Pakistan stack — a step towards e-governance

Published: December 4, 2018
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The writer is director ICT and founding director of the Centre for Information and Communication at IBA. He tweets @imranbatada

The writer is director ICT and founding director of the Centre for Information and Communication at IBA. He tweets @imranbatada

Data is often described as the ‘new oil’ due to its significance and impact in the process of development. Due to the technological influx, this data keeps on increasing multiple times each year. In this age of digital revolution, effective management of data plays a vital role in bringing up the general progress. Modern-day governments face acute challenges in taking the population on board so that resources could be mobilised effectively. In this regard, e-governance is considered as an ultimate solution to this problem of swift delivery of services to the common man.

A good-to-go strategy towards e-governance is the establishment of ‘Pakistan Stack’. The stack should have several open APIs which should be designated to perform specific functions. Due to several layers of APIs compiled as one single stack, it should be termed Pakistan Stack. The first and the foremost step in this direction is to utilise the massive database of NADRA which holds identities of the whole population in digital format.

The database of digital identities can be used for several purposes. One important function of the digital identities will be related to financial institutions. With the help of this digital identity, one will be able to open bank accounts. The four kinds of transactions namely deposition, withdrawal, money transfer from one account to another and checking the account balance will be carried out with the help of these digital identities. So gone will be the days when you would have to be present in person to carry out such transactions. Further requirement of physical wet signature will also be eliminated. Digital signatures will perform the job from the comfort of your home.

The potential usage of digital identity is not just limited to banks, with the help of e-sign that is the fingerprint of the user, one will be able to put his or her sign on any document without being physically present at the place. In this way, authentication will be done by the holder without any paperwork. Furthermore, authentication and attestation of your important documents as basic as your matriculation certificate will be carried out digitally by government entities.

Another important system in this proposed stack will be to provide an online storage for important documents. These documents will then be shared with the consent of the possessor upon requirement. This consented data sharing can not only save time and energy but will also ensure that only authentic documents are being shared with complete confidentiality.

Pakistan is a country where tremendous amount of work is required to provide people with as basic necessity as health. An important function of Pakistan Stack will concern with the health department. Hospitals across the country will be given access to the stack mechanism. Your whole medical history will be attached with your digital identity. The data generated through them will also help the government in measuring the demand for medicine supply required to fight endemic diseases like polio, dengue, etc.

Credit Rating System of the US is well known. The credit history of an individual maintained through Social Security Number (SSN) ensures that people are complying with the law. The more you engage in socially acceptable behaviour the better your ratings get. Crediting is connected with your SSN and can be seen by anybody through holder’s concern. There are a number of factors which are responsible for the increment or decrement of the credits. For example: if you fail to pay your utility bills within the due date, your credits will decrease.

This model has been followed by the developed countries since ages. I am not suggesting that this is the only way to develop civic sense among people. However, it can play a significant role in doing so. Pakistan Stack will also help in establishing this credit rating mechanism to make people socially and financially responsible.

Furthermore, filing of tax can also be associated with digital identity. This way the government will be able to know whether the person is paying tax as per the income earned. This year the government launched ‘Tax Amnesty Scheme 2018’ through which people across the country were given a chance to file their returns declaring their foreign and domestic assets. The response was quite positive as several people availed the opportunity and billions of rupees were added to the economy. Taxation system associated to digital identity can help government in pin-pointing the non-filers and taking due action.

Credit history through Pakistan Stack will also facilitate the recruitment procedure across the country. Besides hiring competent candidates, companies will be able to fill the vacancies with socially- and financially-responsible people. Further to this, people will also be obliged to act responsibly while on job as it would affect their credit ratings.

An important aspect of stack is its layer-ability. This means to make sure that not all the work is done by a single system. For example, the authentication system of the stack should only deal with identification details of the user. It should not have any knowledge or concern with the transaction activity of the same user. This means to have function-specific model at work which in the simplest of words means all the systems/layer should be designated with specific functions.

The completion of the first 100 days of the PTI government has been a mixed plate. Where critics, especially the opposition parties, have been making a hue and cry over ‘unfulfilled’ commitments, not acknowledging the positive steps of the new government, few of which are also quite surprising and bold, will be utter injustice. Moving forward with the same spirit, the government, especially the Ministry of Information Technology & Telecommunications, should take steps towards the establishment of Pakistan Stack as the only viable solution to the ever-complex problems of today’s modern world is the apt utilisation of information technology.

Published in The Express Tribune, December 4th, 2018.

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