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ISLAMABAD: Caretaker Federal Minister for Information Technology and Telecommunications Dr Umar Saif while highlighting the initiatives taken by the government to bolster exports of the IT and telecom sectors, stated that the country will hear good news regarding PayPal and stripe payment gateways in Pakistan soon.

Dr Saif, addressing a press conference, flanked by caretaker information minister Murtaza Solangi, said that currently, there is no financial instrument available to facilitate payments.

He projected that the measures could increase the IT sector’s exports upto $4 billion from the current $2.6 billion. “We have held talks with PayPal, stripe and RISE, and have presented our case to them,” he said.

“These companies have their apprehensions, including the FATF issue. Despite this, we are seeing progress. I am optimistic that we will hear good news regarding PayPal, and Stripe in the coming four to six weeks, and through any formula, we will provide these services to our freelancer community,” he said.

He said the government would provide interest-free loans to freelancers for establishing e-working centres.

He said each freelancer would receive financial assistance of Rs100,000 to set up their own e-working center. The initiative was aimed at addressing the challenge of lack of suitable workplaces for freelancers so that they could work in a conducive and peaceful environment, he added.

Dr Saif asserted that each freelancer could earn up to $30,000 annually which would significantly contribute to the national economy.

The minister said the government was also working for easy access to loans and investments for IT startups, with the expectation of attracting external investments of upto $1 billion within the next six months.

Referring to the skill gap within the IT workforce, Dr Saif said Pakistani universities currently produce 20,000 to 22,000 IT graduates, but only 2,000 of them manage to secure employment.

The IT Ministry would introduce a standardized quality test in all the universities across Pakistan to ensure job opportunities for fresh graduates, he added.

“We have made significant decisions to revamp IT education in universities in collaboration with the Higher Education Commission, the National Computing Accreditation Council, the Examination Testing Council, the Pakistan Software Export Board, and the Pakistan Software Houses Association,” Dr Umar Saif said while emphasizing that students who passed the test would be offered job opportunities through the Industry Placement Programme.

“We will allocate funds to support special industry courses in universities, designed to prepare students in accordance with current industry trends and needs.”

The minister further explained that the National Computing Accreditation Council would consider the passing rate of students to determine a university’s rating.He stressed the importance of aligning educational institutions with industry requirements and facilitating industry-specific training.

Highlighting Pakistan’s status as the seventh-largest mobile phone market with 194 million users, Dr Saif outlined the government’s vision to promote local manufacturing of affordable, high-quality mobile phones. The initiative aimed to reduce reliance on imported phones, conserve foreign exchange, and create employment opportunities in the high-tech industry.

The minister said the federal cabinet had approved the Telecom Infrastructure Sharing Framework and the formation of a committee for 5G spectrum auction.

Under the infrastructure-sharing framework, telecom companies would have the option to jointly utilise resources such as towers, antennas, cable ducts, and other critical infrastructure items, he said, adding the sharing mechanism was aimed at fostering cooperation among telecom players, streamline resource usage, and potentially reduce operating costs.

Furthermore, he said, the framework’s adoption would open doors for new companies to enter the domestic telecom space. The increased cooperation and shared resources could facilitate a more competitive environment, potentially benefiting consumers by offering a broader range of services and options.

He said the federal cabinet had also given the green light for the formation of a 5G Spectrum Auction Committee which would play a vital role in the introduction of 5G technology. Caretaker Finance Minister Shamshad Akhtar would preside over the committee that also included ministers of IT, Science and Technology, and Industries and Production, along with the secretaries of key ministries.

He said the committee’s primary task would be to review the availability of spectrum in various frequency bands, including 700 MHz, 1800 MHz, 2100 MHz, and 2600 MHz. Subsequently, the committee would take steps to auction the spectrum, based on the recommendations of PTA (Pakistan Telecom Authority)consultants.

In order to facilitate the IT exporters, and to boost the exports of IT and IT-enabled services, he said the State Bank of Pakistan (SBP) had increased the permissible retention limit from 35 per cent to 50 per cent of their export proceeds in the Exporters’ Specialized Foreign Currency Accounts (ESFCAs).

The usage of the balances available in the ESFCAs had been simplified by allowing the IT exporters to make their payments from these accounts without any approval from the SBP or their banks, he added.

The banks, he said, had also been advised to facilitate the issuance of debit cards, enabling the IT exporters to make online payments from the balances available in their ESFCAs. Dr Saif said 1.5 million Pakistanis are working as IT freelancers. “We are the second-largest online workforce,” he said.

“However, the lack of infrastructure is holding us back. Through the E-Rozgar programme, interest-free loans will be provided to the private sector, under which co-working space for 500,000 people will be established,” the minister shared.

The interim minister said the country’s IT sector is made up of around 19,000 companies, which provides employment opportunities to 150,000 and exports to the tune of $2.5 billion in official exports.

Dr Saif said a number of IT companies keep their forex reserves and revenues outside the country, amid restrictions on repatriation of the US dollar. “As per a conservative estimate, Pakistan’s IT exports stand at $4-4.5 billion, however, this is not the case due to restrictions on US-dollar spending,” he said.

In order to facilitate the IT exporters to boost the exports of IT and IT-enabled services, the SBP increased the permissible retention limit of IT exporters from 35 per cent to 50 per cent of their export proceeds in the Exporters’ Specialized Foreign Currency Accounts (ESFCAs).

In addition, the utilisation of the retained funds has been further liberalised. According to the SBP, the usage of the balances available in the ESFCAs has been simplified by allowing IT exporters to make their payments from these accounts without any approval from the SBP or banks.

This step has been taken on the recommendation of the IT industry aimed to encourage the exporters of software, Information Technology (IT) and IT-enabled Services (ITeS) as well as freelance services to boost export earnings and bring additional foreign exchange into the country.

Copyright Business Recorder, 2023

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Tariq Qurashi Oct 26, 2023 03:29pm
If Dr. Umar Saif really manages to bring PayPal, Stripe and RISE to Pakistan it will transform our ecommerce businesses and accelerate our exports This is an excellent initiative, and will be a game changer. I wish him the best of luck.
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