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Question mark over KP govt’s multi-billion rupee ad contract

Question mark over KP govt’s multi-billion rupee ad contract

PESHAWAR: The award of a multi-billion rupee contract for a print and electronic media campaign to showcase the PTI-led Khyber Pakhtunkhwa government’s performance to a company — along with two others — with known ties to a key PTI leader has raised questions about conflict of interest and transparency, documents available with Dawn reveal.

Documents show that in an official letter issued on Oct 20, the information secretary of the government of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa informed the three advertising agencies that “in the light of the presentation to the steering committee”, they were authorised to run the publicity campaign of the “special initiatives” undertaken by the KP government.

The decision to grant the contract to advertising agencies had come against the backdrop of a meeting chaired by KP Chief Minister Pervez Khan Khattak on Dec 28, 2015, formulating a policy to regularise the publicity campaign of the government initiatives through print, electronic and other media platforms.

Subsequently, the informa­tion department invited adver­tising agencies to submit their profiles by April 18, 2016. A total of 10 advertising agencies presented their proposals at a meeting chaired by Adviser to the CM on Information Mushtaq Ghani.

Out of the 10, the performance of four advertising agencies registered with the information department was deemed “appropriate and up to the mark”.

The agencies shortlisted at the time on April 18, 2016,did not include the advertising agency Javed Faisal Khan, PTI’s additional secretary infor­mation and head of its Social Media & Marketing at the Chairman Secretariat, once served.

According to minutes of the meeting, “after obtaining the expert opinion of Mr Iftikhar Durrani and Faisal Javed, it was decided that the top four agencies though declared appropriate, do not have the capacity to run an effective publicity campaign”.

Mr Durrani is the head of the central media department at the PTI secretariat in Islamabad. The party’s chief spokesman, Naeemul Haq, said that Mr Durrani was not a party office-bearer but a paid employee at the central secretariat.

Mr Durrani was not a member of the original steering committee which had held its first meeting in March 2015, and was notified later in 2016.

The April 18 meeting further decided “to re-advertise the campaign, inviting even the unregistered agencies” but to do so, the documents said, the companies would have to register themselves with the information department and “for this purpose, the rules of registration will be relaxed with the approval of the competent authority”.

The doors thus reopened for companies which had missed the initial bidding process to register themselves enabling the particular advertising agency to get itself registered and participate in the competition.

How did the PTI as a party end up associating with a process that was entirely in the official domain and allowed one of its key leaders, who at the time was the resident director of the advertising agency, to help frame a policy that would at a later stage be seen as a conflict of interest is not known. “How did Mr Faisal become a member of the steering committee, knowing that he could have a direct conflict of interest?” Mr Ghani, the information adviser, was asked. He was equivocal in his reply: “I can’t really tell. He had to become a member and he did become one.”

Faisal Javed attended the steering committee’s maiden meeting on March 11, 2015, at Banigala, Islamabad, that developed a “consensus” that the “pitch document along with technical add-ons on the mechanism for the selection of advertising agencies will also be shared with the Information Department by the PTI Marketing Team”.

Mr Javed has been head of the PTI’s Social Media & Marketing Department in the Chairman’s Secretariat but at the time of the steering committee’s first meeting in March 2015, he was also the head of operations of the advertising agency.

By his own accounts, he quit the agency in March 2016. Photographs posted on his Instagram and Twitter accounts show him shooting an advertisement for a national cellular phone company in Bangkok in March 2016.

He shared his photos of the shoot along with Pakistani actor Shaan Shahid and child star from the famous Indian movie Bajrangi Bhaijaan Harshaali Malhotra and Indian film director and producer Anurag Kashyap.

“That was my last project before I quit the company on March 31, 2016,” Mr Javed responded when approached for comments.

The commercial was completed in April and released somewhere in May 2016, according to available online data.

“I left the job after nine years of working there,” he continued. “And I resigned because of the conflict of interest issue involving my work with the work I was doing for the party,” he maintained.

During the period between March 2015, when the steering committee first held its meeting, and the last meeting, he said the government did not release a single advertisement. “I was at the peak of my career and I sacrificed it for the sake of my party,” he said.

Dawn, it may be mentioned, filed two requests with the department of information, government of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, under the Right to Information Act, 2013, in November and December 2016 to seek certain documents related with the process.

It was followed with a complaint to the Chief Commissioner, Right to Information Commission, earlier this month.

In a meeting chaired by Chief Minister Khattak on Aug 15, 2016, Secretary Information Mohammad Tahir Hassan, while giving a detailed presentation on the proposed campaign, sought Rs3 billion “to run an aggressive campaign” on print and electronic media.

Mr Javed and Mr Durrani were present during the meeting, according to minutes of the meeting, at Chief Minister House in Peshawar.

The proposal was approved with Mr Khattak directing the secretary information to move a summary for the release of the amount “as soon as possible”.

The CM adviser, however, told Dawn that the government had released Rs1 billion to the depart­ment so far. He acknowledged that the PTI leadership and the CM were taking steps to address concerns. Mr Naeeemul Haq said the matter had been brought to the notice of the party chairman.

Published in Dawn, December 20th, 2016

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