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Improving the quality of policy proposals in the Budget Daily FT Opinion by Rohan Samarajiva I have been immersed in discussions in various media platforms about the 2018 Sri Lanka Budget. A budget speech seeks to communicate the direction of government policy to other economic actors. While it is a coherent and forward-looking document overall, the 2018 Budget does contain some problematic proposals that will have to be walked back or quietly buried. In this op-ed published in the Financial Times, I discussed a solution: Every Budget Speech includes complex policy measures. Given the traditions associated with the Budget Speech, it is not possible to conduct public consultations on each of the measures beforehand.
Blumenstock, JE, Maldeniya, D, & Lokanathan, S
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.
Sri Lanka has not one, but two, government-owned TV channels. They tend to be used for propaganda, but there are occasions when they act like normal news channels, serving the public interest in understanding what is going on. Last week, for example, I was happy to be on a talk show in the midst of a breakdown of fuel supplies debating the issues with a leader of a trade union combine that is trying its hardest to roll back even the current nominal liberalization and restore some kind of retrograde state monopoly. This week, I was invited to come on the show again to discuss the budget. I am generally supportive of the thrust of the 2018 budget proposals, which may be why they invited me.
It was in 1998, almost 20 years ago, that I was invited to a meeting at the Urban Development Authority of Sri Lanka in my capacity as Director General of Telecommunications. They had identified a high point in the city of Colombo to locate ALL the cellular antenna towers and they wanted me to concur with their plans. I explained that the very concept of cells required multiple towers in multiple locations. Twenty years later, the same ignorance is being displayed again. A Minister of the government is making speeches in Parliament about how all of Sri Lanka can be served by nine towers.
As I was thinking about how to explain the silliness of charging LKR 200,000 (USD 1,300) per antenna tower per month as proposed by Sri Lanka’s 2018 Budget, I came across this piece on how African governments were shooting themselves in the foot by following the Willie Sutton doctrine: Unfortunately, instead of seizing such opportunities, many African governments are energetically discouraging the spread of technology. Many ban genetically modified crops, refusing even to accept them as food aid when their people are starving. Almost all invest far too little in science and research, and have byzantine visa systems that discourage skilled immigration. And they tax mobile phone and internet companies at punitive rates. In 2015 mobile-phone operators in 12 African countries paid taxes and other fees equivalent to 35% of their turnover, says the GSMA, an industry lobby.

Looking beyond the smartphone

Posted by Rohan Samarajiva on November 9, 2017  /  0 Comments

We had the good fortune to develop a proposal on training app developers before smartphone started dominating the markets we care about. We did not get the money; they gave it to some Pakistani government outfit that could not even start the work, but that aside, we benefited from the exercise. It forced us to stretch our thinking. In the same way, this article which is about Alexa and its variants is useful in stretching our thinking beyond the smartphone. Modern smartphone platforms have become a minefield of distractions, dominated by social media apps whose primary goal is to occupy ever more time.

Vision and implementation

Posted by Rohan Samarajiva on November 5, 2017  /  0 Comments

In much of what we do, we have to deal with visions/strategies/roadmaps/plans/etc. and of course implementation. This vision I was asked to discuss is not about ICTs per se, but about a whole country. I tried to provide a structure to the discussion. Here are the slides that will be the basis of the talk I will give tomorrow for the Association of Sri Lankan Sociologists at the Sri Lanka Foundation at 1430.
Most people think platforms and transformative ICT companies are best described by the acronym GAFA. Some add Microsoft to make it five. But living in Asia, we know better. There’s Baidu, Alibaba and TenCent. Alibaba has become one of the most highly valued technology companies in the world, and its recent string of strong financial results has signaled the continued rise of China’s internet industry and the heartiness of its hundreds of millions of online shoppers.
Most of the organizations that were given time at the First Session of the Steering Committee meeting used the time to advertise themselves. I chose instead to present our broad range of contributions to AP-IS in the form of a short presentation of work done under the Project on Myanmar as an Inclusive Information Society. I briefly described some findings from the baseline and endline surveys, pointing out that much of what came out from the ITU on Internet users was worthless. We are not expecting to do such surveys again, though there is value in surveys being done periodically. My second point was on the need to develop an understanding of broadband quality of service experience.
Research first presented at the CPRsouth conference in Yangon in September 2017 was cited by LIRNEasia's senior policy fellow Abu Saeed Khan in a presentation made to senior government officials, environmental officers, mobile operators and academics of the Kingdom of Bhutan.
Phyu Phyu Thi, LIRNEasia alumnus, takes a lead on saying "no" to online hate speech, through the Myanmar ICT for Development Organization (MIDO).
If you Google images for “CEO” you’ll get images of men, predominantly. And this is considered ‘normal’, backed by statistics about the ‘leaking pipeline’ when the numbers of women in the workplace start dwindling as they get into more senior roles. Family commitments is often cited as the cause irrespective of where you are in your career. At a junior level, starting a family means that you either stay at home to look after your family because you can’t afford it, or pass-through pretty much your entire salary on to childcare. When you’re in middle-management you pass on opportunities that can get you to the next level because that means more hours or time away from family or you’re not offered that promotion because you’re seen as unreliable or not really part of the team (as a result of tough choices made by placing one’s family first).
I’ve always had this fascination with the cellar dwellers. Those days, Myanmar was firmly ensconced in the second to last place, kept from the honor of being the least connected place by St Helena. But the 4,000 plus inhabitants have had mobile telephony since 2015. As of two weeks ago scheduled flights are landing in their brand new airport. And they are about to be connected to SAEx soon.
A confluence is the junction of two rivers, especially rivers of approximately equal width. My session at SAARC Law 2017 is entitled Confluence of Law and Technology. The way I see it, there is no alternative but to relax the requirement that the metaphorical rivers be of equal width. Unless, of course, we define law in the Lessig manner, East Coast Code being old style ink on paper interpreted by judges law and West Coast Code being self-enforcing rules built into hardware and software. So, anyway, I worked up a set of slides being from the tech side of the world.
The final reports on three systematic reviews have undergone review and have been published on the website of the Evidence for Policy and Practice Information and Co-ordinating Centre (EPPI-Centre). The three systematic reviews focused on ICTs & MSMEs, ICTs & education and ICTs and mobile financial services were funded by IDRC and DFID. The links to the final reports are given below. The impact of mobile financial services in low- and lower-middle-income countries Strategies for training or supporting teachers to integrate technology into the classroom Does access to business-relevant information through networked devices enhance the internal effciency and business growth of urban MSMEs in low- and middle- income countries?