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I myself wished that the portfolio had gone to someone with expertise  and had given another name for it but had to take it as a political  settlement — Khalid Maqbool Siddiqui
I myself wished that the portfolio had gone to someone with expertise and had given another name for it but had to take it as a political settlement — Khalid Maqbool Siddiqui

KARACHI: Information Technology and Telecommunication Minister Khalid Maqbool Siddiqui has said a regulatory body for IT education is being worked upon.

The new body will mandate to devise education standards and formulate regulations for employability skills, and it will be similar in its functioning to the Pakistan Medical and Dental Council.

“The regulatory authority will try to standardise IT curriculum in universities and bridge the gap between our graduates with those abroad,” Siddiqui tells Dawn in an exclusive interview.

The minister’s appointment to the federal cabinet was met with controversy over social media regarding his lack of expertise on the subject. But Siddiqui says that it was a useless debate as many ministers are not technical experts. “I myself wished that the portfolio had gone to someone with expertise and had given another name for it but had to take it as a political settlement,” he says.

No word on 5G auction; lack of payment gateways understating software exports

Pakistan has lagged far behind the region in technology development. Philippines, a state with 103 million people, has IT and electronics exports in excess of $30 billion while Pakistan touched the $1bn mark just this year.

“The actual figure is around $5bn,” the minister claims, adding that “due to lack of payment gateways in the country, much of the IT exports are routed through UAE and other countries, understating export amount as a result.”

As to what measures are being taken by him to solve that bottleneck, Siddiqui says the decision on that front rests with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the State Bank of Pakistan. But he expressed his confidence that the policymakers seem willing to get a global payments player to Pakistan.

His three priority areas in the short-term include improving education, facilitating players in the sector and pacing up the rate of technology transfer.

While there’s a regulatory body on the cards for IT education, the minister had no tangible measures to offer for the other two areas.

Talking about his road map for local startups, Siddiqui stressed the need for an IT hub in the country - a Pakistani Silicon Valley for the namesake. “Given the population, education and opportunities, Karachi seems to be a natural choice for that,” he says. For that purpose, an IT park in the city seems to be in the offing with details about its land and location are currently being deliberated upon, he shared.

The minister also had no details to add on auction of 5G spectrum, except to say that there was recently a briefing on it.

The new government has actively tried to disassociate itself from policies of the previous one. Asked whether his ministry would follow suit too, Siddiqui dismissed that idea: “There’s not much room for disagreement within this sector so no, we won’t be reversing their work, only expanding on it.”

Published in Dawn, October 13th, 2018