Sri Lanka Archives — Page 10 of 58


When the biggest disaster since the 2004 Indian Ocean Tsunami hit close to home, we responded in our customary fashion. We asked for donations to be matched by LIRNEasia and we thought about how we could contribute through knowledge. We remitted the first tranche of cash to our partner, Sarvodaya on 19th May, just as the relief effort was getting started. There is value to donations in kind, but the flexibility of cash is essential. And the first writing based on the thinking was published on the 23rd.
Nalaka Gunawardene has published a piece in SciDev on the lessons from the floods/landslides. Nuwan Waidyanatha is in the Maldives at this moment advocating that they switch on cell broadcasting in the networks. In Sri Lanka, it’s on, but not used. The Colombo-based ICT research organisation LIRNEasia has also been promoting the use of cell broadcasting for disaster communications. In this method, mobile networks can be used deliver text messages simultaneously to multiple users in a specified area.
Given below is a news release reprinted verbatim in the Daily FT. I hope to see some real writing on this very important backhaul facility soon. Abu Saeed Khan wrote about it some time back. Dialog’s investment in the BBG Cable Project exceeds $ 34.5 million (Rs.
Sahana was developed by volunteer software engineers under the aegis of the Lanka Software Foundation in the months and years after the 2004 Indian Ocean Tsunami. It was handed over to an international foundation when I served as Chair of LSF. Nuwan Waidyanatha who cut his teeth on disaster research as part of the Hazinfo project, is now a leading trainer and part of the team guiding development of Sahana. Despite my best efforts to get those involved in the early development of the software interviewed for this story (triggered by one of my tweets), we are the only sources for information on Sahana in this Sunday Times story. There are allegations that the authorities could have utilised locally-available systems that could have helped to better coordinate disaster relief efforts.
LIRNEasia was a core partner for Sri Lanka’s first national summit on “Foresight & Innovation for Sustainable Human Development” that was convened by UNDP and the Ministry of National Policies and Economic Affairs. Held in Colombo from 24-25 May 2016, the summit brought together more than 300 people from government, private sector, and civil society from all over the country. Developing foresight and fostering innovation is a priority for the government and underscored by the Prime Minster’s attendance at the event. I spoke on the first day after the opening. My talk was on the leveraging both new and traditional data if the goal is to get towards real-time responsiveness and enhanced resilience.

Lessons from the disaster

Posted on May 20, 2016  /  0 Comments

On May 14th that I retweeted a satellite image of a weather system over Sri Lanka. The tweet said “WEATHER ALERT – Severe rain over #LK will continue for next 24/48hrs. Public cautioned over flash floods & landslides.” The hazard was public knowledge, contrary to some claims now being made. WEATHER ALERT – Severe rain over #LK will continue for next 24/48hrs.
By my lights, the project should have started by now. We first went public on this two years ago. But at least they are still talking: A proposal to link the two countries’ electricity grids could ultimately see improved reliability and stability of the Sri Lanka power supply and, in the long run, allow the country to purchase and export electricity depending on variability in price. The interconnection – a high-voltage, direct current line to run from Madurai in India to Anuradhapura in Sri Lanka – is initially planned to transmit up to 500 MW, scalable up to 1 GW. Pre-feasibility studies of the proposed Sri Lanka-India transmission network have already been completed, according to Sri Lanka’s electricity regulator, the Public Utilities Commission of Sri Lanka.
Few days back, I was part of a panel discussing the Sri Lanka RTI Bill that has gone through Constitutional Review. This was on Rupavahini, the government-owned channel. The Deputy Minister in charge of shepherding the bill through Parliament and a lawyer who had intervened in the Constitutional Review were the other members. The first time I engaged with the topic was in 2007. Then I went into high gear in 2011.
The 80 percent and 160 percent increases in taxes on voice-SMS-VAS services and data, respectively, caused me to write an oped anchored on one instrument of public policy, use of fiscal means to discourage use of demerit goods. I wish to make clear that there is nothing wrong with subjecting telecom services to normal taxation such as VAT and NBT. Many years ago, that was the case. But over time various additional levies were layered on top, taking the overall tax burden to around 32%. Around 2009, the previous Government rationalised the mess, exempting telecom services from general taxation while imposing a single telecom levy.
The government-owned Sunday Observer has carried a story on the unraveling of the previous tax regime affecting telecom services that makes reference to the findings of our Systematic Reviews. “This will be the highest tax ever imposed on telecom users in the country. It is likely to reduce telecom use, especially of data. It is contrary to government policy seeking to encourage internet use,” Prof. Samarajiva said.
It appears state-owned enterprises (SOEs) have risen in salience in Sri Lanka recently. I am giving a keynote address on this topic at the launch of the Advocata Institute. The slideset that I will be using is here. The day before yesterday, I was debating on a TV talk show what should be done with the least defensible of the SOEs, the renationalized SriLankan Airlines and the misbegotten Mihin Lanka. It is interesting that the successful reform that I was associated with, telecom, keeps coming up in these discussions.
I was asked to comment to the state-owned Sunday Observer on the Sri Lanka government’s decision to extend value-added taxes to the telecom industry. Below is my response. I have always taken the position that telecom services should be treated no differently from other goods and services. Therefore, I do not object to making telecom services subject to VAT. The problem is with the approximately 25 percent mobile levy.
Yesterday, a report entitled Rebuilding Public Trust was launched at a meeting attended by the Prime Minister, the Leader of the Opposition, the Media Minister and his Deputy. I contributed to the report, primarily on policy and regulatory recommendations, not all of which were accepted, as is normal. My responses will be published shortly. But I was pleased that the report made several references to LIRNEasia research, below being one example. LIRNEasia’s Teleuse@BOP research in Sri Lanka and other emerging markets in Asia have proved useful in making government understand the significance of telecom, especially the mobile, at the Bottom of the Pyramid.

LIRNEasia partners with UNDP on SDGs

Posted on April 27, 2016  /  0 Comments

On 18th April 2016 LIRNEasia inked its Memorandum of Understanding with UNDP on areas of cooperation for the first national summit on foresight and innovation for Sustainable Human Development titled “Visioning Sri Lanka #2030NOW”. The summit will be held in Colombo from 24-25th May 2016. In addition to LIRNEasia and UNDP, other core partners for this two day conference include The Ministry of National Policies and Economic Affairs, Secretariat for Science, Technology and Innovation (COSTI) of the Ministry of Science, Technology and Research, the United Nations Global Compact Network of Sri Lanka, Sarvodaya, and the Ceylon Chamber of Commerce. Collectively the partners will work towards mainstreaming the use of foresight and facilitating innovation in Sri Lanka so as to successfully implement the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). LIRNEasia will help to develop the direction and outcomes of the conference and facilitate the discussion on improving the use of data and particularly big data in both monitoring as well as achieving the sustainable development goals.
For many, daily travel is a product of routines that have been established over time. From commuting, getting the kids to school and back home to the occasional shopping trip much of our movements follow a predictable pattern. Attempts to map human movement in different regions across the world using emerging sources of big data such as mobile network call detail records (CDR) show that in general aggregate human movements change very little from one week day to another or from one weekend to another. Our work on human mobility using a large CDR dataset have shown that Sri Lanka is no different. However during some days of the year such as during festivals, holidays and natural disasters routine travel behavior gives way to unique travel behavior.

Inclusion through platforms

Posted on April 11, 2016  /  0 Comments

The only platforms LIRNEasia is currently studying are those used for micro work in the IT and ITES sector. There our focus is on inclusion. But, this article shows we should consider looking at more platforms. Deepthi, the single mother of a teenager, says she has tried other types of self-employment. She worked as a goldsmith, nursing home careperson and, sometimes still makes shoes and bags at home.