Post 18th Amendment, a number of domains, such as the power to levy certain taxes, legislate on education, health, environment and rural development etc. have now become provincial subjects. Furthermore, the I.T. paradigm has changed significantly with new technologies and ideas such as IoT, Cloud Computing, Big Data etc. taking the forefront. There was, consequently, a need to revisit the I.T. Policy introduced in year 2000 and enable the provinces to take lead in the matter.
The number of IT companies in Pakistan has grown steadily during the last decade at a healthy rate of 7.4% and has culminated into $560 million I.T. and IT-based exports during the fiscal year 2015-16 as per State Bank of Pakistan’s statistics. Other estimates, provided by Pakistan Software Export Board and Pakistan Software Houses Association, indicate that this figure could be as high as $2.4 billion with the total IT revenue, including exports and domestic revenues, closer to $ 3.1 billion for the same year. Although significant gains have been achieved, yet according to the Global Competitiveness Index 2015, Pakistan falls behind most of the countries in terms of absorption of I.T. and I.T. enabled services.
Furthermore, Punjab has invested heavily in ICTs during the last decade to promote accessibility, entrepreneurship, innovation and to encourage ICT adoption in businesses and governance. Punjab was the first province to take back the Broadband Tax, set up technology/ business incubator and accelerator, created e-service and facilitation centers. The government has also worked diligently to automate government systems and processes through the involvement of leading I.T. companies of Pakistan. However, in order to ensure sustainability and demonstrate a long-term commitment to the cause, presence of a policy framework was deemed necessary.
With this backdrop in mind, Punjab Government is introducing the Punjab I.T. Policy 2018, which envisions Punjab as one of the top e-Governed, IT-enabled, e-Literate provinces in the region, a preferred destination for global I.T. businesses and a major supplier of skilled IT human resource.
For the attainment of this vision, the Punjab I.T. Policy 2018 is premised upon five pillars which are as follows:
- Support to the Industry
Providing support and creating a conducive environment for the IT & other related businesses has been among the top priorities of the Government of Punjab. Various steps have been taken in this regard which include payment of government taxes such as stamp duty through e-stamping; collection of other government receipts through online mediums; gaining permission to start a new business under ease of doing business initiatives; acquiring hassle-free warehouse construction permits from e-Khidmat Markaz; tax exemptions for Telecoms sector & I.T. businesses; construction of technology parks and knowledge parks; and facilitation in setting up a new industry in any of the industrial zones in Punjab through One Window Service Centers (OWSC).
Government of Punjab will build upon this success and shall take further steps to support the IT industry in years to come. Some of the proposed initiatives are the establishment of the dedicated Special Economic Zones (SEZs) and Industrial Cities for Information Technology through which the industry will greatly benefit from tax breaks and exemptions in export duties, among other things; construction of technology parks in Lahore and other cities of the province; and reduction in taxes on IT & IT enabled businesses which will not only facilitate these businesses, but will also bring more businesses into the tax net. The government also plans to take extensive measures for the formation of the hardware manufacturing industry through ODMs along with proposing an e-commerce regime by means of technical and legal considerations.
- Bridging the digital divide
Bridging the digital divide across different groups and segments of the society has been one of the key focus areas of the government and will continue to be. Some of the most significant schemes ,in this regard, are meritocratic distribution of laptops among students; establishment of Chief Minister’s e-Rozgaar Centers across Punjab which enables the recent graduates to polish and monetize their skillset; formation of e-libraries in Punjab where citizen from all walks of life and age groups are utilizing online knowledge base comprising of millions of resources; installation of Wi-Fi hotspots in big cities and availability of online textbooks under the E-Learn program as well as provision of tablets in schools. More of such initiatives will be implemented in the upcoming years. These include empowering citizens through online petitions platform which shall deal with social and other relevant issues; setting up of regional offices of PITB across Punjab; providing trainings on emerging ideas such as Internet of Things (IoT); and serving the vulnerable groups of the society by providing them free and easily accessible ICT resources in an inclusive manner.
Being one of the main pillars of this policy, Government of Punjab has laid great emphasis on it and has extensively used technology in improving efficiency and governance across several sectors. There is a diverse range of initiatives which have been taken in the last five years, some of which are: computerization of all police stations in Punjab; creation of Police Khidmat centres in all 36 districts of Punjab; automation of Criminal Record office; introduction of Hospital Management Information System (HMIS) in DHQs/ THQs; verification of attendance of doctors and paramedics through biometric attendance system; supervision of the health, education, agriculture, livestock and irrigation field staff through SIM enabled phones and tablets; improvement of the vaccination coverage from 22% to 92% across Punjab under eVaccs; compilation of real time feedback from monitoring staff for 52,394 schools in Punjab; collection of government receipts in a transparent and accountable manner; implementation of e-filing & office automation systems in different public sector entities; upgradation of the development budget making and monitoring through Smart Monitoring of Development Projects (SMDP); establishment of a state of the art tier-III data center for Government of Punjab; initiation of video conference facility for better and efficient communication across public sector offices in Punjab; establishment of Government of Punjab’s citizen contact center in order to run multiple helplines for several government departments; and computerization of land records of over 55.5 million agricultural land owners under land record management information system.
Government of Punjab will continue to automate its processes in order to ensure transparency, efficiency and accountability: E-Procurement regime will be introduced that will revamp the landscape of public procurements across the province; EFOAS will be implemented across public sector entities as the official communication platform in Punjab; HMIS will be fully deployed across all health facilities; monitoring of field staff will be extended to other government departments; Big Data analysis and other law & order initiatives will be integrated for the provision of a secured and environment to the citizens of Punjab; video surveillance and traffic management will be improved by the introduction of safe cities projects in other big cities of the province; agricultural crops reporting will be done through remote sensing techniques by analysing satellite imagery for precise crop estimation and disease surveillance.
- Citizen Centric Services
Providing better services in a respectable and transparent manner has been on the agenda of the government. One of the main initiatives, in this regard, has been the establishment of Citizen Facilitation & Service Centers (e-Khidmat Markaz) where citizens are getting hassle-free services offered by different government departments under one roof in the least amount of time. Initially, all divisional headquarters have been equipped with these centres. Government of Punjab plans to extend these facilities to all districts and tehsils of the province. Establishment of citizen contact center for citizen to interact with government departments and to provide feedback on the offered services is another important initiative. The government also plans to extend the outreach of this program. Moreover, Police e- Khidmat Centers have been established in all districts of Punjab along with the introduction of e-Stamping for the payment of stamp duty in an easy and secure way. The e-Stamping system will also be extended to the lower denominations in upcoming years. The role and scope of the Citizen Back Feedback (CFMP) programme will be further extended to include all services whereby citizens will be able to interact with the government. This will help the government to get an authentic and credible point of view of citizens about the service delivery. Introduction of e-Payment Gateway will make it easier for citizens to pay their taxes and other dues by sitting at their homes.
Pakistan boasts of immense potential in this area. Realizing this fact, Government of Punjab initiated the first and the largest public-sector technology incubator, namely Plan9, in 2012. Plan9 has furnished tremendous results in a very short span of time. Uptill now, 160 plus companies have graduated from Plan9 and have collectively been valued at $70 million. Plan9 has also helped in the establishment of 16 other such incubation centres in different universities of the country. Besides Plan9, an accelerated program was also launched by PITB, namely PlanX, that incubates the mid-stage companies. TechHub is another such initiative which provides a co-working space for freelancers.
In years to come, the government plans to extend the facilities accommodating entrepreneurial feats in the remaining universities along with the establishment of Regional Plan9 Centers. In addition to this, the government will set up Punjab Technology Fund through which potential startups will be able to compete for tide matching grants to grow their businesses. Moreover, the government will also help in the formation of the venture capital fund and will facilitate the angel investments. Apart from this, training of freelancers will continue under the e-Rozgaar Program which will helpful in the economic growth of the country.
Having outlined the pillars of the policy, Punjab I.T. Policy 2018 should be viewed as a set of policies focusing on 6 key areas: Industry, Education, Health, Governance, Citizens and Start- ups & MSMEs. Within these broad focus areas 30 key sub-sectors have been identified, and the policy aims to provide a comprehensive set of policies and incentives to boost growth and development in these areas. On the basis of this analysis and inspection, the document also presents 6Es of the IT Policy which are deemed as key principles for Punjab to become a leading I.T. hub of the world: Education, Engagement, Empowerment, Economy, Entrepreneurship and Employment.
In line with these principles, the policy posits 10 key goals which cover the aforementioned sectors. These are:
- Bridge the digital divide across gender, region and economic classes and achieve accessible and affordable access for all.
- Position Punjab as the IT R&D and innovation hub of Pakistan.
- Establish Punjab as the preferred destination for local and international investment in the IT/ITES/EHM industries.
- Enable the entrepreneurial ecosystem to flourish in the field of IT/ITES/EHM.
- Increase financial inclusion and incentivise investment in innovative ICT technologies to promote e-commerce in the province.
- Create an enabling environment for I.T. Technologies and their safe usage through policy reform and improvements in legal framework.
- Use ICTs for enhancing the capabilities of citizens and setting forward a more inclusive and broader human development agenda.
- To endeavour for rapid expansion and growth of the knowledge based economy in the province.
- Strengthen and build human resource and increase employment opportunities through the use of ICTs.
- To utilize ICT for a more efficient transparent and green governance model in Punjab.
Each of these goals is accompanied by a set of relevant objectives and policy commitments that the government shall take up in pursuit of these goals. These include declaration of broadband as a public utility, establishment of common resource and service centers and provision of internet facility to ensure accessibility of internet for everyone, setting up special economic zones for IT, financial incentives for start-ups, promotion of innovation in schools and universities, public procurements from MSMEs and introduction of a Digital First policy at the government level, etc. Emerging disciplines such as IOT, Big Data and Cloud Computing have been given special considerations in the document, with the aim of creating relevant and skilled human resource as well as local demand.
The Punjab IT Policy also identifies the need for introduction of policies that would complement the IT sector. The government shall, in the days to come, work diligently to introduce these policies as well. These include:
- Information & Data Security Policy
- Electronic Hardware Manufacturing Policy
- Right of Way Policy