The State Bank of Pakistan, Friday, directed all banks and financial institutes to rationalize processing fee and devise a comprehensive mechanism equipped with online E-tracking system to expedite processing of applications received under PM’s “Mera Pakistan Mera Ghar” housing finance scheme. “Devise a system to monitor 30 days Turn Around Time (TAT) for decision on applications received,’’ the central bank further directed while taking notice of a number of complaints especially regarding delayed processing, long turnaround time and no mechanism to track the financing application after submission. SBP’s Infrastructure, Housing and SME Finance Department, through a circular letter to heads of all banks, Development Finance Institutes and Micro Finance Banks, advised to immediately start providing to the applicants a receipt with unique tracking number against each housing finance application. Meanwhile, put in place within 30 days from the date of the Circular an online e-tracking mechanism and a phone based help line to provide, on query of applicant, status and expected time required for decision on application, the circular reads. The SBP called for recording and conveying reasons of rejection of housing finance application to the applicant in simple and clear form and to conduct rigorous training of branch officials to enhance their knowledge on Mera Pakistan Mera Ghar scheme and improve their behavior towards customers. “Equip the branch officials, through training and alignment of systems and procedures, to perform initial scrutiny and inform the customer about missing requirements/documents at the time of submission of application,” the circular elaborated and urged on capacity building of call center officials to adequately address queries of customers. The banks and DFIs were further advised to adopt appropriate measures to resolve complaints in timely manner as it was observed that complaints lodged on State Bank complaint portal remain pending with banks for unduly long times. Moreover, banks were directed to review policy for designation of focal person for State Bank complaint portal and ensure that at least one focal person was present in each region to handle the complaints. The central bank also taken notice of complaints of potential borrowers under PM’s Mera Ghar scheme about exorbitant processing charges and advised banks and DFIs to review and rationalize their processing fee for financing considering their actual costs and provide breakup of these charges to the applicants at the time of receipt of applications. In order to increase prospects of applicants to avail housing finance under Government Mark-up Subsidy Scheme, the SBP advised banks and DFIs to guide the applicants regarding the options of 100% clubbing of income of up to four co-applicants and enhancing their credit worthiness through third party guarantee as allowed vide IH&SMEFD Circular No. 01 of 2021. ICT powerhouse: Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) has called Pakistan “the next ICT powerhouse” in a handout that was released recently. Digital Pakistan Policy (2018) that offers multiple incentives to IT sector is one of the key driving factors in this trend, the report highlights, says a press release received here today from Tokyo. According to the handout, Pakistan’s ICT exports have increased six-times in the past 10 years, achieving fastest growth in South Asia. Pakistan is a popular international outsourcing destination for its price competitiveness and presence of a large number of active freelancers, the report adds. Based on a yearlong study by JICA in collaboration with Pakistan Embassy Tokyo, the publication places Pakistan as a new partner for Japanese IT companies. The report gives an overview of ICT industry in Pakistan; its performance in IT exports; the support structure provided by Pakistani government; a valuable pool of skilled and young human resource; and, achievement of a growth lead ecosystem equally owned by public and private sectors. This study includes an “IT Skills Survey 2021” which found that Pakistani ICT engineers are highly skilled in programming, software development, data processing & analysis, infrastructure architecture and cloud engineering. The report also includes feedback on Pakistani ICT engineers already working in Japan who consider Pakistan an untapped market for Japanese IT companies, encouraging them to know more about Pakistan and its collective potential in ICT. Ambassador Mr. Imtiaz Ahmad welcomed the project team in March 2020, offering them complete support of the Mission while thanking JICA for its continued support in export and development sectors in Pakistan. In the past the same team of experts from JICA has rolled out various projects for human resource development; value addition in textiles; technical training; and, water and sanitation infrastructure in Pakistan Due to travel limitations posed by Covid-19 pandemic, Trade & Investment Counsellor Tahir Habib Cheema played a key role in connecting JICA experts with ICT industry in Pakistan. The Mission welcomes JICA report which acknowledges Pakistan’s efforts to promote creative ICT utilization, entrepreneurship and innovation with the support of private players providing access to financing, export promotion and support for start-ups. Establishment of National Incubation Centers in five major cities and joint efforts of government, industry and academia are successfully accelerating growth of ICT industry in Pakistan. It is expected that with the recent increase in export of Pakistani goods to Japan, such efforts will play an effective role in increasing IT exports and help increase employment opportunities for Pakistani IT engineers and skilled workforce.