ISLAMABAD: IT and Telecommunication Minister Syed Amin ul Haque visits a stall at the launch of ‘Smartphone For All’ initiative on Wednesday.—APP
ISLAMABAD: IT and Telecommunication Minister Syed Amin ul Haque visits a stall at the launch of ‘Smartphone For All’ initiative on Wednesday.—APP

ISLAMABAD: IT and Telecommuni­cation Minister Syed Aminul Haque on Wednesday stopped short of criticising the finance ministry and said that the State Bank of Pakistan (SBP) and the Federal Board of Revenue (FBR) needed to understand the issues faced by the IT & telecom sector.

“Digital growth is not only essential for the overall strengthening of the economy but one of the basic conditions for modernisation of the governance system,” he added.

Addressing the launch of the “Smartphone For All” initiative in collaboration with GSMA and a local company KistPay, the minister responded to repeated criticism by all the stakeholders that Pakistan has the highest taxes on mobile calls, internet and mobile sets in the world, while the return on investments was among the lowest.

The event marked the sale of mobile phones at easy installments for low-income people under the initiative.

Urges regulators to resolve issues of IT sector

Under the scheme, mobile phones valued between Rs10,000 to Rs100,000 can be purchased in 3 to 12-month installments with a 20-30 per cent down payment.

The minister lauded Kistpay for the launch of the scheme and said that the scheme will help spread smartphone usage that will eventually encourage people to become small entrepreneurs and enter e-commerce businesses.

He said that the prerequisite of this initiative is to have local smartphone manufacturing and there are currently 29 such companies assembling mobile sets in Pakistan.

The minister said 28 projects worth Rs65 billion had been launched by the Universal Service Fund (USF) to give access to telephony, broadband and internet across the country compared to only 4 projects that were launched up to four years ago.

“These schemes are connecting people of remote and underdeveloped areas,” he said, adding that after initiating the local smartphone manufacturing, Pakistan was now striving to move to the next phase which is global exposure.

“Tiktok is set to open its office in Pakistan next week, a team of Facebook is also due this month for discussions over the same issue and talks with Google are scheduled to be held next month to award 15,000 scholarships to youngsters,” Mr Haque added.

Speakers at the event stressed that Pakistan needed mechanisms like the “credit bureau” to prevent defaults over the sale of mobile sets on the installment basis. They also noted that up to 50pc mobile sets used in the country were “feature phones”.

GSMA Asia Pacific Chief Julian Gorman said that smartphone prevalence in Pakistan was far below the Asia Pacific region and it has to be a key priority so that low- and middle-income consumers can participate in the digital economy.

Mr Gorman suggested the mobile industry, financial institutions, policymakers and regulators needed to adopt a collaborative approach to enhance smartphone usage in Pakistan.

PTA chairman Amir Azeem Bajwa, CEO Telenor Irfan Wahab, CEO Ufone Hatem Bamatraf, CCO Jazz Asif Aziz and others highlighted that Pakistan needed to encourage investments in IT & telecom sector through conducive policies.

Published in Dawn, November 24th, 2022

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