“The Emperor’s New Clothes” is a short tale written by Danish author about two weavers who promise an emperor a new suit of clothes that they say is invisible to those who are unfit for their positions, stupid, or incompetent – while in reality, they make no clothes at all, making everyone believe the clothes are invisible to them. When the emperor parades before his subjects in his new “clothes”, no one dares to say that they do not see any suit of clothes on him for fear that they will be seen as stupid.
That is the state of the tailors(advisors) who are advising the PM, the Government and IT Ministry etc. But power to the Emperor too, for selecting such tailors. Ministers come and go, this has less to do with who the person is and more about what the person needs to know to do their job in a manner that helps Pakistan.
It’s much like having a veterinarian doing cardiac surgery on a paediatric patient. The tech sector in it self is in a state of infancy and we are using the tailors and vets to chalk the course of what is to come. I don’t even know where to start. We have academic press releases and conference presentations from the Ministry of IT to the Ministry of Commerce, not one person from these ranks has either been an entrepreneur or an information technology professional nor have they the academic fortitude to debate things like the NII(national information infrastructure). The only thing they can do is cut ribbons, read pre written statements and not speak two cohesive words to address their constituencies who are victims of natural selection not doing its job in time and be at the receiving end of this wisdom.
Let us run a comparative on IT Ministerial candidates in the region with similar aspirational targets as ours. Lets start with Indonesia, their progress on the tech front is no Joke, 4 Unicorns and counting. Btw they have all kinds of payment systems and the likes of Google and FB in town. We continue to be impressed by the shiny veneer of foreign companies and sponsored trips where-in our counterparts have done lasting good for their countries. The Indonesian Minister for Communication and Information Technology and his credentials below. Just so we know what kind of tailors to get.
Malaysia that has Lazada , ie 1 unicorn in its count, has the following Minister of Technology.
Moving on to Singapore and its 3 Unicorns lets see the credentials of the Minister in charge.
I am sure you get the theme now, well versed, professional, held key strategic roles in public and private sectors. Thats a start. Also Age has nothing to do with it, we have from the young to the seasoned in the small mix profiled above.
For comparisons sake the official Bio for our representative. Just saying, if Information Technology is the name of the game; your sites not being secure is not good start. Further not sharing any profile info is probably not a confidence boosting measure for all the alleged investors and VCs and funds they are working to bring to Pakistan.
Even if being IT minister was a popularity contest, we aren’t winning it. Just see the view count on the tweet from an industry event yesterday. Clearly there should be more than 8 people(well 7 if discount my view) that care about the national IT Agenda or consider any value being created out of these “shaking hands and kissing babies” activities.
At the said event, which in it self is a great melting pot of getting the right stake holders in a single location, the Member IT(what ever the f* that role is supposed to help the tech industry) claimed a 3bn$ IT Export. According to SBP data that isn’t even half the picture, let alone him taking credit as Pakistan being the 4 the largest free lancing market.
Ironically he was saying this whilst sitting at a Knowledge Economy panel, where-in free lancing is the exact opposite of knowledge creation, it is skills based execution that over time goes to the lowest cost provider bypassing repeatable process and knowledge creation. He was hailing how India is now too expensive, sadly without realising that they are working on value addition and moving away from basic services, which to-date, we cant do.
We had other gems from PSEB, TDAP and the Commerce Ministry. The biggest gem was the e-commerce policy framework that the Commerce ministry has given itself the charge to manage. If there was a more exciting idea out there, I haven’t heard it in a while. More amusing was the fact that whilst in 2019 I can forgive not knowing PowerPoint, I cant forgive folks working on policy who are checked out from reality and local context. Let me ask you a question, why isn’t it so that people in the private sector are lining up to hire these Members and Ministers if they as bastions of Tech and Commerce and all things progressive?
At the moment our infatuation is reverse, industry and government is top loading tailor after tailor from local to expat, we can already see the new dress shaping up at the hands of these tailors. Mostly not their fault, they get doused in the romanticism of helping nation and government, sprinkled with a healthy dose of political show and tell, blended with the pixie dust of a tour-de-pindi-boys. Tough to resist.
The thread of choice of all tailors today is digitization. In the history of Pakistani ministerial and government ineffectiveness has a word been murdered more brutally without understanding the reason to undertake the crime of passion. From this particular conference to others, to the national agenda and national IT boards these games are high stakes ego battles with me before we and I before us, we are all about to get f**d at the hands of these digital weavers.
We have had zero movement on national payments issue, no indigenous clearing or payments mechanisms that sit outside the banks or the regulators. Instead of promoting home grown and building solutions, we want to just borrow examples from else where without knowing local context or use cases. The brilliance of these items is that the ones making these power point decks, have never left the corridors of power and gone to tier 4-5-6 cities of this country to understand how financial inclusion will really work, how the under banked or un banked will give up cash, which is friction free, to go to cashless which at the moment is full of friction. Again academic exercises by tailors. I am waiting in earnest to see what the emperors clothes look like in the end.
We have zero movement on up skilling talent, or real tax benefits to the tech industry, we have zero movement by the government to attract a single serious VC fund to come to PK. Domestic private equity is just a fancier version of the so called “pathan loan” (no disrespect to any one) just describing what the market calls this variety of loan sharking. So do our startups even have a chance?
Finally a child cries out, “But he isn’t wearing anything at all!”
Update: The Theme for Digital was influenced post the conference where I heard emphasis by the powers be on augmented reality, artificial intelligence, smart products + digitization..