IT ministry can’t afford IT experts


ISLAMABAD: The Ministry of Information Technology (MoIT) cannot afford to keep IT professionals on its payroll and has taken on schoolteachers and forest officials to manage its affairs. The ministry is also set to scrap over a dozen projects that have been suffering at the hands of ‘inter-departmental neglect’. There is a severe dearth of IT experts at the ministry and most of the staff there are administrative officers. Nearly 100 IT professionals who had been associated with the MoIT in the past were let go because the ministry could no longer afford to pay them.

Out of a total of 23 key officials within the ministry, only two, Member IT Amir Malik and Director Iftikhar Shah, are technically qualified IT professionals.

Malik has also been given additional responsibility as managing director for Pakistan Software Export Board (PSEB), while Shah additionally serves as the director general of the Pakistan Computer Bureau (PCB).

Both PSEB and PCB, as well as Information and Communication Technology Research and Development Fund are functioning without a formally appointed boss.

Hidayatullah Bhittani, originally a schoolteacher, is working in the MoIT on deputation and currently holds charge as section officer for development. Ghansham Das, originally an officer of the forest department in Sindh, is on deputation to the MoIT and is currently working as assistant chief of development. Another officer, Aslam Lashari, is on deputation from the Supreme Court’s registrar office, and currently working as a director in PCB.

In addition, at least 13 projects, which the ministry was supposed to help implement in other departments, are currently suspended and are likely to be scrapped for want of funding.

In a classic display of bureaucratic evasiveness, neither the MoIT nor the department where the projects are supposed to be implemented, are willing to take responsibility for the work.

Projects initiated between 2004 and 2006 and paid for by funds from the Public Sector Development Programme (PSDP) are set to expire by June this year.

Sources told Dawn these projects include the computerisation of records for key departments, such as the interior ministry, Federal Investigation Agency (FIA), Islamabad police, Capital Development Authority, as well as the establishment of a data centre for the federal government and the development of hospital management systems.

An inquiry by the MoIT joint secretary maintains that these projects failed because beneficiary organisations or departments are not prepared to take ownership of MoIT-implemented projects. In other cases, requirements for software development are poorly defined and due to staff incompetence, software that is purchased is often declared unsuitable or obsolete even before it is installed.

When working on projects with other departments, the MoIT is primarily responsible for the procurement of hardware and software. In addition, they train the department’s staff to use the equipment provided and, if necessary, depute certain staff to work directly with the department where the project is being carried out.

But a senior MoIT official told Dawn the ministry was not supposed to run these projects. Their mandate, he said, was to facilitate the host department with the computerisation of their records.

Host departments are usually indifferent to the IT equipment they are provided and do not ensure proper use and maintenance of computers and servers installed there, leading to equipment being damaged or even stolen.

In January this year, the ministry referred 13 projects to the FIA for review. The official said though these projects were supposed to end in 2007, the officers running them had been asking for and obtaining extensions on them every year since.

Insiders maintain, however, that ensuring project delivery according to stipulated timelines was the responsibility of the MoIT. Sources within the ministry said that each successive regime had promised the introduction of ‘e-Government’ processes, but no real efforts had been made to complete these projects.

But State Minister for Information Technology Anusha Rehman holds her predecessors responsible for the state of affairs at the MoIT. According to Rehman, the ministry doesn’t have adequate funding.

“This ministry used to be a part of the science and technology ministry and was separated from it in 2003. However it has remained neglected since then,” said Rehman, who took charge last year.

She said she was determined to press on with key projects despite a lack of resources so taxpayer money could be saved. “Any projects that aren’t feasible will be discontinued,” she concluded.