Pakistan freelancing industry is thriving as exports earning under this head is around one billion dollars per annum, said Secretary Information Technology and Telecommunications Maroof Afzal. This he stated while briefing the Senate Standing Committee on Information Technology and Telecommunications which met with Rubina Khalid in the chair here on Thursday.
He said that information technology and telecommunication is the future as it is one of the largest self-employment sectors, besides helping in poverty alleviation. The issues taken up by the Committee included the bi-annual review of the budgetary allocation and its utilization; and lack of services of Pakistan Telecom Limited (Ufone) in various towns and areas of district Malakand.
The Ministry of Information Technology and Telecommunications revealed that the government has slashed its development funds by 53 percent which would affect some vital projects.
Maroof Afzal said that Rs 3.046 billion was allocated in the Public Sector Development Programme (PSDP) for 2018-19, but it was cut by 53 percent i.e. to Rs 1.597 billion and further revised to Rs 1.448 billion. By end December 2018, the government has released Rs 369 million of which Rs 275 million have been spent so far.
Information technology and telecommunication is one of the largest self-employment sectors in Pakistan
The Committee showed grave displeasure over the massive decrease and stressed the need for these funds to be restored. Senator Rehman Malik was of the view that around the world, especially in India great emphasis was given to IT projects and software development. This is the only thing that will take Pakistan forward, he asserted.
Senator Sana Jamali was of the view that if Pakistan wishes to compete with India it was imperative that attention is paid to this area. Some committee members proposed to send a letter to the government and record its protest over the cut in the development budget.
The committee also observed that Kashmir and Gilgit Baltistan are not getting due funds and this attitude need to be changed. Furthermore, the committee also sought details of vacant positions in the ministry. The committee was informed that foreign delegation is due on February 20 to finalize the Technology Development Park project (MoITT). The project was approved by ECNEC in 2016 with an estimated cost of Rs 140 million including Rs 40 million under the PSDP and Rs 100 million foreign components.
Discussing details of the Universal Service Fund (USF), Rehman Malik said that the mandate must be revised so that issues of least developed areas may be resolved.
Chairman Committee recommended that if there are certain bylaws pertaining to USF that are proving hurdles to the Ministry, it may consult with the Committee on Delegated Legislations so that these rules may be revisited so as to accommodate and benefit least developed areas.
Pakistan Freelancing Industry Earns one Billion Dollars per Annum
Regarding lack of services of Pakistan Telecom Limited (Ufone) in various areas of district Malakand, Senator Fida Muhammad informed the Committee that there were three service providers in the area; Ufone, Telenor, and Zong with 17 percent, 70 percent, and 90 percent coverage respectively. He said that Ufone provided the least service in the area and hence this issue must be resolved.
The Ministry explained to the Committee that as per license obligations the service providers have fulfilled the license condition. It was also revealed that service providers tend to provide services in commercially viable areas.
Rehman Malik was of the view that providing service only to areas that are commercially viable is a human rights violation.
He said that even USF was formed to help service providers expand services to less developed areas.
He said that legislation must be formulated to ensure the provision of the facility to all unserved areas. Rubin Khalid directed the Ministry of Information Technology and Telecommunication to provide the Committee with a list of unserved/underserved areas. The Committee was assured that the Ministry will look into the matter and review ways in which services could be expanded to various areas of district Malakand.
Replying to a question Secretary said that they are working on 5G in the country. Committee chairperson also opposed the government intentions of the crackdown on social media while saying that instead of such statements, the government should act according to the cyber crimes law. She observed that there is a need in Cybercrimes law.