directly communicate with the Secretary of the Commission or any officer discharging such functions. Eighth, authority to conduct awareness-building programmes for the citizens. [AMM Shawkat Ali]

Bibliography Bangladesh Gazette (Extraordinary), 24 February 2009.