Special Assistant to the Prime Minister on the Digital Pakistan programme, Tania Aidrus and Special Assistant to the Prime Minister on Health, Dr. Zafar Mirza tendered their resignation this Wednesday following criticism by opposition parties.
The Digital Pakistan initiative was started on December of last year by Prime Minister Imran Khan. Tania Aidrus, a former Google executive was appointed to head the initiative given her impressive resume. Aidrus who holds both a Pakistani as well as a Canadian nationality was one of the many SAPMs targeted for holding dual nationalities.
The opposition parties criticized PM Imran Khan for time and again voicing his disapproval of dual nationals holding high positions in government while having several of his aides being of dual nationality. Pakistan Peoples Party Senator Sherry Rehman tweeted asking “if members of parliament can’t be dual nationals how can advisors and aides who sit in cabinet?”
Four now narrowed down in media. If members of parliament can’t be dual nationals how can advisors and aides who sit in cabinet? https://t.co/TCMBQqVaDH
— SenatorSherryRehman (@sherryrehman) July 19, 2020
Aidrus’ position was further exacerbated by a legal matter of conflict of interest arising out of the fact that she was a board member on the non-profit company Digital Pakistan Foundation while also holding a position in government. Aidrus addressed this concern while talking to Dawn, “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.”
The purpose of the foundation, she went on to say, was to provide free-of-cost support to the government in its digitization initiatives.
“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. No contracts have been signed or even exchanged at this point. The Digital Pakistan Foundation, like any other not-for-profit organization, will need to go through the government/regulator’s requisite approval processes.”
Business Recorder cited a source close to the developments as saying, “She has been talking about the Digital Pakistan Foundation since day one, she has been pretty transparent about it. She had been saying that she will make a foundation, and raise money to attract Pakistani talent abroad with good salaries because the Government of Pakistan isn’t spending anything on the Digital Pakistan Initiative. This was her plan from the very beginning and I think Khan was aware of it.”
It was further noted that no deception was intended as “the same was being said by both Mr Jamali and Ms Aidrus at various webinars and talks they were giving to industry groups. One such webinar, given to Open Silicon Valley group, a group of Pakistani expatriates in USA working in tech, Mr Jamali gave his outline. According to Mr Jamali, this was not a novel structure unique to Pakistan and they did not come up with the idea on their own. According to Mr Jamali, India also has a similar structure where a non-profit think-tank called iSpirit works as an industry group in parallel to the government on policy formulations to execution of digital projects.”
Jahangir Tareen, who was ousted in the Sugar Commission Report, was also a former member on the board of Digital Pakistan Foundation, and was one of the people who brought Aidrus to the party. This might have caused Aidrus to lose her rapport within the party, especially considering that there was already friction between her department and the National Information Technology Board. A twitter post by Prime Minister’s Focal Person on COVID-19, Dr. Faisal Sultan, was one such instance of conflict within the party made public.
Tania Aidrus tweeted her resignation saying, “Criticism levied towards the state” as a consequence of her dual nationality was “clouding the purpose of Digital Pakistan.”
Criticism levied towards the state as a consequence of my citizenship status is clouding the purpose of Digital Pakistan. In the greater public interest, I have submitted my resignation from the SAPM role. I will continue to serve my country and the PM’s vision to my best ability pic.twitter.com/BWBvBvO6uz
— Tania Aidrus (@taidrus) July 29, 2020
Meanwhile, Dr. Zafar Mirza had earned the opprobrium of the Supreme Court over his actions concerning the handling of the COVID-19 pandemic. Furthermore, Mirza got some heat over not adequately dealing with rising prices of pharmaceuticals and also got embroiled in accusations of smuggling medical supplies from India.
Mirza, who formerly worked as the director of Health System Development at Eastern Mediterranean WHO Regional Office, also tweeted news of his resignation saying that “I am satisfied that I leave at a time when COVID-19 has declined” in Pakistan,
<352> I have resigned as SAPM. I came to 🇵🇰 on a personal invitation of @ImranKhanPTI leaving WHO. I worked hard & honestly. It was a privilege to serve Pakistan. I am satisfied that I leave at a time when COVID-19 has declined in 🇵🇰 as a result of a grand national effort.
— Zafar Mirza (@zfrmrza) July 29, 2020