e Sri Lanka, when designed in 2002-03, broke new ground. Now six years later, it seems opportune to assess whether it delivered on its promise. This assessment was triggered by discussions on how best to respond to the Brazilian government’s invitation to Helani Galpaya to share the learnings of e Sri Lanka. It also builds on our work on indicators and indices and discussions on this site. What did it achieve in its originally allotted five years?
“When a business model, rather than direct government action, is delivering the goods the most appropriate government action is that which supports the business model. Policy and regulatory actions must be derived more from analysis of the requirements of the business model and less from public administration theory.” How it applies to Internet and broadband is what Rohan Samarajiva, Chair and CEO, LIRNEasia explained in his keynote speech at the workshop ‘Expanding access to the Internet and broadband for development’ on November 16, 2009, at the Internet Governance forum 2009. His presentation entitled, ‘How the developing world may participate in the global Internet Economy: Innovation driven by competition’, can be downloaded here. The session was chaired by Dimitri Ypsilanti, Head of Information, Communication and Consumer Policy Division, OECD.
The government of Indonesia has announced that World Bank, as administrator for Global Partnership on Output-Based Aid (GPOBA) , in April 2009 has signed a grant agreement for US$1.9 million with the Republic of Indonesia to facilitate access to Internet and associated telecommunication services for people living in remote areas in Java dan Sumatra. Access development and provision are fully financed by GPOBA and supervised by Ministry of Communications and Information’s Directorate General of Applied Telematics (Ditjen Aptel). Minister of Communications and Information, Mohammad Nuh, said that witnessing Indonesia’s development and progress in becoming a knowledge-based society driven by existence and free flow of information is mutually beneficial. Furthermore, targets to be reached with this grant is in line with government efforts in making information more accessible to communities in remote areas.
A recently released World Bank report states that mobile prices in Sri Lanka dropped by 43%, the world’s highest, in 2004-06. Next were Uzbekistan and Chad at -37% and -31% respectively.
As a results-oriented organization, that is a question LIRNEasia has always been interested in. The discipline that seeks to answer that question is evaluation. They recently held a conference in Sri Lanka. We are ratcheting up our emphasis on evaluation now that we have a substantial body of work to talk about. A key element in this will be Chanuka Wattegama’s participation in the most important evaluation training program currently being offered, the International Program for Development Evaluation Training offered every Summer at Carleton University in Ottawa, with the cooperation of the World Bank and IDRC.
The World Bank has committed USD 2.6 million (or USD 10 per intended beneficiary) in grant funds for rural public access telephones in Cambodia according to a recent news release. The amount is not too steep and the local official in charge is Deputy Minister Chin Bunsean, an alumnus of LIRNEasia’s regulatory training course in 2005 (Mr Chin is dead center of the picture on the course page), which among other things discussed the lessons that should be drawn from the Nepal output-based aid project, so I guess we can surmise that the lessons have indeed been learned. But it still makes us wonder why the World Bank is funding rural payphones, when the evidence is abundant that cheap mobiles are what will connect poor people, not payphones? Poor families in four of the poorer provinces of northern and northwestern Cambodia – Banteay Meanchey, Otdar Meanchey, Preah Vihear, and Pursat – will benefit from a US$2.
Multiple dishes is a common sight at many Nenasalas – the ‘telecentres’ set up under the e-Sri Lanka program, funded by the World Bank. Some of them are huge – with diameters little less than 2m. Having not done a design recently, I cannot tell the prices offhand, but I do know they are expensive – one such dish (with equipment) costs few times more than the aggregate cost of the PCs and peripherals in the centre. Why a telecenter is equipped with multiple dishes? The reason is, sadly, poor planning.
Old habits die hard. When you have been a member of a tiny Trotskyite left political party for the longer period of your life and seen the World Bank as your arch enemy, you may forget that you are on the same side now. This seems to be what happens to Sri Lanka’s Minister of Science and Technology, Prof. Tissa Vitharana, once in a while. His latest holler, as reported by ‘The Catalyst’ – the newsletter of the Information and Communication Agency of Sri Lanka (ICTA), the apex body of ICTs that spearhead the e-Sri Lanka program, funded by the World Bank, goes as follows: “At a time when the ‘world funding bodies’ proposed the setting of Internet cafes in cities of Sri Lanka in a manner that would only cater only to the rich elite, President Mahinda Rajapaksa decided that Nenasalas or wisdom outlets should be setup instead island-wide to cater to the poor rural folk.
Recessions are not bad for everybody. Proverbial silver line in the cloud, they bring hope to some. Success of the India BPO industry can partially be attributed to the post 9/11 recession. Tighter the economy, cheaper the solutions business looks for. How far onshore rural BPOs cater to the needs of their clients?
Four years to history, ‘Your tears are mine’ (see below) was my reaction to Asian tsunami. Reproduced in multiple sites, it was recited once in a remembrance event. Though written more in a Sri Lankan context, let me pick it again today, to remember all 225,000 lives lost, in the worst tsunami in recent history – that caused vast damage to four countries LIRNEasia closely works in, Indonesia, Sri Lanka, Thailand and India. Not my every wish was granted. The aftermath of tsunami, instead of creating a division-free society demonstrated how pathetically the disparities were amplified.
On January 16, 2008 a bus bomb went off killing 25 and injuring more than 60, in a remote area of Moneragala, arguably the least connected district in the island. Within less than two hours, the international news channels were up with clips. Nuwan Sameera (inset) FTPed them from his Nenasala telecenter in Bibile town – about one hour journey away. Nuwan operates just within 200 m from a telecom tower (see photo) but bureaucracy is bureaucracy. Spending World Bank money generously, ICTA, the implementation agency of Nenasala telecenter network under the e-Sri Lanka program, first provided a VSAT link from a different operator.
Ambuluwawa, about 1,100 m above sea level, is probably the highest point in the vicinity of Gampola. Not surprisingly, all telecom operators exploit the geography. Transmission stations/towers encircle the summit. (See above) That is what one calls infrastructure. Just 10 km away, Sirimalwatte Ananda thero, a young and energetic Buddhist monk, runs a Nenasala, a telecenter established under the World Bank funded e-Sri Lanka program.
Here are the summarised results from the telecenter operator survey done by LIRNEasia at the weCan workshop in October 2008. Sample was not representative, but large enough to get a general idea about the telecenter operations in Sri Lanka. Out of a total of 147 operators surveyed, the bulk, 101 were from Nenasalas, the 500 odd telecenter network created under the World Bank funded e-Sri Lanka programme. 10 were from Sarvodaya multi-purpose telecenters and 6 from others (eg. public libraries) 30 have not specified the type of the telecenter.
Last year as many as 190m migrant workers sent cash home, according to the World Bank. These remittances amounted to US$337 billion, of which US$251 billion went to developing countries. But the cost of sending hard-earned cash depends on both the source and destination. On average, sending US$500 from Spain to Brazil will incur a modest charge of US$7.68, or a 1.
As researchers with a focus on government and private-sector actions that benefit the bottom of the pyramid, LIRNEasia has an interest in understanding poverty and who is poor. This summary report by the Economist gives a good overview of World Bank and ADB research on the subject. Of course, those interested are recommended to go to the sources for the real thing. BTW, for those who wonder why we keep saying that South Asia is the home to the world’s largest concentration of poor people, the answer is that the World Bank states that 595.5 million people live on below USD 1.
We welcome the USD 71 million project to improve dam safety in Sri Lanka. LIRNEasia , together with several partners including the Sri Lanka Committee on Large Dams, Vanguard Management and Sarvodaya, did a lot of work on raising awareness of the impending dangers posed by ill-maintained dams, going as far as saying that a catastrophic dam failure in this reservoir-dotted country was not a question of if, but when. The repairs will, we understand, address the most serious risks raised by the LIRNEasia participatory research. However, due to ill-informed protests of the opponents of water-use reforms and the weak-kneed response of the government agencies and the World Bank, the component that would have addressed the sustainability issues was stripped out after one exchange. So we have postponed the day of reckoning, but not created a long-term sustainable system for safe water use.