“Broadband will represent a momentous economic and social change”, said President’s Secretary Lalith Weeratunga.
Weeratunga said so while participating at the inauguration of a two-day ‘Regional Expert Consultation on Connecting Asia Pacific’s Digital Society for Building Resilience’ held in Colombo recently.
Organized by the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (UNESCAP) and the ICT Agency of Sri Lanka (ICTA) it had an impressive line-up of participants. Initiated also in collaboration with the UN Commission on International Trade Law (UNCITRAL) the consultation addressed in six sessions several sub-topics including enabling cross-border legal environment for regional connectivity.
Delivering his keynote address, the Presidential Secretary called for priority being given in our agendas for assurance that the poor and the vulnerable have access to opportunities, including broadband connectivity. Weeratunga emphasized that ICTs were tools that could be used effectively to empower people and help governments to deliver their services effectively.
Alluding to a declaration by the United Nations Broadband Commission for Digital Development, the Presidential Secretary attested that broadband would be a game changer in addressing a myriad of challenges. “Protecting the poor and the vulnerable and ensuring that they too have access to opportunities should remain high on our agenda”, Weeratunga appealed.
Sri Lanka elected to the Chair of the UNESCAP’s ICT committee
At the end of the inauguration and before the consultation proper began the Presidential Secretary was unanimously elected to the chair of the UNESCAP’s ICT Committee for the third consecutive term. The election of Sri Lanka to this chair is a recognition of the country’s achievements in ICT, including regional and world awards, Weeratunga underlined. The Presidential Secretary was unanimously elected to this prestigious chair in 2008 and 2010 as well - the two previous terms.
The following is the full text of the keynote address of Presidential Secretary Lalith Weeratunga delivered at the “Regional Expert Consultation on Connecting Asia-Pacific’s Digital Society for Building Resilience”:
“Palitha Fernando, the Attorney General of Sri Lanka , Professor Epasinghe, Chairman of the ICT Agency, Madam Samika Sirimanne, representative of the ESCAP, delegates from UNCITRAL, distinguished delegates, ladies and gentlemen,
I feel very honoured and privileged to be able to address you this morning – the Regional Expert Consultation on Connecting Asia-Pacific’s Digital Society for Building Resilience.
But Let me also welcome you to Sri Lanka and I hope you will have a memorable stay here although some of you may only be here for just a couple of days”.
Empowerment of rural societies by digital revolution
“Well the Asia Pacific region has been showing a remarkable progress since recent years emerging as a global economic growth driver while developed economies in the rest of the world had been stagnating around 2.7 % growth rate as indicated by 2010 figures. We, in the developing countries in the Asia Pacific region, had grown at a rate of around 8.8%. This, I think, is a remarkable feat. This growth is also due to the result of the contribution made by the rural poor: let me emphasize this. There are so many rural populations in the developing economies in this part of the world. Their contribution, in turn, has been greatly facilitated by the digital revolution that had empowered the rural societies”.
ICT connectivity for resilient development — conference objective
“The objective of the regional expert consultation is to devise ways and review best practices in using ICT connectivity for the resilient development of the region. The consultation, I am sure, will focus on several aspects of regional connectivity, both in terms of infrastructure and the enabling legal environment.
There will be much information generated during today and tomorrow on how countries can contribute towards the collective efficiency of the region, and, I think, this is a very important point at this point of time because the entire Asian region is becoming the driver of the world economy and many people call it the economic power house of the world.
Among popular themes that will be discussed, will, no doubt, be the broadband revolution as Madam Sirimanne said, and, of course, the ICT innovations, and, I think, Sri Lanka can offer a number of ICT innovations which we have applied to our rural populations”.
Mobile broadband internet, a cause of digital divide
“Well, according to the information that I have, four out of five persons in the developing countries, particularly in rural societies remain offline. That means, just 1/5th of the world’s population have access to broadband or whatever internet can offer.
Unfortunately the digital divide is apparent precisely in the technology that is most potent in creating transformation, that is the mobile broadband internet.
The Asia Pacific region also has 950 million people living on less than $ 1.25 a day.
Protecting the poor and the vulnerable and ensuring that they too have access to opportunities should remain high on our agenda”.
ICTs, tools for empowering people
“We all agree that ICTs are tools that can be used effectively to empower people and help governments to deliver their services effectively. As declared by the United Nations Broadband Commission for Digital Development, broadband will represent a momentous economic and social change that will be a game changer in addressing a myriad of challenges, be it healthcare, education and social change”.
Partnering private sector in developing ICTs for sustainable development
“Governments and private industries must be encouraged and, I think, in this aspect governments have a huge role to play in encouraging the private sector because I see the private sector now coming into more and more research activities and development activities. They are not waiting until research institutes of governments ask them to come up with new solutions. The private sector is investing a lot of money today to improve solutions.
We must join hands with the private sector in developing ICTs for inclusive and sustainable development. An example is the story of how Korea has built a successful knowledge society for all on a public-private partnership. Korea’s 3G mobile network covers, as all of you know, 99% of its population and 80% of its territory – something which is remarkable.
In the case of Sri Lanka, with just 20 million people, with 65,000 square kilometres, an island, being a small country, reviving our economy, building a new nation, after three decades of a terrorist conflict – It is only just three years since we concluded the war against terrorism – here there is a wealth of opportunity for ICT development which makes it all the more realistic to attain – Sri Lanka wants to attain – the goal of US$ 1 billion in revenue by 2016. I see a number of private sector players here, private sector organizations which support this cause. They are the people who motivate governments to support them and help them to achieve this target”.
Sri Lanka’s attractiveness as a service location
“An example of this potential is highlighted in the global services location index published by A. T. Kearney and this is, of course, reputed as one of the world’s leading barometers on the relative attractiveness of countries as service locations. The indexing is based on the fundamentals of three categories. I am sure all of you are aware but let me just state this: financial attractiveness, people’s skills and availability and, of course, the business environment, how friendly it is. Sri Lanka is positioned at the 21st point out of 50 countries which is considered a remarkable feat for a small country in the midst of giants such as China, India, Egypt and Mexico.
Sri Lanka’s Networked Readiness Index, the NRI ranking published by the World Economic Forum has also improved from the 86th position out of 122 countries in 2006/2007 to the 66th position out of 138 in 2010 and 2011. Several eGovernment initiatives have resulted in enhanced delivery of public services online with overall 15,000 government officials having been trained and skilled in ICT”.
President’s tremendous support for use of ICT for people-empowerment
“Our the President who has supported the cause of ICTs throughout his tenure both as the Prime Minister of this country and as the President, having been elected in 2005, has given a lot of impetus, a lot of support to ensure that the public service of Sri Lanka becomes fully capable of using ICT instruments. We have also trained over 25,000 citizens under the ICTA’s e-literacy project. We have gone to disadvantaged areas, picked up people who could improve their life styles; who would improve their livelihoods through ICTs. We have picked them and given them special training”.
Nenasala telecentre wisdom outlets
“Well, Sri Lanka is also famous for its rural telecentre network branded as ‘Nenasala’, which is a very interesting concept which has also been hailed by the ESCAP during the last few years”.
eServices for efficient and quick public service
“On ICT initiatives implemented locally, on Monday (3 September) just two days back, the Government launched the eServices project facilitated by the ICTA by introducing 22 eServices provided by the Government agencies. This is only the initial step taken by the eServices project of the ICTA to enable the public to obtain their services quickly and efficiently and in the comfort of their home or office.
Well, Sri Lanka has to learn a lot from giants like Japan, Korea, India and China. I am sure, the collective thinking, the collective discussions here, the deliberations here will come up with some kind of set of outcomes that could be helpful to all in the region”.
Government Information Centre - 1919
“Well, the fact that you are here today gives Sri Lanka a great privilege because, I think, we are on a learning curve at a point where we can learn from you. I am sure there are a few things that we can share with you which have empowered our rural populations. One such initiative is the Government Information Centre with a short code, 1919. It has won a global award at the ’WSIS’. It is one of the best eGovernment initiatives. It is a call centre of the Government. It is operative 365 days of the year from 8 o’clock in the morning to 10 O’clock in the night providing a range of services. Over the last five years, it has added on to its portfolio of work a large number of services that have helped people, particularly the rural people”.
ICT benefits despite debilitating war
“Well, Sri Lanka having a population of 20 million people, I can very proudly tell you, has also at least 21 million telephone connections, mobile plus land. This means, we believe, everyone has an access to a telephone which is something we are very proud about, despite having been devastated by a very debilitating war against terrorism. Thirty years is a very long time. Our infrastructure had been destroyed. We have spent a lot of money on defending our country ensuring our integrity and ensuring our sovereignty. These moneys could have easily gone on to development work, had we had a time of peace and reconciliation but today we are on that path”.
ICTs help reconciliation and peace
“As a country, which is on a very strong path of reconciliation, I also see a great potential for using ICTs. ICTs have no issue where languages are concerned; they don’t have any problem over technology barriers. They do not have any problem about geographic discriminations: so I think we will also use ICTs as much as possible to bring about reconciliation which is sustainable”.
“With those words and welcoming you, once again, to Sri Lanka, let me wish you a very memorable stay here and a very fruitful discussion, which I am sure, will enable all of us to be benefited because we in this region, as I said earlier, have a huge potential. The Asia Pacific region is today becoming a region that can produce, that can innovate, that can create solutions to many problems that we see in the rest of the world. So with those words thanking you for coming here once again, welcoming you and I hope you will have a memorable stay here and I hope you will also have a very successful deliberation. Thank you very much.”
A distinguished array of local and foreign speakers and panellists were among the participants. Attorney General and President’s Counsel Palitha Fernando, ICTA Chairman, Senior Advisor to the President and Peradeniya University Chancellor Professor P. W. Epasinghe, UNESCAP Information and Communication Technology and Disaster Risk Reduction Division Director Shamika Sirimanne and ICTA CEO Reshan Dewapura were also in the line-up of speakers and participants who graced the occasion.