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LIRNEasia Office Opening

mara tree lirneasia office opening

Rohan Samarajiva : September 1, 2004

There is something wonderful about beginnings. The future is pristine; the potential is unlimited; no mistakes have been made. I am very happy to welcome you to the LIRNEasia office on the occasion of this new beginning.

Our immediate objective is to build a team of Asian ICT policy and regulatory professionals who can work on equal terms with the best in the world. Sri Lanka will anchor this effort, but it will be a genuinely regional initiative. This is an achievable goal: we worked on equal terms with the world’s best consultants at the Public Interest Program Unit of the Ministry for Economic Reform; we will do this again here at LIRNEasia.

Our larger objective is to facilitate the improvement of ICT sector performance in Asia. As many as 380,000 of our fellow citizens are currently on a waiting list for a telephone connection (43% of the number who actually have phones in their homes); for the most part, we are paying more than we should for telecom services; the quality of service that we get, not only from SLTL which again demonstrated its callous incompetence last week, but even from the other operators is inadequate. We do not have adequate choice. This sad story is repeated with minor variations throughout developing Asia. The existing policy and regulatory arrangements do not help people use ICTs to live their lives; they actively hinder them: I will illustrate this with the case the WiFi connection we have here at our office… WiFi, a very low-cost and convenient technology, was developed by multiple small manufacturers because the United States government chose to unregulate two bands of frequencies (2.4 GHz and 5.8GHz), also called the Industrial, Scientific and Medical (ISM) bands. Subject to minimal safeguards, people were free to whatever they wanted to in these bands. Today, pretty much every laptop you buy has got WiFi built in. The equipment is cheap and ideal for countries where the purchasing power is low. But WiFi is not strictly legal in Sri Lanka. Section 22 of our law requires that one obtains a license for every frequency emitting apparatus from the Telecom Regulatory Commission. Our service providers have included us within their license, but the full potential of WiFi cannot be realized without the law being changed. The draft legislation was prepared and has been at the Legal Draftsman since August of last year; but can we be optimistic that it will actually be enacted? This is the kind of thing we at LIRNEasia will strive to get done. We may have more success outside Sri Lanka, than at home; but that is something no one would be surprised by.

But I do not want to leave you with the idea that we measure success only in terms of changes in laws and improvements in regulation. Everyone in the wonderful team we had at PIPU knows that we do not measure success that way. Everything we do must have an impact on the lives of people: must put more money in their pockets; must improve the quality of their lives; must give their lives more hope. Reform and regulation are means to an end; telecom and computers are means to an end; the end is a better life for our people.

So this is our mission: to improve the lives the people of Asia; by making it easier to use the information and communication technologies they need; by changing the laws, policies and regulations to enable those uses; by building Asia-based human capacity through research, training, consulting and advocacy.

We aim to build a virtual organization that will one day make working from Bhutan as easy as working from this office. We will work in teams; we will work flexibly and we will work effectively. The organization centered around this office will help each person work to their full capacity; it will be a learning organization; a place where creativity is valued and debate encouraged. It will not be a place to clock in and out from; to engage in office intrigue; or to worry about the next promotion. It will add to your productivity, not drain it.

I have not been to this place since the 19th of August, almost two weeks. Those who know me well know that I am detail oriented; that I worry too much about the little things like whether the projector works. But that was not the case here. I trust the team members who made this office possible and I knew my time was better spent on other things. Thank you for the wonderful work. I am grateful to our friends and partners from SLIDA who are living examples of development (as opposed to obstruction) administration. Mr Tennakoon, we know you have high expectations of our partnership; so do we. Let’s work together for a true win-win relationship.

I am also happy to see familiar faces from PIPU. Luxman and I had no office, no kiribath and no speeches when we started PIPU. Now that he have all that and all the support and encouragement represented by your presence this morning, we surely cannot fail. Please join us in inaugurating the LIRNEasia office. Thank you.

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