We have recently seen the education policies of PTI, PPP, and PML-N for General Elections 2018 and reforms in IT industry being the need of the hour for Pakistan, let us review how the three major political parties plan to overhaul Pakistan in the digital age.
In the last 4 years, we have undoubtedly seen Punjab in action when it comes to initiating digitization especially in the government sector but unfortunately, we have no way to analyze how many of these projects were a success and how many are still in shambles.
In PML-N’s manifesto, we see the same old players making the return for the transformation of IT industry especially the party’s claim “increasing the size of IT industry from $3.1 billion to $10 billion.” My previous experience in the world of IT makes me a huge skeptic of this promise as it is near impossible given the current state of our IT industry but then again, we have to wait and see if this time they have some magic plans that they didn’t want to reveal the last time.
In the General Elections 2018, the party is also planning to:
- Increase the jobs for IT skilled workers from 300,000 to 1 million
- Develop dedicated SEZs and industrial cities for IT and give tax breaks and exemptions in export duties
- Construct technology parks across Pakistan
- Expand mobile and digital payment policies
- Expand its previous e-governance initiatives like Safe Cities project, digitization of stamp papers, land records etc.
- Expand the laptop scheme
- Provide tablets and digital learning tools to students
- Scale up free WiFi project to all major cities
- Promote startups through policies and legislation
These are a few moves promised by the ex-governing party of Pakistan, which is the same tune that we have heard play in the last 4 years. On the practical side of the world, we are still nowhere close to emerging nations when it comes to information and technology
We have mistaken giving away gadgets, laptops and tablets, with reforms in the IT sector
There are tens of incubators in Pakistan but no million dollar startup has emerged rather most businesses are just a refurbished model of any business that is already running in the west. Sadly, we have a lot of PRs of these “IT developments” and how can we forget that the expensive Safe Cities Project couldn’t even capture the perpetrator of Lahore Blast or the millions that were embezzled in Punjab E-Learn Program.
We also have no concrete figures related to IT exports where different parties are quoting different figures on various platforms.
PPP, a party which we have never seen in the news due to their technological projects have also proposed some measures to help build a digitized economy, some of which are:
- Elimination of all taxes associated with data transfer
- Elimination of any tax on smartphones below Rs 15,000
- Creation of a subsidy policy for data centers as well as state-sponsored local cloud computing
- Creation of policy for free WiFi in certain public places
- Providing tax incentives for the industry for digital economic transactions
- Supporting local suppliers, particularly start-ups, to meet the demand which will be generated for all aspects of IT services including design, hardware, software and system management
Though the elimination of taxes on smartphones below Rs. 15,000 is an attractive proposal that can help regular people to turn towards the world of digitization, the party needs to work a lot more on their digitization policy especially in the use of IT in governance, increasing exports while ensuring quality etc. if it wants to push Pakistan in the digital race.
According to PTI, the IT sector stands far from its potential and in its manifesto for General Elections 2018, it has shared its plan to establish a Knowledge Economy Authority with a central strategy of digitization. It also reveals:
- Launch the Digital Transformation Initiative Programme for digital infrastructure, citizen services, and other e-government programs
- Create and implement the National Digital Policy to ensure privacy, security, standardization, and data sharing across all stakeholders
- Establish a National Outreach Scholarship Program to identify the best minds and fully fund their placement in the top institutions
- Increase access to international markets with a favorable visa regime
- Create tax regime to make room for new business models and innovation
- Create special courts and dispute resolution forums to resolve intellectual property matters and copyrights
- Create and implement a regulatory and legal framework to enable Open Government Data and platform for shared services
Pakistan holds a negligible share in the global IT industry though there are more than 1500 registered IT companies in Pakistan who cannot tap into their full potential due to lack of support from the government.
IT is never on the receiving side of adequate finances, major grants and subsidies unlike other industries in the country
Similarly, our education sector has also failed to produce creative and innovative individuals through their outdated courses, subjects, and information.
So, the three parties need to rethink their digital policies after General Elections 2018 and incorporate the real needs of the industry instead of taking us on a dreamy ride and throwing us off the ledge after another four years.