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Ministry of Information Technology & Telecommunication: Rationalisation of institutions – III

There is a need to carry out due diligence and rationalisation of all ministries under the federal government and their many subsidiaries with the objective of ensuring that the public money spent on sustaining them is well spent and their deliverables are measureable and transparent. The last column published focused on Federal Ministry of Science & Technology. The focus of this week’s article is on the Federal Ministry of Information and Technology.

Under this ministry operate many subsidiaries, notable the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) being the regulator responsible for the establishment, operations and maintenance of telecommunications in Pakistan; National Telecommunication Corporation (NTC) provides IT & Communication Technology (ICT) service to federal and provincial governments, armed forces, defence projects; Pakistan Software Export Board (PSEB); is an apex government body mandated to promote Pakistan’s IT industry in local and international markets; Special Communication Organisation (SCO), established in 1976, is a public sector organisation to develop, operate and maintain telecom services in Azad Jammu & Kashmir and Gilgit-Baltistan; Telecom Foundation is a trust established for the welfare of employees of public sector organisations in telecom sector; Universal Service Fund established in 1984 is to spread the benefits of the telecom revolution to all corners of Pakistan, Virtual University of Pakistan is Pakistan’s first University based fully on Information & Communication Technologies; National ICT R&D Fund established in 2007 is to support research and development projects sponsored by the industry and academia and E- Government Project Wing is committed to building a robust e-network framework that allows the government to be responsive in delivering public services to citizens and businesses.

Pakistan Telecommunication Authority, established in 1994, is Pakistan’s first independent telecommunication regulator while Pakistan Telecommunic-ation Company Limited (PTCL) was a state owned monopoly.

PTCL is a successor to Telephone & Telegraph (T&T) department of Pakistan. T&T established in the early 1950s laid the solid foundation of telecom technology of Pakistan. It was in the early 1950s that the Telephone Industry of Pakistan was established at Haripur by Siemens Germany to manufacture telephone instruments and exchanges. This was one of the first export project of Germany after the end of World War II. In the early 1970s, the Carrier Telephone Industry (CTI) was established, with the support of German technology by Siemens to facilitate digital communication through Microwave, Satellite Network and Fibre Optic.

These two early initiatives by the then visionary officers of T&T positioned Pakistan among the front-ranking nations in the field of telecommunication. Pakistan opted in early 1980s for digital telephone technology when most of the front ranking European countries were still on analogue technology. Also, Pakistan was among the first few who adopted fibre optic network for communication. Also, Pakistan was in the lead to deregulate and open up its market to private mobile phone operators. In 2008, Pakistan was rated the world’s third largest growing telecommunication market and it still continues to be looked upon as a growing market in technology with a large consumer base.

Telecommunication in Pakistan is a story of great success. With the sale of 26% stakes of PTCL to Etisalat of the UAE in 2006, together with PTCL management control, the government moved out of the business and diverted it totally to the private sector while PTA retained its role of a regulator. During the years, the quality of the service providers improved and the prices came down – the true benefit of a deregulated market. The government needs to learn and replicate this model of success in other sectors, particularly in loss-making public power sector.

Information Technology in Pakistan is a growing sector. Pakistan has over 25 million internet users. Overall, it has the 27th largest population of internet users in the world. But Pakistan lacked much behind other global players in the R & D of software and the export of IT technology and services. The World Economic Forum, assessing the development of information and communication technology ranked Pakistan 111th among 144 countries in the Global IT report of 2014. This is a poor performance considering the fact that the nation is IT savvy with world class talent. Pakistan’s Software Export Board’s structure needs rationalisation in its structure and market strategy to meet the global challenges and expectations to position Pakistan in the lead as it truly merits. Expectations to achieve excellence in software R&D also rests with facilities at the Arfa Software Technology Park at Lahore, named after the late Arfa Karim, the world’s youngest Microsoft Certified Professional.

Pakistan has made significant achievements in e-government. The flagship in this sector is National Database and Registration Authority (Nadra) which has delivered much and based on its innovative technology Nadra also exported its technology and services.

Virtual University of Pakistan, located in urban area of Lahore, is Pakistan’s first university based completely on modern information and communication technology to provide affordable world class education to aspiring students all over the country. Established in 2002, it primarily promotes distance education in information and communication technologies via online lectures and programmes irrespective of students’ physical location. It offers undergraduate and post-graduate courses. The experience of Virtual University is rewarding.

Overall, the deliverables of the Ministry of Information Technology and Telecommunication add value to the nation. PTA needs to maintain its role as an effective regulator. There are gaps and shortcomings in the research and development of software in the country which needs to be bridged and overcome with a view to transforming Pakistan into a significant player in the global market. Obsolete and non-performing units in the ministry need to be rationalised and the ones which are redundant be separated without any further loss of time.

Farhat Ali, "Ministry of Information Technology & Telecommunication: Rationalisation of institutions – III," Business Recorder. 2016-09-03.
Keywords: Science and technology , Public welfare , Telecommunication systems , Digital communications , Application software , World economy , NTC , PSEB , SCO , CTI , PTCL