In the Media — LIRNEasia


In her latest article for Daily FT, LIRNEasia policy fellow Tahani Iqbal critiques the current amendment process of Sri Lanka’s Telecommunications Act, stating it “has not been transparent and open,” and calling for a comprehensive overhaul of the Act, aligning with the newly issued National Digital Economy Strategy 2030, to truly drive Sri Lanka’s digital development. “It is critical that the Government puts a stop to its conservative and traditional approach to telecoms regulation and handles it in a way that will ensure that digital connectivity spurs the development of the nation. Converged markets and services require converged authorities and approaches to governance. The amended Bill has no place in Sri Lanka’s digital future and should be sent back to the drawing board for a proper re-draft.” Despite several attempts to revise the Act, Tahani argues that the lack of substantial updates has left Sri Lanka with a “low level maturity [in] legal and governance frameworks,” as evidenced by its G2 ranking from the International Telecommunications Union.
In an insightful analysis published in the Daily FT, Professor Rohan Samarajiva, Chair of LIRNEasia, examines whether the proposed amendments to the Sri Lanka Telecommunications Act are ready for the future, or even adequate for the present. While questioning the future-readiness of the legislation in terms of consumer rights and market competition in the telecom sector, Prof. Samarajiva has also asked whether the amendments provide a clear and coordinated legal framework necessary for the future deployment of advanced telecom infrastructure, essential for smart cities. Highlighting several critical issues related to the structure, capacity, and functioning of the Telecom Regulatory Commission (TRC), here are some of the key issues addressed in his analysis. 1.
Senior Research Manager Gayani Hurulle, in an interview with Echelon for their May issue, discussed Sri Lanka’s readiness for a digital economy. Six experts were interviewed regarding Sri Lanka’s innovation landscape, providing insights into essential components for economic transformation, challenges in digital readiness, parallels with regional models, the intersection of law and technology, climate financing opportunities, and hurdles within the startup ecosystem. Gayani focused on Sri Lanka’s preparedness to embrace a digital economy, emphasising the urgent need to address challenges such as low digital literacy, inadequate infrastructure, and limited female workforce participation. She also highlighted the findings of LIRNEasia’s 2021 nationally representative survey, conducted against the backdrop of the COVID-19 pandemic. “According to LIRNEasia’s 2021 nationally representative survey, Sri Lanka grapples with a stark reality: only a fraction of the population possesses the ability to independently perform basic online tasks.
Gayani Hurulle, Senior Research Manager at LIRNEasia, recently discussed the challenges facing Sri Lanka’s digital economy in an interview with Yarl TV. Gayani highlighted various policy challenges and opportunities pertaining to the digital economy, drawing on LIRNEasia’s research. She also highlighted the need for policy reforms to align with the rapidly evolving digital landscape. One of the pressing issues she addressed was digital taxation. She underlined that the current tax laws are not designed to/being used to collect taxes from large technology multinationals that don’t have a local physical presence, creating an uneven playing field.
In a recent episode of “Samata IT” (IT for All) on Jathika Rupavahini, LIRNEasia’s Senior Research Manager and Data, Algorithm, and Policy Team Lead Merl Chandana shed light on the dynamic landscape of data science and how it offers ample opportunities for individuals from diverse backgrounds. “Data science is an evolving field which is still being developed. Therefore, there are not many seasoned experts in this filed, which means there is a significant scope for newcomers to make their mark,” Merl said. Contrary to conventional perceptions, he stressed that one doesn’t necessarily need prior experience in data science to pursue a career in the field. “What matters most is not the years of experience, but the willingness to learn.
In a recent interview with Face the Nation on Sirasa TV, LIRNEasia Chair Prof. Rohan Samarajiva raised his concerns regarding the Online Safety Bill which is currently under debate in the Sri Lankan Parliament. Prof. Samarajiva explained why he believes the Bill, instead of addressing the issues related to harmful online content in Sri Lanka, is fixated on punishment rather than prevention and deterrence.  “I believe there are problems with online content in Sri Lanka, but this Bill does not address those problems,” said Prof.
In November last year, Sri Lanka’s Supreme Court determined that the Online Safety Bill is not inconsistent with the Constitution and can be passed in parliament by a simple majority– subject to amendments made to 31 of its provisions. The second reading debate for the Bill is scheduled to take place in Parliament on January 23 and 24.   In a recent interview on the Sirasa Pathikada programme, Chair of LIRNEasia, Professor Rohan Samarajiva elaborated on the key recommendations put forth by the Supreme Court concerning several sections of the bill that require modification. He also spoke about the flaws of the Bill and reiterated that the Bill is riddled with potential for abuse.  Watch the full interview here.
In a recent interview on the Sirasa Pathikada programme, Professor Rohan Samarajiva, Chair of LIRNEasia, shed light on the potential of Artificial Intelligence (AI) in addressing various challenges and emphasised the need for mindful use of this technology for public benefit.  He began by explaining the basic concepts of AI, distinguishing between general AI and narrow AI using simple examples. Prof. Samarajiva then highlighted the application of AI in disaster management, specifically in predicting floods. Drawing attention to Google’s flood forecasting system for the Ganga River in India, he described how AI utilises data from rainfall forecasts, river levels, and historical flood data to generate flood risk maps.
In a recent interview with Yarl TV, LIRNEasia Chair Prof. Rohan Samarajiva shed light on the potential impact of Sri Lanka’s new tax policy on the digital sector. The discussion extended to the taxation of multinational digital service providers like Facebook and Uber, widely used in Sri Lanka.  Prof. Samarajiva emphasised the crucial role of the government in streamlining the tax payment process for these companies.
“Creating regulatory bodies that issue orders with short time frames backed up by large penalties is likely to shut off the opportunities for collaboration. If the costs of complying with the directions of the regulator from a small and insignificant market are excessive, the platform companies are likely to withdraw their services from Sri Lanka causing significant harm to users. Such outcomes will not endear the responsible politicians to the active youth demographic that is likely to be decisive in the coming elections. The Government claims that some individuals experience significant harm caused by online content. Some, if not all, critics of the Government’s Online Safety Bill will agree.
This policy paper addresses the urgent need for a new social compact in response to the global challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic. Emphasising the pivotal role of digital inclusion and equity, the report underscores their significance in mitigating health and economic risks associated with pandemic-related lockdowns. It explores how the digitalisation of public services and access to them are crucial for citizens’ effective participation in the economy and society, both during the pandemic and in the subsequent economic reconstruction. Despite the transformative potential of digital strategies, the study reveals missed opportunities by governments in Nigeria, South Africa, India, Sri Lanka, Peru, and Colombia to effectively deploy digital solutions during the crisis. The report sheds light on how deficiencies in leveraging digital technologies have exacerbated social and economic inequalities, providing insights to rectify these shortcomings.
  An article authored by LIRNEasia researchers Helani Galpaya, Gayani Hurulle and David Gunawardana was recently published in the IDS Bulletin, published by the Institute of Development Studies. This article is a reflection by LIRNEasia, a thinktank working in the developing Asia Pacific, on factors enabling and hindering its ability to influence policy during two separate but related crises in Sri Lanka: the Covid-19 pandemic and the fully fledged economic collapse that the country underwent in 2022. The article discusses LIRNEasia’s readiness and ability to respond to the unprecedented situation of crisis in the country it is headquartered in and where most of its staff are located. We detail the specific actions LIRNEasia took during each crisis in terms of research (both new and repurposed) and dissemination of research in order to frame debates and influence policy. Read the full article below.
"Safeguarding freedom of speech and expression is so important that it is constitutionally protected in most civilised countries, as it is in Sri Lanka. Legislators seeking to address the new problems posed by rapid and articulated dissemination of user generated content must first decide what the priority is. If it is rapid takedown (to avoid situations such as the live-streaming of the Christchurch massacre), the solution is not what is proposed in this bill. By the time the “Online Truth Commission,” likely to be ill-resourced like most regulatory bodies, issues its orders the damage will be done."
සමෘද්ධි දෙපාර්තමේන්තුවේ අධ්‍යක්ෂ ජනරාල්වරයා විසින් 2022 අගෝස්තු 29 වැනි දින නිකුත් කරන ලද චක්‍රලේඛය අනුව, ජ්‍යෙෂ්ඨ පුරවැසියන්, ආබාධිත පුද්ගලයන් (PWDs) සහ වකුගඩු රෝගීන් සඳහා මාසික මුදල් ආධාර ලබාදීම් 2022 සැප්තැම්බර් මාසයේ සිට සමෘද්ධි බැංකු හරහා කළ යුතුය. ප්‍රායෝගිකව මෙම පරිපාලනය ආරම්භ වීමට නියමිත වන්නේ ඔක්තෝබර් මාසයේ සිටයි.
(Note: This was originally published in the Daily FT) The Director General of the Department of Samurdhi released a circular on 29 August stating that monthly cash transfers to senior citizens, persons with disabilities (PWDs), and kidney patients must be administered through Samurdhi banks from September 2022. In practice, this will occur from October. This disbursement mechanism deviates significantly from that used earlier, where each of these schemes had different collection points. Samurdhi banks were used exclusively as distribution points for the Samurdhi monthly cash transfers. Senior citizens’ allowances, PWD benefits and kidney patients’ allowances were disbursed via post offices, State banks and divisional secretariats, respectively (Table 1).
Gayani Hurulle speaking on Social Safety Nets I was invited to speak on Social Safety Nets in Sri Lanka on ‘The People’s Platform’ a 45 minute live TV programme on NewsFirst. I drew on LIRNEasia’s research on the area to highlight problems in targeting the poor and the possibility of using bank accounts and mobile technology to deliver benefits to the poor.