Dynamic, profitable NADRA in fatal tailspin

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ISLAMABAD: Pakistan’s top database authority remains headless since its previous chairman, Tariq Malik, resigned in protest on January 10. After two and a half months, the interior ministry has been unable to finalize an advertisement for the post of National Database Registration Authority’s chairman. 
Though the country’s most recent but state-of-the-art institution, the authority is being headed by a BPS 21 additional secretary of the ministry of interior. Sources in the ministry confirm that acting chairman Imtiaz Tajwar has on average spent 30 minutes at the NADRA since assuming office on January 11.
Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan made history by chairing the board of director meeting, which already includes two officials of interior ministry and a Balochistan secretary as members. 
Technically, the authority’s board must be function independently without any ministerial involvement whatsoever. The meeting chaired by the powerful federal minister clearly endorsed the government’s control over the database authority elite club. 
Sources in the PMLN suggest that the principle sectary and interior secretary favor appointment of Dr Umar Saif, who is serving as Vice-chancellor of the Information Technology University (ITU) since January 2013. Earlier he was heading a 300-staff Punjab Information Technology Board. 
Umar Saif, a blue-eyed professional of Punjab CM Shahbaz Sharif, has been expressing his desire to become NADRA chairman and lead it like a “dictator by resorting to massive cleanup operation”. 
Sources in the Punjab government doubt Dr Umar Saif’s ability to smoothly run an institution of 17000 personnel and varied product base. “Even the chief minister won’t let him leave the PTIB owing to his enormous trust in Umar Saif,” says a senior official in Lahore, requesting anonymity. 
It is learnt that the PTIB chairman’s father, Colonel (retd) Saif, is not only advisor to Maryam Nawaz Sharif but is also found in the PM secretariat while just being an office-bearer of PMLN’s Model Town office. 
Though Imtiaz Tajwar, acting NADRA chairman and additional secretary of interior ministry, wants to stay there, Chaudhry Nisar has “discussed elevation of a competent officer from within to let the institution evolve in a healthy manner.”
Meanwhile, the acting chairman has been avoiding taking decision. “He has not even dissented and disapproved a proposal or a project. There has neither been a new initiative nor a new project over the last three months,” said a source, requesting anonymity. Over the last two months, Imtiaz Tajwar has not even been able to finalize the ‘name’ of a company to be set up by NADRA in Sri Lanka to start implementing the country’s e-NIC card project. “The project has clearly marked deadlines which may not be met due to artificially created teething problems at the bureaucratic level,” says an official privy to the situation.
Besides boosting Pakistan’s image, Sri Lankan identity card project is set to bring significant revenues if management takes the right decisions without missing deadlines. Similarly, the acting chairman has been for the last two months avoiding signing a file concerning Afghan refugees’ registration project being carried out with funding from SAFRON ministry and UNHCR. “If Imtiaz Tajwar signs the document, NADRA will get funding to continue registration of the refugees in Pakistan,” a frustrated official at the Ministry of States and Frontier Regions (SAFRON) told Daily Times on telephone.
The authority, on the other hand, has lost a dedicated official (general manager), Colonel (retd) Safdar, after an argument with the acting official. While the recent moves such as reduction of salary by 15 per cent and ban on foreign visits etc by the federal minister for interior not gone down well, the authority still remains a preferred parking place amongst retiring military officers. Chaudhry Nisar’s move has so far not shifted the balance against superseded former army officers.
Many believe that NADRA’s role in finding alleged 35 punctures in the Punjab has upset the PMLN leadership enormously. Some allege that the interior minister has become a total ‘control freak’ owing to thumb print verification in NA-118. 
Ironically, the thumb impression verification issue is still on the table and Supreme Court notices and remarks are very much there. Chaudhry Nisar has raised the issue no audit has been carried out by Auditor General of Pakistan since formation of NADRA, the ordinance provides the institution a privileged status.
As per NADRA ordinance, the AGP and the interior secretary are supposed to appoint independent commercial auditors.  Over the past years, KPMG, PriceWaterCoopers, Sidat & Haider has been conducting the audit besides the authority conducting its audit every year. An official pointed out that all previous audit reports are available on the authority’s website.

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