The dispute started over a demand for a $5,000 fee as a director of the company which Hassan Nasir Jamy wasn’t. Later, he submitted an invoice to claim reimbursement for business class travel by Emirates Airline, which turned out to be fake. Again, Saima Akbar Khattak refused to process that, but she has paid the price: termination from service.

Saima was the company secretary of the PTCL Group. The secretary of the Federal Ministry of Information Technology (MoIT) is appointed chairman of the PTCL Board.

Hassan being the MoIT secretary presides over the board, but the issue started cropping up before he became the board’s chairman. The dispute would have remained buried within the confines of PTCL had Saima’s services not been terminated without approval of the board. Among other forums, she has filed a complaint with the Federal Ombudswoman for Protection Against Harassment at Work. Through this complaint, she has alleged how she was forced to work in a toxic environment where the top management had little regard for corporate governance.

As far as the tension between Saima and Hassan is concerned, it started simmering in December 2020 when the latter was not on the board. He was invited as a special invitee, and as per PTCL rules, such individuals are not paid any meeting fee. A sum of $5,000 is paid per meeting to a director of PTCL, a company whose financial condition is not as good as it is perceived. Hassan demanded $5,000 as meeting fee, and Saima after discussing the matter with the then chairman of the board informed him that he was not entitled to that.

Hassan kept insisting on being paid the fee, and upon failing to receive it he “started a malicious campaign to get the complainant [Saima] terminated from service”, according to the complaint she has filed with the ombudswoman. The board however didn’t entertain this suggestion (for termination) despite Hassan’s repeated attempts. Instead, the board found a way out to pay him $5,000. During a meeting held in January 2021, the board made his backdated appointment as a director.

However, to his bad luck, Shoaib Siddiqui, then chairman of the board, deleted from the minutes the part about the retrospective payment of the $5,000 fee that he was fighting for. Instead of confronting the chairman, he accused Saima, the secretary of the board, of withholding his payment and tried to pressure the board to make her to either pay the fee or face termination, according to Saima’s complaint. This didn’t work.

While this matter was unsettled when another issue arose. The members of the board travelled to Dubai for a meeting. Saima arranged air tickets for all of them except Hassan. who said he would make his own travel and hotel arrangements. Upon return, he claimed reimbursement for an Emirates Airline’s business class ticket from Islamabad to Dubai for Rs406,000. He was caught lying as there had been no Emirates flight on the day he had flown to Dubai, and other members had travelled by PIA that day due to the same reason. He was unable to provide the boarding pass of Emirate when asked to provide proof of his travel through that airline. Instead, he allegedly fabricated an excuse that he had lost his boarding pass. Acting on instructions from a top PTCL official, Saima said she issued him reimbursement of Rs200,000 instead of Rs406,000 that he demanded. Meanwhile, Saima went on leave in August this year. In her absence, Hassan was appointed as chairman of the board because the incumbent, Naveed Sheikh, had been transferred and replaced by Hassan as MoIT secretary on August 23, 2023.

A special meeting of the board was held on August 29 to appoint Hassan as the chairman, which was done. When Saima sought a meeting with him after his appointment, he declined to meet her. She informed a high-up that this whole situation was taking a toll on her and that she would file a harassment complaint if there was no let-up in the hostility, but to no avail.

In the first board meeting, Hassan oversaw an objectionable move, which itself is scandalous. The chief financial officer presented a business case (related to the deal for purchasing a telecoms firm) that he had not shared with the directors in advance of the meeting as mandated by law. Saima pointed that out and the CFO acknowledged that “he was presenting a changed business case and promised that he will share it immediately once the meeting concludes”. She reminded him after the meeting but the information was not shared. The CFO undertook to share it on August 30 simultaneously with submission of the bid.

Saima waited for a week without hearing anything from the CFO. In the meeting’s minutes she drafted later on, Saima noted that “the presentation based on which the board took the decision has not been shared by the management and as such, is not included in the minutes”. Hassan, the chairman, knowing fully well “that the complainant [Saima] was not at fault, refused to finalize the minutes on the pretext that they didn’t include the presentation (which the CFO declined to share) and [she] should redraft them”.

The CFO made an excuse of not sharing the information by calling her untrustworthy despite the fact that “not a single leak of information could be established to have originated from her office”. And on September 12, the management took the “illegal action of terminating her employment with immediate effect, without lawful authority and without cause”. Even the board was not taken into confidence. She has also mentioned details about how she was forced to vacate office immediately and her record and gadgets were confiscated forthwith.

The News contacted Hassan for his version on October 18. He said he was travelling and would be back “in a day or two”. He also claimed having “not received anything officially” about this complaint from the ombudswoman, but as a matter of fact, he was served a notice and his counsel appeared before the ombudswoman on a hearing dated October 11. The News also sent him a reminder for his version on October 23 but he has not replied till the filing of this report.

Comments were also sought from the PTCL on allegations levelled. A spokesperson for the company sent the following reply: “This matter is sub judice and PTCL Group doesn’t comment on such matters until an outcome has been determined. Rest assured, PTCL Group strictly adheres to ethics and values in the workplace.”


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2023-10-28

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