Punjab has released a draft copy of its proposed “IT Policy” inviting the public to share input and thoughts on the draft.
Issued and prepared by PITB, the draft IT policy encompass various areas of Information Technology and related domains including health, entrepreneurship, education, governance and IT for citizen.
While its unclear that how this provincial IT Policy is going impact areas that are federal subjects, proposed policy aims to make Punjab a leading IT hub in the world through policies and arrangements that are in provincial control.
Not to mention, Ministry of IT and Telecom is working on National IT policy, that expired few years ago. Our latest national policy was issued sixteen years ago.
Mrs. Anusha Rehman, Minister for IT and Telecom, has repeatedly said that national IT Policy is in the making (for some years now), however, nothing substantial has come forward in this regard as of yet.
In such situation, Punjab has apparently taken a lead and has presented a set of policies for the betterment of IT industry, better usage of IT in heath, education and financial inclusion of masses and to make the province a better business place through productive, enhanced and relaxed ICT regulations.
As mentioned above, there are area where Punjab will have to rely on federal government for implementation of this provincial IT Policy.
Regarding the content of the Punjab IT Policy, it envisions following major goals:
- Bridge the digital divide across gender, region and economic classes and achieve accessible and affordable access for all.
- Position Punjab as the IT R&D and innovation hub of Pakistan.
- Establish Punjab as the preferred destination for local and international investment in the IT/ITES/EHM industries.
- Enable the entrepreneurial ecosystem to flourish in the field of IT/ITES/EHM.
- Increase financial inclusion and incentivise investment in innovative ICT technologies to promote e-commerce in the province.
- Create an enabling environment for IT Technologies and their safe usage through policy reform and improvements in legal framework.
- Use ICTs for enhancing the capabilities of citizens and setting forward a more inclusive and broader human development agenda.
- To endeavour for rapid expansion and growth of the knowledge based economy in the province.
- Strengthen and build human resource and increase employment opportunities through the use of ICTs.
- To utilize ICT for a more efficient transparent and green governance model in Punjab.
Below are some policy commitments in different areas that are worth mentioning:
- For bridging digital divide and to make broadband affordable for all
- Categorize Internet/Broadband as a basic utility, similar to Electricity, Water and etc.
- Introduce Right of Way Policy to acknowledge provision of broadband service as a key consideration to infrastructure development.
- Government shall aim to ensure that at least one member in every household be made digitally literate in the next 5 years
- Consider exemption from sales tax for cellular broadband services (its already exempted btw)
- Establish public WiFi hotspots across the cities to increase the access of internet
- Punjab as the IT R&D & Innovation Hub
- Innovation challenges at school and university levels
- Establishment of Punjab Innovation Fund (There’s a National ICT R&D Fund available btw)
- Reimbursements on Sales Tax proportionate to the investment made in R&D by businesses
- Provide low-interest and interest-free loans for start-ups and R&D firms.
- Making Punjab the preferred destination for local and international investment
- Tax-breaks and reimbursement based on the number of jobs created by a firm
- Provide reimbursements on sales tax to non-IT industries proportionate to the investment made in deployment of IT solutions and automation processes
- Establishment of special economic zones for the IT industry in Punjab
- Construct dedicated IT Parks in all major cities across Punjab
- An Enabling Environment for the Entrepreneurial Ecosystem to flourish
- Provide an exemption to Startups from all provincial taxes for a period of 3 years
- Set up a one-stop centre for registration, facilitation and exits of start-ups
- Launch a government-backed venture capital fund for provision of finances to potentially viable startups
- Provide a comprehensive set of incentives for VC funds and Angel Investors
- Increasing financial inclusion
- Shifting from cash to digital payments for government transaction
- Provide tax-breaks to firms engaged in R&D pertaining to the fin-tech industry
- Provide a 3-year break on sales tax for local clouds and data centers and firms working in Big Data Analytics.
- Introduction of ICT and Soft Skills as compulsory subjects at high school and intermediate level
- Engage with the State Bank of Pakistan to simplify the process of recording income by freelancers as export income and not remittances
- Introduce a Digital First Policy whereby all upcoming government services shall be offered digitally so as to reduce the operational and management costs
- Connecting all Government offices in and around the province Secretariat through fiber-connectivity backbone and encourage digital consultations among district managements
Policy draft can be downloaded from this link.
Punjab didn’t communicate a deadline for submission of any input or consultation of the policy.
It won’t be out of place to mention that Provincial IT Policy, after finalization, will have to go to provincial cabinet for approval, before its issued officially by the government of Punjab.