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World Bank wanted cyber-cafes for rich; we implemented ‘Nenasalas’ for poor – Sri Lanka Minister

tissaOld habits die hard. When you have been a member of a tiny Trotskyite left political party for the longer period of your life and seen the World Bank as your arch enemy, you may forget that you are on the same side now. This seems to be what happens to Sri Lanka’s Minister of Science and Technology, Prof. Tissa Vitharana, once in a while.

His latest holler, as reported by ‘The Catalyst’ – the newsletter of the Information and Communication Agency of Sri Lanka (ICTA), the apex body of ICTs that spearhead the e-Sri Lanka program, funded by the World Bank, goes as follows:

“At a time when the ‘world funding bodies’ proposed the setting of Internet cafes in cities of Sri Lanka in a manner that would only cater only to the rich elite, President Mahinda Rajapaksa decided that Nenasalas or wisdom outlets should be setup instead island-wide to cater to the poor rural folk.”

We are certain the World Bank’s ability to speak for itself, but feel the need to set the record straight especially for the benefit of those who are unaware of the history of e-Sri Lanka program.

Firstly, Mr. Minister, Cyber cafes are not for rich elite, who now have their own laptops with HSPA connections. Cyber cafes are for the poor, who cannot afford their own PCs, and right now serve millions in countries like Philippines, Indonesia and Thailand. In most of the Asian societies cyber cafes – surely not the donor supported telecenters – are the key means of Internet access by the poor.

Secondly Mr. Minister, World Bank or any other Development Agency for that matter, has never promoted the idea of net access for the rich. No matter what the flaws in the approach, their priority has always been rural areas typically not served by the market. If you care to check the original e-Sri Lanka document, you will find there have never been any suggestions to setup telecenters for rich Colombo elite. On the contrary, the Nenasalas within center Colombo, was introduced only after 2004.

Thirdly, Mr. Minister, the idea of having Vishva Gnana Kendras (VGKs) – as the forerunner was known – was to have more financially viable tele-centers, which could stand on their own feet, instead creating a donor funded unsustainable model. The fallacy of Nenasala model is yet to be discovered at the point of the end of donor funding. For example, according to Niranjan Meegammana, a consultant to ICTA, sixteen Nenasalas in Uva province (Girandurukotte, Balagolla, Talakumbura, Kabillegama, Parahettiya, Hali Ela, Maspanna, Divurumpola, Wekumbura, Badalkumbura, Therulla, Siyambalanduwa, Ethimale, Suriya-ara and Kiri Vehera) earns less than USD 50 per month – too little to cover even their operating costs. How these Nenasalas will continue without donor funding is a question awaiting an answer.

Fourthly, Mr. Minister, not all Nenasalas cater to the poor. Having visited them personally we can name few Nenasala’s which never opens their door to the poor but used only by the rich incumbent priests of the temples – against the wishes of the donors.

The truth can be very different from what the voters wants to hear.

9 Comments to World Bank wanted cyber-cafes for rich; we implemented ‘Nenasalas’ for poor – Sri Lanka Minister

  1. Rohan Samarajiva's Gravatar Rohan Samarajiva
    March 15, 2009 at 7:16 pm | Permalink

    If Minister Vitharana wants to know the facts, he can always ask the Minister who brought the e Sri Lanka money into Sri Lanka, Mr Milinda Moragoda, who is in Cabinet with him (if he can find him in the crowd of 108). Minister Moragoda successfully resisted the pressure of the Colombo software mafia who wanted the eSL resources kept for their sole enjoyment. His vision was to do for the rural areas with ICTs, what President Premadasa did with garment factories.

    The feasibility studies that we conducted on rural areas must be in ICTA files; the open debates we had on the need to build sustainable telecenters must be in people’s memories (because they were loud!). I can categorically state that we planned NO telecenters in cities.

    Why the people at ICTA who know the truth do not have the backbone to correct the Minister is what puzzles me. They used to have spines when I interviewed them for their jobs. But all the bowing and scraping in the past few years must have turned them into invertebrates.

    I see that Minister Vitharana is afflicted with what used to be called the Dudley syndrome. For ideological or other reasons a politician believes something that has no foundation in reality. He is not corrected by the toady officials who surround him. He does not correct his error but keeps digging himself into a bigger hole. When he is buried, the same officials are the first to heap scorn on him.

    My sympathies to both the Minister and the newly invertebrate.

  2. Danny Boyle's Gravatar Danny Boyle
    March 17, 2009 at 10:06 am | Permalink

    Samarajiva,

    The invertebrate you recruited is now in DC – after all his tricks to continue failed. I hear he is about to be axed again soon because of recession.

    The present invertebrates are recruited by other invertebrates, not by you.

    • Rohan Samarajiva's Gravatar Rohan Samarajiva
      March 18, 2009 at 1:15 am | Permalink

      I interviewed more than one person and more than two.

  3. March 17, 2009 at 1:07 pm | Permalink

    The invertebrate in DC is one thing. But I think the good professor is ALSO referring to the current COO (or is he acting CEO) who was one of the original hires into ICTA as Director (to handle Nenasala and RTN programs). He was always good at pleasing his bosses. So no one should be surprised when he blindly toes the crooked line. This gentleman was someone who never crossed his former CEO (the invertebrate in DC’s) path and blindly supported him. But once former CEO fell out of favor and got kicked out, went around Colombo claiming how he and the Legal Advisor to ICTA had to “save ICTA” from the former CEO’s doings. The only man with a vertebra at ICTA used to Wasantha Deshapriya. But I hear his backbone too has succumbed to constant beating.

  4. Mera Naam Raaju's Gravatar Mera Naam Raaju
    March 26, 2009 at 12:50 pm | Permalink

    Is anyone who was hired for ICTA after the one in DC is doing better than him today?

  5. Ray Mama's Gravatar Ray Mama
    March 26, 2009 at 1:01 pm | Permalink

    Rasaputhra is resigning from Airport job!!!! Will he quit the job at the Kirimandala Mw. Office too? Will we see the next 500 nanasalas in Kamburupitiya???

    ගුවන් සේවා සමාගමේ සභාපති රාසපුත්‍ර අස්වේ
    03/26/2009 10:23

    ඡන්දෙ ඉල්ලන්න කඹුරුපිටියට යයි

    මාර්තු,26,(විමසුම) – චන්දිම රාසපුත්‍ර මහතා ගුවන්තොටුපොළ හා ගුවන් සේවා සමාගමේ සභාපති ධූරයෙන් ඉල්ලා අස්වීමේ ලිපිය භාරදී තිබේ.

    “විමසුම” වෙත වි‍ශේෂ ප්‍රකාශයක් කරමින් ඒ මහතා සඳහන් කළේ, මෙම ඉල්ලා අස්වීම රජය භාරගැනීමට නියමිත බවයි.

    තමා මෙම ධූරයෙන් ඉවත් වන්නේ, කඹුරුපිටිය ආසනයේ ශ්‍රීලංකා නිදහස් පක්ෂ සංවිධායක ධූරය භාරගැනීමට බව රාසපුත්‍ර මහතා “විමසුම” ට කීය.

    ගුවන්තොටුපොළ හා ගුවන් සේවා සමාගම දවසේ පැය 24 පුරාම වැඩකරන සමාගමක් නිසා එහි සභාපති ධූරය දරමින් දේශපාලනය කළ නොහැකි බවත් ඉදිරියේදී එන දකුණු පළාත් සභා මැතිවරණය සඳහා ඉදිරිපත්වීමේ බලාපොරොත්තුවක් තිබෙන බවත් හෙතෙම සඳහන් කළේය.

  6. poorICTA's Gravatar poorICTA
    July 22, 2009 at 5:22 am | Permalink

    ICTA today is funny and ESL has made more enemies than friends.

  7. July 22, 2009 at 1:41 pm | Permalink

    The Minister explains this comment in detail in a video interview with him conducted about one and a half months ago. He also goes on to point out the salient features of the Year of English and IT, but has simply no clue about leveraging the potential of mobile phones for development, education and better governance.

    See http://www.groundviews.org/2009/07/03/interview-with-prof-tissa-vitharana-on-the-13th-amendment-constitutional-reform-it-and-english-language/

  8. Rohan Samarajiva's Gravatar Rohan Samarajiva
    July 22, 2009 at 2:15 pm | Permalink

    Thanks for that. We had linked to the video back when it came out at: http://lirneasia.net/2009/07/were-the-original-e-sri-lanka-telecenters-urban-or-rural/

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