In 2000, Pakistan passed its first National IT Policy. Eighteen years later, there have been substantial shifts in the industry. The National IT Policy has been replaced with a Digital Pakistan Policy, enacted in 2017 to incorporate these changes. But the scale of the IT industry extends far and wide, and a lot of the industry’s affairs are concerned with provincial administrations.
Keeping this in mind, Punjab has passed its own IT policy which envisions the province as the future hub of the industry in Pakistan.
The Punjab IT Policy of 2018, passed by the provincial cabinet on Thursday, is based on five pillars. Below, TR Pakistan has reviewed each of these pillars separately, explaining the state of affairs and highlighting prescriptions laid out in the policy.
Support to the Industry
Over the years, the provincial administration has introduced an e-stamping service enabling IT firms to make online payment of government taxes such as stamp duty. Ease of doing business initiatives have made the process of registering and starting businesses hassle-free. Now, IT firms can acquire warehouse construction permits from one-stop citizen facilitation and service centers (e-Khidmat Markaz) across the process. Other measures include tax exemptions for the telecommunication sector, and the establishment of one window service centers (OWSCs) to facilitate setting up of new industries in the various industrial zones in Punjab.
Building upon these initiatives, the Punjab IT Policy 2018 proposes the establishment of dedicated special economic zones (SEZs) and industrial cities for the IT industry, enabling it to benefit from tax breaks and exemptions in export duties among other things.
Other measures laid out in the policy to provide a supportive environment are construction of technology parks in major cities and reduction in taxes on IT and IT-enabled businesses. The government also plans to take measures for the development of the hardware manufacturing industry in Pakistan.
Bridging the digital divide
To overcome gaps in access to information and communication technology (ICT), the government has taken initiatives like distribution of laptops among high-achieving students, establishment of the Chief Minister’s e-Rozgaar centers which teach recent graduates how to build and monetize their skillset, formation of e-libraries at the district level, installation of Wi-Fi hotspots in major cities, availability of online textbooks under the e-Learn program, and provision of tablets in schools.
Under the Punjab IT Policy 2018, more such initiatives to be implemented in the upcoming years are: setting up of regional offices of PITB across Punjab; providing trainings on emerging ideas such as the Internet of Things (IoT); and providing vulnerable social groups with free and easily accessible ICT resources in an inclusive manner.
The IT policy recognizes the provision of Internet as a fundamental right and categorizes it as a basic utility. The policy envisions a Digital Literacy Program under which at least one member of every household should be made digitally literate in the next five years.
A Right of Way Policy to acknowledge provision of broadband service as a key consideration to infrastructure development is in the pipeline. Other complementary policies identified for strengthening the IT sector infrastructure are an Information and Data Security Policy and an Electronic Hardware Manufacturing Policy.
The provincial administration has taken a diverse range of initiatives in the last five years. These include: computerization of all police stations in Punjab; verification of attendance of doctors and paramedics through a biometric attendance system; introduction of Hospital Management Information System (HMIS) in all district and tehsil headquarter (DHQ and THQ) hospitals; supervision of health, education, agriculture, livestock and irrigation field staff through SIM-enabled mobile phones and tablets; improvement in vaccination coverage from 22 percent to 92 percent under an eVaccs program; compilation of real-time feedback from monitoring staff for 52,394 schools in Punjab; and computerization of agricultural land record.
The Policy prescribes the following measures to further automate governance systems in the province: introduction of an e-Procurement system to revamp the landscape of public procurements; implementation of e-filing and office automation systems (e-FOAS) across public sector entities as the official communication platform; deployment of the HMIS across all health facilities; monitoring of field staff will be extended to all government departments; Big Data analysis and law and order initiatives will be integrated for the provision of a secured environment; video surveillance and traffic management will be improved by the introduction of safe cities projects in all major cities; and, agricultural crops reporting will be done through remote sensing techniques using satellite imagery.
e-Khidmat Markaz have been set up at all divisional headquarters in the province where citizens can avail services offered by different departments in the least amount of time and under one roof. The Policy envisions extending these facilities to all districts and tehsils.
Another initiative is the establishment of citizen contact centers where people can provide their feedback on government services. The government plans to extend the outreach of this program under the IT policy. The role and scope of the Citizen Feedback Monitoring Programme (CFMP) will also be extended to include more services.
The e-Stamping facility for the payment of stamp duty in an easy and secure manner will be expanded in future to provide stamps of lower denominations as well. Introduction of e-Payment Gateway will also make it easier for citizens to pay their taxes and other dues online.
In 2012, the provincial government opened Plan9, one of the largest public-sector technology incubators in the country. More than 160 companies, with a collective worth of $70 million, have graduated from it. Subsequently, the Punjab Information Technology Board (PITB) also launched a business and technology accelerator called PlanX which caters to mid-stage companies. Another initiative, TechHub Connect, provides a co-working space for freelancers.
In the upcoming years, the government plans to extend these entrepreneurial facilities in all major universities of the province, besides establishing incubation centers across the province.
A Punjab Technology Fund will be set up to enable startups to secure grants and grow their businesses. Moreover, the government also plans to develop a venture capital fund and facilitate angel investments. Training of freelancers will also continue under the e-Rozgaar Program.
Through these facilities and incentives, the government aims to boost growth and development across six key sectors: Industry, Education, Health, Governance, Citizen-Centric Services, and Start-ups and Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises (MSMEs).