Anti-reform article

Posted on December 31, 2004  /  5 Comments

All this seems irrelevant now, but 2 weeks ago, the government’s Sunday newspaper ran a rambling article about telecom reforms, that was in part a personal attack on Rohan Samarajiva, but mostly an assault on the reform process itself. The tables that were central to the article had been produced by Mr K.K. Gunawardene, former Director of the Department of Telecommunications (state-owned integrated monopoly until 1991), more recently with the ITU’s Bangkok office. These tables are unfortunately not reproduced in the online edition of the newspaper. The attached response was submitted to the editor of the government newspaper, but was not published.

Observer Response


  1. The response was published in the Observer on 2nd January 2005, sans the table, figure and a few sentences.

  2. As a matter of fact the telecom reform process in the UK and Sri Lanka have gone through the same steps. At the beginning, both countries had inefficient government administered telecom operations and a long waiting list of potential customers who had been waiting many years to get service. With the reforms, improved management led to efficiency improvements, prices were increased for local services to reflect the cost of providing a more efficient service, and competitive operators were licensed to stimulate both efficiencies and network extension. As a result, the network was expanded and the long waiting list of potential customers was eliminated.

    Mr. Gunawardene’s analysis is both wrong and misleading, because he compares developments in the UK long after the reform process was finished with Sri Lanka during its period of reform. The comparable UK period of reform would be 1984 – 1990. If the reform periods of the two countries are compared, the statistics show that the UK increased local prices by a higher percentage than Sri Lanka, and increased the proportion of the population served by a much lower percentage than Sri Lanka, which tripled the number of connections – an outstanding performance. But this apparent superior performance by Sri Lanka is only partially attributable to the successful reforms. It also reflects the fact that at the beginning of the process, Sri Lankan service was so bad – much worse than the UK.

    Now that Sri Lanka has completed many, but not all of its telecom reforms, it can anticipate price reductions in the future for many of its services. The lesson for the future is not to wish for the days of the 10 year waiting list, but to push ahead as fast as possible on continuing reforms. One shudders to think about how many more deaths there would have been in recent days if the Sri Lankan telecom sector had not been reformed, and the national network tripled in coverage; and how many fewer deaths there would have been if Sri Lanka had been able to develop a truly universal service, as exists in the US and Europe. Hopefully this tragic event will provide a stimulus to make the additional reforms necessary to achieve a universal service.

  3. Mr Gunawardene soldiers on, with two responses to my response already published and another instalment promised: and

    If this debate was taking place in a newspaper that people buy for the articles, rather than the job and matrimonial ads and the obituaries, there may have been some value in participating. But in the face of other more pressing demands on our time, we will let this pass.

  4. I wonder what you can comment on his convulated article.Everytime he opens his mouth logic escapes out his ears! Usually I dont feel sorry for univ professors, but in this case I feel bad for the profs who had to read K K Gunawardene papers at whichever university he went to.

  5. What is hopefully Mr K.K Gunawardene’s last instalment is at
    More people were connected to the network in one year when I was playing a role in the telcom industry than in the entire period KKG was the Director of Telecommunications. Let the facts speak for themselves. I have better things to do than engage in debate in a newspaper people buy for the ads.