Pakistani government aims to limit the use of foreign satellites

The Pakistani government is taking measures and issuing directives that aim to utilize the National Space programme assets, while diminishing dependency on foreign satellites.

It was reported in Islamabad that the Pakistani government is aiming to constrain the use of foreign satellites and evade foreign exchange flows through the introduction of standard operating procedures (SOPs). This would warrant the maximum utilization of Pakistani satellites by local users.

The new policy guidelines and the SOPs were on the schedule of the meeting of the Economic Coordination Committee, which was held on the 15th of July, Wednesday.

Certain key stakeholders expressed reservations over the SOPs which meant that there were chances of the retraction of the summary that was put forth to the members of the ECC.

The meeting was to be presided over by the Adviser to the Prime Minister on Finance and Revenue Dr. Abdul Hafeez Sheikh. There was a nine-point agenda to be deliberated over and discussed by the ECC. These issues included that of the allocation of natural gas to localities within a 5km radius of gas fields, as well as a sequence of summaries of the ministry of maritime affairs for various facilities of industrial zones at Port Qasim.

According to informed sources, the then Prime Minister in 2004 had given instructions on the maximum utilization of Pakistani satellite facilities not long after the launch of the first satellite.

The “Paksat Programme-Way Forward” that was issued at the time by the PM office envisioned an implementation of contours and parameters that were administrative, financial, and regulatory. These aspects were meant to be implemented in policy frameworks.

The Strategic Plans Division (SPD) submitted a summary to the Prime Minister in March 2019, which attempted to acknowledge and address gaps in regulatory and financial aspects related to the sustainability of the National Space Programme. This is an all-encompassing program that envisions developments in the field of space and has direct linkages with the strategic program.

According to the reports by the ministry of information technology and telecom, the ECC was informed that the national space assets’ utilization had the potential to generate $544 million (Rs. 85 billion) since 2004, but can still generate about $600m-700m by 2030 in light of effective expansion by Paksat Satellite services.

The National Space Programme has already been approved by the prime minister, who headed the National Command Authority (NCA). The structure of the space program is based on the idea of decreasing dependence on foreign and domestic funding. Hence, revenue earning satellite services being provided by the Pakistan Space and Upper Atmosphere Research Commission (Suparco) need to be fully utilized.

However, the current unregulated satellite domestic market means that this is presently not the situation. The ECC was informed of this in a summary.

According to the summary, the total satellite capacity usage at present in Pakistan is approximately 2200 MHz out of which 21 percent is on Pakistani satellites and the rest on foreign satellites. To put it in financial terms, a minimum of $35-40m per year is going out of the country and the default of users of Pakistan satellites, in the absence of regulations, has piled to $22.48m.

The summary demonstrates how countries in the same region, namely India, China, and Bangladesh, restrict the use of foreign satellite systems, which offers regulatory and financial fortification to their space programs.

An inter-ministerial committee was formed by the prime minister, headed by the minister for information technology and telecommunications. The aim was to construct a framework along with recommendations.

After much deliberation, the committee recommended the implementation of policy measures that would amplify the use of national space assets which were arranged by Suparco and Paksat International for satellite services in Pakistan in national and financial interest.

The prime minister followed the recommendations of the committee, and then instructed the minister to create policy options after consultation with the SPD, Pakistan Telecommunication Authority and other stakeholders and suggest clear recommendations and SOPs.

According to the minister, a draft policy directive for the provision of satellite services in Pakistan would have the potential to raise $600-700m for the national space program until 2030. Apart from this, it would also have indirect benefits associated with the advancement of indigenous space technology.

This policy directive would allow the ministries and divisions concerned to process actions related to them per relevant government authorizations.

The ECC would also take up a report on litigation between the IT minister and LMKR – a US-based service provider of Pakistani origin – as well as approval of Saudi Riyal 22.5 million equity investment abroad by Eastern Products (Pvt.) Limited.

The meeting also had to consider the five summaries of the maritime affairs ministry for the construction of the remaining water supply network, sewerage system, roads, and stormwater drains in North West and South West Industrial Zones at Port Qasim, besides the appointment of engineering consultancy services for these construction works.

Source: Dawn

Author: Wardah Javaid