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While successive governments in Pakistan have talked a good game on public sector reforms, they more or less lacked a coherent strategy. Background discussions indicate that “technology” can be the pivot through which the much-needed reforms can be introduced to the public realm. This is not to minimize the role of political will and systemic resistance to reforms, but digital transformation can assist government departments in better fulfilling their mandates. Some examples are already there.

For instance, if it wasn’t for NADRA’s tech-based operational efficiencies, citizens would have a hard time getting identity documents issued or verified. Ongoing Covid-19 vaccinations wouldn’t be a smooth experience if NCOC hadn’t used available technology platforms. NITB’s City Islamabad App has brought much convenience. Driving-license issuance in ICT and Punjab is now less hassle-prone due to technology. Provincial IT Boards have also done some good work on public record digitisation.

There is need for a wholesale digital transformation, with the core objective to improve government’s inner workings first. The root-cause of public sector inefficiencies is that the governance system is operating on decades-old rules of business that do not prize efficiency. The public sector needs to be turned into a well-oiled machine where performance appraisal is linked with specific outcomes. This is where technology comes in handy, to enable a result-oriented governance mindset backed by rules.

Why it has not been done successfully so far is because digital transformation strikes right at the heart of status quo. Digitized processes bring in operational efficiencies, but they also reduce layers in traditional processes, make jobs and roles redundant, provide transparency and objectivity, and reduce the scope of discretionary interventions that breed rent-seeking. This is why it is essential to have a consensus across the political spectrum for a sustained, long-term drive towards digitalization.

Examples from other countries show that a push towards e-government can not only improve the public’s quality of life, but it can also create conditions for nurturing local technology firms and develop digital ecosystem in the country. Besides, it can persuade foreign investors that the government is serious about pushing technology’s role in the economy. The key for the government is to have a well-thought-out digital transformation program, along with professionals and funding to match it.

Experts caution that it is not a good idea for government to create new internal bodies or departments to undertake digital transformation – rather it should give business to the private sector, to have a multiplier effect. The idea is that if the work is outsourced to small and medium local IT companies (after amending procurement rules), it will help them to develop expertise, train more human resource, and become competitive for markets abroad. Local demand can create export champions.


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