Special Assistant to the PM on Digital Pakistan Tania Aidrus and Special Assistant to the PM on Health Dr Zafar Mirza on Wednesday announced that they were stepping down from their posts.
Prime Minister Imran Khan has accepted their resignations, according to notifications issued by the cabinet division.
Their decision to resign has come amid the government facing stiff criticism for appointing individuals with a dual nationality or holding another country’s permanent residency as SAPMs.
The government had recently gone public with the assets and nationalities of all the special assistants, bringing to light that seven of them were either held dual citizenship or permanent residency of another country. The Islamabad High Court has also been moved against the appointment of dual nationals as special assistants. Another petition was filed in the Lahore High Court against the appointment of unelected individuals as advisers and special assistants.
Aidrus announced her resignation in a tweet citing the criticism against her and the government due to her dual citizenship status as the reason.
<352> I have resigned as SAPM. I came to 🇵🇰 on a personal invitation of @ImranKhanPTI leaving WHO. I worked hard & honestly. It was a privilege to serve Pakistan. I am satisfied that I leave at a time when COVID-19 has declined in 🇵🇰 as a result of a grand national effort.— Zafar Mirza (@zfrmrza) July 29, 2020
"Criticism levied towards the state as a consequence of my citizenship status is clouding the purpose of Digital Pakistan," she tweeted, along with a picture of her resignation letter.
"In the greater public interest, I have submitted my resignation from the SAPM role. I will continue to serve my country and the PM’s vision to my best ability," she added.
Aidrus, a former Google executive, took charge of the premier's initiative Digital Pakistan, launched December last year, and was later appointed the PM’s aide on digital Pakistan in February this year.
Questions were raised over her appointment after documents released by the cabinet division revealed that she was Canadian by birth and held the permanent residency of Singapore.
In her resignation letter, she wrote that her nationality, a consequence of her birth and not an acquisition of choice, was distracting from her ability to execute the long-term vision of Digital Pakistan.
"I always was and shall be a Pakistani," she said, adding that "It is unfortunate that a Pakistani's desire to serve Pakistan is clouded by such issues."
Criticism levied towards the state as a consequence of my citizenship status is clouding the purpose of Digital Pakistan. In the greater public interest, I have submitted my resignation from the SAPM role. I will continue to serve my country and the PM’s vision to my best ability pic.twitter.com/BWBvBvO6uz— Tania Aidrus (@taidrus) July 29, 2020
Asking the premier to accept her resignation as his aide, Aidrus said she would continue to serve his vision and Pakistan through initiatives in both the public and private domain, where possible.
Over an hour after Aidrus’ tweet, Dr Mirza also announced his resignation saying that he had made the decision over the "negative discussion about the role of SAPMs and criticism of the government".
He added that he had left the World Health Organisation and came to Pakistan on the premier's invitation.
“I worked hard and honestly. It was a privilege to serve Pakistan. I am satisfied that I leave at a time when Covid-19 has declined in Pakistan as a result of a grand national effort," he wrote.
Dr Mirza further said Pakistanis deserved better healthcare. “I have worked sincerely to contribute to this cause. Pakistan will Inshallah emerge out of Covid-19 with a stronger healthcare system."
Dr Mirza was appointed as the SAPM on National Health Services, Regulations and Coordination with the status of Minister in April 2019 and has been at the forefront of the government's Covid-19 response. Prior to his post as Prime Minister Imran Khan's aide, he worked as director of Health System Development at the WHO Regional Office for the Eastern Mediterranean.
When the assets and nationalities of the PM's aides were published by the cabinet division, it was revealed that Mirza has a house and two plots worth Rs35 million, gold worth Rs2 million and cash amounting to roughly Rs1.8 million.
A day earlier, a petition was filed in the Islamabad High Court on Tuesday challenging the appointment of individuals with dual nationality as special assistants to the prime minister.
The petitioner, Justice Party Chairman Malik Munsif Awan, pleaded that the appointment of four SAPMs, who were dual nationals, be declared null and void as somebody who owed their allegiance to another country should not be holding key government positions and making decisions about the country.
It was pointed out that four of the 15 SAPMs were dual nationals. SAPM on Overseas Pakistanis and Human Resource Development Sayed Zulfikar Bukhari hold a British nationality, SAPM on Petroleum Nadeem Babar and SAPM on Power Division and Coordination of Marketing and Development of Mineral Resources Shahzad Syed Qasim are US nationals, and SAPM on Digital Pakistan Tania Aidrus is a Canadian.
SAPM on Political Communication Shahbaz Gill has US Green Card while SAPM on Parliamentary Coordination Nadeem Afzal Gondal holds permanent residency of Canada.
SAPM on National Security Division and Strategic Policy Planning Moeed Wasim Yusuf holds permanent residency of the US, which, according to him, he is not availing since his return to Pakistan.
The petitioner questioned as to how could people, who had sworn their allegiance to another country, after being appointed to important government positions be expected to have a sincere opinion on the matters of national security, economy and parliamentary affairs.
He pleaded that the court should issue directions for the removal of the four SAPMs from their posts for the sake of national interest as they had access to sensitive information about the country including its nuclear assets.
The petitioner also asked the court to refrain the four SAPMS from working until it had decided the case.
Last week, a petition was filed in the Lahore High Court against the hiring unelected individuals as advisers and special assistants.
The petitioner argued that unelected advisers and SAPMs were not the members of the National Assembly and so could not exercise authority and power of the federal government, which was a domain of elected representatives of the people.
He contended that the appointment of dual nationals as special assistants was also against the national interest and defence of the country.
The petitioner maintained that as per Article 90 of the Constitution, the executive authority of the federation shall be exercised by the prime minister and federal ministers.