Sunday, June 17, 2012

Social Media Revolution Exposes Corruption in Pakistan

Social media revolution is well underway in Pakistan. The new media are coming of age, and trumping the traditional commercial media. Many of the top journalists in the mainstream media knew about Arsalan's Iftikhar's massive corruption but it was through Youtube that the world first learned about it. The same pattern repeated itself when Duniya TV's incriminating off-air video footage found its way on Youtube.

 Familygate or Arslangate:

It has now been established that Malik Riaz Husain of Bahria Town approached a number of top TV talk show hosts in Pakistan and shared detailed information, videos and documentation about $3.7 million in illegal payments made to Arsalan Iftikhar, the son of Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry, over several years. Others, including Chaudhry Aitazaz Ahsan, knew about it and shared it with Justice Chaudhry a while ago. While rumors swirled among the Capital insiders, the public at large was kept in the dark until recently when a video of Shaheen Sehbai talking about it surfaced on Youtube and forced the mainstream media to finally discuss it on air.

Here's Shaheen Sehbai breaking the scandal on Youtube:

 

Mediagate: 

Several behind-the-scenes video clips of a Dunya TV talk show leaked on Youtube reveal the television hosts appearing to be helping Malik Riaz Husain prepare his answers, and in certain cases even spoon-feeding him the answers.
 
The leaked video also shows a son of Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani and a daughter of Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz) chief Nawaz Sharif calling in to try and influence the on-air contents. “Why don’t you start talking about it yourself, otherwise [if we ask] it will seem planted, which it is, but I don’t know if it should look planted,” says Ms Mehr Bukhari to Malik Riaz while Mr Lucman say that “I’ll say it on air that I’ve been "pressurised" by Mian Amir Mehmood (Dunya TV's owner) and Malik Riaz to do this program.”

Here's two-part Duniya TV's leaked video on Youtube:

 



Questions:

The fact that mainstream media sat on these stories raises serious questions about whose interests are its journalists serving? Why are they afraid to expose the top judges? What kind of illegal payments and other favors are they accepting  from the rich and the powerful? How are the commercial interests of the media owners influencing the editorial opinions and news coverage? Are they trying to hide their own guilt? And to what end?

What's Next:

Free and independent media are often seen as an effective watchdog in a democracy. But the question being asked now is who's watching the watchdogs? One possible answer is that the new super watchdogs are  the ordinary citizen journalists and bloggers who are active in the new cybermedia and not beholden to any special interests.

High-speed broadband expansion led by PTCL has propelled Pakistan to become the fourth fastest growing broadband market in the world and the second fastest in Asia, according to a recent industry report. Serbia leads all countries surveyed with a 68% annual growth rate from Q1 2010 to Q1 2011. Thailand (67%), Belarus (50%), Pakistan (46%), and Jordan (44%) follow Serbia. India is in 14th place worldwide with a 35% annual growth rate.


 In spite of rapid growth, the level of Internet penetration is Pakistan is still low. In a population of 180 million, only 30  million ( about 16 percent) are connected to the Internet, according to Internet World Stats. It's enough Pakistan among the top 20 nations in terms of Internet subscribers. And Internet use in Pakistan is growing at a rapid rate, particularly in urban centers where 40% of the population lives, which are also home to the middle class which often forms the backbone of mass-scale uprisings. Mobile Internet use shot up 161 percent in 2010 alone.

Summary:

I believe Pakistan is entering a new era of the Internet media. And I hope that the new social media will continue to enjoy sufficient freedom and growth to provide wide enough access in Pakistan for the citizen journalists to play their role as a watchdog where the mainstream commercial media fails. Sunlight is indeed the best disinfectant for the rot that characterizes Pakistan's power centers today.


Related Links:

Haq's Musings

Imran Khan's Social Media Campaign

Culture of Corruption in Pakistan

Pak Judges' Jihad Against Corruption

Pakistan Rolls Out 50Mbps Broadband Service

Mobile Internet in South Asia

Media and Telecom Sectors Growing in Pakistan

Internet Service Providers of Pakistan

Chaudhry is No Angel

Justice Chaudhry's Address to New York Bar

Incompetence and Corruption in Pakistan

Zardari Corruption Probe

NRO Amnesty Order Overturned

Transparency International Rankings 2011

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Sunday, June 10, 2012

Pakistan Needs National Energy Policy

Since the middle of the 18th century, the Industrial Revolution has transformed the world. Energy-hungry machines are now doing more and more of the work at much higher levels of productivity than humans and animals who did it in pre-industrial era.  In recent years, the rapid growth in computers and mobile phones spawned by the Information  and Communications Technology (ICT) revolution has further increased demand for energy. Currently somewhere between 5-10% of  electrical consumption is for ICT and it's likely to continue to grow rapidly.

Energy Consumption:

Energy consumption in this day and age generally indicates a nation's level of industrialization, productivity and standards of living. Going by this yardstick, Pakistan's 14 million BTUs per capita consumption in 2009 indicates that the country has a long way to go to achieve levels comparable with the world average productivity signified by 71 million BTUs per capita as estimated by US Energy Information Administration for 2009.

Regional Comparison:

Although Pakistan's 14 million BTUs per capita energy use is ahead of Bangladesh's 6 million BTUs and Sri Lanka's 10 million BTUs, it is less than India's 18 million BTUs, and far behind China's 68 million BTUs and Malaysia's 97 million BTUs.

 Energy Costs:

Fossil fuels are currently the primary source of the bulk of energy used. Cost of producing energy from various fossil fuels ranges from $2-4 per million BTUs for coal to $19-20 per million BTUs from oil. Costs of energy from natural gas vary widely depending on the source. Cost of shale gas in the United States has plummeted to about $2 per million BTU recently, while Pakistan has signed agreements to purchase gas from Iran and Turkmenistan in the range of $10 to $12 per million BTUs. Cost of production of domestic natural gas is in the range of $2 to $4 per million BTU.



Impact on Economy:

Energy costs have had a huge impact on Pakistan's economy. Its heavy dependence on imported oil has been a big contributor to balance of payments crises in the past. In 2008, for example, the oil prices jumped from less than $50 a barrel to $150 a barrel and forced the country to seek IMF bailout. Pakistan oil import bill has increased from about $7 billion in 2007 to over $12 billion in 2011. Energy shortages have also put a significant dent in Pakistan's GDP growth.

Pakistan's Fuel Options:

If Pakistan could generate all of the 14 million BTUs of energy per capita from coal, the cost would be $28 to $56 for each person. Alternatively, the cost of using oil for the entire production would add up to about $280 per person, a significant chunk of Pakistan's per capita income of $1372 in 2011-12. The costs therefore range from a low of $28 to a high of $280 per Pakistani.

Energy Policy Suggestions:

As the nation develops and the energy demand increases, the policy makers have to try and produce as much of the needed energy at costs closer to the low-end of the range from $2 to $20 per million BTUs. Here are some policy suggestions for Pakistan's energy policy going forward:

1. Develop Pakistan's shale gas reserves estimated at 51 trillion cubic feet near Karachi in southern Sindh province. The US experience has shown that investment in shale gas can increase production quite rapidly and prices brought down from about $12 per mmBTU in 2008 to under $2 per mmBTU recently. Pursuing this option requires US technical expertise and significant foreign investment on an accelerated schedule.

2. Increase production of gas from nearly 30 trillion cubic feet of remaining conventional gas reserves. This, too, requires significant investment on an accelerated schedule.

3. Convert some of the idle power generation capacity  from oil and gas to imported coal to make electricity more available and affordable.

4. Utilize Pakistan's vast coal reserves in Sindh's Thar desert. The problem here is that the World Bank, Asian Development Bank and other international financial institutions (IFIs) are not lending for coal development because of environmental concerns.And the Chinese who were showing interest in the project have since pulled out.

5. Invest in hydroelectric and other renewables including wind and solar. Several of these projects are funded and underway but it'll take a while to bring them online to make a difference.

6. Curb widespread power theft, improve collection of electricity dues from consumers, and resolve spiraling circular debt to make Pakistan's energy sector attractive to domestic and foreign investors. 

Energy Conservation:

In addition to significantly increasing energy production, Pakistan needs to take prudent steps to conserve by promoting the use of energy-saving electric bulbs and machines. Concerns about the environment have propelled many developed nations to cut energy consumption in recent years.  For example, serious conservation efforts have reduced  Japan's 172 million BTUs per capita in 2009 down from 178 in 2005, Germany is at 163 million BTUs in 2009 down from 175 in 2005, and the United States is down to 308 million BTUs in 2009 from 340 million BTUs per person per year in 2005.

Summary:

Instead of addressing different pieces of the energy puzzle in an ad hoc fashion under multiple ministries and bureaucracies fighting turf battles,  Pakistani policy makers need to look at the big picture for the sake of the nation's future. Nothing short of a holistic approach with a comprehensive energy policy formulated and implemented under a competent and powerful energy czar will do.

Related Links:

Haq's Musings

US EIA International Data on Per Capita Energy Consumption

Affordable Fuel for Pakistan's Electricity

Pakistan Needs Shale Gas Revolution

US Census Bureau's International Stats 

Pakistan's Vast Shale Gas Reserves

US AID Overview of Pakistan's Power Sector

US Can Help Pakistan Overcome Energy Crisis

Abundant and Cheap Coal Electricity

US Dept of Energy Report on Shale Gas

Pakistan's Twin Energy Crises

Pakistan's Electricity Crisis

Pakistan's Gas Pipeline and Distribution Network

Pakistan's Energy Statistics

US Department of Energy Data

Electrification Rates By Country

CO2 Emissions, Birth, Death Rates By Country

China Signs Power Plant Deals in Pakistan

Pakistan Pursues Hydroelectric Projects

Pakistan Energy Industry Overview

Energy from Thorium

Comparing US and Pakistani Tax Evasion

Pakistan's Oil and Gas Report 2010

Circular Electricity Debt Problem

International CNG Vehicles Association

Rare Earths at Reko Diq?

Lessons From IPP Experience in Pakistan

Correlation Between Human Development and Energy Consumption


Friday, June 8, 2012

OPEN Forum 2012 in Silicon Valley

Hundreds of Pakistani-American entrepreneurs met on Saturday, June 2, 2012 at Silicon Valley's Computer History Museum for this year's annual conference called OPEN Forum held each summer. It's organized by the Organization of Pakistani-American Entrepreneurs (OPEN) in Silicon Valley.  The conference had a large number of sponsors, including dozens of Silicon Valley companies founded or managed by Pakistani-Americans.

Successful social entrepreneur Salman Khan of Khan Academy was the keynote speaker. There were also a number of parallel tracks on various topics of interest to the community. Panelists included venture capitalists, business executives, entrepreneurs, engineers, lawyers, scientists, editors and reporters. I am sharing with my readers some of the highlights of the key sessions that I personally found interesting.


Photo by Ali Hasan Cemendtaur
INVESTMENT CLIMATE IN PAKISTAN – DO THE RETURNS OFFSET THE PERCEIVED RISKS?

 It was moderated by Stephen West, Deputy Bureau Chief & Editor Bloomberg News, and included Sarfaraz Ahmed Rehman, CEO The Dawood Foundation, Junaid Qureshi, CEO, SSJD Group, Javed Hamid, Sr. MD, International Executive Service Corps, Former World Bank, Founder, LUMs and Naveed Sherwani, President & CEO at Open-Silicon as panelists. Sarfaraz Ahmed Rehman represented Dawood Group includes Pakistani conglomerate Engro with multiple businesses ranging from consumer products to fertilizer and energy. Rehman talked about annual growth of as much as 45% per year in some of the product categories in Dawood's consumer product sales and profits. He said other consumer giants like Unilever Pakistan, Colgate-Palmolive and Nestle Pakistan are experiencing similar rapid growth as well. All of these companies are investing heavily to expand their FMCG offerings in Pakistan.

Naveed Sherwani of Silicon Valley based OpenSilicon talked about his reasons for setting up his company's chip design centers in Lahore and Islamabad by hiring 67 Pakistani design engineers. Sherwani said OpenSilicon considered adding staff at their existing design center in Bangalore, India and also considered Shanghai, China for expansion before choosing Pakistan. The key reasons include availability of top talent, lower turn-over and lower costs in Lahore and Islamabad. Comparing turn-over, he said it's about 15% in Pakistan versus 30% in India. Answering a question on power outages and security concerns, he said both are manageable. Stand-by generators alleviate the problems caused by load shedding. And, being a frequent visitor to Pakistan, he feels quite safe there.

GAME CHANGERS TELL ALL: “WORK? PLAY? THERE’S AN APP FOR THAT"

 The panel was moderated by Umair Khan, CEO, SecretBuilders; Chairman, Folio3; Venture Partner, Entrepreneurs’ Fund and included Joe Robinson: Product Lead, Square, Charles Huang: CEO Blue Goji; co-founder Red Octane (Guitar Hero), Zia Yusuf: CEO Streetline; former EVP SAP, Robert Martyn: Studio GM, Zynga; Executive Producer of SIMS, SimCity at EA, Omar Siddiqui: CEO Kiwi; former VP Playdom (Disney) as panelists.

The mobile apps market has exploded from almost zero to nearly $3 billion within just a few years as smartphones and tablets have become ubiquitous. Panelists represented a range of apps from gaming and social media to an application that allows people to find a parking spot while enabling the cities to raise their parking revenues. The key question was how can developers effectively market their apps in such a crowded space. Zia quipped "Get Ashton Kutcher", referring to the use of celebrities to get attention. Another panelist suggested turning to new niches such as fitness and cycling to get a slice of the action by offering a piece of specialized hardware along with the application. One suggestion was to sell a hard-shell case for the mobile device and offer free download of a useful application for cyclists.


 
SALMAN KHAN'S KEYNOTE: 

 Defying tradition, Salman Khan chose an interview style format with Bay Area Journalist Thuy Vu who introduced Khan and played a CBS 60 Minutes segment on Khan Academy.

Thuy began by asking Khan if he was still recording his videos in his closet, and Khan said "No, I have come out of closet". Then he proceeded to offer to pay "market rate" for larger office; studio space in Palo Alto for Khan Academy.

In answer to a question about being "teacher to the world" in Bill Gates' words, Khan said he is aware that English language limits his ability to justify that title. He is working on broadening access to his tutorials in many parts of the world through translations in multiple languages ranging from Mongolian to Urdu. He showed a video clip of such translations.

Khan said the ubiquity and price declines of connected tablets make them ideal devices for watching and learning  from his videos. With twenty students sharing a $100 tablet, the cost is only $5 per student, he said. In developing nations where electricity and Intranet infrastructure is not available everywhere, he supports the use of Internet cafes or off-line learning through kiosks supporting DVDs. He is prepared to license his video contents at no-cost for non-profit organizations seeking to educate the poor and the disadvantaged.

SUMMARY:

The conference was put together well by OPEN President Moazzam Chaudhry and his team. It provided a great opportunity for Pakistani-Americans to meet each other and learn about start-up opportunities and current entrepreneurial endeavors of the community members in Silicon Valley and Pakistan. I believe the conference clearly succeeded in its immediate objective of bringing aspiring entrepreneurs of Pakistani origin together with many investors and mentors in Silicon Valley, informing the audience and stimulating discussion of new ideas and opportunities, and educating the speakers and the attendees. But its real impact won't be apparent until there is a significant critical mass with many more successful Pakistani entrepreneurs inspired by what they saw and heard at OPEN Forum 2012.

Acknowledgement: Asghar Aboobaker and Ali Hasan Cemendtaur contributed to this report. Photo taken by Ali Hasan Cemendtaur.

Related Links:

Haq's Musings

FMCG Profits in Pakistan

Pakistani-American Entrepreneurs Catch the Wave

Khan Academy Draws Pakistani Visitors

Minorities are Majority in Silicon Valley

Pakistani-American's Game-Changing Vision

US Firms Adding Jobs Overseas 

Pakistan's Demographic Dividend

Pakistanis Study Abroad

Pakistan's Youth Bulge

Pakistani Diaspora World's 7th Largest

Pakistani-American NFL Team Owner

Pakistani-American Entrepreneurs Catch the Wave

Pakistani Graduation Rate Higher Than India's

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