My colleagues and I at LIRNEasia are delighted that Rohan Samarajiva has been appointed as the Chair of the ICT Agency of Sri Lanka. As a frequent commentator on ICTs, development and regulation, it’s well known that he has a strategic vision of what the ICT sector can achieve and contribute to Sri Lanka’s people and our country’s place in the world. As a former regulator, he knows the important role government (or a government agency like ICTA) can play in enabling that vision. But at the same time (and what I consider an important facet) is that he is a firm believer in what government does NOT have to do, if the private sector, well-functioning markets, and a civil society are available. So ICTA is in good hands in terms of finding it’s “place” in the world, and hopefully enabling the ICT-actors in Sri Lanka and citizens reaching their maximum potential.
Supporting evidence-based policy making and implementation by governments in the emerging Asia Pacific is an important part of LIRNEasia’s raison d’etre. This support is extended in many ways. The latest is the acceptance of the Sri Lanka government’s invitation extended to founder chair Rohan Samarajiva to serve as Chairman on the countries apex ICT Agency. Rohan was a member of the original Board of the ICT Agency, which was established in 2003 to implement a pioneering integrated ICT development initiative called e Sri Lanka. He contributed to its design.
The Prime Minister of Sri Lanka is in charge of national policies and economic affairs. The Minister of Finance is in charge of finance, the money the government raises and the money it spends. As a result, the Prime Minister presents an economic policy statement before the budget is read. So it was with some surprise that I saw many policy proposals that did not have direct revenue/expenditure implications in the 2017 Budget, such as extension of the duration of visas issued to spouses of Sri Lankan citizens. The digital commerce proposal is also a policy proposal, but given the objective of ensuring the collection of relevant taxes, one could see a rationale for it being in the Budget Speech.
Just a few sentences but this is a new solution to a real problem. I propose to form a special purpose company under the Information and Communication Technology Authority (ICTA) to bring about sharing of telecommunication resources efficiently and to protect air waves and the environment. All the fiber optics owned by telecommunication companies and other authorities including the Ceylon Electricity Board, Road Development Authority and Sri Lanka Railways as well as spectrum and mobile towers are to be brought into this company. Here are my answers to a journalist’s questions: 1) The budget has proposed the creation of a special purpose company under the ICTA to own and operate telecom backbone infrastructure. Is this practically possible?
Sri Lankan ICT entrepreneurs have been asking that inward payments by Paypal be facilitated. I’ve pushed it in various settings. Government has promised it would do this many times. But nothing has happened. Here is the latest promise: Speaking at the Sri Lanka Economic Summit organized by the Ceylon Chamber of Commerce under the theme, ‘The power of social media for exports’, Canagey emphasized they were committed in creating financial and social inclusivity through the platform.
The ICT Agency of Sri Lanka was created in 2003 as a new kind of government organization focused on implementation. Its tag line was “Ideas actioned.” We are pleased by the announcement that Chanuka Wattegama, an alumnus of LIRNEasia with work experience also in the UNDP’s regional ICT initiative, has been appointed to the Board by the new government. Chanuka was the founder editor of Sri Lanka’s leading IT magazine and has been writing about how ICT plays out at the village level for many years, including when he worked with LIRNEasia. This website carries many of his writings on this subject based on first-hand observations.
I’ve never had a conversation with a government before. But today they had assembled (almost) all the secretaries, all heads of government organizations including the heads of the armed forces and the police into one location. The government was launching its On(egov)ernment strategy, that has a whole of government approach that requires collaboration among government units. I had no part in the best part of the program: putting all these senior people in groups and getting them to come up with ideas of new services that required cross-agency collaboration. My role was that of moderating the closing panel that was to pull together all the themes that had been discussed.
These are impressive numbers, but they should be made available on TRC or ICTA website as a regular monthly/quarterly report. TRC reports much lower numbers. Information and Communication Technology Agency (ICTA) CEO Reshan Dewapura noted that today, there are close to four million Sri Lankan citizens on the internet, which is a 20% penetration of the population. Over half of them access the internet through either mobile phones or wireless broadband dongles, which has grown eight times more than what it was in 2010. He also estimated that the total data consumption in Sri Lanka via mobile sims both on wireless broadband dongles or mobile phones is currently estimated at 2,000 terabytes per month.
Several Sinhala newspapers and webpapers have reported that the government will henceforth give priority to delivering e gov services over mobile interfaces. I assume the English media will pick up this story in due course. This is good news for a country where mobiles are ubiquitous, but conventional desktop computer use is not. We at LIRNEasia have been hammering home the message that mobile must be given priority based on our Teleuse@BOP survey research since 2005. Specifically, this was a key message in the 2011 and 2012 Future Gov conferences in Colombo.
A high profile regional event intended to foster exchange of ideas among government officials and their suppliers attracted participants from the region as well as many from within government here in Sri Lanka. I was given the opportunity to present LIRNEasia’s research in 15 minutes in the first session. I chose to highlight the agriculture work and push a single policy recommendation: that government should free up data and information that it sat on (e.g., agricultural extension information) so that young people developing apps would have the necessary raw material.
The most successful programs clearly define their objectives and broadly communicate their existence to civil society. THE EXAMPLE OF SRI LANKA To illustrate what such a program could look like, we look at Sri Lanka’s stated objectives, extracted directly from the Information and Communication Technology Plan for Sri Lanka 2011–2016 I thought I’d read the entire document, not just the long extract published in the report. Curiously, the reference (Ch 1.6; footnote 19) did not include a URL. Searched using Google.
Today I spoke at the Future Gov, Sri Lanka conference. After a long time, I had a technical glitch (I raely do, because I work with simple slides and I go early and test; I did all that but the test was not done on the conference machine, fully. Not for the lack of asking). Anyway, here are the slides and the video that was not shown. I made a case for governments freeing up basic data on a non-discriminatory basis.
The discussion has drawn the attention of some big guns on LBO. Here are the base data given me by ICTA that I used for the calculations. Table 1: IT/BPO Workforce Total BPO IT IT Industry Non-IT Ind/Govt 2010 63,000 13,000 50,000 27,000 23,000 2016 120,000 43,000 77,000 42,000 35,000 Increase 57,000 30,000 27,000 15,000 12,000 Table 2: Average Requirement Per Year IT Professional 5,400 4,500 BPO Professional 6,000 Financial and Accounting 3,500 Legal Services 1,000 Other 1,500
Starting with a low base, but 62,000 well paying jobs is a great achievement. Sri Lanka’s information and communications technology workforce has doubled in the past four years as the island ramps up training and investment to make the sector a key export industry. A new survey said the number of ICT sector jobs increased by 100 percent to over 62,000 this year from 30,120 in 2006. Over 50,000 people are estimated to have been employed in the IT sector in 2010. The national ITC workforce survey by the state-run Information and Communication Technology Agency covered 80 state institutions, 325 private sector firms, 30 BPO (business processing outsourcing) firms, and 75 IT training institutes.
In early April, Nirmita Narasimhan, Program Manager on accessibility at the Center for Internet and Society based in Bangalore, visited Sri Lanka at LIRNEasia’s invitation. Below is an excerpt from her reflections on the visit and her interactions with the Telecom Regulatory Commission, the ICT Agency and the Jinasena Trust: Why is there such a communication gap between persons with disabilities and the policy makers? Even in India, we come across projects where the government of India is spending precious funds developing technology which they feel is required for the blind, while the blind in fact are already using more advanced technology. For instance, there is a project of the government to develop a special browser for the blind, when the blind and visually impaired are already navigating the internet using screen readers like Jaws and NVDA. My meetings with the regulator and other agencies confirmed for me that persons with disabilities in Sri Lanka and India are facing similar problems.
There wasn’t much of a problem with the disabled back in the old days. They were kept behind closed doors, so there was not much demand for accessibility in public places and such. Things have changed, for the good. Now, in the developed world, every part of a building must be accessible by wheelchair. Pedestrian crossing make a noise in addition to just the color signal.