KARACHI: A company linked to the Digital Pakistan initiative, an idea of the government of Prime Minister Imran Khans, has sparked controversy on social media, questioning the involvement of Tania Aidrus, the Prime Ministers’ special assistance to head of the initiative, which is part of the board of directors of the related company.
On December 5, Prime Minister Khan launched the Digital Pakistan program and appointed Ms. Aidrus, a Google executive who has left office, to lead the initiative.
The Digital Pakistan program operates directly under the supervision of the Prime Minister. Later in February, Ms. Aidrus was appointed Special Assistant to the PM (SAPM) on Digital Pakistan, in accordance with the provisions of section 4 of the 1973 Regulations.
In the same month, according to recent social media disclosures verified by Dawn, a non-profit company named Digital Pakistan Foundation (DPF) was registered with the Securities and Exchange Commission of Pakistan (SECP) under article 42 of the compliment the government initiative Digital Pakistan.
According to the SECP website, the founding directors of the foundation are Ms. Aidrus, the PTI supporter Jahangir Tareen (who was disqualified by the Supreme Court), the CEO of Careems, Mudassar Ilyas Sheikha, and the lawyer for Mr. Tareens , Sikander Bashir Mohmand.
The inclusion of Ms. Aidrus on the board of directors and the lack of transparency regarding the funding and operations of the foundations raised concerns, in particular a source of conflict of interest.
The company is a non-profit entity and will not accept payments from the government, says PM’s help.
Responding to the concerns, Ms. Aidrus told Dawn: There is absolutely no problem having an SAPM on the board of directors of a non-profit corporation. It is important to remember that this is not a limited liability company and that the same sector would only be a problem when the company is a for-profit entity.
The purpose of the foundation, she said, was to provide free support to the government in its digitization initiatives.
As such, the foundation does not intend to receive payments from the government. The foundation does not intend to increase the burden on the government, but rather seeks to alleviate it by raising funds from external donors through grants, not loans, she said.
Aidrus confirmed to Dawn that Mr. Tareen was indeed part of the founding team as someone linked to government reform initiatives.
However, she said, due to pressing personal and business commitments, which required his full-time attention in April, he resigned from the board.
On April 15, 2020, Mr. Tareen elected to resign as a member and as a director and informed the board of directors. SECP approved Mr. Tareens’ resignation as a subscribed member on April 23, she said.
The former Google official said the foundation team was in contact with many donors, including wealthy Pakistanis who were looking to give back to Pakistan.
The Prime Minister’s assistant said that Mr. Tareen had no ongoing involvement or role in the direction, management or operations of the foundation.
With the resignation of Mr. Tareen and his lawyers, the board of directors has not yet made any new appointments. Aidrus said board expansion has been delayed due to the Covid-19 pandemic but is expected to be completed in July at the start of the new fiscal year.
According to her, the company has not yet officially started its activities and has not obtained financing.
Aidrus said that no director or president has been allowed to receive a salary or stipend from the organization while in public office or in another part-time or full-time role.
No contract has been signed or even exchanged at this stage. The Digital Pakistan Foundation, like any other non-profit organization, will have to go through the approval processes required by government / regulators, she told Dawn.
Conflict of interest?
According to the lawyers, there is much to discover in terms of the legality of the company’s operations and its links to the government.
There may be no question here of personal monetary gain. However, it is in the interest of transparency and good practice to avoid such conflicts of interest between his role as a government actor on the one hand and that of member of the board of directors of an entity under control on the other hand, constitutional lawyer Waqqas Mir told Dawn.
As a SAPM, she should not consult or advise the government in relation to a private body where she sits as a member of the board of directors, he added.
According to Mr. Mir, if the DPF was a foundation run by individuals and it bid for any contract with the government where Ms. Aidrus is also present as a decision maker or consultant on the government side, such a conflict of interest would have to disclose to the government.
As a general rule, when a conflict of interest is disclosed, the person in conflict does not participate in the vote or in the decision-making process when he is taken in charge by the competent government department or body, has he added.
The role of SAPM is defined by operating rules which provide that the terms and conditions of appointment are approved by the firm.
The appointment as director of the company cannot in itself create a particular conflict of interest. However, if an official is authorized to chair a company, the procedures for his appointment and its conditions are subject to the operating rules, said lawyer Reza Ali, adding that this appointment required cabinet approval.
Posted in Dawn, June 24, 2020
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