During a recent meeting of the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) and National Database and Registration Authority (Nadra) officials led by their respective heads, a heated exchange ensued with the former expressing anger at the latter's performance in the failure of its Result Transmission System (RTS) in the last general elections. Many may have nodded in agreement on hearing the news, expecting some follow-up action. That though was not the subject of discussion. It was about the Authority's demand that the Commission pay for the provision of technical assistance in sharing data of fresh voters (who obtain Computerized National Identity Cards) and maintenance of voters' lists. The other side balked at the demand.
According to a report appearing in this newspaper, Nadra Chairman Usman Yousuf Mobin made his side's case, arguing that being an autonomous body, the Authority does not receive any financial support from the federal government, relying instead on its operations/projects to generate revenue, mainly by providing technical assistance to different organisations. By the same token, it deserves to be paid by the ECP. Indeed, as an independent entity Nadra fends for itself charging fees for the issuance of CNICs, death, birth and marriage certificates, and biometric authentication. It also renders myriad other services to various public and private sector clients, such as software development, data warehousing, project development, consultancy and advisory, and system integration. Nonetheless, it is not completely autonomous in regulating government databases, controlled as it is by the federal interior secretary. As a matter of fact, in the wake of Covid-19 outbreak the government had no hesitation to tell the Authority to waive fees it charges for issuing death certificates.
As regards the present issue of contention, ECP officials are right in insisting that Nadra is legally bound under Section 25 of the Elections Act, 2017, to share voter data with the Commission and offer related support, and hence their organisation is not required to pay for any of it. That law is unambiguous on the subject. It states that Nadra shall transmit relevant data of every fresh national identity card to the ECP for registration of the cardholder as a voter in the electoral rolls; transmit to the Commission relevant data of every cancelled or modified CNIC as well as information regarding deceased voters for the purposes of the Act; forward all relevant data to the Registration Officer concerned who shall take steps for enrolment or, as the case maybe, correction in the relevant electoral rolls in accordance with prescribed procedure. Clearly, Nadra is under legal obligation to provide information to ECP for the maintenance of electoral rolls. It is unreasonable, therefore, for it to demand payment for something it is duty-bound to do.