At this critical juncture when the country faces deep economic, fiscal, social and environmental crises it is imperative to adopt a short-term plan to improve the ailing situation long-term. The key economic factors have declined persistently in recent years. Foreign exchange reserves are depleting fast, and balance of payment is consistently negative. Trade deficit has reached alarming levels and exports are dwindling. Industry is in shambles. Power shortages are widening and security of food items supply is not assured. Inflation is record high and unemployment is sharply increasing.
Given the conditions, one of the critical elements for meeting some of the challenges is promoting industrial engineering and technology in a big way. Technology and engineering translate scientific knowledge into action and its judicious application results in enhancing the standard of our lives and strengthening the overall national economy. Thus, science, technology, and engineering play a catalytic role in the growth of economic sectors including agriculture, infrastructure, energy, mining, manufacturing, and service sectors. Technology is said to be the lifeline of the industry as it caters to improved productivity and rapid industrialization. On the other hand, it meets the needs of export enhancement and large-scale employment. Unfortunately, this key element of development has not been recognized as such.
For almost two decades Pakistan has virtually remained without an integrated industrial policy and a worthwhile science & technology policy. In fact, science technology and engineering have never received the priority they should have had in government planning. The statement is supported in the facts that there have been as many as 46 federal ministers for science and technology since 1960, and that for the last ten years or so we did not have a scientist or an engineer appointed as Minister for Science and Technology, though in the past celebrated persons like Prof Dr Atta-ur-Rahman, Dr Shamsh Kassim-Lakha, Engr Illahi Bukhsh Soomro, Ghulam Faruque and Air Marshal (retd) Nur Khan, served as the federal ministers for science and technology.
The incumbent Federal Minister for Science and Technology is a practicing lawyer without any previous exposure to science and technology in any field. This explains the lackluster performance of the Ministry of Science and Technology (MOST) since past years as well as its attached organizations responsible for promoting science & technology.
The National Commission for Science and Technology (NCST), headed by the Prime Minister, is the apex body for science & technology development. Nonetheless, since its revival in the year 2000, there could have been until now only three meetings of the NCST, the charter of which requires a minimum two meetings to be held annually.
The Commission is mandated to promote science and technology, accelerating scientific and technological capacity building and creating linkages with the manufacturing sector and development plans by implementing major projects in various fields. Though a number of projects were initiated in the last meetings of the NCST with the exception of those in higher education, most of them have run into snags due to lack of political will and commitment and could not be implemented. Obviously there has never been a review of status of these approved projects at the NCST level. Sadly, an important institution practically remains dormant and none at the helm of affairs bothers to activate it.
Interestingly, Pakistan Council for Science and Technology (PCST) serves as the NCST Secretariat, but it could not even arrange revised structure of NCST governing body. Affairs of the PCST itself are unhealthy since its activities for the last few years are negligible, and are not corresponding to its charter in accordance with the PCST Act 2017. The last meeting of its Board of Governors, which consists of over 28 members including Senators and MNAs, was held in November 2021. The only mentionable publication of the PCST is the “Productive Scientists of Pakistan”, last published in 2017, which has been updated periodically since 1999. Sadly, the 231-page document listed some 678 scientists in the fields of basic and applied sciences that almost all belong to academia i.e. universities, colleges, and schools, besides those working for the S&T organizations under the Ministry of Science & Technology. It totally ignores the scientists and engineers from the industry, public or private, and other organizations operating in the public sector. PCST is however proud of organizing Mehfil-e-Milad in October 2022.
Likewise, it is a gross reflection on the performance of the MOST that since the last event, a conference on water issues, organized in July 2021, there has been no professional activity so far. National Science & Technology Innovative Policy 2022 has not been implemented perhaps for the reason that it was finalized and issued during the tenure of the past government. The Policy aims to encourage product development through technology-based innovations, and has taken all key stakeholders on board in its preparation. If implemented, the Policy will significantly support achieving higher value-addition, indigenous manufacturing of potential products and export diversification.
For creating global competitiveness in all sectors of the economy it is needed to simultaneously develop the environment, technological infrastructure and policy instruments. The government should formulate the policy for selection, assimilation, diffusion and use of technology in industry and business as well as in agriculture, infrastructure and other economic sectors. Indeed, the government has to play a key role in commercialization of the selected technologies through a system of cooperation between R&D on one part and industrial and other related sectors on the other.
– The writer is retired chairman of the State Engineering Corporation