You don’t expect to see an act of corruption documented live on your social media feed, but stranger things have happened.
When an audience eye view of Imran Khan in Davos on the 23rd of January popped up on my social media feed, I was surprised to see a picture of the Prime Minister taken by one of my contacts. It seemed to be from an event I had not heard of previously, in a mostly Pakistani crowd. It’s not every day though, that you see a conflict of interest posted live to your socials.
But that’s what it was.
What I was seeing was a conflict of interest play out in near real time, over my phone. The Prime Minister of Pakistan, Imran Khan was attending a meeting at Davos, sponsored by the gentleman to his left, famed columnist and security company owner, Ikram Sehgal. As multiple news reports confirmed this event, what became visible was that Mr Khan was entering into a clear case of conflict of interest.
Mr Khan said that his trip to Davos was sponsored by old friends. One of those friends was Imran Chaudhry, a Pakistani businessman, based in the Middle East for over 35 years. He was also instrumental in getting Princess Diana to come to Pakistan. He has been Mr Khan’s friend for a very long time, considering there is a picture of them at a party in 2012.
Clearly Mr Chaudhry is an influential man. In the mean time, Mr Sehgal is the chairman of Pathfinder Group, which controls Security and Management Services (SMS), one of the largest private security contractors in Pakistan. You might be familiar with their logo?
A conflict of interest is when someone is involved in multiple interests, whether they be personal, financial or professional, and working in favour of a particular interest can go against another one. This can also happen when the interests of a person, particularly their private ones, become opposed to their professional responsibilities, or those to other people.
When it becomes clear that the boss of one of Pakistan’s largest security firms is sponsoring the Prime Minister of the country’s trips abroad, despite the Prime Minister’s protestations of austerity being the reason for this, its creates a clear ethical problem for everyone involved. What about the person based in the Middle East, who deals in real estate, metals trading and recycling? Hasn’t Pakistan had issues with real estate, the extraction of mineral resources and waste disposal? These aren’t experts or regulators, these are people in the business of making money. And the Prime Minister of a country is not someone to be sponsored like a new cricket championship. When images like these are beamed directly to one’s phone, then technology is giving one a ringside view of a world of constant favours to each other by the high and mighty, in pursuit of, what?
A similar situation was raised a few years ago, when Prime Minister Justin Trudeau of Canada was caught vacationing on the Aga Khan’s private Caribbean Island. This was after he became Canada’s Prime Minister.
As the celebrity son of former Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau, the younger Trudeau was used to receiving extravagant favours like these from the rich and famous. Imran Khan also had the same habit, as a cricket celebrity. However, once one ascends to the premier-ship of a country, then it becomes unseemly for someone who’s every legitimate human need is being met by the tax-payer. We can not know every word that was exchanged by the Prime Minister, and Mr Sehgal, or their respective staffs in terms of what it might mean for SMS or Pathfinder or the economy of providing private security in Pakistan. But having private entrepreneurs sponsor private trips abroad, even when they are to promote Pakistan at the Davos summit (in fact, especially at some place as rarefied and watched as Davos) looks less like cost-cutting and more like elite corruption.
If the Prime Minister is going to go do the country’s business, then he can use the country’s resources in an accountable way. Any other means, makes him look like a private citizen playing at Prime Minister as a hobby (or a personal obsession, if his 22 year long quest to be premier is judged). Questions about seriousness and competence have to be raised when actions like these are observed. The entire vendetta against political corruption, used as rhetoric over those 22 years to push his career forward are also have to be called into question. Can the Prime Minister recognize corruption and conflicts of interest when he is faced with them? Because that night on the 23rd of January, it was staring right at mine.