ISLAMABAD: On 19th January 2016, a fresh study titled “Realizing Digital Pakistan”, by the second largest Mobile Network Operator Telenor, was launched by Minister of State for Information Technology (IT) Anusha Rahman.
The study, under the title ‘Roadmap’, quotes (from Pakistan 2025 – One Nation, One Vision) the prime minister to create ‘Digital Pakistan Commission’ with key cabinet members along with the private sector, academia and NGO representatives to formulate a plan to accelerate digitalisation across all economic sectors in view of matching Malaysia’s key ICT performance indicators by 2020 and implementing all goals of Pakistan 2025.
After launching the new Telecom Policy, it had become extremely important to have a higher body, one above the existing ministries, to provide top-level backing of the political leadership in order to ensure an overall adoption of ICTs, particularly in the government itself
There are several countries where similar high-level bodies are driving the ICT adoption. In Japan, the Cabinet Secretariat overseas the ICT for development issues; in South Korea, a Presidential Council on e-Government oversees ICT policy matters and directly under the council, a Presidential Committee oversees its implementation.
Even in the US, if vice president Al-Gore had not spearheaded legislation that helped develop the Internet, ICT may not have spread as fast as it did. hen the Internet was still in the early stages of its deployment, the vice president provided intellectual leadership that helped create vision of the potential benefits of high speed computing and communication.
Closer to home, Prime Minister Modi has taken upon himself the major on-going ICT initiatives of the country to ensure that government services are made available to citizens electronically by improving online infrastructure and increasing internet connectivity.
All central government ICT initiatives have been clubbed together and re-christened as ‘Digital India’. The programme management structure of ‘Digital India’ consists of a monitoring committee headed by the Prime Minister. The Cabinet Committee on Economic Affairs (CCEA) takes programme level policy decisions. A large component of Digital India is providing broadband to over 200,000 ‘Gram Panchayats’, using Universal Service Funds, through ‘National Optic Fiber Network’ (NOFN).
Before Digital India, the initiative was not making any sizable progress, and amongst the ICT professionals the acronym NOFN was jokingly referred to as ‘No-Fun.’
In short, wherever ICTs have made an impact, leadership from the top has played a pivotal role. It has been the same all over the world, because everywhere, all the ministries/authorities consider themselves equal in status, and the older ones find it difficult to be directed by a junior like ICT.
On the other side, ICT authorities alone cannot (and should not) create and deploy ICT-based public services on their own. For instance, it is the agricultural authorities/experts who know exactly what service and information is required by the farmers, where, and when, whereas it is the ICT experts who can develop and deliver those services electronically.
Similarly, although ICT experts and authorities may be able to deploy educational applications electronically, it is the experts of education sector who know what such applications should consist of. Therefore, it is absolutely essential that educationists get fully involved in the creation of the ICT-based applications – in fact they should have full ownership.
The argument for a higher-level body for ICT adoption is not only valid for the demand side. It extends to the supply side too. For example, highway authorities have to accept and agree to make it mandatory for all new roads to have integrated cable-ducts for the futuristic ‘Information Highways.’ It cannot be expected that highway authorities would start implementing such policies just because ICT experts are saying so. Therefore, in order to make various authorities and ministries collaborate, and ensure that they listen to each other for a common goal, a high-level body is absolutely essential.
The writer is former CEO of the Universal Service Fund and is providing ICT consultancy services in several countries of Africa and Asia
Published in The Express Tribune, February 1st, 2016.