ISLAMABAD:Major chunk of resources are reported to have been consumed by the ruling political, bureaucratic and military elites of the country, said former Finance Minister Dr Hafeez Pasha, suggesting that the government should reduce electricity line losses and speed up privatization process to get rid of circular debt and losses incurred by the public sector enterprises.
He was speaking at the 3rd leg of the 22nd Sustainable Development Conference here at a penal discussion on Pakistan Economy: Stabilization with a Human Face, organized by Sustainable Development Policy Institute under the overarching theme of ‘Sustainable Development in a Digital Society’.
He said, out of a total of Rs 3,800 billion taxes, Rs 2074 billion have been consumed by the elites. He said 22% of agricultural land belongs to feudal lords whereas they pay only Rs 2 billion of income tax. Dr Pasha said the government had no other option but to go to IMF. He said instead of focusing on increasing the share of direct taxes, the government is still relying on indirect taxes to achieve the revenue target. Poverty level in Pakistan has increased from 36% to 40% in just one year, he said, adding that IMF gave all the major projections about the economy, but on poverty and unemployment, it is totally silent.
Dr Gonzalo Varela, Trade Economist of World Bank, said that the share of exports in the GDP is one of the lowest in the region. He said the government should provide level playing field to exporters so that they might enhance exports. Earlier, Dr Jochen Hippler, FES Country Director, said economy doesn’t have human face, but at the same time it has two faces which are economy and society and both are interlink.
Speaking at a concurrent session on Governance and Accountability of State Institutions and Officials in a Digitalized World: Case of Pakistan, Special Assistant to Prime Minister on Accountability, Barrister Shahzad Akbar said that in today’s digital society the governance does not mean ruling but a public service delivery. If a government fails to deliver, it should be kicked out, he said, adding that citizens check on the public service delivery is fundamental for accountability and good governance.
Mr Akbar said Technology and digitalization can help ensure the citizens participation and their feedback on government actions and policy decisions. Technology is downside too, where government is being judged on daily biases, he said, adding that there is a need for striking a balance between an individual and the whole society.
Mr Shahid Farooq, Project Manager, Punjab SDGs Support Unit, UNDP Lahore, urged the government to train the civil servants on the digital tools and technologies and stressed the need for revising national e-governance and Information Communication Technologies (ICT) policies in order to make it realistic. He said that ICT is a catalyst which can help accelerate good governance and ensure accountability.
Fayyaz Yasin, Director Pakistan Programme, Accountability Lab said that with the use of different technological tools we can make our system smoother and make accountability and governance more impactful.
Muhammad Aftab Alam, Founder and Head of Institute for Research, Advocacy and Development (IRADA) said that all the federal ministries didn’t comply with the law and failed to disclose 39 categories of public information on their respective websites. He urged the federal ministries to proactively disclose the information as required by law to help ensure transparency and accountability.
Speaking at a Panel discussion on Governing Water Resources of Pakistan Mr Mehr Ali Shah said there is no regulatory mechanism and also dwindling allocation of funds are making water scarcity in Pakistan. Unified water services should be provided in order to enforce laws and policies.
Mr Ahmed Rafay Alam said since water is a provincial subject, therefore, engagement of community should be ensured. We have framework for water resources but there is a need to implement it, he added.
Mr. Ashfaq Mahmood, former water and power secretary, said our system is slow in responding to the challenges. To strengthen the policies, and effective accountability system should be delivered. He stressed the need for partnership with media in order to educate public about the importance of water.
Other experts are of the view that all digital tools for water management should be available. Telemetry system should be operated in Pakistan. They stressed the need for implementing water policy of 2018, increase in investment and strengthening of the Ministry of Water.
Speaking at a concurrent session on Cyber Security and Cyber Crime in a Digital Society, CEO of Delta Tech Nahil Mehmood said Pakistan is significantly behind ensuring a robust cyber security posture of its public and private organizations, which poses a significant risk to the critical infrastructure and hence the national security. To cope with the problem, he proposed a 4-layer model covering security hardening, vulnerability management, security engineering, and security governance.
Ms Zaheema Iqbal from National Institute of Maritime Affairs said that the state of cyber security in Pakistan remains bleak and compromised due to lack of essential measures in information technology infrastructure. As the use of information technology applications increases over time, the need for cyber security becomes imperative.
Dr Rafi us Shan, Chief of Cyber Security, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Cyber Emergency Response Center, said that over the last two decade the amount of internet use has increased substantially where huge amounts of information is increasingly changing hands. He recommended a comprehensive cyber security framework driven by data protection authority.
Mr. Rafay Baloch, Advisor on Cyber Security, Pakistan Telecom Authority said that in global security index 2018, Pakistan ranked 94th in terms of cyber security. He emphasized the need for legislation to defend national economic assets, effective steps to deter wide spectrum of cyber threats, and train cyber security professionals.
Dr Hussain Shaheed Suhrawardy, Director, Peace and Conflict Department at the University of Peshawar said that the data of individuals continue to be at risk and is often hacked and misused. He mentioned that information technology has redefined the conduct and modalities of warfare.
Speaking at a Concurrent Session on Digitalizing Inclusion and Social Protection in Pakistan, Syed Muhammad Mustafa from GIZ Pakistan, discussed the benefits of one-window service for providing digital social protection in Pakistan. The government initiatives to help people with income support is in doldrums because there is no proper channel through which their data can be checked. He said 75% of the people getting assistance from Bait ul Mal are not eligible for the support.
Mr Mustafa said that under a single window service all the relevant data can be verified through a single window. With exclusion of many intermediates, physical attendance, etc. the government can provide benefits to the poor cost effectively. To a gestion, experts agreed that BISP could be adopted with a little intellectual modification in Pakistan.
Dr Sajid Ameen, SDPI Research Fellow, said an economist can emphasis the importance of using correct syntax, interpretations and data collections for making new policies and acquiring the desired results.
At another session on Ecological Transition to Sustainable Societies in a Digital Era: CPEC Perspective, Mr Huan Liu from Tsinghua University China said China has switched from emission reduction to technology-based transition and also highlighted various researches and projects regarding these transitions.
Mr Xiaofei Wang, GEIDCO China, said the demand for the primary energy will exceed in 2020, and stressed the need for saving energy to avoid peak load.
PTI MNA Kanwal Shauzab said the government is encouraging banks for green investment. She said the government is working on mobilizing private sector resources for infrastructure development. She also stressed the need for individual efforts for the conservation of water and other resources. She said that CPEC can also become an ecological corridor too.
Sudheendra Kulkarni from India said China-Pakistan Economic Corridor should be expanded into a regional connectivity project and India should also be part of CPEC. Peace can help resolve Kashmir issue. He was of the view that expansion of CPEC can create a new south Asia without wars.
Prof. Imran Khan from Arid Agricultural University said we are expecting a huge land cover change in CPEC, which can lead to ecological transitions in terms of water and air quality, etc. He also talked about some challenges in the trading like, provision of digital services and developing organizations to manage the emissions.
At a Concurrent session on Opening up Spaces for Transgender Community in a digital Era, Dr Qibla Ayaz, the Chairman of Council of Islamic Ideology, stressed on more social inclusion and state level measures to provide honourable living and employment opportunities.
Moon Ali, the Director Program, Khawaja Sara Society, Lahore and a Chartered Accountant, said we need to empower the community economically so that they can play a more substantial and useful role in the society. She also stressed the importance of family sensitization and highlighted the services her organization is providing to the transgender community.
Mohammad Faisal from Pakistan Bait ul Maal also stressed the importance of family’s acceptance and the necessity of sensitization of the immediate relatives in improving the living conditions for transgenders.
Abdur Rasheed Tokhai from the Council of Islamic Ideology said that CII supported the long-standing demand of self-perceived identity and lifting of discriminatory practices at state level against trans persons. He called upon the government to make appropriate arrangements in attainment of education and jobs to transgenders.
Alisha from UNDP and the first transgender who is MPhil scholar said she wants to establish an educational institution for her community.
Speaking at a concurrent session on SDGs Integration in Pakistan: Challenges, Opportunities and earning from the Region Prof. Dr Shaista Parvez Malik pointed out the gaps and spoke about the importance of integration between institutions for the better execution and stressed the need for focusing on joint policy sittings by all the pillars of policy process.
Dr. Shahid Naeem from Planning Commission mentioned the government’s efforts in achieving SDGs objectives and pointed out policy decisions taken during Local Government Summit in 2017. He more focused on provincial SDGs framework where there is more work required.
Mr Shoib Sultan Khan from NRSP explained the Phase-I of National Rural Support Program (NRSP) in which WISE consisting of 4 integrating SDGs were tested successfully. He focused on the importance of devolving financial powers to local bodies and CRPs for the effective implementation of SDGs.
At another panel discussion on ‘Managing Mental Health in a Digitalized Society’, Dr Shakil Malik from UK said 40 billion photos have been posted on Instagram in 2019. He emphasized that mental health is becoming an epidemic in Pakistan, where 20% people are the victims of mental illness which is causing other serious health problems such as cardiovascular diseases. “The use of gadgets is increasing day by day and it is posing serious threats to mental health of children as well as adults. In Pakistan, mental health facilities are close to non-existent, but Prime Minister Imran Khan is focusing on this issue by creating awareness.” He said the drug addiction, use of alcohol, cyber bullying and suicide rates are increasing day by day and have become serious issues around the globe.
Experts said that 25% of men and 35% women are suffering from mental illness in Pakistan. National monitoring by government is needed so that digital crimes can be controlled. “
They focused on all the issues which are caused by mental Illness. They emphasized that depression as an illness, caused by constant bombardment of information which is irrelevant to them and their lives. They highlighted a game Blue whale that has threatened the lives of our children. 3 children were affected by this game in Peshawar and one of them committed suicide.
By 2030, depression would become the leading cause of disability. They said that use of meditation apps should be promoted which can easily be accessed. There should be proper rules and regulations for use of digital technology by the government. Digital technology has both pros and cons. It was said that by the end of 2030, 6 trillion people would be suffering from mental health problems induced by digitalization of our society and beyond.
It was mentioned that there are some 20 billion users of social media and many of them are being affected by its extensive use which should be monitored by government.
Speaking at a concurrent session titled, Towards a Digital-ready Workforce, experts stressed the need for creating an enabling environment for digitalization. Ms. Ghazala Saifi, the Parliamentary Secretary, talked about the government’s role in mobilizing youth through skill development programmes. She said that CPEC will create more than 700,000 employment prospects for domestic workers for which efforts are being made in the form of several initiatives, including Competency Based Training modules.
The fourth industrial revolution is beginning to make its impact through digitalization with some skills becoming obsolete whereas new skills becoming more relevant. It was discussed that data and artificial intelligence will reduce the cost of business for industries. Therefore, policy interventions need to address the concerns of those who cannot be integrated in digital economy due to irrelevance of their skills.
The panel recommended that the government should provide a system and mechanism of social protection for workers along with bringing regulations in digital economy in order to formalize the sector while regulating duties and rights of employers and employees.