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ISLAMABAD: Caretaker Federal Minister for Information Technology and Telecommunications Dr Umar Saif claimed that 13 out of 15 important targets have been achieved including an agreement where freelancers would receive their payments through PayPal for the promotion of the IT and Telecom sector in a short period of five months in the caretaker set-up.

Addressing a Town Hall meeting during his visit to the Pakistan Software Houses Association (P@SHA) office, Dr Saif said that the presence of the Special Investment Facilitation Council (SIFC) is leading to an increase in foreign direct investment (FDI) and setting the pace of the country’s development.

“The forum of SIFC will prove to be a great support for the upcoming elected government in the process of building and developing the country and the elected government will also reap the benefits of the measures we have taken during the caretaker period,” he added.

Aysha Morani, additional secretary MOITT, Muhammad Zohaib Khan, chairman P@SHA, Nadeem Malik, general secretary P@SHA and representative from the IT Industry attended the event.

Dr Saif further said that to facilitate IT exporters and boost exports of IT and IT-enabled services, the State Bank of Pakistan (SBP) has 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).

“We worked with the SIFC and the SBP to make a significant policy intervention, allowing IT companies to keep 50 per cent of their export revenue in dollars in an account in Pakistan and make their international expenses without any restrictions from this amount,” he further explained.

He said that with this decision, allowing the retention of 50 percent in dollars, the country’s IT exports have increased by 32 per cent in the last 60 days.

Additionally, Dr Saif highlighted that ICT export remittances have increased by US$ 64 million (8.99 per cent) to US$ 1.455 billion during July to December 2023 of FY2023-24, compared to US$ 1.335 billion reported for the same period last year.

In December 2023, he mentioned that ICT services export remittances surged to US$ 303 million, marking a remarkable increase of 22.67 per cent compared to US$ 247 million in December 2022.

Compared to the previous month of November 2023, ICT services export remittances increased by US$ 44 million in December 2023, representing a month-to-month increase of 16.99 per cent, he added.

Dr Saif highlighted that the establishment of the Telecom Tribunal fulfils a longstanding demand of the telecom sector. The specialized Tribunal will now handle telecom sector disputes and cases instead of the High Courts, aiming to expedite the resolution of legal issues and facilitate rapid progress in the telecom sector.

According to the minister, the Ministry of Law will nominate the chairperson and members of the Tribunal. The chairperson must be a judge of the High Court or a lawyer with 15 years of experience, he said. Similarly, the Tribunal will have 2-member technocrats, whose number may be increased or decreased from time to time.

The minister believes that this specialized approach will lead to faster and more efficient resolution of disputes, contributing to the overall advancement of the telecom industry.

He said, “We are confident that with the presence of the Special Investment Facilitation Council (SIFC), the upcoming government will also be able to make timely decisions for the country’s development and public interests because we mustn’t compromise on our economic stability and public interests. We need to avoid departmental obstacles. Instead of unnecessary delay tactics, quick and effective decisions must be taken in the interest of the country and the nation. For this purpose, SIFC is the most effective forum.”

He continued, “The effective implementation of the Right of Way Policy, the Special Investment Council has removed all departmental hurdles, and all decisions in the interest of the country and the nation have been approved without delay.”

He mentioned that the ministry is concurrently establishing a research and development fund to support mobile phone manufacturing companies and facilitate the growth of the mobile phone manufacturing sector.

Regarding the “Smartphone for All” project, he explained that in the event of failure to pay instalments, the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) would block the handset following the pattern of the Device Identification, Registration, and Blocking System (DIRBS). The minister said that the objective is to encourage responsible financial behaviour and ensure the continued expansion of smartphone accessibility.

Under this policy, he said that telecom companies will have the opportunity to directly offer smartphones to customers through instalment plans, thereby extending the advantages of mobile broadband, particularly among the low-income segments in Pakistan.

Dr Saif said that Pakistan ranks as the seventh major mobile phone market globally, with 190 million mobile phones in use. He expressed the government’s goal to reduce mobile phone imports by promoting the manufacturing of affordable and high-quality mobile phones within Pakistan.

He said that the first standardized quality test for the 75,000 information technology graduates will be conducted soon.

He highlighted significant decisions made to revamp IT education in collaboration with various entities, including HEC, the National Computing Accreditation Council, the Examination Testing Council, the Pakistan Software Export Board, and the Pakistan Software Houses Association.

Dr Saif said students who successfully pass the test will be offered job opportunities through the Industry Placement Program. He added that funds will be allocated to support special industry courses in universities, aiming to prepare students for current industry trends and needs.

He explained that the National Computing Accreditation Council will consider the pass rate of students to determine a university’s rating and the permissible enrolment of IT students.

Emphasizing the importance of aligning educational institutions with industry requirements, he stressed the need for facilitating industry-specific training to bridge the gap between academic knowledge and practical industry needs.

He said that freelancers would now receive their payments through PayPal, addressing a longstanding demand. The minister clarified, “While PayPal itself is not coming to Pakistan, an agreement has been reached where remittances would be channelled through PayPal via a third party.”

“Under the newly devised program, freelancers will not need to open a PayPal account. Instead, individuals outside the country will make payments from their PayPal accounts, and the funds will be promptly deposited into the freelancers’ accounts,” the minister explained.

He said that under the nation’s first space policy approved by the federal cabinet, international companies would be allowed to provide communication services through low-orbit communication satellites.

Dr Saif said that satellite communication technology was advancing rapidly, and many private companies in the world wanted to provide communication services through low-orbit satellites.

“Satellites used to be geostationary, far away from the land. They are useful for broadcasting TV signals but communicating is difficult because there is latency,” he said.

He said that communication services and internet services could be offered through low-orbit satellites, which were relatively closer. He said that there had been a lot of development in this regard in the private sector.

“So now it has become possible for communication services in Pakistan to be provided through satellites and the private sector has this technology,” he said.

He expressed confidence that 5G services in the country would be launched by July-August current year, and 300MHz spectrum would be offered for auction.

He said that before the launch of 5G services, the optic fibre network had to be enhanced. Currently, only 6,000 mobile towers relate to optic fibre cables (OFC) of around 56,000 towers across the country.

Dr Saif said that the government launched a project to establish 10,000 e-Rozgar centres across the country that would be equipped with the latest facilities for freelancers and startups.

The minister said that the government had allocated Rs2 billion for the Pakistan Startup Fund to accelerate venture capital investment in the country.

He said the Fund would provide financial assistance to the startups, with each receiving 30 per cent support, while venture capitalists would contribute the remaining 70 per cent of the capital.

The minister expressed confidence that the Startup Fund would play a key role in Pakistan’s economic development.

Copyright Business Recorder, 2024

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