Some steps for progress

Wednesday / Oct 31 2018

Newspaper : The News

Pakistan today stands at the threshold of what could be a new and glorious era of socio-economic development. This requires some key initiatives.

The first and foremost of our priorities must be to focus on education, science, technology and innovation so that Pakistan can cash in on the demographic advantage that it has today of some 100 million below the age of 20. This huge creative potential could be unleashed through massive programmes in education, science, technology and innovation.

Primary and secondary education need to be integrated and brought under one platform through the formation of a Primary & Secondary Education Commission reporting directly to the prime minister, on the pattern of the Higher Education Commission. The entire school education system will need to be revamped with one National Examination Board, one examination, and one national selection process for all teachers across Pakistan.

The multiplicity of standards by so many different educational systems prevailing across the country has been one key reason for the fragmentation of our society. The provincial HECs should be converted into Higher Education Councils with focus on college education which has been in pathetic shape for decades. Higher education can be brought back on track by restarting the programs initiated by me as chairman HEC that were abandoned during the last decade, including the establishment of a number of foreign engineering universities and law universities.

The second major national initiative needs to be in the field of information technology. With relative little inputs, it can have a huge impact on the country’s socio-economic development. The quality of our IT education needs to be improved and young persons with bright ideas provided business incubation facilities with access to office space, mentoring, legal and financial services so that their talent can be allowed to bloom.

The advantage of investing in the fast developing field is that, in contrast to other industries where huge investments in infrastructure and machinery are needed, the IT industry can be developed through education and training. With such fields as robotics, machine learning, artificial intelligence, Internet of Things, big data, quantum computing etc developing rapidly, and with more and more services becoming available online, Pakistan should prepare itself for the 4th industrial revolution that is now upon us. By linking Nadra to the FBR database, a huge increase in the tax net could be immediately achieved by identifying rich tax dodgers.

The third major initiative that we need to take is the production of low cost energy, and supply of such electricity at a rate of no more than Rs6 / kWh to industry so that we can sharply decrease our price of manufacture and thereby make our exports more competitive than those from India, Bangladesh or other countries. This is now very possible as solar power plants can now produce electricity at Rs3 /kWh and an over 1000 MW plant is being installed in the UAE at a rate of about $0.029 (2.9 cents) /kwh. Hydroelectric power as well as wind power and power from indigenous coal can be produced and supplied to industry economically.

The fourth major initiative could be in the linked fields of agriculture and water where huge potential exists for increasing productivity through building dams and using modern techniques for increasing agricultural output and exports. The maximum impact on rural poverty alleviation comes from increased agricultural productivity. A clear strategic plan of what needs to be done to boost agricultural productivity is given in the 320-page roadmap for Pakistan produced under my leadership, ‘Technology Based Industrial Vision and Strategy for Pakistan’s Socio-economic Development, which was approved by the cabinet in August 2010.

However, the most important of the steps needed would be an overall clear vision and strategy to transition from the present low-value agricultural economy to a strong knowledge economy. This requires the prime minister himself to lead from the front. Such a transition can be achieved by an across-the-board change of national policies on the pattern of that done by China, Korea and Singapore. It could be given a jump start by linking it to CPEC, where high-technology industrial states could be established with support from China so that Pakistan can start to manufacture and export computers, electronics, pharmaceuticals, biotechnology products, minerals, engineering goods, automobiles, aircraft, ships, IT products and other high-value items.

Some Asian countries have made remarkable progress in the last three decades due to a strong, visionary and honest leadership. The leaderships of Deng in China, Lee Kwan Yew of Singapore, General Park in Korea and Mahathir Mohammed in Malaysia were responsible for these transformations in their respective countries.

The pathetic state of science in Pakistan is reflected in the fact that the Ministry of Science & Technology was released less than Rs0.9 billion in the last financial year to promote science and technology but some Rs.60 billion were spent on a 27 km strip of track in Lahore for the Orange line. If this is not criminal waste of national funds, what is? The expenditure on the Orange Line was 300 times higher than that on the entire science and technology development budget of Pakistan. It was also about 30 times higher than the total development budget for higher education, for which only Rs15 billion were released. The enemies of Pakistan are not just some foreign nations; they are among us, and it is they who are responsible for the economic disaster that we face today.

Alas, the constitution of Pakistan has failed us and provided space to these political criminals who have looted the country at will. The 18th Amendment played a major role by allowing huge funds to be transferred to the provinces, thereby weakening the federal government; these funds then ended up as foreign assets of the corrupt. We need to understand that the constitution must serve the people of Pakistan, and if this is not achieved, then it needs to be amended. If there ever was a case for the chief justice of the Supreme Court to take suo-motu notice, it is to examine the amendments to the constitution and to revoke those that are not in the public interest.

History has presented a challenging opportunity to Pakistan with the advent of Imran Khan, committed to root out corruption. Unless exemplary punishment is awarded to those responsible for the loot and plunder of tens of billions of dollars in the last three decades, this vicious circle will not break. The PM must also make education, science, technology and innovation top national priorities to build Pakistan into a strong knowledge economy. In this task he needs to be guided by a strong team of technocrat ministers and secretaries.


The writer is the former chairman of the HEC, and president of the Network of Academies of Science of OICCountries (NASIC).