—PITB officials term Dr Saif’s untimely sacking as ‘political victimisation’, say he is also likely to be relieved of his duties as ITU VC
–Senior bureaucrat Habibur Rehman Gilani to replace Dr Saif: sources
LAHORE: The Punjab government on Monday decided to Dr Umar Saif as the chairman of the Punjab Information Technology Board (PITB) and is likely to depute Planning and Development (P&D) Chairman Habibur Rehman Gilani in his place.
The Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) government approved a summary to replace Dr Saif, according to reliable sources who added that the charge is likely to be given to Gilani, a senior bureaucrat, who will be appointed in accordance with the new rules.
No notification has been issued in this regard, however, Dr Saif confirmed the government’s bid to replace him. “It is the prerogative of the government to appoint anyone they wish … I hope they appoint someone who can take this forward,” he added.
Later, in a Facebook post, Dr Saif shared an emotional message starting with, “All good things must come to an end. It was a privilege to serve this country for 7 years.”
Recalling his achievements, he said “[I] served 5 successive governments and established two institutions: PITB, which became the main reform engine for the government with over 300 projects in Punjab and other provinces, and ITU, which in just 5 years, became one of the premier technology universities of Pakistan with close to 100 PhD faculty members.”
“Plan9, PlanX and e-Rozgaar paved new avenues of entrepreneurship, innovation and employment for the youth of Pakistan,” he said, concluding that he served”beyond provincial boundaries and political divides,” he said.
Meanwhile, Punjab Chief Minister Sardar Usman Buzdar directed the authorities to form new service rules for the technology board’s top post, media reports said.
Dr Saif was given the additional charge of PITB chairmanship in November 2011 by the government of Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N). He was made responsible for all public-sector information technology projects in the province.
Winner of Sitar-e-Imtiaz Award, Dr Saif also serves as the Information Technology University (ITU) vice-chancellor.
ANOTHER VICTIM OF POLITICAL VICTIMISATION?
Officials in the PITB seeking anonymity expressed their distress over the development, sayinf that the new chief Gilani could bring difficulties in the board as he lacks expertise in the field of IT.
“Gilani may not be able to manage the technicalities of the projects and it is less likely that he will be able to carry forward the objectives and vision of the PITB,” they said.
They further commented that since there was no obvious cause, like corruption, to sack Dr Saif, it is likely that he was relieved of his duties for political reasons.
After the untimely removal of Dr Saif, many projects of the PITB could be at risk as he was technically involved in all the matters and supervised them, sources said.
Some PTI ministers with close allegiance to PM Imran Khan had reservations with Dr Saif as he shared a prolonged experience with the previous PML-N government and had strong ties with former Punjab chief minister Shehbaz Sharif, the officials said, adding that this move could shake the country’s IT industry.
Officials said Dr Saif is also likely to be removed from the position of ITU VC despite standing out in terms of merit when the hiring was first done.
DR UMAR SAIF:
Dr Umar Saif has extensive experience in academia, management, consulting and entrepreneurship in the IT sector. He received his academic training from LUMS, Cambridge and MIT. He did his BSc (Hons) from LUMS (1998), PhD from University of Cambridge (2001) and Post-Doctorate from MIT (2002). He has received executive education from the Harvard Kennedy School on Global Leadership and Public Policy in 2013.
During his tenure as the PITB chairman, Dr Saif launched several initiatives aimed at improving citizen services for police, high-court, city district government, health and education, especially using smartphones. He led the development of Punjab Innovation Policy in collaboration with Google and launched Plan-9, Pakistan’s first and largest public-sector startup incubator. He is largely credited with revamping the intermediate and matric exam system in Punjab, after a complete debacle of the exam system in the previous year.
Under his leadership, PITB designed the smartphone-based early epidemic warning system that played a central role in fighting the dengue epidemic in Punjab in 2012, and rolled out an innovative citizen feedback model for fighting corruption using technology. The PITB also led the deployment of the first Automatic Fare Collection system for mass transit in Pakistan and automated the operations of the first Lahore Metro Bus System. Dr Saif led the development of Pakistan’s first e-learning platform, making school textbooks in Punjab freely available online, augmented with interactive learning resources.
The renowned computer scientist was awarded the United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) Chair for Information and Communication Technology for Development (ICTD) in April. He is the first Pakistani to be named as one of the top 35 innovators in the world by MIT Technology Review (TR35) in 2011, and a Young Global Leader by the World Economic Forum in 2010.
Dr Saif is also the only Pakistani who has received the Google Faculty Research Award, Mark Weiser Award, MIT Technovator Award and Microsoft Research Digital Inclusion Award. He was also awarded British Council Outstanding Alumni Award in 2017.
He was bestowed the Sitara-e-Imtiaz by Pakistan Government in 2014, and has been named among the most influential Muslims in the world in 2014-2018.