ICT can go along way in eradicating poverty.

LAHORE (MEDIA)

 Prudent use of information and communication technology (ICT) can go a long way in eradicating poverty, bad governance and corruption, said experts in panel discussion. The news Lahore reported.

“Creating new jobs is the best way to reduce poverty,” said IT expert Saad Bin Tahir. “Several key innovations in ICT are helping people find jobs or increase their earnings.”

He added that almost a decade ago, the low-skilled workers had to get themselves registered at a shop that sold products in their respective fields, but today these workers have provided their mobile numbers to clients, who call them whenever needed.

Tahir said that low-skilled workers do not have the resources to establish business outlets, adding that most of them are not even accommodated by the shopkeepers that sell or repair products related to their field.

“This has provided the high skilled workers with a level playing field as they can increase their earnings through better services.” He added that ICT has helped the country absorb a large number of low skilled workers.

Many ICT applications, he said, need government facilitation to empower the poor people. “A computerised national identity card (CNIC) has standard biometric information about a person that is needed for identification. This is why there is no need to provide additional information or go through the hassle of police identification when applying for a passport. Only a person’s CNIC is needed for this purpose.” However, he regretted that this advantage has failed to be applied to a majority of the financial transactions.

IT audit expert, Raza Arshad, said that the private sector has taken advantage of the CNIC facility and mobile technology by opening millions of small savings accounts and providing services of transferring small amounts (in real time) to the beneficiaries.

This facility, he said, has provided immense relief to the poor people at an extremely low cost, thus saving time. Earlier, the cost of these small transactions was quite high. “Facilities such as easypaisa, coupled with fast services to the poor people, have provided earning opportunities to more than 50,000 persons operating the shop franchises of these mini ICT-based banks.”

Arshad, however, cautioned that people should not get carried away in introducing new technology in the country as low cost solutions are provided by the human resource, which is in abundance.

“If we look at the developed economies, technology has also destroyed many jobs,” he said, adding that even skilled labour in these economies has been replaced by machines and algorithms. “The unskilled sector in these economies requires the workers to have some basic knowledge of ICT. We should be prepared to see our old unskilled labour being crowded out by the younger lot that uses technology.”

Another IT expert, Lutfur Rehman, said that if poverty alleviation is the ultimate aim then efforts should be taken to lessen the divide created by differing levels of technology skills. “The first target should be to bring the largest number of people to a minimum level of information and communication technology,” he said. “Most of the low skilled workers know how to operate a smartphone even if they may not know how to explore the huge information highway offered by the device.” He added that the low-end earners required some facilitation in learning the basics of technology to survive the tech-laden market.

“The government will have to play an active role in providing updated information regarding crop, weather, use of seed, pesticide and fertiliser to all the small farmers,” said Rehman. “This can be done by passing this information through their mobiles as a large number of rural people have these devices. Related pictures can also be sent on smartphones so that those who have these devices can pass on the information to their other colleagues.” This, he added, would help reduce poverty in rural Pakistan.

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