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National Institute of Oceanography faces severe shortage of funds

National Institute of Oceanography faces severe shortage of funds

ISLAMABAD: The National Institute of Oceanography (NIO), which assists the armed forces with strategy, faces an acute shortage of budget, a parliamentary committee was informed on Thursday.

NIO Director General Dr Asif Inam said until the last budget, the institute was allocated roughly Rs5m for research and development.

“The NIO will likely be allocated Rs30m this year after the minister for science and technology pushed the government to release more funds,” Dr Inam told the National Assembly Standing Committee on Science and Technology, which met for a briefing on the achievements and operations of the NIO since it was set up as an autonomous body under the Ministry of Science and Technology in 1982.

The committee was informed that the NIO supported and provided technical assistance to several organisations, including the Gwadar Development Authority, Pakistan Navy, Pakistan Air Force, Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Ministry of Ports and Shipping.

The committee members said the institute’s budget was insignificant given its important mandate, particularly its assistance to the armed forces, which is the institute’s greatest role.

They were also surprised to learn that of the Rs130m allocated to the NIO every year, over Rs120m went to regular expenditures such as salaries and bills. Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) MNA Ali Mohammad Khan said: “Most members own V8s that are more expensive than the Rs5 million the NIO gets for research and development.”

Dr Inam told the committee the navy depends entirely on the NIO while devising strategies. “The NIO provides the navy with critical information on where it can hide its submarines in the ocean from the enemy,” he said.

The NIO was recently included in a Rs650m project to find ways to stop sea intrusion along the coastal belt that could inundate developed areas in the next 30 to 40 years. In 2015, the institute helped the government claim 50,000 square kilometres of the seabed, extending Pakistan’s offshore limits from 200 nautical miles to 350 nautical miles further into the ocean.

Science and Technology Minister Rana Tanveer regretted that research and development was at the bottom of the government’s list of priorities.

“It took a lot of effort to convince the government to push the science and technology budget from Rs1.7 billion to Rs1.9bn,” he said. “It would not have hurt the government if it allocated some Rs3bn at least for R&D, which would have made a huge difference and helped economic growth in the future.”

He told the committee that the total research and development budget in Pakistan was 0.29pc of the GDP, while some of the most progressive countries in the world injected 4 to 5pc of their budgets into research and development.

According to Mr Tanveer, research and development in all 16 of the research departments under the science and technology ministry suffers from a lack of funds and attention.

Mr Khan suggested that the armed forces, which consume most of the country’s budget, should help the NIO financially.

The committee chairman, PML MNA Chaudhry Tariq Bashir Cheema, said all funds allocated to the ministry over decades were as good as wasted if research and development was not bearing fruit. “We urge the government to prioritise R&D to boost economic growth,” he added.

Published in Dawn, May 5th, 2017

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