Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Corrupt bureaucracy depriving Pakistan of bright future

Corrupt bureaucracy depriving Pakistan of bright futurePakistan is currently undergoing worst socio-economic crisis in the history. Severe energy shortages,price hike, budget deficit, unbearable law and order situation, dwindling foreign investment, uncertain political scenario, joblessness and many alike are all the miseries that are eating this country from within.
Irony of the situation is that development funds are not available owing to weak planning in the center and the provinces, and whatever is available is being spent on projects like building roads, Benazir Income Support Program, Free Laptop Schemes, Yellow cabs – old political stunts for duping Pakistani people and getting votes in the coming elections.
Not all is bad in Pakistan and we are pretty hopeful that our technology lover young army of more than 60% of entire population in this country will change the fate somehow. A similar confidence was shown by InfoDev – a global partnership program in the World Bank that is funded by various countries including Finland, Germany, Japan, Korea and many others – when it selected Pakistan among SAARC countries as the most suitable and innovative place for setting up mobile application development and research lab at University of Engineering and Technology (UET) Lahore.
The research project which is called ‘mLab‘, will get USD 380,000 for a two year contract which will bring mLab South Asia into existence, making UET Lahore, Indus  Valley Schools of Arts and Architect and National College of Arts to work in combination as implementation partners.
An official involved into the development of this project told, “this is a mega achievement for us as for getting this two year contract we were competing so many countries which are already far ahead of us in terms of technology and that includes India as well which also happens to be one of the donors in this fund. The project will help developers and entrepreneurs to develop local content for mobile phones and applications in Pakistan. It will also allow Pakistan to increase its share in software export”.
The mLab project is supposed to be monitored by Pakistan Software Export Board (PSEB) but the fact is the watch dog itself has become the major hurdle. World Bank has already paid USD 240,000 out of total project amount but unfortunately, unthankful elements at the end of PSEB has put the project into jeopardy.
According to reports, Joint Secretary of the Ministry of IT Rashid Bashir Mazari who also holds the temporary charge as MD PSEB blames former MD Zia Imran for the unwanted delay in the execution of mLab project.
Mazari says, being an officer from the private sector, Mr. Imran could not handle the legal procedures. Firstly, he did not seek the board’s approval for making the consortium and secondly the first installment PSEB received from the World Bank was deposited into a regular bank account without taking the approval from State Bank and the Finance Division. He should have not violated the rules.
“We have resolved the bank account issue and now seeking the approval from board of directors for the consortium”, said Mazari.
Industry analysts are of the view that IT industry world over is run by those who believe in strong planning, efforts and results within a defined timeline. Whereas, the existing matter is being taken care by bureaucrats who do not understand the importance of time.
While denying the claims of Mr. Mazari, sources confirmed that no member of the board is aware of the current development in this regard.
mLab project will include setting up of mobile phone applications lab in Pakistan. Foreign Instructors of best reputation will be delivering the lectures for which the courses have already been designed by the foreign faculty according to international standards. Donated amount will be spent on faculty, courses, hardware and management. The entire amount of USD 380,000 is pre-budgeted by the donors before the project was actually approved. Even a single penny cannot be spent on anything which was not planned earlier.
The reported issues are believed to be of no serious nature. An official of PSEB on the condition of anonymity revealed that there are few officials inside PSEB who want to disburse donated amount in their own way. They desire to induct their favorite people into the project for getting hefty pays and purchase hardware from their preferred vendors.
On the other hand infoDev official has raised serious questions on the credibility of people at PSEB. InfoDev has also threatened to award the mLab project to runner-up countries – India or Sri Lanka – if partners in Pakistan do not fulfill the commitment.
This is just one example of red-tapism and bureaucratic hurdles, there is another shameful example that is defaming this country likewise. Few years ago, World Bank funded NGO and the government of Baluchistan entered into an agreement of establishing 649 community schools with a WB aid of USD 22 mn. Baluchistan Education Support Program is the name of project that is being funded and supervised by WB funded NGO. Up till now, the project has been able to enroll more than 47,000 children out of which 41% are girls. These community schools have been opened across the province in all its 30 districts.
According to the agreement between WB and Government of Baluchistan, former is supposed to provide the funds for the construction of schools and hiring of teachers whereas government of Baluchistan agreed to bear the salaries of teachers and administrative expenses of the schools.
On papers it looked very understandable whereas, in reality, inflexible bureaucracy has halted the entire project and stopped funding the administrative expenses of these schools. The demand from government official is to involve Communication & Works department for the construction of schools or at least include the Deputy Commissioner into the board of directors.
According to media reports, BSEP official has already expressed that government’s demand is unacceptable as this will give rise to corruption and further slow down the project hence disturbing the entire educational theme.
In another such case, Syed Aun Abbas, CEO of the  ICT R&D – an independent government body – has rendered resignation to the board of directors of the fund. In his email to the board members, he says that bureaucratic hurdles has made it impossible to continue the work.
It all happened after a circular was issued by the secretary IT to the CEO and the members of the Fund which stated that the entire body comes under the umbrella of ministry of IT and approval must be sought from the secretary prior holding any meeting or taking any decision.
The email from CEO says, “if the directions of the IT secretary is complied with then i will merely be an administrator and not a decision maker. In that case any activity for the progress of IT industry would be compromised”.
At the moment, the board members have not accepted the resignation of CEO as yet and rather have asked him to keep fighting against this bureaucratic attitude unless it is resolved.
Industry experts are calling it the death of IT industry in Pakistan. If situation remains the same it would become impossible for the donor agencies to keep relying on Pakistani establishment for such creative projects which are otherwise impossible for our local governments to design and execute.

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