IT in Punjab: Policy fails to address rural-urban divide

Published: December 4, 2016

LAHORE: In a rapidly developing world, where information technology (IT) services are taking the lead in transforming economies, Pakistan too has been gripped by this wave of change.

However, like every other sector, the IT industry too has not been able to tap its real potential in a country where youth accounts for over 60% of the population.

Being the country’s largest provincial government, the Punjab administration has taken an initiative by unveiling Pakistan’s first provincial IT policy draft. The draft looks comprehensive as it engages 150 stakeholders but falls short of addressing rural-urban divide and according to some experts is more inclined towards promoting internet and broadband services rather than fixing core issues of industries.

“The IT draft is not clear enough what exactly the provincial government wants from this policy,” said Sajjad Syed, Chief Executive Officer of Excellence Delivered Private Limited while talking to The Express Tribune.

It seemed to be focusing on the internet of things and broadband services, which might be helpful to cellular companies, but was unlikely to change the overall industry’s fate and create new jobs in the sector, he added.

Tax policies for the software industry – one of the biggest stakeholders in the IT industry – are leading to a sharp decline in the number of firms. Even the youth, who have some brilliant ideas for start-ups, are feeling the heat and looking for ways to dodge tax authorities, Syed added.

The policy draft though focuses on six key areas including industry, education, health care, governance, citizens and start-ups along with micro, small and medium enterprises, emerging disciplines like internet of things, big data and cloud computing have been given special consideration.

In addition to this, the declaration of broadband as a public utility, establishment of common resource and service centres and public Wifi hotspots are key goals of the policy.

The draft says though Punjab has witnessed an IT boom in the last few years with e-commerce and incubators making their presence felt, still the country lags behind its competitors and is ranked 112 out of 143 countries with IT-based exports reaching only $519 million.

University of Management and Technology Director General Abid Shirwani doubted the initiative of declaring broadband as a public utility, saying the step should be taken after the provincial government succeeded in providing basic utilities like electricity and water round the clock.

“Pakistan has already lost $6 billion in export revenues due to failure to provide electricity to the industries, how can they ensure broadband as a public utility,” Shirwani asked.

E-literacy initiative

Talking about e-literacy, Shirwani said majority of the people in Punjab were not familiar with English language, so the Punjab IT Board should focus on introducing bilingual apps and introducing IT-related subjects at primary and secondary levels in all government schools.

“Government has to train teachers first so they can pass their education on to semi-urban and rural students,” he added. Syed also said education should be the focus of the policy and universities and technical education should be strengthened, else PITB’s recent initiatives like e-stamp and e-FIR would not appeal to the masses as they did not know English language.

“Developing Urdu apps is a must to get best results out of these e-initiatives; else this technology will remain in a few hands and can end in disappointment.”

Syed emphasised the dire need for correcting government’s procurement policies. “Fresh IT companies cannot bid for government tenders as a company should be 10 years old to become eligible.”

“If young companies are not given a chance, how will this sector grow; in fact, if Apple and Google come to Pakistan they cannot be eligible for any government tender due to the procurement policy.”

The writer is a staff correspondent

Published in The Express Tribune, December 5th, 2016.

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