Sri Lanka Archives — Page 8 of 57 — LIRNEasia


Promoting exports v restricting imports

Posted on November 4, 2016  /  0 Comments

Ahilan Kadiragamar is an articulate spokesperson of the Collective for Economic Democratisation in Sri Lanka. Therefore, I looked forward to an exchange of views on the proposed economic and technological cooperation agreement (ETCA) with India, organized by the Church and Nation Committee of the Sri Lanka Methodist Church. The slides that I used are here. It was a little disappointing to hear that the alternative policies being advocated by these well-meaning people boiled down to import controls and juche. The problem was encapsulated by a question from the audience: In which countries are these import control policies being implemented?
There is proof that the government of Sri Lanka pays attention to international benchmarks. When the ITU’s Measuring the Information Society Report showed that Sri Lanka had some of the lowest mobile voice charges in the world (p. 102), the government took prompt action by increasing taxes on voice, SMS and value added services by 80 percent and on data by 160 percent (even though Sri Lanka was not as low as for voice, but the prices were in the low range). The logical conclusion is that they want the people to decrease use of voice and data caused by these low prices. But they want to use public funds to develop ICT based services, as indicated by the 479 percent increase in the vote of the Ministry of Telecom and Digital Infrastructure.
As part of the Inclusive Information Society research, we at LIRNEasia were in the process of interrogating the labor force and related data. Then there was this headline about there being no need for one million jobs when only 400,000 people were unemployed. Two days later, the op-ed refuting the absurdity of comparing one million over five years target with a static unemployment figure was published. As can be seen, having the data ready was extremely helpful for the quick response. If we are to escape from the middle-income trap and get established on a high-growth trajectory, it is imperative that all sectors of society understand the importance of creating jobs with the characteristics demanded by our young people and by the women who are sitting out the job market.
Last week, there was a two-day gathering of young politicians from Finland and Sri Lanka outside Colombo, in Usvetakeyiyava. The only common factor was age. Both sides had multiple political parties represented among them. I was asked to discuss the current political and economic situation in the country. I discussed some of the key challenges that we face, but which our political system does not give much weight to, except perhaps the first two, since 2015.
The two-day workshop (Oct 17 & 18, 2016) in Moratuwa, invited Sarvodaya members from Batticaloa, Colombo, Gampaha, and Kegalle Districts. These participants have first-hand experience responding to the 2016 Western floods & landslide and the 2015 Northeast floods, in Sri Lanka. The objective was to share their tacit knowledge on taking a holistic and practical approach to responding to crises. Then give them the tools to analyze the experience to develop the Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) themselves. To that end, we applied community engagement social practices methods for analyzing the knowledge to realize the design parameters for developing the Sarvodaya Disaster Response SOP.

The value of “technical assistance”

Posted on September 23, 2016  /  0 Comments

When I was responsible for the management of technical assistance funds made available by the World Bank for telecom and infrastructure reforms, I heard many complaints about the money all going to foreign consultants and nothing remaining in Sri Lanka. I responded to this criticism in a substantive manner a few years back in LBO. But here is another relevant element. How much money do you waste by not mobilizing technical expertise at the right time? Deputy Foreign Minister Harsha de Silva pointed out that the then government has spent just one million rupees before wasting 350 million US dollars for setting up the emptiest international airport in the world.
We have been talking about cell broadcasting since 2007, at least. The technology has been used in the US before, but it appears this was the first time it was used to catch a suspect. Frank DiGirolamo was stepping out of a Manhattan deli on 37th Street and Seventh Avenue on his way to work when the alert went out. “All of a sudden, I heard the phones from people walking in every direction,” he said. “Even the fruit stand guy’s went off.
According to the Daily Mirror, the Finance Minister has said ““They (e-commerce operators) are just operating here. Where is the regulation for that? We will make them bring money earned here back to the country.” He appears to be responding to non-e commerce businesses who are complaining as below. Meanwhile during the 9th Ease of Doing Business Forum the Rent-A-Car Association representative Milinda Mallawarachchi called for e-commerce regulations.
A 2 1/2 day regional workshop on “Internet Governance Processes” for national champions selected from 4 countries (Myanmar, Sri Lanka, Bhutan and Bangladesh) is currently being held in Renuka City Hotel, Sri Lanka. This regional workshop is the commencing workshop of the IGF Academy, Asia counterpart. This academy aims to strengthen Internet governance in global south. At the end of the 6 month fellowship, the national champions are expected to develop road maps on lessons learnt by intervening in Internet governance processes in their respective countries. Transfer guides on how to replicate what was done in this program will be developed after the fellows participate in IGF in December.
Usually, these are not subjects that are seen as connected. But I connected them at a talk I gave at the Colombo Club today. When the losses in one year from one SOE that serves a limited clientele are almost double the total spent on the social safety program that touches over one million families, it is not a difficult case to make. My slides are here.
I was asked by a journalist from the Express Group to comment on the Sri Lanka Disaster Management Center’s use or non-use of available technological solutions, specifically some kind of VSAT facility in Padukka. I said I was not in a position to comment on this, but said I would comment their good use of DEWN and their inexplicable non-use of Sahana. Both DEWN and Sahana were technological solutions developed within Sri Lanka by Sri Lankans in the aftermath of the 2004 Indian Ocean Tsunami. DEWN is a CAP-compliant robust method for communicating with first responders. It was handed over to the DMC in 2009 and has been well used since.
LIRNEasia is currently hosting  Dr Ayumi Arai from the University of Tokyo’s Center for Spatial Information Science. She is also a Research Fellow with LIRNEasia collaborating on our big data for development research in Sri Lanka. We took the opportunity to organize a lecture for her yesterday (14th July 2016) for the senior staff of the Department of Census and Statistics (DCS) Sri Lanka, as preamble to a longer discussion with the department to collaborate with LIRNEasia and our partners on big data and official statistics in Sri Lanka. Dr Arai’s talk was on her ongoing Dynamic Census research work in Bangladesh which utilizes mobile network big data and official statistics to provide spatio-temporal insights on the socio-economic and demographic characteristics of the population at high granularity and high frequency. The slides from her talk are available HERE.
Last week Parliament adopted the Right to Information Law without division. I have been engaged with RTI in Sri Lanka since 2007, when I chaired a Pathfinder Sanvada discussion. We went deep into the subject in 2011 when we proposed to implement RTI for the City of Colombo. RTI was a key element in the manifesto of the Common Candidate in the January 2015 Presidential Election. There was considerable consultation over the drafts since early 2015.

Hope for Sri Lanka Post?

Posted on June 20, 2016  /  0 Comments

In contrast to the usual tales of woe, increasing losses and strikes, an online publication had this optimistic story: Sri Lanka Post has done its homework. According to Shervyn Senadheera, Additional Secretary to the Ministry of Posts, Postal Services & Muslim Religious Affairs, a survey conducted between 2013 and 2014 with a sample size of 1,122 participants found that only 15 – 18% of the population has the capability of getting their services online, through the internet, mobile phones and apps. The rest of the population faces immense hurdles in terms of language, computer literacy, access to hardware, and confidence with technology. Senadheera is of the opinion that whatever the technology introduced, basic problems like those mentioned above need to be addressed first. And there is truth to the statement: even a giant technological development drive will need to tackle computer literacy before the people can enjoy its benefits.
I discussed what is required for Sri Lankan firms to effectively participate in global value chains and reforms of State-Owned Enterprises at the Management Club of Colombo. The slides are here.
The government newspaper, the Ceylon Daily News, carried a well-written story on Google Loon, Rama Corp, and dangers to spectrum framework. “We first told the companies who had been with us throughout, that because they had supported us through difficult times, we would give them a base frequency of 7.5Mhz (900Mhz band). The other companies, like Suntel, Lanka Bell and Lanka Telecom were given a base of 2.5Mhz (800Mhz band).