There is the telecommunication issue which should be tackled for the mutual benefit of the PTCL and software houses

By Syed M. Aslam
Nov 27 - Dec 03, 2000

The top administrative hierarchy of Sindh including the governor, ministers and secretaries will be imparted a two-week IT training to learn the basic computer skills, provincial finance minister Abdul Hafeez Sheikh told the participants of an IT conference held in Karachi last week.

The conference 'Information Technology- Challenges and Prospects' organised by The Dialogue Forum was inaugurated by secretary of Telecommunication and Information Technology, Aby Shamim Ariff. The minister was extremely critical of the state-owned Pakistan Telecommunication Company Limited saying that 'we have stuck with big public sector monopoly which has let us down in a big big way.'

Blaming the failure to 'invest people during last 53 years despite machines becoming cheap' Sheikh added that there is a lot of catching up to do in the IT. He, however, said that the country today lacks neither the people nor the machines necessary for the much required catching-up. Analaysing the countries 'which moved forward and those which did not' he attributed the success of the former of their priority to invest in the human development.

His dis-satisfaction with the PTCL was apparent from the remark when he said that 'It's hard to think of IT revolution when you have a telecom monopoly such as the PTCL' and promised that 'we hope to take some action soon.' He said that despite the constraints there is a room for optimism, particularly for the province of Sindh which thus far lacked behind Punjab as far as the IT was concerned. He said at present 70 per cent of the software exports originate in Lahore. But since the pie is very large for everyone to have a piece we are working to make Karachi the hub of IT, he added. The provincial government also plans to retrain the workers in surplus pools to learn basic IT skills for better chances of job placement, he added.

Secretary Telecommunication and Information Technology, Abu Shamim Ariff, asked the exporters to properly record their foreign exchange earnings adding that 'somehow it is not coming as it has to.' He said that 'private sector has to deliver and start reporting all its foreign exchange earnings from software exports after all what the government is doing and the concessions that it is providing. If all this does not reflect in the increase of software exports, the primary objective and the final barometer of the success of its entire IT policy, then what good are these incentives?'

Talking about the unprecedented progress made in the IT sector he said 296 cities across the country now have universal internet access compared to just 29 cities three months ago in August. The tremendous reduction in tariff has also resulted in 120 per cent increase in the internet bandwidth use.

He said that in addition to the functioning IT Park in Islamabad the government has also signed a Memorandum of Understanding for a second IT Park in Lahore while plans are underway for the third Park in Karachi. He said that training of blue-collar IT workers and import of quality faculty required to impart quality training remain top priority of the government in the implementation of the IT policy. A part of salaries of the imported faculty will be subsidised by the government to attract qualified expatriates.

He disclosed that establishment of National IT Testing and Certification Service and National IT Accredition Council are in pipeline and so is the provision of low cost PCs to the schools. He said that the government is talking to Post Offices as well as others about setting up Internet kiosks and an e-Commerce Board will also be established soon. A mega IT exhibition will be held in Karachi in March next year.

President of Pakistan Software Houses Association (PASHA), Syed Hamza Matin, said like elsewhere around the world the IT-age is also creating windows of opportunities here in Pakistan. The lack of initiative on the national level however, he said, is the vital link missing to realise the immense potential which the country has.

He said that PASHA's brainstorming has help it identified five most important issues needed to be tackled for the development of the local IT industry. On the top of the list is the e-commerce initiative and supply of quality faculty to develop quality professionals out of some 500 applications received by a software company just 12 were of quality. Feeling that this could not be possible without private initiative the PASHA has formed its own Human Resource Training Committee for the benefit of its member software companies.

In addition, local and international marketing is imperative and PASHA has five representative offices overseas to interact with expatriates who collectively have billions of dollars to invest. Furthermore financing and availability of venture capital are also imperative for the development of a solid IT base. Last but not least, he said, there is the telecommunication issue which should be tackled for the mutual benefit of the PTCL and software houses.