ISLAMABAD, FEBRUARY 15, 2019: The budget for the the Ministry of Information Technology and Telecom, MOITT, for the financial year 2018-19 has been reduced by 51%. This was shared by the MOITT Secretary Maroof Afzal while briefing the Senate Standing Committee on Information Technology.
The Senate Committee had met on Thursday to review the budget allocations to the MOITT.
According to Dawn, Mr. Afzal told the committee that the budget of the ministry has been slashed from 3.046 billion to 1.5 billion Pak rupees. He shared that 369.461 million were released till December 2018 out of which 276 million had already been utilised.
It is not clear what has been the reason for the major budget cut.
Meanwhile, Senators called the budget cut “unreasonable” and expressed strong reservations about it. They urged the government to restore the budget as the economic growth worldwide depended heavily on growth of this sector.
“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,” Committee Chair Dr.Rubina Khalid was quoted as saying. Senator Rehman Malik said that the budget should be increased by 50% if not 100%.
The committee also took a note of lack of cellular and internet services in different areas of Pakistan especially Malakand. Senator Fida Muhammad noted that there were three different cellular services in the Malakand area including Zong, Ufone and Telenor with 90%, 17% and 70% coverage respectively. He lamented that the Ufone/PTCL provided least coverage in this area and the matter should be resolved.
MOITT officials revealed that telecom companies deliberately provided services in commercially viable areas. Senator Rehman Malik lamented that the far-off areas lacked cellular and data services and called it a violation of basic human rights. He accused the Universal Service Fund of safeguarding the interests of the cellular operators more than worrying about the welfare of the people.
Mr. Malik also urged the government to revisit the licensing agreement with telecom operators to convince them to take cellular and data services to periphery areas. Other committee members noted that the validity of the licensing agreement between government and telecom operators should not be 15 years in the face of rapidly changing technology.
“Government must shorten the time for the renewal of licence agreements in times of rapidly changing technologies,”` Senator Khalid said.
Meanwhile, MOITT Secretary Mr. Afzal apprised the Senate committee about the different ministry’s different projects. He shared that a technology part worth Rs. 9.246 billion was being developed with assistance from Korea.
Briefing the committee on the construction of the cross Optic Cable fiber between China and Pakistan. Mr. Afzal shared that around 4000 Kms of Optic fiber cable was being laid that would lessen Pakistan’s dependency on the under-sea cable. At the moment Pakistan relies heavily on the under-sea cable for connecting with globe online. It is often damaged by ships and disrupts Pakistan’s connectivity with the rest of the world.
Mr. Afzal also informed the committee about the establishment of the Special Communication Organisation in Gilgit Baltistan.
Talal Raza is a Program Manager at Media Matters for Democracy. He has worked with renowned media organizations and NGOs including Geo News, The Nation, United States Institute of Peace and Privacy International.