January 8, 2018 07:06 AM NPT
KATMANDU, Jan 8: Three days after having a meeting with the heads of key anti-graft bodies - Commission for the Investigation of Abuse of Authority (CIAA) and Office of the Auditor General (OAG) - the Election Commission (EC) admitted it on Sunday.
Issuing a press statement, EC Spokesperson Navaraj Dhakal confirmed that the election commissioners had held an 'informal meeting' with the heads of two anti-graft bodies and chief of Public Service Commission, at Bahadur Bhawan, the EC headquarters.
Spokesperson Dhakal said this was the third meeting held among the constitutional heads. EC and other constitutional bodies, however, had never informed about such meetings till date. The meeting took place at a time when EC has been accused of embezzling millions of rupees in the course of holding the recent polls. The CIAA is mandated to investigate irregularities while the OAG oversees arrears of government entities including the EC.
Constitutional heads used to hold informal meetings in the past as well. But such meetings, according to retired election chiefs, were never held during and immediately after elections. "Holding informal meetings among the heads of constitutional bodies is a kind of tradition although we could not do so while I was there in the office," said former Chief Election Commissioner Bhojraj Pokharel.
The meeting has drawn criticism from stakeholders as election commissioners have been accused of spending money arbitrarily in the polls last year. Unlike in the past, the election body refused aid from foreign donors this time but instead sought a massive amount from the government, raising suspicions of intent to misuse funds.
Donors used to extend support to EC in kind instead of cash, leaving little room for financial irregularities by the EC. Election commissioners have been accused of rejecting foreign fund with a plan to receive billions of rupees from the state coffers to spend it as per their own plan.
The government had allocated Rs 10 billion for parliamentary and provincial elections. An additional Rs 7 billion was provided to the election body to conduct the local elections. Election commissioners have been accused of misusing funds from the state coffers in purchasing logistics such as T-shirts and printing ballot papers and voter rolls. Effectiveness of voter education has been questioned from all quarters after invalid vote percent remained high despite spending a huge money for the purpose of educating voters to cast error-free votes.
Over Rs 1 billion was spent on voter education, but the invalid vote percentage remained as high as 20 percent under the proportional representation category. Embarrassed by the high percentage of invalid votes, the election body hasn't officially announced the number of invalid votes of all three elections till date. Poll observers have questioned the effectiveness of the voter education program.
Former CIAA chief Suryanath Upadhyay said although the members of the constitutional bodies can meet for better coordination and performance, the recent such meeting has raised questions among the public because of its "timing". "The meeting seems mysterious as they held a meeting while the EC is already facing accusations of irregularities," said Upadhyay.