State Bank of Pakistan (SBP) had reportedly initiated an inquiry into the terms of a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) that was signed between Mastercard and National Database and Registration Authority (Nadra) during the World Economic Forum held in Davos, Switzerland (17th to 20th January 2016) that envisaged a strategic collaboration with electronic payments functionality. An MoU is, by definition, not a binding agreement and one would assume that a binding agreement will only be signed after approval of the government.
The news of the MoU was released to the Pakistani media on 19th January 2017 on a Nadra letterhead which noted that “the move will allow Pakistani citizens to carry out financial transactions and receive government disbursements by utilising the unique 13-digit identification number of their identity card. Citizens will also be able to use their national ID to send international remittances, eliminating the requirement to physically visit a bank branch or currency exchange house to meet their money transfer needs.” The press release contained congratulatory statements by two Mastercard officials – Division President MENA and country manager Pakistan – and provided a link to a message from Usman Yousaf Mobin, Chairman Nadra, on the MoU; however the link is non-operational and, additionally, there is no statement by the Chairman on the matter on Nadra’s website.
Nadra website does not carry the press release on the matter. Be that as it may, to date several reports have appeared on the matter in the Pakistani media (including in the Saudi gazette dated 19th January). Then came the news that Chaudhry Nisar, the interior minister, had rejected the MoU. Now it is reported that the matter is being resurrected and a representation has been made to the government to reverse the rejection.
Nadra needs to clarify on an urgent basis what exactly is contained in the MoU/agreement. If Nadra has agreed to only receive payment for services rendered to different individuals/entities then it does not require any permission from the SBP, only approval from its Chairman as well as from Minister of Interior Chaudhry Nisar. And Nadra’s continued silence on the matter is extremely unfortunate and is simply fuelling speculation that all is not kosher about the MoU/agreement. However, if Nadra is to operate as a payment system operator then it would need a licence from the SBP. One must not, therefore, lose sight of the fact that a payment system is a commercial enterprise and would be significant departure from Nadra’s core functions and raison d’etre.
Ideally, of course, one would have hoped that after signing the MoU, Nadra had uploaded it on its website. Failure to do so has led a growing number of people to regard its silence on the matter as ominous. It is of great concern to the public that the Sharif administration has been particularly lax in making its international deals transparent by uploading them on the relevant ministry/entity’s website.
The China Pakistan Economic Corridor’s (CPEC) terms and conditions remain shrouded in mystery prompting members of the opposition to challenge all projects based on lack of transparency – a challenge that is reducing the effectivity of what all are agreed could well be a game changer. Another example is the inordinate delay in uploading the Liquefied Natural Gas deal with Qatar in spite of reminders to the relevant Minister by members of the media, fuelling rumours that the clauses that have not been uploaded which were cited as confidential contain elements of payoffs.
To conclude, one would urge the Interior Minister to take cognisance of the matter. He did not attend the World Economic Forum where this agreement was signed as per Nadra’s website and one would hope that he summons the Chairman Nadra to explain and clarify the situation without any further loss of time.