Many may recall when a few weeks back the newly elected government had quietly put into effect the Cyber Crime Law without taking into confidence either the IT industry or for that matter putting it up before the parliament for a proper debate before making it a fully implemented law. The Cyber Crime Law was the same old unedited document which had initially been prepared by the Ministry of IT back in October 2007, in the eagerness to implement the cyber law they ignored all suggestions that had been requested by the IT industry after the October draft was made public. Since then much has happened, once Musharraf promulgated the law in the early part of 2008 which lapsed after ninety days and more recently Mr. Asif Ali Zardari also pushed the law into effect.
The repeated attempts by the government to sneak a very important law has created a significant amount of mistrust between the civil society and the government, but despite all the negativity we as civil society cyber activists were genuinely pleased to welcome the initiative by the MoITT to have an open door meeting in preparation for drafting an ICT Policy for Pakistan and it resulted in a genuine participation by a large delegation of stake holders within the IT Industry ranging from public & private entities and even significant players from within the civil society to join forces and work towards a mutually acceptable futuristic looking ICT Policy for Pakistan.
The meeting was held in Lahore on 1st September, the MoITT as the organizers had initially come planned with an agenda but once the initial discussions kicked off everyone soon realized that the proposed plan as presented by the MoITT was a little unrealistic and ill-designed having the hallmarks a policy without throughly evaluating the genuine needs of the IT sector in general, but the most alarming observation was the haste (few months) in which the Ministry expected this policy to be drafted and then have it implemented in Pakistan for the next few years.
Realizing this disconnect, the members of the meeting in Lahore, with permission of the Chair (Parliamentary Secretary for IT) rehashed a carefully devised policy framework plan which could help everyone work towards a better policy easily incorporating input from all stakeholders of the concerned industry. At the conclusion of the meeting the plan was mutually accepted by everyone and preparation were set in motion to orchestrate a series of events spread across various cities of Pakistan allowing maximum input but slowly and deliberately moving towards a realistic and well formulated ICT vision for the upcoming few years.
Since the meeting in September, literally nothing was heard from the Ministry until very recently we get a whiff of an exclusive closed-door meeting held in Islamabad on 26th November which turned out to be a follow up for the ICT Policy, simply re-coined as a Task Force on Information and Communication Technologies [PDF file from Planning Commission) meeting, this time the Ministry choose not to invite most of the civil society members and by what transpired in those few hours, it seems that the Ministry has thrown out all earlier suggestions and has reverted back to its old plan
Sources suggest that this appears to be a strategic move to counter what had happened in Lahore at the ICT Policy meeting in September, since they were unable to railroad through the process then, they have now decided to form a new ‘taskforce’ incorporating the exact same working groups ultimately leading to the formation of the propose ICT Policy hence bypassing the entire planned process which was mutually agreed up a few months back. The various subgroups are now scheduled to meet within 10 days (latest by 10th Dec) and should definitely submit a draft paper at latest by the 26th of December to hopefully formulate the completed document none later then 5th February 2009 (two months).
This new taskforce seems to have all the signs of a MoITT, PSEB, PTA, Planning Commission initiative with some representation by larger companies like NetSol, LMKR and InBox and universities like LUMS, GIK, NUST and FAST being included for the educational aspects. The question that must be asked from the Ministry is what about representation from smaller companies, civil society groups, software companies, banks, telcos, multinationals and SME’s, aren’t they also stake holders in this all important policy
On one hand, one could understand the urgency exhibited by the organizer in drafting such an essential document which can easily be deemed monumental for leading the IT and Telecom industry forward, but somehow the Ministry fails to comprehend the gravity of the situation and neither does it weigh in the repercussion that such an ill-formed document may have on the future of Pakistan, an ill adopted, myopic plan will forever entangle the sector in endless bureaucratic red tape leading a reversal of fortunes for the next five years.
Though the effort urgently to nudge the process could be in good faith, but the failure to incorporate the opinions of all stakeholders despite our suggestions in September could generally mean a deliberate effort to force a top-down bureaucratic approach upon the industry, such an approach will actually invariable fall flat on its face since it more-or-less will be disconnected from majority of the stake holders, as opposed to a stakeholder-driven IT-policy which will genuinely be made and implemented by everyone around and stands to lead Pakistan well beyond the next five years which will be a genuine win-win situation for everyone
Reliable sources have also revealed that yet another closed door task force meeting is being scheduled for 4th of December at the NetSol campus in Lahore where a handful of ‘yes men‘ from the industry are again invited to deliberate the sensitive national issue. This seem to be an attempt to disguise the final outcome/recommendations as coming out of software industry and public interest although no public interest organization is included.
I believe its still not too late for the Ministry to revise it decisions and be more open to the policy making process. I suggest that the meeting scheduled for the 4th of December be open to public and hence forth the entire process clearly itemized allowing for everyone to be a part of the decision making process of their industry, its the least we can expect from a democratically elected government.