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Pakistan is rapidly expanding into the digital realm for its tertiary sector. The incumbent government, especially necessitated by the Covid-19 pandemic, has established a number of institutional mechanisms to ensure the country takes full advantage of the information technology (IT) boom, and establishes itself prominently in the IT sector.There are a number of specialized technology zones in Pakistan and you can find all about them here. The federal government is also working to boost the technology zones for foreign investment. Let’s now look at the most recent developments.
Pakistan’s Electronic Money Institutions
Pakistan has made significant advances in its Information and Technology (IT) sector recently, especially during the pandemic. During fiscal year 2020-2021 exports remittances from IT and IT-enabled Services (ITeS) have grown by a whopping 46% to reach USD 1.7 billion, compared with USD 1.17 billion during the same period of 2019-2020.
Advisor to Prime Minister on Commerce, Abdul Razak Dawood, has stated that as these numbers maintain an upward trajectory, these exports are all set to cross the USD 2 billion mark. In order to maintain the trend, Dawood has announced that the Ministry of Commerce will take all measures necessary to facilitate the exporters.
These developments come after a robust policy instrument introduced by the State Bank of Pakistan (SBP), the National Payment Systems Strategy (NPSS). This is aimed at making access to financial services easier for people and help improve financial inclusion, particularly for women, along with greater documentation of the economy.
This is a detailed policy instrument that necessitates the SBP to classify all payment systems operating in the country as digital payment systems (DPSs), with each payment system and instrument being designated specifically.
Pakistan’s growing IT-based exports are a testament that there is great potential for further expansion in this sector. Besides this, Pakistan has also been ranked as the third most popular country for freelancing, as the country’s IT companies continue to provide products and services to renowned global companies.
As Pakistan continues to produce a large number of IT professionals, an unprecedented number of businessmen have moved their transactions online. This has occurred especially during the pandemic as the number of e-commerce merchants registered with banks has increased from 1,400 to 2,500. To facilitate e-commerce, the SBP has approved 3 such fintech solutions.
Pakistan’s Electronic Money Institutions
TAG was the first mobile app to get its approval from the SBP, and so is considered to be the pioneer open mobile wallet and debit card. The app is still running its pilot, and is expected to be launched later this year.
TAG will allow users to pay their utility bills, recharge mobile credit, and also manage how they spend their money.
PayFast is an app that has been developed by the Avanza Premier Payment Services (APPS), and is the first app to be given a license by the State Bank of Pakistan (SBP). This is the first-of-its-kind app that is specifically designed for the merchants and businessmen to receive payments from a number of payment portals such as bank accounts, wallets, as well as domestic and international payment schemes, at competitive fees.
What is even more important to note here is that the app employs a state-of-the-art security system which mitigates risks for customers, and acts as a defence mechanism against any possible fraudulent behaviour.
PayFast is a vision for the future of payment systems in Pakistan and is aimed at revolutionizing the country towards a cashless society.
Akhter Fuiou Technologies (AFT) E-Wallets
AFT is a collaboration between three large business groups of Pakistan and China, and has been given a license to start operating their e-wallets in Pakistan. The basic aim of AFT e-wallets is to digitize activity in the Fast Moving Consumer Goods (FMCG) industry and the agriculture sector, to cause greater financial inclusion.
The aim of AFT is to create a network for inward and outward of cash flows, specifically remittances, which the SBP also wants to increase. The partners at AFT e-wallets believe that tailor-made solutions for Pakistan will revolutionize customers’ experience in making payments in the country.
Apart from this, various other government platforms have sought to introduce policies, aimed at improving lives, especially during the pandemic, such as Ehsaas Saving Wallets.
PITB IT Initiatives During The Pandemic
Education remains the most affected by the pandemic, with the future of many pupils hanging in the balance. While e-learning has become the norm in the last year, realizing unequal access to online learning forums, the Punjab Information Technology Board (PITB) has announced plans to develop a mobile app to promote reading in the country. The app will have features like e-books, digital content, e-catalogue, and secure online free and paid reading facility.
PITB has signed MoUs with at least nine organizations, including Urdu Digest, Ferozsons, Afaq, Evolve, Hina, Jugmag, V-Shine, ModelMag and She Magazine to provide useful educative and informative digitized content including encyclopedias, books, & periodicals. Another paid facility will also be launched for the latest publications. The PITB Director General of e-Governance, Sajid Latif signed MoUs at Arfa Software Technology Park in December 2020 to ‘promote reading culture among the youth by giving them digital access to a range of publications.’
Moreover, PITB has initiated a number of similar IT campaigns. The all-encompassing of these is a digital policy to promote the digital economy, information and communication industry and e-governance in the province.
Punjab Finance Minister Makhdoom Hashim Javan Bakht says a modern monitoring system will ensure reduction of corruption opportunities and improvement in service delivery. The initiatives are:
- Baldia Online
- Qeemat Punjab
- Police Khidmat Markaz
- E-Khidmat Center
- Citizen Feedback Monitoring Programme
While automation work on Taleem Ghar, E-Transfer System for Teachers, Smart Monitoring of Development Projects, Flour Ledger E-Management System, Human Resource Information System, the Charity Registration Portal System, E-Stamping, e-Filing and Central Prison Management System are nearing completion.
These measures will also address the issue of cybersecurity and E-commerce, and bring them under the direct supervision of the federal government. For smooth functioning of this policy, the private sector has also been engaged.
Under the PITB, live COVID-19 Dashboard, Imdad Program, and Corona Relief Tiger Force App have also been set up. These are some of the most helpful initiatives as they allow citizens to monitor the ongoing situation in the pandemic.
The Punjab Excise and Taxation Department has also taken an initiative to employ technology and identify tax evaders.