Whilst the private sector is almost as ‘connected’ as other developing nations, public and government offices have been much slower to embrace the digital revolution. There are many reasons for this — computerised records are harder to falsify and less open to corrupt practices, manual record-keeping is labour intensive and jobs are lost with ‘going digital’ and there is the old-fashioned bureaucratic resistance to change of any sort. The computerisation of land records and revenues has been stoutly resisted everywhere, and thus we note with approval that the Islamabad Capital Territory (ICT) has announced that it is accelerating the process of computerising land revenue records in the rural areas of the capital and plans to complete the process by December 2015.
This project has proceeded at a snail’s pace. It started in 2009 and was due to be completed by June 2013. However, 2015 is ‘better late than never’ and it is reported that IT-qualified staff are being recruited to do the job. In a country where the shuffling of paper files from desk to desk happens at geologically slow speeds, this is something of a revolution. Digital files are accessible at the click of a mouse, searchable in seconds and there is a trail of digital fingerprints if anybody tries to tamper with them. This is not how the babus like to do things and they will doubtless resist to the very end the changes that are now inevitable.
The digital revolution is one that Pakistan can and must embrace if it is to move forward. There is no shortage of qualified men and women looking for jobs in the IT sector and a workplace stacked with dusty files is slowly becoming a thing of the past. Digitising land revenue records is going to enhance the process of tax collection — itself fought tooth-and-nail — with Pakistan slowly being dragged screaming into the 21st century. ‘Constant change is here to stay’ goes the old adage, and long may it be so.
Published in The Express Tribune, July 23rd, 2014.
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