Technological crisis

Recently, Pak Suzuki Motors (PSMs) announced a shutdown of its automobile plant for nearly a week owing to inventory shortfalls. Similarly, Indus Motor Company (IMC), the maker (read assembler) of Toyota vehicles, has also decided to completely shut down its production plant from February 1 to 14, citing insufficient inventory levels. Honda Motor Company has similar woes. Thus, the auto companies have mentioned that they and their vendors continue to face major hurdles in the import of raw materials and auto components due to present import restrictions.
Pakistan’s local mobile industry ‘manufactured’ around 19.7 million mobile phones and smart devices during the last calendar year, especially after the Engineering Development Board (EDB) introduced a mobile manufacturing policy to encourage local ‘production’. Lately, a mobile manufacturing summit was organised by mobile manufacturers with EDB cooperation. A total of 31 local manufacturers were present to gather input from all the stakeholders to create a roadmap of development that maximised the industry’s output and benefitted the local population.
Government officials claim that the new mobile manufacturing policy would not only increase local ‘production’ but also could export to other competitive markets of the region and beyond-a cliché which is probably enunciated at the launch of every technological policy/ roadmap for every technological sector. The import ban has hit import-based technological sectors hard, noticeably automobiles, home appliances and mobile phones. Correspondingly, all the import-based technological sectors have interrupted time and again their ‘production’ and hiked the rates of their products numerous times for local consumers.
Further, industries and other similar technological sectors have been ‘manufacturing’ the same products, with little upgradation, for local consumption. Moreover, given the labour-intensive and low-technological intensity of our local technological sectors, they require human resources with minimum analytical and learning skills, which should be capable of performing low-skilled jobs repetitively on obsolete/phased-out technologies.
Various government agencies such as EDB, TUSDEC and SMEDA have been formulating policies/ roadmaps for various technological sectors, which have met with little success. Among other things, the word ‘manufacturing’ is used for the aforementioned sectors in the policy documents, while they are assembling CKD and SKD kits, which contribute little to the upgradation of technical skills of the workforce. Thus, it would be helpful if the word ‘assemblers’ is used while mentioning these sectors with their current technological base. Further, all the policies/ roadmaps extol the export potential of these technological sectors. However, then the relevant question is: How many engineers/ technicians/ workers from these export-capable technological sectors have found gainful employment abroad? If the human resource from these sectors cannot find meaningful employment abroad, then the next question mark is on the export worthiness of the products being assembled.
The present economic crisis has only exposed the shallowness of our technological sectors, which have been in operation for a few decades but have failed to contribute to Pakistan’s economy. These sectors, in their current state, are a drain on our foreign reserves as they have failed to indigenise core technologies and upgrade local vendors. Even now, for instance, policies are being formulated in the auto sector promoting cars and 2/3 wheelers. On the contrary, we need to move to products that contribute to the economy such as trucks, buses and earth-moving machinery. The need of the hour by the government and its affiliated agencies is to do more of the walk, and less of the talk, and devise policies with effective monitoring and evaluation mechanisms to move from a consumptive economy to a production economy.

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