State Minister Anusha Rahman’s First Six Months in Office: A Performa

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Taking cue from the brilliant team at Electronic Frontier Foundation, the Bolo Bhi team has come up with a scorecard for State Minister for Information Technology & Telecom, Ms Anusha Rahman Khan. The scorecard is based on the performance of key duties by the Minister in her first six months in office.  The collective score is based on input by industry and civil society members.

 

Criteria For Each Duty:

0-3: Showed effort

4-7: Followed through

8-10: Led to outcome

 

 

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1. Fulfilled promises made as a member NA standing committee on IT

In the previous government, Ms Anusha Rahman Khan, was one of the most vocal members of the National Assembly’s Standing Committee on Information Technology. During her tenure as a parliamentarian, Ms Rahman spoke for the need to increase access to information, unblock YouTube and issue 3G licenses.

She was also involved in a series of discussions on proposed amendments to the Pakistan Electronic Crime Ordinance (PECO). Despite displaying an understanding of information technology issues, then, Ms Rahman’s time in office has hardly been reflective of the same zeal to resolve issues effectively.

2. Accessibility as a public official

Speak to people within the industry, and they will tell you the Minister just doesn’t respond to letters or emails. We’ve found that to be true as well. According to them, the few meetings that were held initially led to no results as their input was never considered seriously. It has become very apparent since, that input of stakeholders is of little or no importance. Instead, handpicked experts and their input carries more weight. Surprisingly, this has not only been noted by people within industry or civil society, but also fellow politicians and parliamentarians, who also say they’ve been given the cold shoulder.

3. Restoration of YouTube

Beginning with the announcement that we can block Google on her first day of office (allegedly misreported), to introducing filters to block content and eventually trying to go the localization route, the Minister has made various speeches in the Senate on this subject and issued press statements. However, to date no concrete measures have been taken to resolve the issue. All proposed solutions have been out of line with the direction the court has taken on the issue. In fact, despite being summoned multiple times, the Minister did not appear in court. Initially, even Google officials were given the cold shoulder, by the Minister and Ministry, with refusals to talk or meet. As for independent input, it has been completely shunned. Repeated attempts to apprise the Minister of the intricacies of the issue have been met with a stony silence.

4. Adoption of 3G Technology

Recent reports suggest that the government will hold the 3G auction in March 2014. The auction and issuance of 3G licenses is a matter that has been pending since 2008. Other than discussions and field visits since the beginning of the term at the Ministry, not much has been done. It was only after the Supreme Court, hearing a writ petition for early auctioning of 3G licenses, issued directions to the government to be quick about the appointment of PTA officials, that this matter moved along. Whether the Information Memorandum will be completed in time, and the auction held in March, now remains to be seen.

5. Increase Internet Penetration in underserved areas

In a surprise move, rather than utilizing National R&D (Research and Development) Funds and USF (Universal Services Fund) money to increase telecommunications and Internet penetration in the country, these funds – amounting in billions of rupees – were consolidated and moved out of accounts maintained separately for them. While these funds had been lying unused for quite a while, industry personnel argue the right thing to do was to utilize and spend them in underserved areas to improve infrastructure, etc. as opposed to housing them under the Ministry of Finance and putting them towards the paying off of circular debt. It must be noted that no efforts to better the existing infrastructure, either through policy or otherwise have been made.

6. Disclosure on filtering & surveillance equipment

Ever since the announcement that PTCL was ‘loaning’ the Ministry filters to block content, followed by a statement maintaining filters were not the solution, there has been no disclosure by the Ministry as to what has happened to these filters that were acquired. Not only that, but through what process they were acquired, at what cost, and what has been done with them; all these questions remain unanswered. There remains also no acknowledgment or clarification to date of the alleged presence of FinFisher control and command servers and Netsweeper in Pakistan.

7. Headway on Stakeholder Draft of E-crime Legislation

For quite some time now, there has been a fair amount of back and forth between the Ministry and stakeholders on the amendments to what was previously PECO (Pakistan Electronic Crimes Ordinance). Through multi-stakeholder input, various meetings with the previous Standing Committee on IT and even more meetings with the current Minister and Ministry officials, the PECB (Pakistan Electronic Crimes Bill) 2014 still has a long way to go it seems. After near unanimous approval of the draft by stakeholders, the Ministry allegedly decided to dish out some $20,000, it is said, to appoint an international expert to point out why the proposed legislation would not work.

Will this piece of legislation see the light of day, or will a government draft make it into law, remains to be seen. The Prime Minister’s office commissioned its own version of a cybercrime law – which has been criticized heavily for lack of safeguards and knowledge of technology. Why the wastage of funds and efforts when there already exists a piece of legislation that has been debated to no end?

What kind of coordination is there between the Ministry of IT and the PM’s office?

8. Headway on Privacy Legislation

According to the Constitution of 1973, the right to privacy is an inviolable right. Despite that, Pakistan still lacks laws that protect citizens’ right to privacy. An effective legislation that will help minimize monitoring by the government, regulate surveillance by corporates and ensure that personal information of citizens’ is properly protected remains missing. Despite Snowden revelations, the authorities have not shown any commitment to protect personal data of citizens. In the past year, legislations such as the ‘Investigation for Fair Trial Act’ have been given a clean chit by the National Assembly and the Senate, further increasing the risk of legitimizing blanket surveillance by law-enforcement agencies, without accountability.

Comments: As someone everyone had high hopes from, the Minister has only disappointed. A month or two ago, many were still willing to give the Minister a chance. Yet, with every statement and action, the Minister only sunk their hopes of betterment. Bring up the Minister in conversation now, and there is a decided tone one hears, of utter frustration and anger. As a public official, she is expected to be more approachable.

It is pertinent to mention that be it over the blocking of YouTube, issuance of 3G licenses, spectrum allocation and use or relocating of USF/R&D funds, the government has been dragged into court for either non-responsiveness or contestable policies. A clear indication that nothing is right with policy-making or the approach towards it in this sector.

Going forward, what is expected of the Minister is to take seriously those outside the immediate bureaucratic and political circles. There is a lot of valuable input that has and can be provided further on issues of vital importance to industry and citizens. They deserve a hearing, and that input  needs to be factored into policy.

 

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