Let’s start with the fact that we have an entire telecom corporation that is responsible for providing ICT services to the government. Likely well intentioned in a different era, but what caught my attention was a tweet that was taking credit for video call that a kid with a laptop and a zoom connection could likely execute. This ladies and gentlemen is the output of tax rupees & well intentioned dreams.
This was not enough on its own. I then happened to visit The Ministry of Information Technology and Telecommunications (MoITTs) website. First things first, I wanted to see the projects of the ministry, as a citizen with interest in such matters. Not only is the site nearly non-accessible on a mobile device, none of the projects are hyperlinked to any details. Not to mention items 8-10. A publicly facing listing that lists “expension” vs “expansion”. The urban dictionary offers some help.
It defines expension as
A bitter sweet realisation that all we are likely doing tax payer money is expension as most of this makes no sense. I then came across a treasure trove i.e the various projects and their likely budgets.
The list is nothing short of impressive. I shall try to break down the familiar, the not so familiar, the absurd and the moonshots. The first item here is PKR 786M for “Certification of IT Professionals”. Thats about 4.9M$ if I didn’t mess up the conversions. What expertise does the ministry have to train people? Why not take the allocation and hand it over to those with a track record in the space. I am more interested in a break down of use of proceeds of how the allocated “spent” money was used, where it went, who was impacted and how many people did we add to the value chain as trained/certified professionals or that we will in the future if the money is not yet spent.
Further what Certifications were selected, what criteria etc? Then we have an item of PKR 338M or 2.1M$ on holding boot camps. If the bootcamps were any thing like the certifications the ministry has been touting on twitter with no detailed info. I am already mourning the loss of this public money.
Every thing is coming soon but not soon enough. But I digress, let’s go down the list and evaluate some other items of interest. Like the criteria for selection the purveyors of the bootcamp. Essentially no local player can participate if you are looking for a training business with revenues between 5m$ to 10m$. Is it to soon to ask which international partner of a local services firm this tender was drafted for and who is likely the net beneficiary, because it most certainly aren’t the youth or public of Pakistan who are listed as claimants of this.
Next we have the expansion plan for NICs. Yet an other government initiative that has failed to resonate with the people it’s targeted towards but created high paying jobs and lot of Photo of Ops fo KPK(in recent times), well because KPK needs our love and the ministers love to show the PM that he is worthy of this post to make sure KPK comes out on top. PKR 751M or 4.6M$ at large for NIC.. Crazy allocation/use of funds with no material output. Some glimpses of recent NIC twitter content ala KPK love.
Next we have the National Freelance Training Program All over Pakistan, for 367M PKR or USD 2.28M$.
Project Monitoring and Digital Transformation Cell 146M PKR or roughly 1M$ PKR. Who the f* is monitoring projects for 1M$ some one should monitor and report where the money is going instead.
Technology Parks Development Project (TDP) at Islamabad (Phase-I) (EDCF
Loan Exim Bank Korea) this is the real nugget. 57M$ or 9.24BN PKR. God knows what going on here.
Blended Virtual Education 5.99BN PKR or 37M$. The questions one must ask who is being educated, where is this money being spent. These things don’t add up, we have a national deficit of education, talent etc.
My favourite, is Construction of SCO Education and Accommodation Complex for Employees Families at Rawalpindi (Phase-I). I mean, was there a doubt in any ones mind that the families need housing on tax payer money given the stellar performance every one has had. Shouldn’t public servants offspring go to the same public schools the rest of the awam must send their kids too? Why an education complex for SCO folks. MOITT is turning out to have a heart of gold. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Special_Communications_Organization .
720 M PkR or 4.5M$ being spent to provide housing for an organisation that could very well just be privatised and the best operators could run it vs carrying legacy issues forward, like PIA and others. Strategic intent well understood of why we would have an SCO but it should be run for strategic interests of the nation vs building an employee complex in Pindi when the stated objective of the SCO is
“SCO is a public sector organization working under Ministry of Information Technology and Telecommunication (MoITT) of Government of Pakistan (GOP), established in 1976 to develop, operate and maintain telecom services in Azad Jammu & Kashmir and Gilgit Baltistan”
So one must assume that any one working in the SCO needs to be from Pindi? or does this reflect the current makeup of the organisation where the housing needs are localised to Pindi vs AJK & GB? The irony of it all is lost on the folks running the show.
770M Pkr for a data center which is 4.7M$ for the Establishment of SCO Data Center for Providing Cloud Based Services in AJ&K and GB. How about building one for Karachi first which drives the bulk of economic activity in Pakistan?
The list is beyond interesting. But I will select one last one and move along to other items related to MOITT. President Initiative of Cyber Efficient Parliament (Feasibility) April 6th 2020 is the date, capped at 10M Pkr or 62k USD this is funniest of the lot, given the context below. Pictures, Mutual admiration club and press conferences later. The allocation seems lower than what was spent on the publicity machinery by the President already in nov 2020. This is bizzaro land. We do a meeting to chair meetings on meetings about making meetings digital, about 20 public servants per the photo, in attendance.
It doesn’t end here, this was one small snippet of inefficiency, bureaucracy, lack of domain knowledge, a bloated ministry with no functional output, but better yet a minister who made a public statement on the Digital Pakistan Vision at the GSMA Thrive Asia Pacific on 3-5 November.
I have spent 6 minutes of my life so you don’t have to. to summarise what the Honourable minister had trouble reading from his prepared notes.
Minister reading prepared notes on the vision of Digital Pakistan yet not once defining it.
1.Pakistan is a country of over 200M People
2.Pakistan offers an open deregulated market with a supportive licensing regime fo biz
3.Due to internationally friendly business policies of govt of Pakistan we have foreign telcos operating in PK as a testament to our good work.
4.Govt is striving to improve citizens quality of life and economic well being by ensuring ICT services
5.170M Cell connections 80% teled density 85M Ppl accessing internet via mobile broad band
6.DFS led by telecom sector, Telecom impact = gdp impact during corona
7.45m Branchless banking agents = motivating 158b PKR per BISP disbursement by Digital financial system
8.56bn utility bill payment
9.750m Internet bill payment
10.17bn Mobile top up
11.Govt believes in mass adoption of emerging digital tech to enable realising the vision of a true welfare state like Madina.
12.SDG goals = Telco is critical
13.Uplift of low income segment is key focus,
14.We would like to invite GSMA/TELECOM industry for participating with the govt of Pakistan to realise the vision
15.As part of Digital Transformation the government is pursing a pronged program that encompasses
16.Policy intervention for harmonised regulatory environment
19.Govt has recognised the significance the imp of digital tech
20.To unlock economic competitiveness, Heavy investment in underserved areas for digital tech/infra Resulted in equitable sharing of opportunities and resources, paving the way for conducive economic growth.
21. USF= Self praise on digital transformation and telecom service revolution and how Minister has involved him self to bridge the digital divide. Working on more spectrum and fix taxation issues. Planning 5g and increasing 4g penetration. Values GSMA contribution, signing of an MOU= is his commitment as digital leader. He for-sees more collaboration with GSMA, to come towards our common objective of “Digital Pakistan” (5.03 IN VIDEO).
22.Importance of mobile sector is growing = vital to economy (Blah blah)
23.Policy reference without any connects items
24.Speaks about policy formation of spectrum auction as he says in APAC it has helped the economy.
25.Ecosystem needs to work towards solving common objective of digital Pakistan
26. Thank you note to GSMA= Saying “ I am thankful to GSMA to give opportunity to discuss Pakistan vision on such a great regional platform”
So the minister made 25+ Points . Not once does he define the vision, he starts by quoting stats, he talks about transaction volumes on DFS(digital financial services), He talks about BISP without explaining what it is, and he has fully encapsulated the PMs rhetoric about a welfare state. There is a time and place for every thing but these public servants have no idea on how to optimise for audience and messaging.
Also don’t discount him shaking his chair in the first few minutes of the presentation and reading from prepared notes and not looking up. What a “shit show” If there was an only fans for ministers embarrassing nations, this would be as profitable a venture as the budget allocations they have in MOITT. At 5 mins and 3 seconds he makes all but a passing reference. Lest I remind the ministry has been struggling to define “Digital Pakistan Vision” it self.
Lets take a deep breath and analyse this statement ” Ministry of IT and Telecom, under the #DigitalPakistan vision is actively working on mobile phone applications, web portals, e-commerce, e-government, online jobs, digital payments, establishment of IT parks & all other avenues to facilitate our citizens.”
So we have a ministry that is:
1) Developing Mobile phone applications(Stealth startups any one? or competing with the public sector?)
2) Web portals (god knows what for)
3) E-commerce (Ali baba we have MOITT baba coming soon)
4) Online Jobs (What we need is some one to develop a job redundancy platform for Govt)
5) Digital Payments (How so?)
6) Establishment of IT Parks (Are we importing wildlife for them too?)
This circle jerking rhetoric is to a point where some one needs to call this nonsense out. No one knows what any of this means(including folks in the ministry), it has zero impact on our combined digital health or well being, there is literally no vision, just a graphic designer some where deep in the ministry who outsources the content creation to a friendly ad agency that comes up with this consistent yet underwhelmingly mind numbing non sense.
We have these guys representing us at large; in media, in the public sphere and internationally. We are dependent and reliant on them for policy views, public engagement, growth, education and utilisation of tax payer money + aid. Some one should ask the honourable PM, “Do only commerce and finance ministries deserve attention what about the only sector that can truly be transformative at scale?” But PM is busy fighting political items. Who has time for these things?
As a tech professional and a citizen of the land, I would like to know if this our fate or is some one in government ready to listen for a change and truly find folks who are willing and able to lead the change vs babus who cant read a written statement correctly.
Truth is stranger than fiction, you cant make this shit up. The ministry and its budgets in the hands of these folks is a sad reality that we must demand answers for. Or be prepared to witness en-mass, what others in the profession have chosen to do, immigrate and forever hold their peace.
Hopefully there is a better plan of action than that.