Senate body says 53pc cut in IT budget is ‘unreasonable’

ISLAMABAD: A Senate committee on Thursday said the 53pc cut in the budget for information technology in the country is unreasonable, especially when economic growth worldwide depends on progress in this field.

“We strongly recommend that the budget for the development of IT in the country should be restored. In fact, the budget for IT should be increased by 100pc,” chairperson of the Senate Standing Committee on IT, PPP Senator Robina Khalid said.

All members supported the chairperson when they said lack of funding and resources were the major reasons for the failure of government departments to implement policies.

“The IT budget should be increased by at least 50pc if not 100pc,” said PPP Senator Rehman Malik.

The committee was meeting to review budget allocations to the Ministry of Information Technology and Telecommunication.

Economic growth worldwide depends on progress in IT, budget should be increased by 100pc, committee says

While Senator Malik urged that IT should be given special attention, another member suggested elevating Pakistan’s IT industry at par with India.

Ministry of IT Secretary Maroof Afzal told the committee that his ministry’s budget had been halved for the financial year 2018-19 from more than Rs3.046 billion to Rs1.5 billion. He said Rs369.461 million had been released as of Dec 2018 of which Rs276 million have been utilised so far.

Discussing the projects of the ministry, Mr Afzal told the committee that a technology park worth Rs9.246 billion is being developed with assistance from Korea.

The project has been approved by the Executive Committee of National Economic Council.

Members demanded a specific briefing on the construction of cross border optic fibre cable (OFC) system between Pakistan and China for international connectivity of voice and data traffic.

Mr Afzal said laying more than 4,000km of OFC is in addition to the internet cable under the sea that connects Pakistan with the outside world online. The new system will lessen Pakistan’s dependency on the under the sea cable that is often damaged by ships and disconnects Pakistan from the rest of the world.

The committee was told about the establishment of a Special Communication Organisation technical institute in Gilgit Baltistan and the meeting took up the issue of areas in Balochistan which are still un-served and do not have basic cellular and broadband facilities.

Senator Malik said that the Universal Service Fund, established to ensure the availability of basic cellular and broadband services to un-served and under-served far off settlements, favoured cellular operators more than it considered the welfare of the people.

“These far off settlements and their dwellers have been discriminated against because they still do not have cellular and data services,” Senator Malik said, adding that this constitutes a violation of basic human rights.

He also suggested that the government revisit the license agreements with cellular operators to convince the operators to take cellular and data services to far off locations in the country.

The committee said a 15-year contract period is too long, especially when technological developments happen so fast.

“Government must shorten the time for the renewal of licence agreements in times of rapidly changing technologies,” Senator Khalid said.
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