In a recent press briefing, Judge Obaidul Hassan, chairman of the Election Commission (EC) search committee, confirmed his decision not to disclose the names of the 10 people he will recommend to the president to constitute the new THIS. This is deeply disappointing, and we fear that the pervasive crisis of confidence, which already exists in the minds of many citizens regarding this whole process, will not be alleviated.
There is a widespread perception that the recruitment committee is not really looking for competent people to appoint to important institutions. It is believed that the committee normally limits its search to a list of individuals given by the government and essentially approves the names preferred by the authorities. A recent interview with former judge Abdul Matin, who chaired and served on several of these search committees, reinforces this perception (Prothom Alo, January 23, 2022).
For all the latest news, follow the Daily Star’s Google News channel.
The experience of appointing the KM Nurul Huda commission reinforces this belief. A Prothom Alo report (8 February 2022) said that in 2017 the ruling party shortlisted four people – KM Nurul Huda, Rafiqul Islam, Kabita Khanam and Brig Gen (Retired) Shahadat Hossain Chowdhury – for appointment to the Election Commission and have adopted a strategy to have these names repeatedly proposed by their coalition partners and allies. According to an interview given by Prof. Manzoorul Islam to Prothom Alo (February 12, 2017), Nurul Huda’s name for the position of Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) was proposed by seven or eight parties, while the name of Ali Imam Majumder was proposed by two. The search committee seems to have counted the names suggested by the political parties and recommended to the president the names most proposed.
The search committee does not appear to have exercised due diligence in preparing the final panel for recommendation to the President. According to Black’s Law Dictionary, due diligence means “such a measure of care, activity, or diligence, as may be expected of a reasonable and prudent man in particular circumstances, and which is normally exercised by him; not measured by an absolute standard, but by the relative facts of the particular case.” By not doing due diligence, the previous search committee seemed to have largely played the role of a post office.
If the search committee had done their due diligence, they would have discovered that Nurul Huda was a BCS officer from the 1973 special group and that he had been sent into forced retirement as a joint secretary by the BNP government in early 2000s. After a court battle, he got his job back and retired as a secretary in 2006, and he doesn’t appear to have been a secretary for even a single day. There were also serious allegations of partisan behavior during his career as a civil servant, and he was a victim of the BNP and beneficiary of the Awami League. Given such a track record, it would have been difficult to recommend Nurul Huda for the position of CEC, had the process been transparent and the recruitment committee had exercised due diligence.
Pursuant to section 4(1) of the Chief Election Commissioner and Other Election Commissioners Appointment Act 2022, the Search Committee “shall act in accordance with the principles of transparency and neutrality and make recommendations to the President for appointment to the positions of Chief Electoral Commissioner and Commissioner of Elections, taking into account the qualifications, disqualifications, experience, honesty and reputation of persons, as described in this Act. »
Obviously, the law requires the search committee to act in a neutral and transparent manner to find honest, competent and reputable people to recommend to the president for the constitution of the EC. Acting transparently will mean doing everything openly and hiding nothing; this will mean full and not partial disclosures. Thus, the search committee is obligated to disclose not only the names of those proposed for its review, but also the names of those who proposed said names, as we requested on behalf of SHUJAN.
The legal requirement to recommend reputable individuals for appointment to the EC also requires the disclosure of the names of individuals considered by the recruitment committee, as there is no yardstick to measure reputation other than public perception. . Thus, only if the names are made public and citizens have the opportunity to express their opinion will the committee have a good idea of whether the people it is considering have something hidden in their closet. Only with full disclosure and allowing citizens to share their views can the search committee act transparently – and be seen to have acted transparently.
It is argued that disclosing the names of those on the Short List of 20 or the Final List of 10, and their nominators, will create controversy and character killings. Disclosure is meant to expose the truth, not assassinate anyone’s character. Also, if there is controversy about someone, it should come out before their names are recommended to the president, rather than after they are nominated to the EC.
The Right to Information Act 2009 also requires the search committee to make public the names proposed for nomination to the EC, as well as the names of those who proposed those names. In ‘Badiul Alam Majumdar and Others v. State’, a High Court Divisional Bench ruled that all information available to ‘authorities’, even from third parties, is public information – not secret nor confidential – and are subject to disclosure.
Section 48(3) of our constitution requires the President to act on the advice of the Prime Minister, except in cases of appointment of the Chief Justice and the Prime Minister. If the search committee discloses the proposed names for the EC, along with a report justifying their recommendations, only then will we know if the appointment of the chair came from the recommendation of the committee.
We are confident that the Search Committee’s decision not to release the names of the panel it will nominate the President and those who nominated those names is misguided and will not serve any public interest. We therefore respectfully ask the committee to reconsider its decision. Otherwise, the pervasive crisis of confidence will continue to linger in the public psyche, which will be in no one’s interest.
Dr. Badiul Alam Majumdar is the secretary of SHUJAN: Citizens for Good Governance.