Perhaps on the basis of a few foreign reports of Pakistan’s economy showing signs of recovery, Prime Minister Imran Khan on Thursday said that the government was now moving to digitalise the...
Perhaps on the basis of a few foreign reports of Pakistan’s economy showing signs of recovery, Prime Minister Imran Khan on Thursday said that the government was now moving to digitalise the functioning of the government. However, not only is there little evidence to suggest an economic recovery is on the way, there is little evidence to show that digitalisation actually improves governance. The digitalisation of governance narrative is peddled by international lending organisations as a mechanism for creating ‘good governance,’ but it offers no guarantees of improving economic performance. While digitalisation is not a bad thing in itself, it is a project that has already been underway for a decade in the country. At the moment, there is little one can offer in terms of concrete comments about the Digital Pakistan proposal without more detail on what exactly the government is planning to do. The digitalisation of land records, government proceedings, traffic status, bill payments, and so much more had already reached a fairly advanced stage before the current government took power.
This is why the question of how the programme will be able to ‘deliver public welfare’ needs to be explained – instead of ‘digitalisation’ being talked about in a vague way. Transparent public services are a good thing, but this also requires money being put into public services. If the government is cutting the funding for public services, social welfare will continue to get worse – with or without digitalisation. The idea that the public and private sectors will be able to come together to create digital magic is also for now talk – despite the good intentions of the government.
No doubt Pakistan could benefit by becoming a hub for the world’s digital economy, but this requires creating the right foundations for the development of the IT sector. Right now, when it comes to e-commerce, Pakistan remains in the backwaters of the world’s digital economy, which means that there is enormous scope of opening up to this universe of commerce. There is a serious question of course over what digital commerce does to traditional commercial business. New jobs being created on the back of cuts in traditional jobs is not a solution to bring economic development to the country. There is an opportunity to bring together the digital and the real economy in the country, but the government’s think tanks will need to think concretely about this, rather than use digitalisation as a populist slogan.