Four key pillars for progress

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Atta-ur-Rahman,
FRS, NI, HI, SI, TI

Knowledge has now become the single most important factor for socio-economic development. Natural resources have diminishing importance as innovation and entrepreneurship are now the key factors for progress of nations. Countries that have realized this and invested heavily in developing their human resources to the highest possible levels have leaped forward, leaving others far behind. Some examples illustrate this clearly. Finland has a population about one-fourth of Karachi but just one company from this country, Nokia, had exports double that of the whole of Pakistan in 2010. Malaysia decided 30 years ago to spend at least 30% of its budget on education, and it has been doing for the last 30 years. The result is that Malaysia today accounts for 86.5% of the total high tech exports of the Islamic world. Korea decided to give the very highest priority to higher education. In 1960, about 5% of the youth in Korea between ages of 17-23 were enrolled in higher education institutions (about the same as of Pakistan today) and Korean exports were only about $ 30 billion in the 60s. By 2010, the enrolment of Korean youth in higher education institutions jumped to over 80%, the highest in the world. The result was a corresponding jump in its exports of high value products (electronics, engineering goods, automobiles, house hold appliances, steel, ship building etc) which have risen to $ $530 billion, 25 times higher than those of Pakistan.
The four pillars of progress are (1) High Quality Education, (2) Science & Technology (3) Innovation and Entrepreneurship and (4) A visionary, honest, technologically competent government that understands the importance of a knowledge economy and ensures quick and fair justice.
(1) Education: Pakistan spends only about 2.2 % of its GDP on education (as opposed to Malaysia’s 30% of budget). For a nuclear state like Pakistan, it is a shameful reality that we are ranked 147th out of 188 nations in terms of the Human Development Index (HDI). This has been largely due to the strangle-hold of the feudal system on our parliament so that the lowest priority has been given to education by successive governments. Pakistan has made good progress in higher education after the establishment of the Higher Education Commission in 2002. For the first time in its history, several of its universities were ranked in the top 600 of the world with NUST at a respectable 273 and UET (Lahore) at 281 in the year 2008. However this progress came to a grinding halt after 2008, when the budget of HEC was slashed by 50% and over 90% of the projects frozen. In November 2010 the government issued a notification to shred HEC into pieces in order to protect some corrupt parliamentarians. HEC had found that 53 of these national leaders had forged degrees while another 250 had degrees that were suspect. These Parliamentarians hatched the evil scheme to shred HEC into pieces, and it was only on my Appeal to the Supreme Court that this national disaster was averted. The Supreme Court declared the Government notification to shred HEC into pieces unconstitutional and restored its status.
Primary, secondary and technical education remains in a complete mess, with no hope in sight. Ghost schools exist, where teachers salaries are paid to servants of the feudal landlords, and illiteracy prevails. True literacy stands at about 50% but persons who can properly read and write are no more than 30% of the population.
(2) Science & Technology: The collapse of the science & Technology institutions in Pakistan is reflected from the fact that the development budget of the Ministry of Science & Technology in 2002, when I was the Federal Minister of Science & Technology, was Rs. 6 billion, but it has fallen to about Rs.2 billion now. A country weak in science is forever paralytically dependent on all its needs of technology on others. Engineering represents the backbone of defense and industry. A wonderful scheme was approved by ECNEC in February 2008 to set up foreign engineering universities in Pakistan with integrated technology parks where foreign companies such as Siemens or Eriksson could set up Research and Development Centres for new product development. Germany, France, Sweden, Italy, Austria and Korea had all agreed to set up their engineering universities in various cities of Pakistan, in which degrees would have been offered by top foreign universities without our students going abroad. This could have saved Pakistan about Rs. 100 billion annually which is what our parents spend today to provide high quality foreign education to their children abroad. However the scheme was abandoned in May 2008, as the government had “other priorities than education”— a monumental national disaster! Now the KPK government has well as the Punjab government have accepted my proposals to set up the Austrian and Italian engineering universities respectively under my Chairmanship of the Steering Committees. These should start functioning in 2018/2019.
(3) Innovation and Entrepreneurship: Unless laboratory level research is translated into marketable products, a knowledge economy cannot be promoted. A number of steps must be taken to make this happen. Firstly Pakistan must have a clear Science, Technology and Innovation policy at the national level. The national technology policy should ensure that no development project is approved on a turn-key basis unless a genuine transfer of technology is an integral part of all development projects. Secondly there should be liberal access to Venture Capital funding to support and foster new start-up companies based on innovative ideas. Thirdly, private sector R & D should be promoted through a dynamic incentivisation process. Lastly, there must be a clear national road map for transitioning from our low value-added economy to a knowledge economy. Such a road map was prepared under my leadership, (a 320 page document entitled “Technology Based Industrial Vision, Strategy and Action Plan for Socio-economic Development”) and approved by the Cabinet in August 2007. It clearly lays out the projects that must be undertaken in various sectors such as agriculture, electronics, engineering, information technology, biotechnology, chemicals and pharmaceuticals, textiles etc. An inter-Ministerial committee was formed for its implementation but it lies in government archives gathering dust.
(4) Governance: The migration from our low value added economy to a powerful knowledge economy just cannot occur unless we have a powerful government of visionary technocrats. The Cabinets of China and Korea comprise the most eminent scientists and engineers in the country. Both Austria and Korea have given the status of Deputy Prime Minister to their Ministers of Science & Technology and Higher Education. The present British Parliamentary system of democracy has failed over and over again. We must bring in a Presidential form of democracy and make institutions such as NAB, FIA, Police, PIA, Railways, Steel Mills, FBR, Election Commission etc completely independent of the government so that they operate under their own governing bodies with no government representation. The appointment system of the Heads of these bodies should be merit based, made by a Judicial Committee constituted by the Supreme Court. The Ministers should be top experts in their respective fields, appointed directly by the President, not from the Parliament the role of which should be limited to law making. Members of Parliament must hold a first class Masters degree, as required in Iran. Capital punishment should be introduced for corruption, as in China.
Without a visionary, honest and technologically competent government that ensures justice and merit, Pakistan cannot progress.
—The author is the former Federal Minister for Science & Technology and former Chairman of Higher Education Commission