ICT R&D funds not released despite assurances
More than four months after the beginning of fiscal 2013-14, the federal government is yet to release R&D funds for information and communication technology (ICT), and the delay is seriously affecting ongoing projects.
Sources in the Ministry of Information and Technology said that the funds for ICT R&D were delayed after the government had diverted more than 70 billion rupees of USF and ICT R&D funds to the Federal Consolidated Fund in July 2013 for repayment of its circular debt. The issue also drew the attention of the Supreme Court.
Internet Service Providers Association of Pakistan (ISPAK) took up the issue with the Minister of State for Information and Technology, Anusha Rahman, by writing to her on November 11 to urge her to have the funds released urgently. The Minister is simultaneously chairperson of the Board of Directors of the ICT R&D Fund.
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- Those most affected by the four months’ delay in R&D funding are ICT students enrolled in educational institutions in Pakistan on scholarships.
- Meanwhile, work has come to a virtual standstill with researchers unable to pay out salaries to project personnel.
The situation is the result of the federal government’s diversion of the Universal Service Fund (USF) and the ICT R&D Fund to the FCF in contravention of the Pakistan Telecommunication (Reorganization) Act, 1996. The funds cannot be used for any purposes other than those defined in the Act. Separate accounts of the USF and the ICT R&D Fund were maintained by successive governments in the past, as policymakers and legislators of that time clearly stipulated that these funds should be kept separate from the FCF in order to ensure that they are not utilized for any other purposes.
In its letter the ISPAK pointed out that the Ministry of Information Technology had assured the Board of Director of ICT R&D Fund in a previous meeting that no delay would occur in the release of the funds despite their diversion to the FCF. The ISPAK asked the Minister Anusha Rehman to restore the original status of the ICT R&D Fund and USF by maintaining them in accounts unrelated to the FCF.
A spokesperson of the Ministry said that the process of maintaining the ICT R&D Fund has been streamlined now. He said that all the funds of first quarter of fiscal 2013-14 has been approved and would be released in a few days. According to him, the funds were released on quarterly basis and the delay was due to the process of streamlining the fund’s accounts.