Lack of training affected publication of election results
Tablet computers purchased for the speedy publication of election results were useless within weeks of purchasing them, landing the Election Commission in trouble.
Purchased at a total cost of Tk47.75 crore, the 42,200 tablet computers – more commonly known as tabs – failed to serve their original purpose, as it took longer to count votes with them than it would if it were done manually, in the third phase of the upazila parishad polls.
Election officials have blamed the tab’s low quality and a lack of training as the reasons for the Election Commission's failure to properly use the tabs.
On March 28, the commission issued a letter, signed by National ID (NID) Wing Assistant Director Rashid Mia, instructing polls officers not to use the tabs in the fourth phase of upazila parishad elections.
"Technical problems were found in using these tabs to send the election results [in the upazila elections] in Gopalganj sadar and Manikganj sadar," the letter says. "Considering this aspect, the commission has decided not to use these tabs in the fourth phase of the election."
The tabs were China's Maximus brand, purchased at Tk10,000 apiece. Maximus is also responsible for working on the application server, database server, and SAN storage.
Why were the tabs purchased?
According to Election Commission officials, the tabs were purchased to minimize the time required for the collection and circulation of election results.
Manual collection of the election results from various centres is a long process. Presiding officers of each centre have to visit the assistant returning officer's offices, located at a considerable distance from the centres, to submit election results to the Election Commission database.
To avoid this lengthy process, the Election Commission decided to use tabs in the 11th general election and local government elections. On March 19, 2018, at the 22nd commission meeting, the commission decided to buy some tabs to use as a pilot project.
However, since a law would need to be enacted to use the tabs, the commission only used them as a pilot project in elections at four centres of Gazipur City Corporation and 25 centres of Barisal City Corporation.
Although using these tabs did not provide any advantage, the ICT Division of the Election Commission submitted a proposal for using tabs in the general election, and local government elections in the first week of October.
Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) KM Nurul Huda had objected to the idea.
"We did not get very good results using tabs in two city corporation elections," the CEC said. "We faced a lot of resistance. Officials did not have the necessary training, and technical expert advice was ignored."
But the CEC's objections were also ignored, and the proposal was presented to the commission meeting in mid-October last year, where it was approved.
The commission made an agreement with Computer Service Ltd on February 19 this year. Initially planning to use tabs at all the centres, the commission later decided to use them at polling centres with Electronic Voting Machines (EVMs) under a pilot project.
Later, it was decided that the tabs would be used in EVM centres during the third phase of the upazila elections, on March 24.
What are the problems?
Dhaka Tribune spoke to several returning officers to understand the problem with using tabs.
Most of the officials criticized the commission's failure to train staff prior to introducing the devices, and the substandard quality of the tabs themselves.
Election Commission Joint Secretary (Communication) SM Asaduzzaman said: "The commission should have trained field officials before letting them use the tabs. The tabs should also have been of a higher quality."
Presiding officer of Arshini Bichoron High School in Gopalganj sadar upazila, Prashad Kumar Mridha, said the tabs froze several times in the morning of third phase election day.
"I was asked to send the updated information of male and female voters, along with the total vote and voter numbers," Prashad told Dhaka Tribune. "But I could not calculate these numbers easily, and I could not send more than one piece of information at a time. Soon, the tab stopped working altogether.
“I tried restarting the device, but it did not turn on again. It did not even accept the password for a long time.”
Who assessed the effectiveness of the tabs?
Election Commission System Manager Rafiqul Haque, also head of the tab receiving committee, failed to give a clear answer on who assessed the effectiveness of the tabs.
"There is a committee which might have done that," he said.
When asked about its errors, he said: “Every new technology has problems which need to be overcome. We are using these tabs as a pilot project. We will fix it soon, after updating the software."
Rafiqul refused to discuss the low quality of the tabs.
What will the EC do with the tabs?
Election Commission officials said they would examine the tabs, and if they are found to be of low quality, legal action would be taken against the supplying company.
The commission’s System Analyst Farzana Akhter said: “The tabs do not have any errors. The officers lacked the proper training to operate these tabs."
Election Commissioner Rafiqul Islam said the tabs should have been bought after proper assessment, and legal action will be taken against the supplier if problems are found.
He also emphasized software development and arrangement of training for commission officers, saying the initiative to use the tabs may yet be salvaged.
Dhaka Tribune tried to contact Computer Services Ltd Managing Director Mamlok Sabbir Ahmed, but his phone was switched off.
Shakil Islam, head of the IT Enabled Services-(ITES) Division of Computer Service Ltd, said there has been a "misunderstanding" regarding the effectiveness and usability of the tabs.
“These tabs have software that needs to be developed," he said. "Any new software needs to be put under trial to ensure its effectiveness."
He hoped the development process of the software would be completed in two months, and the tabs can be used properly in the polls within three months.