ISLAMABAD: Around 32 ministries/divisions are at high risk and vulnerable to cyber threats and potential disruption of essential services, as their licences of firewalls and switches - critical for the protection from cyber threats and continuity of services of are going to expire on January 23, 2024.

The Ministry of Information Technology and Telecommunication has moved a summary to Cabinet while seeking relaxation in Pakistan Public Regularity Authority (PPRA) for the renewal of firewall and switches licences.

Information and Communication Technology (ICT) plays a vital role in the adoption of IT initiatives, particularly e-Governance adoption. The lack of ICT infrastructure was realised in the federal government in the year 2018.

Consequently, a summary was moved by the Ministry of IT and Telecom (MoITT) to the prime minister for the early adoption of e-Governance initiatives through centralised procurement. The prime minister was pleased to direct the MoITT to present the matter before the Secretaries’ Committee.

The Secretaries’ Committee endorsed the centralised procurement of ICT infrastructure through the National Information Technology Board (NITB) and outlined specific recommendations, including budget allocation by the Finance Division. The Federal Cabinet subsequently approved these recommendations on 15th November 2018.

Following the Cabinet’s decision, needs of each Division were objectively assessed, and a Special Procurement Committee initiated the process for procurement of various ICT equipment. Standard operating procedures (SOPs) for delivery, installation, support, and maintenance were accordingly shared with the ministries/divisions to ensure e-readiness across the federal government.

The Finance Division arranged special funds surrendered by the concerned divisions and transferred to NITB in addition to the already allocated budget through MoITT, for the said procurement. The process of centralised procurement was successfully completed in December 2020; list of procured items.

The ownership of the procured items was also transferred to the relevant ministries/divisions. The MoITT informed all the ministries/divisions that Centralised Procurement for the e-readiness of the federal government was a one-time activity and the requirements were finalised after consulting with all ministries and divisions; and based on these requirements, funds were acquired from the Finance Division.

Two of the core components of the above-mentioned procurement, i.e., Firewalls and Switches are critical for the protection from cyber threats and continuity of services. This equipment was procured with subscription, support, and maintenance for three years, which will expire on 23 January 2024.

The NITB has already reminded all concerned offices that timely renewals of services are essential as suggested by the NTISB. So far, 12 Divisions have responded, but most of the responses have expressed a lack of budget and have requested NITB to proceed with the procurement. The impending expiration of licences poses a significant risk, leaving 32 ministries/divisions vulnerable to cyber threats and potential disruption of essential services.

On the advice sought by NITB, the PPRA has discouraged direct procurement under Rule 42(c) of the Public Procurement (PP) Rules 2004 and has advised to adopt open competitive bidding in accordance with Rules 20 and 21 of the PP Rules 2004.

The matter has been thoroughly deliberated, in terms of benefits of economies of scale and administrative efficiency. It was discussed that it will be quite difficult and cumbersome if tenders are issued from these 32 ministries/divisions for the same scope of work.

Accordingly, the following is submitted for the consideration of the Federal Cabinet: a. NITB may be allowed to issue a centralised RFP for the renewal of the expiring licences and support services; b. NITB may be allowed to make provisions in the RFP for the vendor to accept purchase orders from individual ministries/divisions; c. A Special One-Time Procurement Committee may be constituted by MoITT with appropriate representation from Cabinet Division and Finance Division, to finalise the vendor on behalf of all ministries/divisions; d. NITB may be allowed to sign the Agreement for renewal of the expiring licences and support services on behalf of all ministries/divisions; and e. ministries/divisions may be allowed to issue purchase orders for the procurement of licence renewals and support services, through their respective budgets.

The total cost for the renewal (for 03 years) of firewall licences, maintenance and support of firewall, switches, and passive network equipment for the 32 Divisions is estimated to be approximatelyRs230 million.

Each ministry/division will accordingly be required to arrange funds in the range of Rs 7 to 8 million, through own resources. The federal cabinet may direct all ministries and divisions to arrange the funds by 15th January 2024 so that the process can be finalised in a timely manner.

In case, any ministry/division has insufficient funds, the Finance Division may provide the necessary funding.

Copyright Business Recorder, 2023

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