The Board of Executive Directors of the World Bank will evaluate the $78 million “Pakistan: Digital Economy Enhancement Project” next month. The objective of the initiative is to improve the government’s ability to deliver digitally-enabled public services to residents and enterprises.
The project documentation demonstrated a lack of integrative approach to digital government services. Despite the availability of policy instruments at the federal and provincial levels, implementation support is lacking at the responsible institutions, resulting in missed opportunities across multiple subsectors.
In spite of relatively robust national ID and payment systems, the absence of interoperability frameworks and methods has hindered the government’s (and non-government players’) ability to communicate data safely and seamlessly.
The proposed project outcome indicators are transactions on the National Data Exchange Layer (Number), unique users on the National Citizen Services Portal (of which are female initiated) (Number and percentage), Registration, Licenses, Certificates, and Other (RLCOs) transaction processed on the Pakistan Business Portal (of which processed for female-led small and medium enterprises) (Number), and users satisfied with services provided by the Nation Services Portal (Number) (percentage).
Pakistan has undergone periodic macroeconomic crises as a result of a growth model reliant on private and government consumption, with productivity-enhancing investment and exports generating relatively small gains. In the last two decades, per capita gross domestic product (GDP) growth has averaged less than two percent. Recent extraordinary floods will undoubtedly have significant effects on poverty, human development, and economic progress.
In addition, it was stated that Pakistan has begun its digital transition. During the pandemic, Internet connectivity, particularly mobile, and demand for digital services have increased. Pakistan trails below regional peers in most digital development rankings, including digital infrastructure (connectivity), digital governance, and the climate for the digital economy.
Recent achievements in digital government services for Pakistan include the successful use of digital technologies to rapidly deploy the Emergency Cash Program to mitigate the socioeconomic effects of the pandemic, demonstrating the strength of the national identity (ID) system managed by NADRA and socioeconomic data in the National Socio-Economic Registry (NSER). Pakistan’s Instant payment system (RAAST) enables new digital government-to-person payment options.
In addition, approximately four million Pakistani individuals have been utilising the Pakistan Citizen’s Portal, a smartphone application that promotes citizen-centric participatory governance and functions as a statewide grievance redress mechanism. These efforts demonstrate the possibility of expanding digital government and commercial sector services. A holistic strategy to digital government services is nonetheless mainly absent.
Pakistan’s policy and regulatory framework need modifications, implementation assistance, and greater coordination between the regional and federal governments. The digital policies of state governments focus on four important factors, including the improvement of connectivity, digital government services, literacy, and the economy. The federal government has approved the Pakistan Cloud First Policy (2022) and the Public and Private Right-of-Way Policy Directive in support of specific sectoral demands such as cloud computing and right-of-way requirements of telecom operators (2020). A data protection measure has been prepared and released for first consultations, but additional work is required to align the bill with worldwide best practises and ensure that the domestic data economy is not overly constrained. Nevertheless, despite the availability of policy instruments at the federal and provincial levels, the respective institutions lack implementation support, resulting in squandered opportunities in numerous subsectors.
In spite of an effective regulator and an open licencing system, the nation faces a variety of digital gaps in terms of connectivity, economic possibilities, and digital skills. There are 194 million cell phone users and 124 million internet users in the world. However, the great majority of internet users rely on 3G/4G connections, and only 2% of households have access to fixed broadband, restricting data-intensive business and service delivery prospects. Investments in fixed-line broadband are anticipated to continue at a sluggish rate only in affluent areas, which would worsen existing geographic disparities. Infrastructure sharing is restricted, resulting in increased capital and operating expenses, which further restricts network expansion. Foreign direct investment in the sector, which was one of the economy’s bright spots for nearly two decades, has also dropped over the past four years. Right-of-way (RoW) permissions have been curtailed and the cost of deploying fixed broadband networks has escalated due to overlapping jurisdictions and varying planning requirements at different levels of government. Reforms to improve the legislative and regulatory environment, as well as the implementation capabilities of key institutions, are urgently required, especially for processing licences for the RoW.