IT Policy Consultation kicks off

September 3, 2008 at 3:17 pm 20 comments

Most of us are usually quite skeptical about any government consultation and even when we do make the effort to attend such a meeting, we do so out of a sense of obligation expecting very little from the activity.

Hence, as we boarded the plane for Lahore at 8 am on September 1 to attend the IT Policy kick-off meeting we did so with reservation. Some of our colleagues had vehemently shrugged off any suggestion of making the trip saying it would be a total waste of time.

On the flight with me were Barrister Zahid Jamil, Awab Alvi (better known as Teeth Maestro), Faizan Khan of Intel Corporation, Faisal Anwar of UBL and Tabasum Abbasi from the Sindh IT Department. We knew Shahzad Ahmed of BytesforAll would be flying in from Islamabad for the meeting and that some of our colleagues from Lahore – Imran Zia (Chairman of P@SHA), Hasan Rizvi  (CEO of Five Rivers Technologies), Fouad Bajwa (FOSS Mullah) and Dr. Sarmad Hussain from FAST – would be joining us. Hence there was every reason to believe that an attempt would be made to make things happen.

As we walked into Crystal Ballroom A at the PC, we came face-to-face with our worst fears as we saw the seating arrangements for the event. There was a stage with 6 chairs, a second tier of seating and then the third tier of round tables with chairs for those we assume were perceived as commoners.

Imran Zia and I were asked to join the VIPs on the stage. We politely refused the invitation on the grounds that this was supposedly a consultative process and we were there as  equal stakeholders with the rest of the participants. That didn’t stop the speeches from happening of course. I don’t know if I can blame them really – some people only know one way of doing things and for them to imagine that a meeting can take place without the normal bureaucratic hooplah is just not possible. So we listened quietly like well-behaved little boys and girls and even applauded on cue.

To expect such behaviour to last long would be unnatural so it was not surprising that when we were asked to break up into Working Groups, we rebelled – politely of course 😉 We suggested that it would be best to break for tea/coffee at that stage while the seating arrangement was converted into what would at least seem to be more consultative stakeholder seating. This suggestion was met with shock, confusion and a wee bit of resistance until the Federal IT Secretary, who is a cool and reasonable dude, said “so be it”.

While everyone else had tea, coffee and cookies, a bunch of us zealots converged to one of the round tables and, as you can see, gleefully put together a revised agenda for the meeting. Yup this is the guilty group. Then why is it that only I was accused of “hijacking” the meeting? 😦 That’s right – innocent little me!

Anyway, to get back to the story. When the meeting restarted we asked the IT Secretary if we could propose a revised agenda. He looked as if he was in two minds whether to agree to anything that this bunch proposed. But as I said before, he is a reasonable man and perhaps he could see that though we didn’t look it, we were a well-meaning bunch 🙂 Yup, lo and behold, he said yes!

So up went the 5 slides we had put together. I won’t take you through all the gruesome details – maybe I will do another post for that. Suffice it to say that what we proposed was that instead of developing the policy in silos, we should first decide on the vision and overarching principles which each of the focus groups would abide by. What do I mean? Well, wouldn’t it be sensible to first decide that  whatever each group proposed should be for example technology neutral, gender-sensitive and should keep in mind things like Accessibility and Transparency amongst other things. Should we also not decide who the various stakeholders would be, who would have ownership, whether the groups would be issue-based or sectoral? You know, important stuff like that. And what about funding? Where would that come from? This time everyone – from business representatives to civil society types – had all travelled to the venue at their own expense. Considering that they were giving free consulting time, shouldn’t their costs be picked up by the government?

Should we also not have baseline data to start with? And shouldn’t a Gap Analysis be conducted before we jump into working groups and recommendations?  Policies are not made overnight, is what we tried to emphasize upon. I think the message did seep in that we were trying to help ensure that the exercise was not a futile one.

You know what was truly a great experience – the fact that our group of rebels constituted IT practitioners, enntrepreneurs, civil society representatives, a banker, a lawyer, a dentist, academics and a researcher. And we were all on the same wavelength and working towards one common objective. Isn’t that something to celebrate?

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20 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Teeth Maestro  |  September 3, 2008 at 3:51 pm

    When you write about ‘overarching principles’ why do i get a sudden blood rushing typo alert warning – I wonder if you actually meant over-reaching principles &/or over-aching principles – LOL whateva’

    On another note I too was puzzled how Zahid punched in the ‘ubiquitous’ word into the IT policy mission statement the moment he said the word I had a typical ‘Desi Moment’ aka Blonde moment – *** me desi ‘angrez daan’ was having a subliminal moment I wonder what the other experts were going through

    Reading your post I think I need to Blog about, a dentist n00b’s brush with the IT policy mambo jambo

    With all the fun we had – im itching to skin ’em alive while its fresh.

    Wheuurrs the beef !!!

  • 2. Jehan  |  September 3, 2008 at 4:34 pm

    For those of you who are wondering what Awab is referring to, each time i tried to say ‘Overarching principles’ for some reason I kept saying ‘Overreaching principles’ 🙂

    Zahid punched in ‘ubiquitous’ because of our friend Sarmad Husain from FAST – he suggested it and we were trying to put everyone’s views up there so that there could be some discussion and a consensus reached.

    I will put up the stuff we discussed to collect other viewpoints and to get the community involved but I really don’t want to waste my passion on anger or irritation. Not worth it. I was waiting for your piece which I am sure will be nothing like mine 😉 I have to behave to a certain degree – you don’t.

  • 3. Shahzad Ahmad  |  September 3, 2008 at 7:52 pm

    There was not a single dull moment. MoIT now need to come upto the speed. While I understand that there will be usual “approvals” procedure for the minutes or notes to be issued…but folks, all of you were amazing out there.

    My only wish is that the process remains inclusive. I hope “overarching principles” (am i right Awab?) will be adhered to. Somebody also need to find out that why they mentioned those tight little very short deadlines. For me it was shocking and hilarious at the same time.

  • 4. talhaizhar  |  September 4, 2008 at 2:47 am

    I hope everything turns out good in the end.

    I can’t help but notice a new Macbook in the picture…Is this the new one??? 🙂

  • 5. DesiBackToDesh  |  September 4, 2008 at 11:48 am

    Hmmm… Brother Vic, where art thou?

  • 6. Ansar  |  September 4, 2008 at 11:50 am

    Excellent to hear that there are senior people in Government who are willing to change and are flexible.

    Good luck with your efforts!

  • 7. Jehan  |  September 4, 2008 at 11:59 am

    Hey Jawwad, why are you addressing Vic on my blog?

    Ansar, yes, jokes aside, that was what made the difference – that they listened and let us take the lead when they realized that all we wanted was to help them and work with them on achieving our combined objective.

  • 8. Vic  |  September 4, 2008 at 2:36 pm

    @Jehan: I can’t help but notice that you have not identified your accusers, who claim that innocent little you alone ‘hijacked’ the meeting.

    Is this what you call the new transparency? Let the truth out, ungoverned by error.

    @Talha: What marks the MacBook as new? Could it be the envious eyes all around?

  • 9. Jehan  |  September 4, 2008 at 3:13 pm

    @Talha, the MacBook Air is on loan until a decision is made regarding repair/purchase of a new laptop – it will be a Mac natch!

    @Vic, aren’t you a proponent of Privacy? 😉 Then why are you asking questions I am not prepared to answer?

  • 10. Syed Talha Izhar  |  September 4, 2008 at 3:54 pm

    @Jehan: Now I do want to know the place where you get Macbook Air on loan for such a log time 😉 Will they do the same for my HP??

  • 11. Jehan  |  September 4, 2008 at 3:56 pm

    Talha, the trick is to get it on loan from one place, return it after a reasonable period and then get it on loan from a second place 😉

    Actually I am dilly-dallying because there might be new Mac laptops launched on September 9.

  • 12. Jehan  |  September 4, 2008 at 3:57 pm

    And btw no they don’t deal in HPs! Sowwy.

  • 13. Syed Talha Izhar  |  September 4, 2008 at 4:11 pm

    I have an Inbox Laptop as well..5 years old needs major repair…but works fine… Will it work???

  • 14. Vic  |  September 4, 2008 at 4:34 pm

    @Jawwad: Commenting on your blog, although it appears you don’t have time to check that, you are so busy monitoring the ping pong of corporate life at Alchemy, and Jehan’s ubiquitous laptop.

  • 15. DesiBackToDesh  |  September 5, 2008 at 9:13 am

    Brother vic, nobody reads my blog, other than you, me and my immediate family. To be noticed and remain visible, I have to post comments here on J’s post.

  • 16. Jehan  |  September 5, 2008 at 9:19 am

    @Talha, it won’t work because these guys only deal in Macs. And I don’t think they will appreciate the fact that I am encouraging everyone to get laptops on loan rather than buy them. 🙂

    @ Jawwad – yeah yeah! Such allegations I tell you.

  • 17. Vic  |  September 5, 2008 at 4:42 pm

    @Desi: ….and all along I thought you only needed to take a deep breath to be noticed. Such modesty!

  • […] in Pakistan–complete with debates over seating arrangements and agendas. Read it on Jehan’s site. Category: Advocacy  |  Comment (RSS) […]

  • […] Jehan Ara has written a fascinating, play-by-play account of an IT policy consultation in Pakistan–complete with debates over seating arrangements and agendas. Read it on Jehan’s site. […]

  • […] join forces and work towards a mutually acceptable futuristic looking ICT Policy for Pakistan. The meeting was held in Lahore on 1st September, the MoITT as the organizers had initially come planned with an agenda but once the initial […]


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