Within a fortnight of the 5Es framework launch, the Federal Government has formed a SIFC (Special Investment Facilitation Council). It is an old idea, but not a bad one. In 2019, we saw a similar experiment in the form of the National Development Council. What’s different this time however, is that the Army is in the driving seat as the national coordinator of the SIFC. The forum includes the right amount of political muscle from all provinces.
But, is it an implicit acceptance of our civilian structures’ interoperability limitations for large projects and investments, or is it setting the military up for deeper and a rather fruitless foray into a political abyss? And can the SIFC and the 5Es Board deliver?
What’s different this time however, is that the Army is in the driving seat as the national coordinator of the SIFC.
Interestingly, both the SIFC and 5Es Boards are headed by the PM. But they both appear to have different priorities with some overlap. Setting noble agenda has never been a problem for us. This is also true in both these cases. Similarly, we have been excellent with the administrative mechanics for getting things done. It always has been the strategy - the means to the end - where we flounder!
Our technology domain has repeatedly seen ambitious policy goals setting in the last many years. The 5Es document identifies four such thrust areas in its ‘e-Pakistan’ component. On a closer look and without a preference for order or priority of issues, it appears vague and disconnected with the reality in areas where it should not be. It fails to assign responsibility and accountability to various goals. And in other places it is repetitive much like the previous initiatives.
It foresees 5G networks in Pakistan in the next five years. Early in the present Parliament’s term but in a different political alliance, our incumbent Minister of IT & Telecom, wanted to do it before the upcoming general elections. But that’s not what our telecom industry leaders were saying then or even now. On a different tangent, some of us may recall we were also to put our first man in space in this very parliamentary term.
Talking of space and its commercial value for us, the 5Es document notes a 21% share of PAKSAT in a domestic satellite market of 2,200 MHz. It wants to rightly transform the environment in favor of the government owned operator. Notwithstanding its various issues, this one is now old wine in a new bottle. And not vintage, unfortunately!
Going further, the document refers to IoT regulatory framework by MoITT and PTA. This effort must be appreciated. But what’s missing here is the government’s identification of priority industries for introduction of IoT solutions. How does it then plan to direct investments and grow different industries?
Further on, it expects the Pakistan Cloud First Policy to optimize data resources and costs for the public sector bodies. Cloud policy itself seems flexible on data storage outside our borders, besides other issues. This should be alarming!
Our public sector’s ‘musical chairs’ of bureaucrat jacks (of all trades) is not suited for running such specialized public bodies or regulators. They have often ground down the noblest of intentions to mere mission creep and institutional fatigue.
The framework also expects that new Data Centers will be set up in Pakistan. But we do not have regulations for setting up or running data centers in Pakistan so far. And we also do not know whose responsibility will it be to write these regulations. Then, how do we exactly plan to protect our precious public sector data against a data breach or a cyber attack?
The numerous challenges we face today are not unique to us. Ours’ is not the mountain we face but the pebble in our shoe. The public sector was to lead creation of commercial opportunities through new policies, regulations, technical and operational standards and guidance. This has not been done sufficiently in the technology domain, unfortunately.
In our case, we are missing a complete layer of effective regulators. What we need is experienced professionals and specialists in our regulators. Our public sector’s ‘musical chairs’ of bureaucrat jacks (of all trades) is not suited for running such specialized public bodies or regulators. They have often ground down the noblest of intentions to mere mission creep and institutional fatigue.
In case of 5Es framework, there are numerous opportunities for the IT deployments in support of the other four Es. New investment, employment and knowledge transfer opportunities should emerge out of these. But the document does not seem to have an eye for that, unfortunately.
Furthermore, investors like security for their investments. Both forums will have to be proactive on this issue. Today, SIFC appears to have missed an opportunity since it has kept the Law Ministry out of it. The 5Es framework has left the opportunity open for co-opting it at a latter stage. And lastly, does the PM want to run both forums in parallel or create some synergy?
If we do not have effective regulators, it won’t be ‘All the King’s horses and his men’ and women. And thus we may not be able to put it together again! That is where the real challenge for 5Es framework and SIFC lies irrespective of who coordinates them both!