I’ve been on some kind of budget binge this past week. Part of the problem with Sri Lanka public administration is that no assessment is done of the budget proposals.
Last year’s budget increased the allocation for the Ministry of Telecom and Digital Infrastructure by 479 percent. What are indicators that this was a wise and useful expenditure of the people’s money?
The first thing is, it’s difficult to even find out whether the money has been spent. Unless the money is spent, one cannot get started on assessing the work done. This was the problem we described in our universal service paper.
One year is a little short to assess efficacy. But still, it’s worth outlining a possible path. Here is what I said back in 2009 about the most objective and comprehensive composite indicator that could measure the efficacy of government performance in the ICT space: “Sri Lanka has progressed, but not enough to improve, or even maintain, our standing relative to other countries. Equipped as we were with a large World Bank (International Development Association) credit and an exemplary implementing organization under the President’s Office, we should have been sprinting.”
Sri Lanka has slipped three places in the ITU’s ICT Development Index (IDI) (97 in 2002 to 100 in 2007). We have been displaced three places by Azerbaijan (which advanced 14 places from 100 in 2002), Vietnam (which went from 107 to 92) and Algeria (which jumped from 105 to 97). Among our SAARC peers, we still hold second place but Maldives’s lead has increased from 9 places in 2002 to 29 in 2007. Bhutan was behind by 21 places in 2002; now it is behind by only 15. The gap Pakistan had to cover to equal Sri Lanka in 2002 was 49. It has shrunk to 27 by 2007.
So, where are we now, ten years later (I had used 2007 IDI data), according to the 2017 ITU’s ICT Development Index?
Sri Lanka is now in 117th place. Viet Nam is in 108th place, nine places ahead. The lead has increased by one. Maldives is still the South Asian leader, in 85th place. Its lead has increased to 32. Pakistan has fallen to 148th place. Sri Lanka has increased its lead by a few places to 31.
Nothing much to cheer about. Hopefully the massive expenditures in 2017 will show some effects in years to come.