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Digital Pakistan Vision and the Challenges

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The world is going digital and countries hopping on the new platform are the ones reaping the benefits most out of it. Pakistani authorities have been working to achieve the goal but there are several challenges in acquiring a digital Pakistan.

Pakistan is among such fortunate countries where the youth population is 60% of the total population. This percentage of regular users of digital services such as digital payments or e-payments, internet access and professionals in smartphone world provide infinite opportunities to succeed in going digital.

It is the gigantic and innovative initiative taken by Prime Minister Pakistan to upgrade digital banking infrastructure and easing the conditions or requirements and exhausting paperwork to avail digital services such as e-payments, online transactions and the issuance of credit cards, and their use at Online stores i.e in-store shopping, Fuel fill-up at stations, online utility Bill payments and Universities Fee Payment  Gateways, but unfortunately, such easy and instant payment facility is currently available to Elite  Business class and involves too much  Paperwork, guarantees and regulations.

Government needs to overhaul the whole banking infrastructure and encourage businesses, retailers, Fuel Stations, PIA, Railways ticketing, superstores, schools, and colleges to introduce payment gateways and banks should offer credit cards to businessmen and especially to government employees since they will use such services when they run short of funds, falling prey to illegal Interest-based lenders who squeeze them financially and socially.

These banks there other banks that are issuing credit cards such as  HBL, MCB, ABL, Faisal Bank, Askari bank and JS banks. The average interest or Mark up charged   40% which is very high as compared to other countries

The innovative digital payments will remove their financial constraints and the funds will be utilized based on a credit limit for 45 to 51 days and the bills can be paid through salaries decreasing chances for collateral damage or any default.

It would be great to boost and promote digital services paving the way for International digital bigwigs i.e. Google, PayPal, Amazon, eBay, Yahoo, Alibaba Group, Alipay, Stripe and Apple to enter Pakistani financial markets specially the PayPal, eBay and Amazon are strongly required by Freelancers and authors to get their Payments processed.

At Present, only Skrill, Payoneer and Traditional IBAN/Swift code or wire transfers are available to Pakistan which is very costly, Time consuming having inflated fees of 10% to 30% plus  Bank charges of local Bank to process the amount. On the other hand, our neighboring country India has reaped the benefits digital world as the world’s best companies i.e. PayPal, Amazon and Google are serving the country with their innovative digital products and services.

By giving access to these Digital Payment Giants, Pakistan will open doors for  Foreign Direct Investment and it will also reduce the heavily demanded  Paper currency as  People avoid using cash and prefer to use their credit and debit cards at online stores, in-store shopping purposes.

Even Pakistan’s governance Model may go ahead with modernizing and upgrading the Reporting system, Complain Management, Receipts, and Payments, Public Sector spending through an electronic dashboard that will refresh automatically if any Development related or Public sector transaction takes place. Even governance could improve if governance Model is implemented by imparting pieces of training to Staff, Officers and Officials at the Federal, Provincial and District levels so that proper reporting channels may be built to ease the complicated process and ensure transparency.

The Sale and Purchase of properties and estate should be digitized and automated so that revenue records may reflect the history of Property owners to do away with any claim or objection. The Ownership certificates, Heirship certificates, Birth Certificates, Domicile, PRC and all other certificates should be generated online through developing software mobile applications of  Android or ios devices that will reduce the process and improve the productivity of the Public sector Institutes.

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The process of employees’ performance evaluation, superannuation and pension may also be automated so that the entire employment record will be available when they reach their point of promotion, superannuation or drawing pensions. The Personal IDs must be opened online through scale-wise Supervisors i.e. District Accounts Officers, Account Generals of Provinces and Accountant General of Pakistan so that trail may be available to track salary disbursements.

At Present, only Skrill, Payoneer and  Traditional IBAN/Swift code or wire transfers are available to Pakistan which is very costly, Time consuming having inflated fees of 10% to 30% plus  Bank charges of local Bank to process the amount

Furthermore, the process of voter lists should also be automated and Election Commission of Pakistan must make it available to all the citizens to register their vote when they reach at the age of 18 after getting their CNIC/Smart cards or Form B. This will enable district Election Commissioner Offices to enter the data online and consolidate the voter lists.

There should be a central directorate of all the departments so that they may have coordination on digital grounds especially the FBR, AGP, Finance Ministry and Departments, Establishment division, cabinet division, NAB and Intelligence Directorates.  Digital Pakistan’s vision will have a great impact to attract Foreign Direct Investment, strengthening of Rupee against Dollar, stabilization of the economy and discouraging paper currency that usually falls heavy upon rupee and due to substantial pressure, the rupee gets devalued and inflation jumps up.

We are too excited after Tanya Aidrus and Baqar’s statements during Digital Pakistan Vision launch and they were very confident that their sacrifices of higher paychecks for the sake of the country are highly appreciable but they will be facing resistance from the stakeholders who have been misusing the manual system for decades and it is an uphill task to compel such elements to adopt and use this digital Endeavour which will choke their corruption stream but may streamline things for the common people.

The other resistance will be from the provinces where PTI is on opposite Benches especially in Sindh and Baluchistan. It will be a big ask and the challenge that the initiated by  IT and Telecom Ministry will achieve its desired objectives given the challenges of shortage of IT Skilled Staff and messed up the bureaucratic structure.

The government should make digital literacy a compulsory part in every ministry at the Federal, provincial and district levels by setting up IT Skill development centers to train the supervisory and office staff so that digital communication infrastructure may be implemented.

There is no dearth of talent in our youth but they need support and sponsorship to do wonders. Moreover, the Government should establish a venture capital firm to support, incubate, accelerate and fund the Startups that will ultimately develop and accelerate the mushrooming growth of big startups.

The entrepreneurship courses must be introduced with help of  SMEDA, LUMS, IBA Karachi, IBA, Sukkur, SZabist, NUST, FAST, COMSATS, Virtual University and SDPI  so that entrepreneurs may learn to launch their startups successfully to conquer the digital world.

The Startups such as Careem, Bykea, and Rozee.pk are some the great examples of successful Startups. Globally, the Youth after getting their education, start their businesses to create employment but in Pakistan youth after passing Graduation and Masters, start hunting for a job. That is why Pakistan has a high level of Unemployment as youth avoid entering entrepreneurship since they lack skills, training, and financial resources.

Rupee against Dollar, stabilization of the economy and discouraging paper currency that usually falls heavy upon rupee and due to substantial pressure, the rupee gets devalued and inflation jumps up

Punjab IT Board has done a tremendous job by incubating, funding and accelerating startups in the public sector under the Plan9 and PlanX programs but it should be followed by all the Provinces so the proper Startup culture could be developed. Higher Education Commission, IT Boards, Technical Education, Intermediate education boards should promote digital Pakistan vision by introducing governance, payment solutions and fund the Ideas at School and college level.

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It is a good sign that  Online shopping Sites have experienced a mushrooming growth but mostly they accept the traditional Cash On Delivery Model (COD) which often causes losses if the customer returns the product or unavailable or Unwilling to receive the product.

E-payments ensure that the product is shipped to the target buyer or customer who needs it. Though some Online shopping sites such as Popular Daraz.pk and Yayvo.com have started accepting Credit/Debit Cards issued by Pakistani Banks but still the number of transactions is very low owing to hassles involved in getting credit cards from the banks.

At present, Only a few banks are issuing Credit Cards with Online Transactions and Point of Sale (POS) Transactions that include Standard Chartered Bank, unfortunately, limited to big cities such as Karachi, Lahore, Islamabad, Other one include Bank Al Falah which issues Credit Cards on quick processing lasting for 10 to 20 days.

Silk Bank is also the favorite bank of many customers who are interested in digital Transactions. Silk Bank offers a wide range of Credit Cards as per Income Levels of customers. UBL is also offering credit cards but it has too many conditions and terms.

Besides, these banks there other banks that are issuing credit cards such as  HBL, MCB, ABL, Faisal Bank, Askari bank and JS banks. The average interest or Mark up charged   40% which is very high as compared to other countries. The government especially state Bank of Pakistan must direct the public and Private banks to lower the markup ratio and ease the conditions to avail this facility especially suited to salaried class and Businessmen.

In Big cities, credit cards are issued instantly by Commercial Banks to the salaried Employees of Government and Companies but in small cities, the untrained and local managers avoid issuing credit cards to customers since it involves risks of recovery or payment of credit Bill.

I have personally visited many banks where I maintain my bank account, but regrettably, all the managers expressed their inability or forbade to get Credit Cards since it is very costly and you cannot be issued credit cards in small cities.

Punjab IT Board has done a tremendous job by incubating, funding and accelerating startups in public sector under the Plan9 and PlanX programs but it should be followed by all the Provinces so the proper Startup culture could be developed

Well, one will surely experience such embarrassment and inconvenience at the hands of Non-Professional Managers who are picked to only raise the deposits whereas the quality of service is compromised at the hands of such amateurs.

Therefore, Ms Tanya Aidrus head Digital Pakistan Vision and her team at Digital Pakistan Initiative will have to work out to appease the stakeholders to achieve the desired goals set as per the tenure of PTI so that Pakistanis may reap the benefits from this digital world.

To achieve this goal, the portfolio of IT and Telecom ministry must be given to a professional who should be well versed in IT and telecom preferably a Computer science or IT Graduate to pilot this project to achieve the goals in a given clear framework.

There is also a big concern regarding inflated Taxes levied upon the business community which needs to be reduced if they use Digital currency since Digital Currency will enable FBR to track payments and appraise the financial strength of the Individuals.

The e-Currency spectrum will help reduce the crime rate, tax evasion, hoarding of money as People will use credit cards and digital wallets such as PayPal, Ali Pay, Google pays those can easily be tracked and monitored through digital systems.

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Diplomacy

For The First Time In 74 Years, Pakistan is Going To Turn Gems, Jewelry And Minerals Into An Export Industry: PM

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Prime Minister Imran Khan chaired a meeting of the Gems, Jewellery and Minerals Task Force. The meeting was attended by Federal Minister for Industry Makhdoom Khusro Bakhtiar, Special Assistant Dr. Shahbaz Gill, Chairman Gems and Jewellery Task Force Engineer Gull Asghar Khan, Atif Khan, members of the task force and relevant senior officers. During the meeting, recommendations were made to the Prime Minister on the restructuring of the Gems, Jewellery and Minerals Division of the Task Force and the proposed Mineral City.

The meeting was informed that Pakistan has a potential of USD 5 billion annually in terms of exports of precious stones which will have a positive impact on the national economy and create millions of jobs. Pakistan currently has reserves of 99 types of precious stones and is the eighth largest producer in the world. Moreover, according to conservative estimates, Pakistan consumes 200 tons of gold annually. With effective legislation and better management of this sector, it will be transformed into a major export industry.

The meeting was informed that Gems and Jewellery have been given industry status and its implementation will be ensured as per the strategy of the task force. In order to increase exports, special attention will be given to export promotion for which assistance will also be sought from Pakistani embassies. In addition, a Gems and Jewellery City will be set up to pool resources, provide one-window operations to address the problems the sector is facing and provide incentives to investors. Initially, a public-private partnership model will be adopted using existing resources.

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Pakistan will also actively seek sector-related certifications for access to international markets. It will not only improve the standards of not only precious stones but also precious metals but will bring the current standards at par with internationally recognized standards. The meeting was also informed that despite the availability of research resources in this field, no significant progress has been made. According to the strategy, all modern standards will be introduced by utilizing the research sector. The meeting was also given a detailed briefing on the establishment of Mineral City.

An area has been identified for the chemical and mineral industry in Pakistan where industrial value addition from crude minerals will not only help reduce imports but also increase foreign exchange from exports. The Prime Minister said on the occasion that the government was restructuring the sector with modern technology by changing the traditional practices of the minerals and precious stones sector. The Prime Minister further directed that all the resources that are being wasted should be utilized and a schedule should be worked out for the implementation of this strategy with clear-cut timelines as well as the existing barriers for investors should be eradicated.

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Canada

Socio-Economic Implications of Canadian Border Closure With U.S

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After doing a  detailed analysis of the situation emerging from the closure of the border between    Canada and  US, it could be assessed that how damaging the decision is for the  Economy of Canada, and how beneficial, it will be for Canada, if it decides to re-open the Border which is closed over the fears of an outbreak of Covid-19 Pandemic.

Since, some people think that given the maximum number of  Covid-19 cases and several deaths worldwide, the decision should stay as there are thousands of cases and deaths over covid-19 in the US. They deem it a good step to keep the border shut over the fears of  Novel Corona Virus with the US and Mexico. 

Though some sections consider the move as a right decision based on the covid0-19 statistics some experts term it very dangerous for  Canadian Economy as it will be affected as major industries such Tourism and Travel, Immigration affected very badly and economic cannot be put on hold for long as the numbers show that  75% to 80% Canadian exports go to the US while 30% to 40% US exports make their way in  Canada.

Thus the economy has been hit very badly due to this prolonged closure and shutdown of Economic activities will ultimately pose a grave threat to falling in Recession and Falling of  Reserves.

The Canadian authorities will have to swallow a hard pill to re-open the b border for essential and non-essential travel since both types of entries in the country contribute to the economy of the country.

At the moment, Canada has limited Covid-19 infections as compared to the US that has a massive number of infections in the world.

According to the Border Management Experts, this could be the only problem that might have prompted  Canadian Prime Minister to extend the closure for another month until some  SOP’s may be developed to ensure on border covid-19 Testing and Scanning so that preventive measures should be taken to keep the infection ratio low in Canada.

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 The World economies are affected very badly over the lockdowns announced to prevent Covid-19 outbreak and their economy has been under pressure already and the financial experts predict the worst type recession shortly. 

The people of both countries are of the view that the Prolonged border closure has caused an economic crisis and several Industries such as Hotel Industry, Travel Tours and Immigration, Food and beverages Industry, sports Industry, Education have been affected very badly and both Canada and the US cannot afford to sustain more jolts to their economy as economic activities have dropped to almost  80%  and ring the alarm bells for the leadership to decide immediately what their next plan will for the border.

Whether they will reopen it in phases or provide restrict access to essential travel such health workers, Airline Crew, Food and Goods services, People visiting ailing relatives and other related activities that fall within the purview of  “ essential”.

Although, the global Pandemic has created a situation like recession which is going from bad to worse each Passing day, yet in such scenario “keeping borders Closed” for trade and Business Opportunities and other travel, entertainment industry, will incur an irreparable loss to the Economy of both Canada and US as both countries have signed several Trade Agreements and US has been losing millions of Dollars in terms ” US Entry Waivers” and this is putting pressure on world’s biggest economy. 

Even it is a great blow to the Immigrants who wish to travel to neighbouring countries.

Both Canada and the United States are providing millions of dollars to people as relief package, Health and social security and other procurements such  Covid-19 testing kits and establishing new isolation and Quarantine centres as the infections surge in the US and worldwide.

In such circumstances halting economic activities are suicidal for  Canada and Virus affected the US  by keeping borders close for non-essential or optional purposes despite putting some curbs on essential travels such putting immigrants in 14 days quarantine and other immigration-related curbs. 

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The economists fear that what would be the consequences if the covid-19 vaccine was unavailable till the end of the year 2021, will they still keep the border closed, sounds like insensible and disastrous for all types Industries and Sectors including  Immigration and Border services. 

So, it would be prudent on the part of Both Canada and US  to think over the re-opening of their border so that people intending to visit their relatives on both sides of borders may have uninterrupted access and they must be facilities at the border checkpoints for covid-19 so that the fears of  Canadian authorities about getting soaring infections may be dispelled by assuring them safety measures at border crossing points.

Furthermore,  the fears cannot be treated with medicines but they could be soothed with confidence-building measures as the statistics show that  65% Canadian fear to get contracted by Virus while over 60% US people have a similar situation for contracting virus.

Despite all this, nobody knows that when these borders will reopen for general people apart from essential travel as most people are in the grip of fear and prefer staying at home as per WHO guidelines, that may be the issue that both Canadian and US Governments are lingering on the issue and prefer extending closure as both nations enjoy cordial relation and the closure is a mutual decision of both countries.

Recently, though some Tour industry groups recorded their protest and demanded to re-open the border. The decision could not be influenced until the general public presses their respective Governments to review the decision and take some bold steps to save their economies falling to prey to this pandemic.

Both Canada and the US  cannot afford to lose millions of Dollars in border trade and border revenues such as Entry waivers, customs etc to boost their economies.

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Economy

PM to Inaugurate the First One-Window EHSAAS Center Tomorrow

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Under the Ehsaas umbrella, there are many programs for 14 different target groups. But often, a poor family is not aware of the benefits they are entitled to and, if they are aware, they have to go to multiple offices to seek help. With One Window Ehsaas, the aim is to deliver services through a single window, a one-stop shop.

One Window Ehsaas has six pillars: A One Stop Shop, the Ehsaas Center; a public facing digital information and services platform; mobile app; back office consolidated digital interface; Cognitive API architecture, or the integrated national socioeconomic database; and finally, the Ehsaas One-Window Beneficiary Selection and Targeting Policy.

The first One Window Ehsaas Center is opening in Sitara Market today in Islamabad. In this center, all Ehsaas services can be accessed in one place. To facilitate Ehsaas Kafaalat beneficiaries, whose families receive stipends, both Point of Sales machines as well as cash machines or ATMs have been placed in the One Window Center. Partner banks have opened their branches in the center, and NADRA office has been set up as well.

Having all these services in one center can significantly facilitate an Ehsaas Kafaalat beneficiary, who often previously needed to go to many offices to get complaints resolved. Ehsaas stipends for children can be accessed at the center also. The digital system, which has recently been put in place does real time verifications from three data sources before the child is enrolled in the program and if the child doesn’t have a Birth registration form—which is a prerequisite for enrollment—the mother can just walk the courtyard to get it made in the NADRA center rather than taking taxi to go to another site. Ehsaas Nashonuma services are also available in the center.

Children at risk of stunting and pregnant mothers can get specialized nutritional food from the office and cash stipends from the ATM. They get awareness session as well on health and nutrition. Antenatal services and immunization services are available at the center. Students can walk into the center and get information about Ehsaas Undergraduate Scholarship, and they don’t have to pay in an internet café to fill their application.

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In the One Window center, there is free use of internet, computer and printer. In the One Window center, someone, looking for a livelihood opportunity can visit Ehsaas Amdan and Ehsaas Interest Free Loan Desks. A person in need of financial assistance for health can find out about Sehat Sahulat and, if not entitled in Sehat Sahulat or not in an empaneled hospital can be channeled to Ehsaas Tahafuz or PBM’s health related financial assistance systems. In One Window service, there also are many care services. Somebody wanting to spend a night in Panagah can book a bed and get free One Star bed and breakfast facility.

People can admit a child in an orphanage; and a young woman can get information and be admitted in a vocational center. A street child can be admitted in one of our free schools. Ehsaas Registration Desks have been set up where people can get surveyed, to ascertain if they are eligible for Ehsaas benefits. In the center, Dashboards, display information relevant to people’s needs and complaints are addressed in real time.

There is also a beneficiary retiring room, in case a woman comes with a child and needs to feed her. A differently abled individual can have multiple avenues of redress in the center. Processes are being made simpler so that they can get a disability card made with ease. In the same disability room, NGOs are given space to provide free prosthesis and orthoses. Also, a customized wheelchair can be ordered.

The second part is the digital e-portal with people centered information; this was built learning from the questions on social media about various Ehsaas programs. The third part of One Window Ehsaas is an app which mirrors information on the digital portal but in addition, it also marks locations of our service sites: Langars, Panagahs and payment sites. When opened from a mobile, an individual can be navigated to the address.

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This app is enabled with a camera, which allows a photograph to pick the geolocation of an Ehsaas social welfare site to be mapped. The fourth part is the integrated digital interface facing the back office, which facilitates access of all those working in the Ehsaas ecosystem to appropriate links and resources. The fifth component of One Window Ehsaas is the integrated database. Previously the 2010 BISP data was siloed; even provincial social protection agencies had to do paperwork to access the database and there were costs involved.

Now, under the Ehsaas data reform, all federal Ehsaas implementing agencies will be able to access data from the 2021 Ehsaas National Socio-economic Registry through APIs with no cost at all. This two-way data sharing will also enrich the data repository. Data integration will also enable transparency. Agencies will be able to see what benefits an individual or the family are getting, and the entitlements they have in terms of various Ehsaas programs.

The sixth pillar of One Window Ehsaas, is the Standardized Beneficiary Targeting Policy. Previously, all agencies used their own eligibility ascertainment system—this Policy will compel standardized beneficiary targeting using the Proxy Means Test, which uses information on household and individual characteristics to compute an algorithm generated score (0-100) for each household, which then serves as a proxy for welfare status.

The information needed to generate the score comes from the National Socioeconomic Survey. So, in the One Window Policy specific PMTs were stipulated for each program and a policy devised to do away with duplications. “We will open Ehsaas One Window Centers in every district”, said Dr. Sania.

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