NEW IT POLICY

 

Development of basic IT infrastructure is the primary thing for IT revolution.

BY FARAZ SIDDIQUI
Sep 04 - 10, 2000

Government has announced IT policy which is positively commendable in a circumstances when after 53 years long span we could not even draw up a science and technology policy. Prof Atta-ur-Rehman, Federal Minister for Science and Technology is really worthy of a gratitude for his efforts to make the IT policy seeing the light of the day. Policy is really designed with all prudence and keeping in view the far-reaching aspects, so highly lauded. But implementation will be the tough phase that will actually decide the propriety of the policy.

For the pervasive proliferation of IT in the country, Rs 5 billion has been allocated for the development of IT and Telecommunication sector for 2000-2001, Rs 2 billion has already been allocated as a block allocation. The prima-facie shows that the Policy is having its prior focus on the expeditious development of IT infrastructure and skilled labour and manpower. Policy has also given importance to the development of suitable support system like telecommunication and information data bank to enhance the IT infrastructure and to grow local IT industry. Federal Minister said that in future government would establish IT parks, technology parks and incubators to facilitate the infrastructure in the country. Development of basic IT infrastructure is the primary thing for IT revolution.

Shortage of skilled manpower and quality education has been the main detriment for the development of IT in the country. Mr Atta-ur-Rehman said that IT education and human resource development is an integral part of IT policy, IT board will be established in the provinces for this purpose. In our country where shortage of skilled man power is the general phenomena, it becomes alarming when we talk about IT, large number of manpower is required to be geared to meet both local and export needs. So realization of the enhancement of standard of IT education and availability of skilled manpower is a rational approach to address the IT issues in the country.

Idea to establish four IT universities and one virtual university is quite impressive for which teachers will be engaged from abroad. But once again it should be noted that only improving IT education is not the only panacea but basic system of education should also be enhanced with this because basic education is the main platform which creates an approach to go for higher horizons. Attasaid, National Testing and Accredition Service would be setup to ensure IT quality education and training. Therefore IT education programme must be paralleled with an effective basic education infrastructure for pragmatic results.

Promotion of Software industry has been given due weightage as being high growth industry. Measures taken to develop the local software industry is laudable which are focused not only to meet the local requirement but also a launching pad for capturing export market. Government would include local software houses in public projects. Right now Pakistan does not have strong local software industry and our software export is also pathetic as compared to our neighbour India. Thus preference to the private sector to develop software for the government and non-classified defence projects will accelerate the pace in this regard. Urdu and regional language software development will help to bring IT to a large number of people.

Promotion of software exports through the establishment of an international marketing network, special bandwidth rate for software export, encouraging joint ventures, hiring of consultants for global business development and fiscal and regulatory incentives of software export through SBP. Pakistan is standing far behind in its share in world market in IT export. Steps like Incubators, appointment of IT professionals at Pakistani embassies, encouraging banks for equity participation, establishment of content industry would help to promote IT export in Pakistan.

Policy provides waiving of the duties and taxes on the import, incentives to reduce cost of raw materials and input. This will give further impetus to IT industry. SBP has allowed software exporting companies to retain 25 per cent of their earnings in foreign exchange accounts. The minimum tax of 0.5 per cent on remittances from software export has been waived off.

Without promoting the internet usage, the IT revolution remains a pipe dream. Atta-ur-Rehman also announced a further reduction in bandwidth rate by 25 per cent and further concessions will be announced time to time to expand the use of internet. Internet delivery on cable TV had been permitted. For growth of internet unnecessary regulation would be avoided and low cost would be ensured. Before this steps taken for expanding Internet access to 270 cities and further aims at to link 400 cities to world wide web seems credible. SBP had allowed banks to open Internet merchant account for e-commerce.

Minister further said, government is working on legislation such as a digital signature act, the intellectual property and copyright act and the consumer protection act to benefit the users, providers and facilitators. Said from November PTV would start a programme on web page designing.

Recommendations

The idea of varsities and educational institutes is quite impressive but past experience reveals that performance of public sector institution is pathetic. Therefore this scheme should be coupled with the proper implementation machinery and accountability in order to avoid the failures. Basic education system should also enhanced in order to create better input for IT institutes.

Although the policy seems ambitious regarding internet usage and other issues but the policy is still unabated regarding PTCL's monopoly which is the main detriment to encourage free enterprise and competition. It should also make sure that concessions and reliefs should not be misused by any side because success lies only in the proper usage.

The country where the internet users are very limited in numbers, it seems over ambitious to achieve the target for e-commerce. So it must be implemented at large after having sufficient internet infrastructure and usage. IT policy also lacks due consideration to the important areas like computer integrated manufacturing (CIM), computer-aided designing (CAD), computerized numerical control (CNC) and computer-aided manufacturing.

Employment and underemployment is an aggressively emerging phenomena in Pakistan, lot of skilled and qualified persons are unemployed. As most of the educational programmes in the policy will take years to complete, so conversion of this skilled manpower in the IT professionals can be the easiest and cheapest way in a short span of time. It should also make possible that students and professionals should be provided with opportunity to avoid brain drain in the country.

In a nutshell, it is satisfactory to have an IT policy but it must be collectively linked with the effective education policy and implementation in order to promote Pakistan as an IT nation.