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Dr Saif highlights revolutionary initiatives for boosting IT exports

Caretaker Federal Minister for Information Technology and Telecommunications Dr Umar Saif on Wednesday highlighted the revolutionary initiatives undertaken by the ministry in the last two months to bolster exports of the IT and telecom sectors. Addressing a press conference along with Minister for Information and Broadcasting Murtaza Solangi, he said the government would provide interest-free loans to free-lancers for establishing e-working centers.

He said each freelancer would receive financial assistance of Rs 100,000 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 upto $30,000 annually which would significantly contribute to the national economy. He projected that the measures could increase IT sector’s exports by $3 billion. 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 the Pakistani universities currently produced 20,000 to 22,000 IT graduates, but only 2,000 of them managed 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 utilize 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 & Technology, Industries & 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 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% to 50% 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 issuance of debit cards, enabling the IT exporters to make online payments from the balances available in their ESFCAs.