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November 30, 2018

Little-known company granted govt contract flouting rules


November 30, 2018

ISLAMABAD: The graft scandal which has hit Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) government within 100 days of its formation has also forced the anti-corruption watchdog Transparency International Pakistan (TIP) to call for a thorough probe.

The scandal involves award of a government contract without any tender to a less known “Brando Marketing” a digital media company run by Farhan Javed, a close friend of a prime minister's aide and his social media associate.

Besides managing PM aide's social media presence, the company also handles the official social media pages of Prime Minister Imran Khan, the Minister of State for Interior Shehryar Afridi, and PTI leader Usman Dar. Brando marketing itself announced the news on its twitter page.

“Excited to announce Brando will be powering government initiatives probono! Brando signed a MoU with the NITB becoming official digital partner of Government of Pakistan. Brando with expertise in marketing will give these services free as part of national responsibility. #Brando,” says the message posted by Brando marketing on its official twitter page on November 17.

However the insiders said the MoU will hugely benefit the virtually unknown company to enhance its business in Pakistan and abroad boasting about its official partnership with the government. Also they added the company will be able to gather valuable data of Pakistanis which can be used in its other businesses.

The scandal also got the attention of reputed international anti-corruption body. In a letter to Federal Minister for IT & Telecom Khalid Maqbool and copied to the Supreme Court of Pakistan and the Prime Minister’s Office, the TIP said that no tender for "Official Digital Media Partner" was posted by the National Information Technology Board (NITB), which is a clear violation of procurement rules.

“No due process was conducted before offering such a partnership to a virtually unknown company in Pakistani IT and digital media industry,” says the letter, urging the minister to conduct a thorough probe into the allegations. The TIP said it received a complaint on award of unsolicited contract by the NITB to Brando Marketing.

The letter quotes eight allegations levelled by the complainant against Brando and its partner companies. After examining the allegations, the Transparency International concluded that three allegations have proved against the Brando Marketing as no tender was posted by NITB and the due process was not followed before offering the partnership to an unknown company.

In addition to this personal business with the PM's aide, M/s Brando has also involved itself in the management of Ministry of Overseas Pakistanis’ social media without any contract or bidding.

According to TIP, Javed also runs Association of Overseas Pakistanis ( which is a non-government private organisation yet claims on social media to be the "official channel to facilitate overseas Pakistanis here in Pakistan”.

The TIP says another person who is the founding member of AOP, is Shafiq Akbar, who collected data about overseas Pakistani from the purported official channel for overseas Pakistanis' and used the data to sell real estate to same overseas Pakistanis via, a newly launched real-estate portal.

When contacted by The News, Farhan said his company will only provide training and other facilities to government employees free of cost. “This is not a contract. It is an MoU and there is no cost involved,” he said.

However Farhan admitted that his company manages social media accounts of Imran Khan but quickly added that many others are also working to improve official Facebook page of the prime minister.

“Actually the official account of Imran Khan was taken over by ...[aide's name] a few months ago. I provide digital services for accounts of the prime minister as well as the aide in personal capacity as volunteer,” CEO of Brando said, adding that his company offers advice on social media to other PTI leaders too.

The TIP letter also quoted Farhan saying that Brando Marketing, ADP, and are all separate companies and while and ADP are paying clients of Brando, they have been providing their services free of cost to Ministry of Overseas Pakistani. But, according to official LinkedIn page of Shafiq Akbar, he has been CEO of and director of Brando Marketing since August 2016.

However, when contacted by The News, the PM's aide said there was no news in the matter as no contract was signed. “This is no news as no contract was signed, it was just an MoU and services will be provided free of cost,” he said.

However, when asked about his business relations with Fahan and, he flatly denied having anything to do with it. The aide got furious when asked why he had been defending the Graana and Brando if he did not know them or have any business with them. “Because you are lying. I have to stop you when you lie,” he said and hung up the phone. Later, he texted this correspondent on Whatsapp: “You should be ashamed of writing lies. And will be sued for it.”

It is worth mentioning that the official Twitter bio the aide has a web link that shows his property business. The TIP says there were three requirements under the Public Procurement Regulatory Authority (PPRA) Rules 2004, for awarding any contract.

Firstly, project must be advertised on PPRA website in annual procurement plan as required under Rule 8 & 9. Secondly, as per Rule ll, approval mechanism, all procuring agencies shall provide clear authorisation and delegation of powers for different categories of procurement and shall only initiate procurements once approval of the competent authorities concerned has been accorded.

Thirdly, all procuring agencies must follow Rules 5. (pre-qualification of suppliers and contractors), Rule 16 (pre-qualification process), Rule 20 (principal method of procurement), Rule 21 (open competitive bidding), Rule 23 (Bidding documents), Rule 29 (evaluation criteria) and Rule 7 (Integrity pact).

The TIP said the other allegations need the minister's inquiry for their correctness. According to PPRA, open competitive bidding is mandatory to select a service provider, in order to assess the credibility, experience, financial & technical capability/ capacity, and also give equal opportunity to all available service providers, as such contracts are advantageous for firms indirectly both in financial and credibility gains to qualify for other such projects.

“The minister is requested to take immediate action to check the allegations of the complainant, and if the allegations are found correct, and PPRA rules are violated in the illegal award of unsolicited contract, action may be taken to cancel the contract, and also on corruption by the department and officers as well as against the beneficiaries under NAO 1999.”

The PM's aide is already facing a NAB probe in corruption allegation in Offshore companies’ case. His name was placed on Exit Control List (ECL) on a NAB request.