Digital Pakistan linked company faces conflict of interest concerns over appointment of leadership

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June 27, 2020
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As reported by Dawn, the Digital Pakistan Foundation is facing transparency concerns over having Ms. Tania Aidrus on its board of directors. The DPF is a not-for-profit company founded to support the PM’s Digital Pakistan initiative launched on 5 December last year. Former Google executive Ms. Tania Aidrus was chosen to lead the initiative and quit her job at Google to do so. Ms. Aidrus was made Special Assistant to the Prime Minister (SAPM) on Digital Pakistan in February. In the same month, she became one of the founding directors of DPF after it was registered with the Securities and Exchange Commission of Pakistan (SECP).

The fact that Ms. Tania holds a government position while being on the board of directors of a private company, as well as the ambiguity surrounding the foundation’s source of funding has raised concerns about conflict of interest. However, Ms. Aidrus thinks this shouldn’t be an issue. “There is absolutely no issue with an SAPM being on the board of a not-for-profit company. It’s important to remember that this is not a private limited company and the same sector would only be an issue when the company is a profit-making entity,” she told Dawn concerning the issue.

Ms. Aidrus emphasized that the foundation was created to help the government achieve its goal of a Digital Pakistan. “As such, the foundation does not intend to take any payments from the government. The foundation does not intend to increase the burden on the government, rather looks to alleviate it by raising funding from external donors via grants, not loans,” she explained.

Despite these explanations, lawyers say the appointment still does not remove the conflict of interest concerns that some people may have. “There may not be a question of making personal monetary gains here. However, it’s in the interests of transparency and good practices to avoid such conflicts of interest between one’s role as a government actor on the one hand and acting as a board member for a privately controlled entity on the other,” said Waqqas Mir, a constitutional lawyer. “In her capacity as SAPM she shouldn’t consult the government or advise it in relation to a private body where she serves as a board member,” he said while talking to Dawn.

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