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Could The New Special Advisor To The PM On Health Face A Conflict Of Interests?

In any form of governance system, one of the very basic principles is that of the separation of powers. At its roots, this is derived from a need to avoid a conflict of interests. The latter can be described as a situation in which a person or organization has multiple interests, financial or otherwise, and serving one interest could involve working against another. Usually, it is related to a situation in which the personal interest of an individual or those of an organization might adversely affect a duty to make decisions for the benefit of that person or that of a third party.

For example, a person issuing a Purchase Order shouldn’t be the one to receive the delivery of the items, as there are chances of misuse of power/authority. It would mean, for instance, that if I ordered 10 computers and I am in-charge of taking receipt of delivery, I could authorize receipt of 10 against the physical delivery of 8 computers.

Continuing with the same example, a person receiving the goods shouldn’t be the one to book the invoice, the payment booker shouldn’t be the one who had entered the invoice and the one authorising the payment shouldn’t be the one who booked the payment and so on so forth.

Typically, a conflict of interest arises when an individual finds themselves occupying two or multiple roles simultaneously which generate opposing benefits or loyalties. Existence of such conflicts is an objective fact, not a state of mind, and does not in itself indicate any lapse or moral error. It is usually solved by the mechanism of ‘segregation of duties’ (SoD). Typically this would result in process re-engineering in a way that conflict is minimized. And it is a usual occurrence for an individual occupying such a role to morally, ethically, and principally either give up one of the conflicting roles or else recusing themselves from the particular decision-making process that is in question.

The presence of a conflict of interest is independent of the occurrence of inappropriateness. Therefore, a conflict of interest must be discovered and should be defused voluntarily before any actual misdeed occurs. One of the core reasons is to eliminate or minimize the chances of misuse of power.

Dr. Faisal Sultan, until the writing of this article, is occupying the position of Chief Executive Officer of Shaukat Khanum Memorial Cancer Hospital & Research Centre. The Prime Minister of Pakistan is an honourary Chairman of the same trust. Dr. Sultan has been the focal person on Covid-19 to the Prime Minister and now has been appointed as Special Assistant to the Prime Minister on Health Matters.

The issue here should be self-evident. Chances of a misuse of authority, abuse of power and corruption are clearly there. Someone who is in charge of a private healthcare facility has been tasked with a public office. Let’s suppose: if there comes a question of public spending on cancer treatment or setting up of an equally if not a better facility, how would Dr. Sultan ensure that the interests of one of his employers are not undermined while benefiting the others?

It doesn’t stop here. While making public policy on procurement of pharmaceutical products, machinery, supplies, consumables or medical equipment one can easily enter into a contract with the supplier to provide the same to one’s employer at a cheaper rate in exchange for, say, granting a contract regarding public procurement.

Such conflicts of interest are well within the realm of possibility.

I am not doubting the integrity of the PM or that of Dr. Faisal. However it is against the principle of avoiding conflict of interest and stands in clear violation of a part of the Sarbanes-Oxley (SOX) Act of 2002: this act was introduced after the fall of Enron and Arthur Anderson.

I am sure that people in government are aware of these laws and acts and shall ensure that every mitigating control be applied to ensure transparency, if a conflict of interests can’t be avoided totally.

I would recommend that Dr. Faisal immediately vacate the position of the CEO of SKMCH & RC or recuse himself from his appointment as Special Assistant to the Prime Minister. Wearing both hats would definitely create issues on expense of public monies.


The writer is a Social Media & Human Rights Activist and has over two decades of global experience in IT compliance


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