ISLAMABAD: Pakistan Ministry of IT&T deserves to be congratulated on two accounts. The first is the announcement of the new telecommunications policy, and the second is the ‘GEM-Tech Global Achievers Award’ won by Minister of IT Anusha Rehman.
The award was conferred upon her recently at a ceremony held on the sidelines of World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) in New York. This award is an international recognition of the minister’s role in bringing the country closer to the international pace of growth in IT and Telecom.
Whereas we, the Pakistani ICT (Information Communications Technology) professionals, are never satisfied, and keep urging to ‘do more’, the fact is that in the given circumstances, the minister has been doing a reasonably good job. It can be argued that things could have been brighter (open YouTube, better cybercrime bill, lower taxes), but overall Pakistan is far better placed in the field of ICT than it was a couple of years ago.
Hopefully, this will start becoming visible in international ICT rankings too.
Much of Pakistan’s low ICT rankings that one sees, are more because of lack of information flowing to the rating agencies. Take the example of the World Economic Forum’s Network Readiness Index. Recently while working on an ITU project, a visiting South Korean ICT expert, after visiting some Pakistani ICT-related organisations, felt amazed to see all that was going on in the country. He opined that there was no reason why Pakistan should not be at a much higher spot than 112th out of 143, where Pakistan sits today.
Warm welcome for the telecom policy
One of the significant factors responsible for pulling Pakistan down, in comparison to similar countries, has been the absence of an updated telecom policy, which brings me to the second accomplishment for which Ministry of IT deserves to be congratulated.
When the present government took over, I ventured to make a few suggestions in an article in this newspaper on June 11, 2013. The first submission was that since ICT is a fast-moving hi-tech sector, where policies get outdated fast, the new government should take up the job of crafting a new ICT Policy on an urgent basis. However, for some unknown reasons it took longer than anticipated. But thankfully we have a new Telecom Policy in place now. In my opinion, this is the biggest achievement of the Ministry of IT so far.
The absence of government policy leaves the sector to ‘chance development’, and makes the government appear disinterested. Whatever efforts are made by the stakeholders on their own – from public as well as the private sector – are haphazard, and not part of any holistic plan.
The stakeholders are unable to move in one direction, in sync. That hurdle is now partly crossed and we can optimistically look forward. I say ‘partly’ because IT Policy (which would ostensibly cover the demand side) is yet to come.
ICT has become a greater component of the nation’s economy than probably anything else. But unless there is a very close collaboration between IT and other ministries – federal as well as provincial – all those ICT applications and services, which could catapult the efficiencies of those sectors to great heights, cannot be implemented.
Unfortunately, that cooperation and collaboration between various ministries is not always forthcoming. As an example, it is well known that the IT Ministry has been struggling for over two years now, just to make the other Ministries in Islamabad adopt “e-Office” application. Without full cooperation, little could be done.
But not to worry, as it is not unique to Pakistan. Other countries face a similar predicament. When we look around to see how some others successfully coped with such issues, we see a common trend. Usually a higher level cross-sectorial steering body, led by someone like the Head of the Government (or his close deputy) takes over.
The objective of having such a higher-level body is not to provide any technical guidance, but to provide top-level backing of the political leadership. Such a body has power over all the ministries and is able to influence their decisions and policies, particularly when it comes to ICT adoption.
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, December 21st, 2015.