Digital Pakistan' is no more a dream, but reality: Anusha

ISLAMABAD: Over the last few years, the Ministry of IT and Telecom (MOIT), has taken a number of initiatives for the development of ICTs especially in the arena of access, skills, markets, and governance to attain PM Mohammed Nawaz Sharif's  vision of a Digital Pakistan. 
Led by Minister of state  for IT & Telecom Mrs Anusha Rehman,  MOIT has successfully created an enabling environment where citizens, companies and the government become technology enabled to avail opportunities being offered to them by what is called the 4th Industrial Revolution.
Every year, MOIT works with the Ministry of Finance, Federal Board of Revenue, and other agencies to introduce new incentives and initiatives that can fast track the trajectory 
towards a Knowledge Economy and Society. Likewise , in the  Federal Budget 2017-18, one the proposals of Ministry of IT,  the Federal Minister of Finance,  Mohammed Ishaq Dar has announced a number of concessions for ICT sector which are being appreciated by the Ministry, industry and the users of technology across the Country.
Minister of state for IT&Telecom Mrs Anusha Rehman has stated that we are bridging the "Digital Divide" through connecting the unconnected"because widespread affordable, reliable and quality mobile broadband access not only bridges the "digital divide" but also provide opportunities to the marginalized segment of the population particularly of rural areas to uplift their socioeconomic conditions".
She further said that due to our policy measures, Pakistan has witnessed three consecutive 3G/4G successful auctions , therefore our Smart phone based mobile broadband connections have grown ten-fold since 2013 to over forty million. 
In 2013, without 3G, Pakistan was lagging behind Afghanistan; but today with 3G/4G, it has leapt ahead of Turkey, and efforts are being made to make Pakistan one of the first deployments of 5G in the world, around 2020. It's our resolve that Access should not be limited to the relatively affluent or to urban centers; we have to connect and empower our rural population as well. Therefore MOIT through (USF), will ensure that every village of over a hundred population across the country is going to have connectivity by 2018, Minister added.
The Minister further said that new budgetary concessions will not only reduce the cost of access but also will make it more affordable, which is particularly important for poorer segments of the population.
It's pertinent to mention that in recent budget, Federal Excise Duty on Telecommunication Services has been reduced from 18.5% to 17%.  Sales tax on smart phones is reduced from Rs. 1000 to Rs. 650 per set.  
Customs Duty on telecom equipment reduced from up to 16% to 9%. Withholding income tax for mobile phone subscribers reduced from 14% to 12.5%.  She said that the provinces should now take positive measures and should reduce Sales tax on Internet Services, as services are a provincial subject.
By keeping in view, the current double-digit growth levels, we can fairly guess that IT exports will become the largest foreign exchange earner within five years. This has been doubled over the last four years. Appreciating the need to sustain this trajectory, the Government exempted IT exporters from sales tax in the Islamabad Capital Territory, and proposed that Provincial Sales Tax regimes will follow the suit.
The extension on exemption from income tax has been extended till 2019. IT export firms as well as freelancers, have been allowed to maintain foreign exchange accounts, which will also increase the country's foreign exchange earnings and deposits.  Though Pakistan ranks at number four among top freelancing suppliers, the overall level of IT Exports remains much lower than similar countries.
Government is focusing and incentivizing "Startups." registered with PSEB, the first incentive being provided to Startups in the budget is a three-year exemption on income tax of all types. 
To increase the growth trajectory, MOIT is working with industry to assess additional incentives for startups, angel and venture capital investors, and incubators, as provided by both developed and emerging economies around the world. Since the last four years, the surge in broadband connectivity has enabled a surge in Startups. 
Successful launch of a National incubation center in Islamabad, MOIT is in the process of rolling out similar incubators in all provincial capitals in a public private partnership mode, along with some special incubators in Internet of Things (IoT), Robotics and FinTech. A major breakthrough in the current budget is the inclusion of a major IT Park to be developed by MOIT with the help of the Korean Government.
Over the last few years, MOIT has been working closely with the State Bank to promote financial inclusion.  MOIT welcomes the removal of withholding tax on mobile banking transactions for Asaan Mobile Account Scheme, and the establishment of an e-gateway at the SBP to facilitate transactions through mobile banking, e-gateway systems, and mobile banking.
MOIT also welcomes the establishment of a credit facility, innovation challenge fund, and secure transaction registry for moveable property - to provide surety against loans - for Small and Medium Enterprise (SME).
MOIT has also started many skill development training and internship programs, including an ICT4Girls program targeting tens of thousands of school girls, and will shortly launch a massive digital skills training program that will train more than one million trainees in freelancing.
After 04 years of ceaseless and strenuous efforts, the world has recognized Pakistan's digital turnaround in the last few years, and appreciated the policy initiatives of the current Government of Pakistan and Minister Anusha Rehman and bestowed upon her a number of prestigious global awards for initiating multiple projects and programs that have had a profound impact on the ICT sector in Pakistan. Certainly the tax incentives give to the IT and Telecom sector by the Federal Government will further strengthen the sector and its growth. - NNI