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Only 2.2 per cent of the population of the country owns a PC

By Syed M. Aslam
Mar 06 - 12, 2000

The speech given by federal secretary of Science and Technology, Javed Masood, at the 18th Annual Computer Exhibition at a local hotel in Karachi highlighted the need to improve the Personal Computer penetration in the country.

Speaking as the chief guest of the event organised by the Computer Society of Pakistan, Mr Masood told the participants that at present the level of PC utilisation in the country is very low. He said that only 3 million PCs have so far been sold in a population of 130 million of which only a one-third or about a million are active. In addition, the annual sales of PCs in Pakistan remain a low 300,000-400,000.

The figures presented by the secretary means that only 2.2 per cent of the population of the country owns a PC of which only a third are connected to the net. It also means that one in 44 persons owns a PC in Pakistan while one in 330 persons can afford to buy it annually.

These are frightening statistics indeed as PC penetration is seen as the major prerequisite for the development of IT industry the worldover. Perhaps the Pakistan’s emerging IT prowess despite the low PC penetration could be attributed to its ability to have the PC concentration in the major which develop and supply the needed professionals— developers, programmers, engineers and technicians. It is this small percentage of the urban professionals and organisations who have been instrumental to clinch the software orders from the bluechips clients across the globe on pure merit.

This, however, does not mean to underestimate the need to improve the PC penetration for a greater good of the local IT industry. Javed also stressed on the need of additional incentives to accelerate the use of PC in the country besides extension the duty-free import of computers and peripherals as already done. He proposed three such measures to increase the PC penetration in the country.

Firstly, he suggested, a hundred per cent initial depreciation on computers to encourage the corporate sector to off-load a large number of PCs into the secondary market primarily because of the high rate of obsolescence in technology. Secondly, the Government should play a role model for induction of IT in the economy, in part by making it mandatory for all ministries, departments, autonomous and semi-autonomous bodies to spend 2-3 per cent of their budget for procurement of computers, software, training and IT services. Lastly, basic computer education should be made a compulsory subject at the High School level and to ensure the maximum availability of PCs in all educational institutions, both in the public and private sector. He also cited the lack of venture capital as one of the reasons for not developing IT culture in Pakistan.

To highlight the exponential growth of the global IT industry he quoted a speaker at a moot attended by President Bill Clinton in Ottawa who said that ‘if the cyber corridor was taken today to be a hypothetical three metres wide, at the anticipated rate of expansion, would be 11 kilometre wide in the next 6-7 years."

Similarly, he said, that the international market for software which presently is $ 1.2 trillion per annum is growing at an annual compound rate of 30-40 per cent. The global e-Commerce is projected to grow from $ 70 billion at present to $ 14 trillion by the end next year, he added.

Stressing on an integrated policy he said that a number of initiatives are already underway to achieve the desired results. For instance, the creation of an IT Division to serve as the focal point to coordinate and integrate policy and its successful implementation is one such measure. This much needed integration has been missing so far as IT Commission was looked after the ministry of finance, the Computer Bureau by the Cabinet Division, the telecommunications which provided the infrastructure for IT by the Ministry of Communications.

Rejecting the concern over the brain drain of Pakistani IT professionals to the developed countries through migration, Javed said that though ‘we would prefer to have them work for their country,’ the phenomenon has its advantages. Firstly, the migration of the best IT professionals to the developed countries allow them to become role models for their counterparts in the country. Secondly, the increasing presence of these IT professionals to the developed countries enable them to outsource their work to local companies. And thirdly, they are an important lever for companies based in Pakistan.

Some 43 exhibitors displayed their products and services at the three-day Exhibition which lasted from February 29 to March 2. They included IT education institutions, PC and software sellers and producers of household electronics. Many offfered their products and services at discounted rates, others were more interested to use the exhibition as a venue to provide a bigger exposure for furture business.

The three-day exhibition expected to draw over 100,000 visitors to promote the knowledge, development and use of PC and for that matter electronic data processing equipment and techniques.