Friday, July 19, 2024

Pakistan's Digital Public Infrastructure (DPI) Initiative Transforming Lives

Pakistan's journey to build a digital public infrastructure (DPI) began in March 2000 with the establishment of NADRA, the National Database and Registration Authority. The Gates Foundation defines DPI as follows: "DPI is a digital network that enables countries to safely and efficiently deliver economic opportunities and social services to all residents. DPI can be compared to roads, which form a physical network that connects people and provides access to a huge range of goods and services...... strong DPI has three foundational systems—identity, payments, and data exchange—that together can make life easier in important ways". 

Digital Public Infrastructure. Source: World Economic Forum

Transformational Impact:

An article recently published on the World Economic Forum website sheds light on how Pakistan's digital public infrastructure is transforming lives in rural Pakistan. Here's how it begins: 

"On a scorching day with temperatures soaring to 42 degrees, Manzoora, a mother from the flood-stricken district of Shaheed Benazirabad, rural Sindh, Pakistan, made a significant leap: she withdrew cash from her own bank account for the very first time. This milestone was made possible through a mobile cash transfer programme initiated by the Sindh government, which partnered with digital service providers to empower citizens like Manzoora. This is just one example of how DPI is changing the lives of millions of Pakistanis". 

An earlier UNDP report  titled "DigitAll: What happens when women of Pakistan get access to digital and tech tools? A lot!" written by Javeria Masood has also described the socioeconomic impact of technology in Pakistan in the following words:

"The world as we know it has been and is rapidly changing. Technology has proven to be one of the biggest enablers of change. There has been a significant emphasis on digital training, tech education, and freelancing in the last several years especially during the pandemic, through initiatives from the government, private and development sectors. Covid-19 acted as a big disrupter and accelerated the digital uptake many folds. In Pakistan, we saw the highest number of digital wallets, online services, internet-based services and adaptability out of need and demand". 

Digital Identity: 

NADRA launched Computerized National Identity Card (CNIC) the same year it was established. It uses biometric data and personal information to confirm the identity of the cardholder as a citizen of Pakistan. The CNIC card is used across the country for voting in elections, opening bank accounts, issuing passports, getting driver's licenses, registering marriages and divorces, completing real estate transactions, participating in social safety net programs like Benazir Income Support, obtaining mobile phone numbers/sims, purchasing tickets for airlines and railways, etc etc. 

The introduction of CNIC was a "foundational change, positioning Pakistan among a select group of nations equipped to manage comprehensive digital identities for over 240 million citizens", according to the World Economic Forum. Within four years of launching the Benazir Income Support Program (BISP) – a social protection initiative to alleviate poverty – CNIC issuance to adults increased by 72%. 

Pakistan Instant Payment System. Source: State Bank of Pakistan


Digital identity enables payments from the government to citizens as well as financial transactions among individuals, businesses and government entities. The introduction of RAAST, an instant low-cost payment system launched in 2021 by the State Bank of Pakistan, has spurred digital payments in the country.  It seamlessly and securely connects government entities, a variety of banks, including microfinance banks (MFBs),  electronic money institutions (EMIs) and State Bank authorized payment service providers (PSPs). 

QR Codes: 

This year, the State Bank of Pakistan has launched P2M (Person to Merchant) services. These allow people with electronic wallets in their mobile phones to pay for goods and services using merchants' QR codes. “The P2M service will enable payment acceptance by businesses using quick response (QR) codes, Raast Alias, IBAN and request to pay (RTP),” the Central Bank said in an announcement. 

"All REs (regulated entities) shall enable…capabilities for processing P2M transactions via their delivery channels including mobile apps, internet banking portals and USSD channels (where applicable) by March 01, 2024." The central bank asked Raast merchant service providers (MSPs) to ensure that customers are not charged any fee on their purchases, by merchants or third parties.

"MSPs may…charge a reasonable fee from merchants for the services provided; however, they are encouraged to initially waive off such charges to promote merchant adoption."

RAAST Uptake:

Raast, the State Bank of Pakistan's Instant Payment System, is playing an important role in facilitating free, convenient and secure real-time transactions across the country, according to a report published by the State Bank of Pakistan. During Q3 of FY24,  Raast processed 140 million transactions totaling Rs. 3,437 billion.

Digital transactions took center stage in Pakistan's financial landscape during Q3 FY 2023-24, capturing a commanding 83% of 844 million total retail payments processed by Banks and Electronic Money Institutions (EMIs), while the remaining 17% were Over-the-Counter (OTC) transactions at banks’ branches, reports Mettis Global

Pakistan National Socioeconomic Registry. Source: Maintains

National Socioeconomic Registry:

The National Socio-economic Registry has been created . It will be regularly updated to keep it current and deliver services to the Pakistanis most in need. The effort started in earnest in 2020 to hand out Rs. 12,000 per family to 3 million most affected by the COVID19 lockdown. Here's how a Pakistani government website describes the digital registry architecture:

"The Cognitive API architecture for Ehsaas’ National Socio-Economic Registry 2021 is one of the six main pillars of ‘One Window Ehsaas’. With the survey, which is building the registry currently 90.5% complete nationwide, Ehsaas is firming up its plans to open data sharing and data access services for all executing agencies under the Poverty Alleviation and Social Safety Division (PASSD). Data sharing will be done through the Cognitive API Architecture approach. The deployment of Ehsaas API architecture for data sharing will allow executing agencies to access data from the unified registry in real-time to validate beneficiary information. This will empower them to ascertain eligibility of potential beneficiaries". 

DPI Future Plans:

In future, Pakistan is set to launch several ambitious DPI initiatives, including expanding the RAAST payment system, implementing a nationwide digital health records system, and launching a blockchain-based land registry. These projects promise to drive efficiency and transparency across multiple sectors, positioning Pakistan as a pioneer in the global digital landscape, according to a report by the World Economic Forum

Monday, July 15, 2024

Ambani Wedding: Billionaires, BJP and Bollywood

Last few months have seen a grotesque display of obscene wealth in India, a country with well-documented levels of extreme povertyhunger and unemployment. Indian billionaire Mukesh Ambani has splurged hundreds of millions of dollars on his son's wedding attended by top politicians including Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Hollywood and Bollywood celebrities and Ambani's fellow billionaires who have accumulated vast amounts of wealth in one of the world's most unequal countries.  Experts blame it on Mr. Modi's policies promoting crony capitalism.  Viral Acharya, former deputy governor of Reserve Bank of India, told the BBC that their ability to acquire large distressed companies, a growing appetite for mergers and acquisitions, and India's conscious industrial policy of creating "national champions via preferential allocation of projects and in some cases regulatory agencies turning a blind eye to predatory pricing".

Indian Prime Minister Modi at the Ambani Wedding in Mumbai. Source: ANI

Between 2014-15 and 2022-23 on Mr. Modi's watch, the rapid rise in inequality in India has been particularly striking in terms of wealth concentration, according to World Inequality Lab. The top 1% now control over 40% of total wealth in India, up from 12.5% in 1980, and they earn 22.6% of total pre-tax income, up from 7.3% in 1980.  Almost 90% of the country's billionaire wealth has been found concentrated in the hands of the upper castes. The Inequality Report concludes: "This spectacular rise of inequality (in India) makes the “Billionaire Raj” headed by India’s modern bourgeoise more unequal than the British Raj headed by the colonialist forces. It also squarely places India among the most unequal countries in the world". 

Bollywood, the powerful Indian film industry, has become a key enabler of BJP's billionaire-friendly and   Islamophobic policies. In a piece titled “India's theatrical politics: Bollywood, billionaires and the BJP", authors Sehr Rushmeen and Wanya Sidhu write: "By shaping narratives that subtly endorse “Hindutva” ideologies, sometimes even employing Muslim actors to deliver skewed messages, Bollywood contributes to a socio-political echo chamber in favor of Modi’s BJP...... Bollywood movies transcend mere entertainment; they convey narratives cleverly crafted to align with the BJP’s political agenda. By consistently portraying Muslims and Pakistan in a negative spotlight, these Indian blockbusters perpetuate a cycle of fear and nationalistic fervor to garner votes for the BJP while discarding the imperative of forging national unity".

Meanwhile, India's child-wasting rate of 18.7% is the highest in the world, according to the Global Hunger Index (GHI) 2023 released last year.  The South Asian country’s child wasting rate is higher than that of war-torn Yemen (at 14.4%) and Sudan (at 13.7%), which are ranked second and third in the world. Pakistan's child wasting rate is 8%.  It represents the share of children under age five who have low weight for their height, reflecting acute undernutrition.  The child wasting rate of the South Asia region is 14.8%, the highest of any world region and more than twice the child wasting rate of Africa. India is home to a quarter of the world's most undernourished people. According to the United Nations, India has nearly 195 million undernourished people. This is more than any other country, including China. 

India Tops in Child Wasting Rate. Source: The Wire

India Tops the World in Child Wasting. Source: Global Hunger Index 2023

India's Hindu Nationalist government  of Prime Minister Narendra Modi wants to project India as a superpower launching moon missions and hosting G20 summits. Since the GHI 2023 report runs counter to this PR exercise, New Delhi has rejected its findings. But its own National Family Health Survey 5 (NFHS 5) says that "Thirty-six percent of children under age five years are stunted; 19 percent are wasted; 32 percent are underweight; and 3 percent are overweight. Children born to mothers with no schooling and children in the lowest wealth quintile are most likely to be undernourished". 

Overall, India ranks at the 111th position out of 124 countries, with neighboring Pakistan (102nd), Bangladesh (81st), Nepal (69th) and Sri Lanka (60th) faring better than India in the index. India has slipped four notches from its 107th position in 2022.

India has slipped 4 places, from 107 in 2022 to 111 in 2023, on GHI. Pakistan's ranking has also slipped 3 places, from 99 to 102.  It is not a huge surprise since the country is still facing the aftermath of the disastrous floods of 2022. It is also suffering from a serious economic crisis. Meanwhile, India's Modi government is making claims to being the world's fastest growing economy. And yet, Indian children are the most malnourished in the world. 

India Malnutrition Indicator Trends. Source GHI 2023

Pakistan Malnutrition Indicator Trends. Source GHI 2023

There's a close relationship between hunger and poverty. At the $3.65 poverty line, India accounts for 40% of the slight upward revision of the global poverty rate from 23.6% to 24.1%, according to the World Bank September 2023 Global Poverty Update. It is the same update that made the following recent headline in the Indian and Pakistani media about Pakistan: "Pakistan's 40% Population Lives Below Poverty Line, Says World Bank". Fact: 45.9% of Indians and 39.4% of Pakistanis live below the $3.65 a day poverty line as of September, 2023, according to the latest World Bank global poverty update that takes into account the impact of inflation on poverty rates. But neither the Pakistani media nor India's compliant "Godi Media" reported it. Nor did they question why poverty in India is growing despite the Modi government's claim to be "the world's fastest growing economy". 

Related Links:

Haq's Musings

South Asia Investor Review

Pakistan Among World's Largest Food Producers

Pakistan Floods 2022

Food in Pakistan 2nd Cheapest in the World

India in Crisis: Unemployment and Hunger Persist After COVID

India Rising, Pakistan Collapsing

Record Number of Indians Seeking Asylum in US

Vast Majority of Pakistanis Support Imran Khan's Handling of Covid19 Crisis

Incomes of Poorest Pakistanis Growing Faster Than Their Richest Counterparts

Pakistanis Consuming More Calories, Fruits & Vegetables Per Capita 

How Grim is Pakistan's Social Sector Progress?

Pakistan Fares Marginally Better Than India On Disease Burdens

COVID Lockdown Decimates India's Middle Class

Pakistan Child Health Indicators

Pakistan's Balance of Payments Crisis

How Has India Built Large Forex Reserves Despite Perennial Trade Deficits

Riaz Haq's Youtube Channel

Wednesday, July 10, 2024

Solar Power Boom in Pakistan

Falling solar panel prices and soaring rates for grid electricity are driving a renewable power boom in Pakistan. A second factor spurring the growth in clean energy installations is the requirement of major western apparel brands for garments and textile manufacturers to switch to clean energy. As a result, the solar panel imports in the country jumped from 2,800 MW in 2022 to 5,000 MW in 2023, in spite of stringent import controls imposed by the government. Solar imports are on track to reach 12,000 MW in 2024, according to solar installers. The total current installed generation capacity in Pakistan is around 40,000 MW. Grid electricity demand in Pakistan plunged in 2023 by nearly a sixth and a decline in 2024 would mark the first time in 16 years that annual electricity use has fallen consecutively, data from energy think tank Ember showed, according to Reuters.

Pakistan Solar Panel Imports. Source: PV Magazine

Omar Malik, the CEO of Shams Power, a major solar system contractor in Pakistan, was recently quoted by PV Magazine as saying: “In 2022, 2.8 GW of solar panels were imported into Pakistan. In 2023, about 5 GW, despite the import controls, and this year the prediction is for up to 12 GW”. 

Aamir Hussain, chairman Pakistan Alternative Energy Association, told Arab News that solar panels of around 1,800 MW were purchased and installed last year, which was expected to jump to 3,000 MW this year due to the lower prices of the panels and increased customer demand.

 “Pakistan will be spending over $3.5 billion [this year] on solar panel imports only as this doesn’t include import of batteries, inverters and other auxiliary items,” Hussain said. “Pakistan needs to follow consistent policies regarding renewable energy to meet its national and international obligations for the greenhouse gas emissions.”

Japanese publication Nikkei Asia recently reported seeing residential building rooftops covered with solar panels in Islamabad. It also reported proliferation of rooftop solar in small towns and villages across the country. In particular, the Nikkei story mentioned the remote village of Kardigap with a population of 5,000, in Balochistan province, where solar panels are becoming more common on the rooftops of houses. 

Responding to western apparel brands' demand for sustainability, a number of large Pakistani textile manufacturers are switching to clean energy, particularly solar. Tayyab Group of Industries (TGOIs), a major textile manufacturer, has recently signed an MOU to install a 20 MW solar system for its needs. Gul Ahmed Textile Mills Limited announced recently that it will install a 17.1 MW roof-top solar power plant to meet its energy needs.

While rapid uptake of solar is good news for the planet, it does create a major fiscal issue for the Pakistani government struggling to pay for power produced by the independent power producers (IPPs). The IPPs, many of them Chinese, secured a guaranteed return on investment indexed to the U.S. dollar, plus payment for fixed capacity charges -- covering their debt servicing and other fixed costs -- regardless of whether the power plants are operational, according to Nikkei Asia. As the demand for the grid power from the IPPs declines with rising solar, the taxpayers are still on the hook for the unused installed capacity charges running into billions of dollars. Higher power tariffs and taxes will only make the situation worse. 

Capping Net Metering power and reducing payments for supplying excess power to the grid are not going to solve the problem either. It will only encourage more consumers to switch to rooftop solar and use less electricity from the grid. Self consumption of the rooftop solar power saves significant energy costs for the consumer. 

It seems the only way forward for the Pakistan government is to renegotiate the terms with the IPPs to significantly reduce grid power costs to address the growing cost gap between rooftop solar and the grid power. 

Related Links:

Haq's Musings

South Asia Investor Review

Clean Energy Revolution in Pakistan

Pakistan Electric Vehicle Policy

Nuclear Power in Pakistan

Recurring Cycles of Drought and Floods in Pakistan

Pakistan's Response to Climate Change

IPP Contacts Bankrupting Pakistan

Renewable Energy for Pakistan

Net Metering in Pakistan

LNG Imports in Pakistan

Growing Water Scarcity in Pakistan

China-Pakistan Economic Corridor

Ownership of Appliances and Vehicles in Pakistan

CPEC Transforming Pakistan

Pakistan's $20 Billion Tourism Industry Boom

Riaz Haq's YouTube Channel

PakAlumni Social Network

Thursday, July 4, 2024

Pakistani Stock Market is the World's Best Performing Market in 2024

Pakistan's KSE-100 shares index topped 80,000 points on Wednesday as stocks climbed more than 600 points, making it the world's best performing stock market. The benchmark KSE-100 index has posted an annual return of 89% during FY24 (July 2023-June 2024) in PKR terms while in US dollar terms, the return was 94%, as the Pakistani rupee appreciated against the US dollar, according to Pakistani media reports.  This outstanding market performance is generally being seen as a consequence of a series of unpopular decisions  by the military-backed government of Prime Minister Shahbaz Sharif to carry out economic reforms to win the IMF support. 

Pakistani Stock Market Outperforms Asian Peers. Source: Bloomberg

Specifically, some analysts attribute the record increase in Pakistani share prices to multiple factors, ranging from the government's investor-friendly budget to the expectation of closing a longer term IMF deal. Others believe the relatively low price-earnings (P/E) multiples of Pakistani stocks make them attractive to investors. 

Awais Ashraf, director of research at AKD securities, attributed the stocks upward momentum to “expected entry into the larger IMF program and expected monetary easing boosting investor confidence in equities”, according to Dawn newspaper

“The majority increase in return is attributed to re-rating of Price to Earning (PE) from 2.2-2.4x in June 30, 2023 to 3.94x in Jun 28, 2024,” said a Pakistani investment firm Topline Securities in its report. It attributed the PE multiple re-rating to “improving economic indicators, i.e. increase in exports and remittances by 11% and 9%, respectively in 11MFY24, decline in inflation from peak of 38.0% in May-23 to 11.8% in May 2024.”

Foreign portfolio investors are coming back to Pakistan’s debt and equity markets after a prolonged absence, marking a significant shift in market sentiment, according to a report in The Express Tribune newspaper. The short-term external investment has surged by a remarkable 84%, catapulting to a 30-month high, now standing at Rs 501.30 billion (US$ 1.8 billion) .

There is a distinct difference in how the new budget, compliant with the IMF requirements, has been received by the ordinary public compared to the investor class. Higher taxes on consumption in the new budget have angered most consumers but the prospects of  lower fiscal deficits and significant macro-economic improvements are generally being welcomed by investors. The government, backed by the Pakistani military, sees the need to improve the macro-economic indicators as essential to improving the long-term health of the national economy

Related Links: