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[ISLAMABAD] The government of Pakistan has introduced a bill that would make the Pakistan Council for Science and Technology (PCST) wholly autonomous.

According to the draft legislation, the independent council will advise the federal government on science policy, act as a forum for leading researchers, and identify priority areas for research and development.

"The bill will give the PCST autonomy to undertake projects and carry out studies on scientific development," says Tariq Mehmood, a senior official at the council, adding that independence would mean it "would not face bureaucratic red-tape".

The council was established more than 15 years ago as a department of the Ministry of Science and Technology. Its role was restricted to submitting reports and recommendations to the government.

In its new independent shape, the council would promote capacity building in science and technology through collaboration with national and international agencies, collect statistics on science and technology and maintain a directory of the research and development institutions in Pakistan.

Up until now, the council had no representatives from other government departments or the private sector. Mehmood said the PCST would now have a large representation from all stakeholders such as industry and scientific organisations and would be powerful enough to take its own decisions and implement them.

However, Pervez Hoodbhoy, a senior professor of physics at Qaid-e-Azam University in Islamabad, says the draft bill "has no significance".

Hoodbhoy says the PCST did very little in the past, and he is not optimistic that things will change in the future. He believes the council has become redundant and has had no practical outcome in terms of research or policy.

"If they could produce something in future, it would be both strange and welcome," he says.

The National Assembly's standing committee on science and technology has already approved the draft bill, which is expected to be endorsed by the National Assembly during the current parliamentary session before being sent for approval to the Senate.

If Pakistan's National Assembly and Senate pass the draft bill, the council will set up a board of governors and the federal government will appoint an executive committee.

The governors will review and approve the council's plans, policies and projects. According to the bill, the country's science minister will serve as president of the board of governors, and the federal secretary for science and technology will be vice-president.

Besides these two, the 15-member board will include chairs of the Pakistan Science Foundation, Pakistan Agricultural Research Council, Pakistan Space and Upper Atmosphere Research Commission, Pakistan Atomic Energy Commission, Pakistan Engineering Council, Pakistan Medical Research Council and the PCST itself.

Representatives of the ministries of industry, commerce, and planning and development together with four representatives from the Federation of Pakistan Chambers of Commerce and Industries will also sit on the board.

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