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IT officials removed for opposing misuse of funds, political hiring

Published: July 18, 2012

Ministry interferes in working of independent IT funds, companies.

KARACHI: Many key officials, who were working in independent information technology funds and companies established by the government, have been sidelined for being a hurdle in the way of misuse of funds, hiring on political grounds and approval of controversial projects.

These officials, whose efforts have made IT a $2 billion industry, have been removed by Federal IT and Telecom Secretary Farooq Ahmed Awan, which sets a perfect example of how bureaucracy can sink a high-growth industry, say sources.

According to the World Economic Forum’s Global Information Technology Report 2012, Pakistan’s IT industry has dropped to 102 – down by 14 points – in global ranking of 142 countries. Government’s lack of efficiency and poor governance have been cited as main reasons for the decline in ranking.

The officials targeted held key positions in the Universal Service Fund (USF), Information and Communications Technology Research and Development (ICT R&D) Fund and other autonomous telecom bodies.

USF and ICT R&D Fund have Rs43 billion and Rs4 billion in their accounts respectively. These were established under the Companies Ordinance 1984 to expedite government projects because bureaucratic methods were slow, but bureaucratic interference in day-to-day affairs kills the very purpose, an official of the ICT R&D Fund said.

“Awan is trying to run the show himself, he doesn’t want people telling him about the rules and regulations of the company,” said a USF official who asked not to be named.

The Express Tribune, in its May 17 edition, reported that the IT ministry had allegedly misused Rs120 million of USF money in a media campaign. In this regard, some members of the USF board also wrote to the National Accountability Bureau (NAB), asking it to start an investigation.

Within days, Awan directed USF chief Riaz Ashar Siddiqui to send Asif Kamal, USF GM and a board member, on forced leave, sources said. However, a majority of board members opposed Kamal’s removal and restored him in a board meeting, which the chairman (Awan) didn’t attend.

When asked, CEO Siddiqui said he took the action on the instruction of Awan, but stressed that as a CEO he was empowered to take such a decision.

A March 29 circular issued by IT Ministry Joint Secretary Raashid Bashir Mazari is one example of interference in autonomous IT bodies like Telecom Foundation, USF, ICT R&D Fund, Pakistan Software Export Board and National Telecom Corporation (NTC).

The circular directed heads of these companies to seek prior approval of the IT secretary before holding any official meetings. It also asked them to send deliberations of the meetings to the secretary for examination.

In protest, Syed Aun Abbas, CEO ICT R&D Fund at that time, resigned terming the circular undue interference.

While Abbas preferred resignation, others suffered for standing against Awan. Ismail Shah, Member Telecom IT Ministry, was another official sent on forced leave, according to sources. The ministry served him a show-cause notice levelling some charges. However, he got a stay order from the Islamabad High Court.

The list doesn’t end here. Awan has terminated the services of Brig (retd) Younus, Chairman NTC; Mudassir Hussain, Director Telecom; Salman Elahi Malik, CEO Pak Datacom and Aamir Mateen, member board ICT R&D Fund, officials confirmed.

When IT Secretary Awan was emailed a questionnaire on July 2 about the removal of officials, he did not answer the queries except those about Pak Datacom CEO Salman Malik. The board of directors removed Malik unanimously, Awan said, denying the decision was influenced by him.

Giving the reason, nearly half a dozen officials said these people held key positions in their companies and had questioned Awan before approving any project.

Citing a case of interference, an official said the board formed a sub-committee to appoint new CEO after Abbas resigned. It advertised the post and shortlisted candidates but Awan stopped the process.

In another case, the official said, Awan has appointed around 30 people in USF in the last six months based on political links.

Published in The Express Tribune, July 18th, 2012.

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