Raast comes from the Urdu word “Raasta” which means “Direction or Way”, and so is the program launched this Monday, is anticipated to serve its purpose for the “Digital Pakistan Vision” of PM. It is the first major practical step taken to implement the “National Payments Strategy 2019” which State Bank of Pakistan (SBP) planned with help of World Bank. Raast initiative is also built in collaboration of SBP with Karandaz Foundation and Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. The program will be rolled out in three phases till 2022. The first phase will focus on “bulk payment module which will include digitization of dividend payments, salaries, pensions and other payments of government departments”. While the next phases will focus on micro businesses and “person to person” payments. With Raast we can now expect digital cashless payments from government organizations who will be linked like never before with other financial institutions.
So why to be optimistic about Raast Initiative?
Raast is anticipated to shift Pakistan from a cash based informal economy to a digital one. Through digital formalization, government of Pakistan could target more in tax collection from a country where less than 1% of the population pays taxes while 0.15% of the taxpayers contribute to 70% of the total taxes.
“Raast will take the country away from addiction of cash economy”–PM Imran Khan in launch ceremony
One of the major hurdles in tax collection is the informal economy of Pakistan which is estimated to be 1/3 of it’s GDP and employs around 67% of urban employment (Dawn). This informal sector also complements the underrepresentation of the documented sector by providing undocumented resources such as labor outsourcing. Not only tax collection, Raast will also curb “illegal financial transactions” for which Pakistan has always been under international scrutiny (e.g. FATF).
Raast will also provide “digital, easy-to-use, efficient and cost-effective payment options to people of Pakistan” (SBP). These real time payment transactions will benefit businesses especially micro retailers, merchants, financial and monetary institutions in the private sector. But now through Raast, Government institutions would also be able to make such transactions. One can now expect digital cash transfers of government salaries, pensions and income support programs like BISP and Ehsaas programs. There are many avenues which will open for both private and public sectors and Raast will expect to pave direction for a better Digital Pakistan in the coming future.