National ICT policy: An interim review | The Daily Star
12:00 AM, June 22, 2008 / LAST MODIFIED: 12:00 AM, June 22, 2008

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National ICT policy: An interim review


For the ICT sector, a policy was formulated at the beginning of this decade and was approved by the government in the year 2002. This policy captures the aspirations of the sector and some well-thought-out objectives. However, the policy also contains some lacunae.

Within the institutional framework of the state, sectoral policies form an important instrument for setting priorities of governance and delineating national aspirations. In this country we are fortunate to have public policy documents in many fields ranging from education to security. Over the years these policies have been compiled at the behest of enterprising individuals in bureaucracy, political leadership or civil society.
While the government has approved most of these policy documents many policies remain largely academic in value, as they are not generally complied with. Even though all these policies are generally excellent in quality and intellectual richness.
The vision, objectives and direction given in such documents have often proven prophetic when complied with.
For the ICT sector, a policy was formulated at the beginning of this decade and was approved by the government in the year 2002. This policy named, 'National ICT Policy 2002', captures the aspirations of the sector and some well-thought-out objectives, cutting across most governance, economic and social sectors.
However, the policy also contains some lacunae. There is a general lack of structure in the way the vision and objectives have been laid out without the corresponding implementation strategies and programs. Many of the objectives are also bereft of reason and in hindsight, appear to have been impractical and somewhat irresponsible.
For example, the targets of reaching $3 billion in software exports and of the nation becoming a knowledgeable society by 2006 are truly outlandish.
However, the policy is most conspicuous in the callous non-compliance to its provisions by the government planners since its formal adoption by the cabinet in October 2002. There is no thread in planning or in finance around the objectives laid out in the ICT Policy.
Even something as mundane as allocating a paltry 2 percent of the Annual Development Plan (ADP) on ICT was never complied with or even taken into consideration for ADP exercises. Only this year we are hearing some government planners' talk of at least meeting this ADP allocation target by working out procurement numbers retroactively.
In this backdrop, the industry observers could only offer lessons in cynicism as they termed the policy an academic exercise, without its feet on the ground and without any champion in the government to fight for it. This apparent lack of ownership of the policy document is ominous and has turned it into a policy orphan that nobody in the government paid heed to. There was also no attempt to obtain a buy-in from the ICT stakeholders on the policy and thus even outside the government, the policy got only queer looks from those with an interest in ICT.
Of course I did not mean to write this column with a black hat on my head. There is a silver lining trying to break out of the dark clouds. The Better Business Forum (BBF), a newly formed vehicle of public-private sector policy dialogues, has rightly given a lot of emphasis on ICT development and has recommended reviewing the National ICT Policy 2002 to bring it in line with our national aspirations and in step with our times.
In pursuing this BBF recommendation, the chief adviser's office must be commended for its sagacity in forming a committee, bringing in representations from all stakeholders of ICT under the leadership of a widely acclaimed academician, Professor Jamilur Reza Chowdhury. His relentless effort over the years for the development of the sector in the country has won admirers among all. This committee held its first meeting in May this year and decided to form a working group to assess the implementation status of the ICT Policy 2002 directives and come up with a revised policy framework.
To align the policy prerogatives with the aims of the industry, the leadership of the working group was unanimously given to a representative from the ICT industry. This working group has been working at a feverish pitch over the last several weeks in putting together a revised ICT policy by looking at where the 2002 policy has been complied with and where it has not, looking at similar policies of many countries of the world including those in the region and beyond and how to align the ICT policy imperatives with those in other national policies.
A pragmatic national ICT policy can be a very powerful tool for achieving our national goal of graduating from the ranks of the least developed countries to those of middle-income countries before 2020. Let us hope that this time, the ICT policy will have a strong champion in the government and many owners among the stakeholders.

The author is a software entrepreneur and can be reached at hnkarim@gmail.com.

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