Sri Lanka Archives — Page 5 of 58


Unlike many countries, Sri Lanka did not impose a universal-service levy on customers of telecom services, directly or indirectly. One reason was the clause in the SLT privatization agreements that no universal-service levies would be imposed on the company. When you exempt the biggest player, you can’t then go and impose levies on the competitors. So that was an intended good result of the privatization. However, when the international telecom market was liberalized in 2003, the government imposed certain fees on incoming and outgoing calls that were to be kept in a fund and given to the companies which generated the calls when they provided documentation that approved rural infrastructure investments had been completed.
Social media, especially Twitter, is not optimal for nuanced discussion of policy options. In the context of a talk I gave at the 2017 Sri Lanka Economic Summit on innovation, broadly defined, someone suggested co-working spaces as the priority. My response was: Tech and innovation cannot be reduced to ICT innovation — Rohan Samarajiva (@samarajiva) July 26, 2017 For reasons unclear to me this is being interpreted as an outright rejection of co-working spaces 2/ when I raised this once on Twitter Dr. @samarajiva outright rejected saying, Tech co-working spaces is not a priority! — Sesiri Pathirane (@Sesiri) August 26, 2017 So I thought it would be good to look at what I had actually said at the Sri Lanka Economic Summit.
Many see the promotion of innovation simply in terms of increasing reported R&D expenditures. I disagree. That is why I like the Global Innovation Index which is a composite index that looks not only at inputs, but also at outputs and innovation efficiency. Sadly, Sri Lanka is failing according to the GII. When compared with lower-middle-income countries, Sri Lanka is not in the top ten in anything.
“We are very poor. We have lost touch with the world. We need the World Bank to catch up.” This is a quotation from Julian Gewirtz’s book, Unlikely Partners, that I will be using in my keynote address at the University of Peradeniya Humanities and Social Sciences Conference on 28 July 2017. It was in a conversation between Deng Xiaoping and Robert McNamara.
We spent a lot of time thinking about service-quality in relation to electricity and telecom services in 2012-14. We organized the 2013 SAFIR core training course around the theme of service quality. But the work has more to contribute. The current controversies around private medical education has brought to the fore many neglected issues related to service industries, including the question of service quality or standards. The op-ed seeking to respond some of these erroneous claims states: As shown by the example of automobile service above, the burden on the regulatory agency is much less when competition exists.
Below is what I planned to say when introducing a panel on foreign policy for national development at the Lakshman Kadiragamar Institute on the 29th of June. Given time constraints, I did not say it all, but it reflects what I did say. Sri Lanka is like Greater Mumbai. Our small size as well as our location define our position in the world and determine our foreign policy. As we become wealthier as a country and as individuals, much of our consumption is of foreign made goods.
I saw a response to an RTI request from the Department of Meteorology on Twitter and did not adequately check its veracity. As a result, I unfairly described the forecasting capabilities of the Department in at least one occasion at a meeting attended by influential officials and also polluted Twitterspace. I am sorry. Interesting contrast between 50 mm < forecast & actual rainfall https://t.co/zGwl4KOnDl https://t.
Looking for something in my files, I found this conference paper that is almost 10 years old. The organizers pressured me to write it but then they did not keep their side of the bargain and publish the proceedings. It requires a few hours of work to make it up to date. The basic structure is fine, and could even be used to assess the WTO compliance of other countries that have made telecom commitments. Pity it never saw the light of day.
The government predicted rainfall more than 150 mm on the 25th of May. Over 500 mm of rain fell. Technically, they were not wrong (550 mm is within the range of “more than 150 mm”), but obviously, forecasts like this might as well not be made. [an error was corrected in the above para] But it is wrong to condemn the Met Department which operates even without Doppler radar, though they have been talking about it since 2012. But as discussed below, Doppler radar is old and can only tell about large rain drops.
As Sri Lanka is drying itself out after yet another disaster, people are beginning to ask what went wrong and what could be done better in the future. Some of the comments are not fair, for example the comparison of the Bangladesh and Sri Lanka responses, but most are useful. Every disaster must be treated as a learning opportunity. First, let’s get the Bangladesh comparison out of the way. Once a cyclone forms, its track can be seen from satellites.
Unusual discussion Usually, what gets discussed on TV talk shows are big political issues. Somewhat unusually, the Derana Aluth Parlimenthuva Program focused on economic issues yesterday. My expectation was that it would be on the big news stories: oil tanks, India, growth rates, etc. I talked about the recently gained GSP Plus concession. This allows Sri Lankan firms to export some 6000 products into the EU, duty free.
Konrad Adenauer Stiftung and Pathfinder Foundation organized a roundtable on social market economy and SMEs in Colombo today. Among the Sri Lankan research that was shared was a shortened version of a slideset from our 2011-13 research program. With regard to social market economy, I said that the German model could not be transplanted here. Lacking their almost religious fiscal discipline, we were likely to create an even bigger mess by guaranteeing social and economic safeguards in the Constitution. Their model rested on tripartite decision making system that gave a powerful role to trade unions.
The ill-considered proposal in the 2017 Budget to compel all e commerce transactions to be conducted over a yet-to-be-designed government platform has come up for discussion again. Lahiru Pathmalal, CEO of Takas, one of the Sri Lanka’s more visible e-commerce businesses had this to say to the Sunday Times: “What is ideal is a tax holiday for e-commerce/tech related business that makes heavy investments into growth,” he said. “There has been discussion in regard to travel related booking engines being taxed such as AirBNB and Bookings.com. I believe taxing of booking engines is be ill timed,” he claimed.
The second panel was on digital rights and multistakeholderism. I did not think there can be much debate about a Rorschach inkblot so I devoted only one slide to it and made some passing comments, which still managed to elicit some response from the people who live under the protection of the concept. Digital rights was where the robust exchange occurred. Not because of the relatively uncontroversial issue of governments being prevented from arbitrarily shutting down the Internet and the underlying telecom networks that I proposed. But it was because one of the panelists proposed the wholesale importation of the European data protection regime and rights such as the “right to be forgotten.
The sane faction of the opponents of trade liberalization had organized a Citizen’s Commission to work up a report on what Sri Lanka’s national trade policy should be. But it was not a qualified or balanced Commission, with only one economist (even that, an ideological economist, as evidenced by the manner in which he introduced me) and one person with experience in international trade. Every single protectionist appears to have been invited to present their views before the Commission. I was preceded by one of the leaders of the anti-CEPA protests in 2010. There is value in these kinds of fact-gathering and report preparation activities outside government.
In 2008-2010, LIRNEasia conducted a major research program on knowledge to innovation in solid waste management. Building on that knowledge base, a new campaign that seeks to draw on the best-available technical expertise and community engagement was launched on the one-month anniversary of the garbage mountain collapse in Meethotamulla: The campaign was formalised on 14 May in recognition of the one month anniversary of Meethotamulla. It is a joint effort by LIRNEasia, Sarvodaya and the Federation of Sri Lankan Local Government Authorities to find solutions for disposing our waste without harming people or the environment. There are many commendable efforts to reduce, reuse and recycle waste at the source, but very little attention is paid to the regulation of waste disposal sites. The campaign hopes to fill that void.