Guilty or innocent — only time will tell — but its a shame that New York Times had to do the story about a Pakistani company when we have hundreds of media houses with-in the country to report on various matters including Information Technology. I am such a reporter who works on the Pakistani ICT sector and I accept my incompetency and inability for not knowing the whole matter until I saw the NYT report.
Its not that NYT can’t or shouldn’t have done the story, but we — local publishers — should have known about it and highlighted this first. Yes, I have heard the stories against Axact in the past silenced through court orders but then again, either those stories were weak or our publishers weren’t mature enough to deal with such situations.
So yes, NYT had to come to the rescue and do a story that Pakistanis couldn’t and it’s a shame.
Weak Regulating Bodies
After media, its the concerned regulating bodies (FBR, SECP, PASHA, PSEB, FIA) that are to be blamed. They don’t have any measures in place that could determine such misdeeds automatically and in real-time, way before than such things make it to the press.
Why is it that our cousins or friends in USA can’t accept even 100 dollars in their account that they can’t prove? Why is it that PayPal accounts of our friends in USA are blocked because they get too much funds without justifying the source of revenues?
Why was FBR unable to figure out the source of revenues of a software firm? Why didn’t they ask the company about the services they provide and the profits they make?
Either they are incompetent or they were involved in the crime. There’s no third option. They should be questioned to make sure that we straighten our acts.
FIA’s Raids on Axact Are Alarming
Story against Axact appears in NYT and government comes in action with-in 24 hours, which is a positive indication but Federal Investigation Agency raiding an office without a warrant is very alarming. My sources in media confirmed that FIA had orders for investigation from Interior Minister and that’s it. FIA may have warrants by now, but they didn’t have anything yesterday.
It is concerning to many in IT industry that even a hint of a damning press report can bring along FIA officers armed with hi-fi rifles and what not.
I am not arguing for or against Axact. That is for the investigators and courts to prove. My only point is that in a democracy, everyone has a right to due process. You can’t be prosecuted based on a press report. There has to be a framework which can be used to investigate such claims and if need be, raid offices, confiscate equipment and arrest employees.
I have spoken with multiple lawyers, and no one gave me a legal explanation for the raids. But they said that FIA people do this all the time.
Awab Alvi, a PTI member and a fellow blogger, said that waiting for FIA to obtain warrants from courts is like granting Axact more time and essentially, a chance to wipe out the evidence which can be fatal for the investigation. Okay, fine, that’s a valid point — but does it mean that one can bypass the law? The answer is NO.
This also means that your laws are flawed — if they even exist at all — and they needs correction. Make a law that could speed up the process of getting warrants, or maybe a law that wouldn’t require warrants at all and then raid people instantly and I won’t question you. But as long as warrants are mandatory for raiding anyone, they should be obtained ahead of any action.
Axact is an Individual Company, not a Country, not Pakistan
Guilty or innocent, let’s not make this case about Pakistan. Its about an individual company that had offices in Pakistan, and in other countries.
I see people trying to spin it as a nationalist issue and saying it’s a ‘conspiracy’ but that’s all hilariously pathetic. Axact is not a national treasure, it’s a company run for profit and if there is any misappropriation, then a case should be registered against the company and they should be prosecuted as a usual business.
Shoaib Sheikh, CEO Axact, has welcomed the investigation by saying that he supports inquiry, which is a positive thing. But at the same time, those who think that authorities should spare Axact because it will bring bad name to Pakistan, then it won’t.
Axact is not anywhere near to Satyam of India — in terms of size, revenues etc. — still it was investigated when reports about manipulation of its accounts surfaced. Yes, Indian repute was put at stake but it didn’t stop Indian authorities to prosecute and investigate a business firm and it didn’t harm Indian IT industry.
Axact Case, its Investigation and Media Reporting is Motivated
Accept it or not, GEO, Express, ARY, Dunya or any other media house would benefit if Axact is proven guilty. Media houses have vested interest in reporting on the matter and this is probably why no one is raising questions over FIA’s illegal raid, inability of FBR for not tracing Axact’s activities in advance.
Again, I am not against investigating Axact but biased reporting can influence the outcome of the investigation and it’s alarming.
Its a bad precedent. Media houses are pretty much rubbing their hands in glee at the chance to take a competitor out of the game and journalistic integrity, which was already in short supply, has all but disappeared in this case.
Yasir Jamshaid has Committed a Crime
I haven’t seen Axact’s agreement with its employees but I am certain that company doesn’t allow its employees to share internal data in public.
Yasir Jamshaid, the whistle blower who apparently tipped NYT, has posted Axact’s internal data on his Facebook and thus breached his non disclosure agreement.
As we know, whistle-blowers get protection in various countries, but its not same here. Only KPK government offers protections for whistle-blowers and allows anyone to breach NDAs in good faith when there’s serious threat to health, safety or the environment or there is a crime of any kind involved.
Pakistan is currently working on a whistle-blowers’ law but as of now, there’s no such protection offered to whistle-blowers for breaching NDAs.
Axact’s Response on Matter Didn’t Address the Real Issues
Axact is widely circulating its response, mainly its CEO’s speech that aims to respond NYT’s report. Shoaib Sheikh, who seems to be a good speaker, did well by playing Pakistan card and shifting the blame to rival media houses by brining in motivation factor, but he failed in addressing the real allegations.
While he rightly said that its NYT that has to prove the claims, but he could take the community into trust by either telling us about their clients that make them millions of dollars in revenues, or some insight about the products that they sell.
He could be more rational by explaining his source of revenues instead of just bashing rival groups.
Playing on the emotions and spinning it as a conspiracy does not make him or the company look less guilty.
Collecting Evidence Against Axact isn’t Hard
Since courts haven’t been moved against Axact yet, we can write about the case itself. It is no rocket science to find out if Axact was involved in fake degrees or not.
Some simple tacert commands can determine you that all reported bogus universities’ and Axact and BOL’s website reside with-in same data center.
Even worse, majority of these websites were hosted on same server back in 2013, one can find out through checking IP history of these websites. Then all these websites were moved from one hosting service to another — in a bulk — all together hinting that either Axact manages these bogus websites directly or their clients own these websites.
While its not black and white proof against Axact, but webmasters and those in hosting business know it well that Exact, Bol Network and these bogus universities’ websites residing with-in same host can’t just be a coincidence.
One way or the other, creating a link here would be a fifth grader’s play. So determining if Axact is guilty or not isn’t going to be a tough job at all.
The Axact case will have important ramifications, there is no doubt about that. In our opinion, there is too much smoke for there not to be a fire.
If the company is found guilty, huge question marks will be raised. For independent publishers like us, for the media houses that have budgets in the millions, for investigative journalists and mostly, for government authorities who were by all indication clueless.
And above all, those Pakistanis who take the short routes to make quick bucks. You must stop and think of legitimate, halal ways of earning money. Or we will keep coming across similar cases in future too.