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Digitalization way forward for Lanka – World Bank

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Healthcare workers in Sri Lanka enter data into the DHIS2 COVID-19 surveillance system(Pic courtesy World Bank)

Digitalization is the way forward for Sri Lanka to transform into a technology-based society, says the World Bank.

The WB report said that the Government of Sri Lanka has demonstrated its commitment to accelerate digital transformation. In order to reap the benefits of digital technologies, the country now needs to ensure that access to high-speed and affordable Internet is available to all citizens including in remote areas of the country and across income groups and gender. It also needs to ensure that the right policies, laws, and regulatory frameworks are in place to protect the security, data and rights of all especially the vulnerable.

In early 2020, when the COVID-19 lockdown began, Sri Lanka’s food supply chain was significantly disrupted leaving farmers and consumers to face the adverse effects of the pandemic. Wholesale and retail markets were closed and traders were encouraged to deliver food items directly to doorsteps following strict health guidelines.

However, to sell and deliver food items and agricultural products, small traders were required to register at the Divisional Secretariats (DS), local-level administrative units which serve as the primary citizen delivery points.

But government office closures significantly affected this process. Meanwhile, there was no means to submit and process permit requests electronically.

Now, the Government of Sri Lanka, led by the Information and Communication Technology Agency (ICTA) in collaboration with various stakeholders, has embarked on a highly anticipated digital transformation journey to address such issues.

With support from the World Bank’s Contingency Emergency Response Component (CERC), ICTA is planning to bring services online to 10 selected Divisional Secretariats through piloting the ‘form.gov.lk’ initiative, a cloud-based Software-as-a-Service (SAAS) platform.

The platform will leverage existing infrastructure such as the Lanka Government Cloud (LGC 2.0), the government’s cloud computing infrastructure, and the Lanka Government Network, the government’s private network which connects 860 government offices across the country.

The proposed solution will offer the general public and businesses the capability to fill and submit relevant information and documents digitally without having to visit government offices.

These pilot services will range from civil registrations (births/deaths) and small business registrations to allowing farmers to process police permits for transporting crops.

Once the system is successfully piloted in selected DS offices, the platform can be scaled to other government organizations, reducing travel and building efficiency in service delivery including in areas outside of urban centres and contributing to Sri Lanka’s green recovery.

“Our biggest objective is to build the digital foundation for the government to continue serving all Sri Lankans during a crisis like this. This is just the beginning of our digital transformation journey” says Mehinda Herath, Chief Executive officer of ICTA.

The CERC will also build resilience in public service delivery by enabling government officials to work remotely.

This will be done through the implementation of a government-wide email and collaboration solution and video conferencing facilities; and by enhancing the capacity of the government cloud infrastructure (LGC 2.0) to support more services.

A disaster recovery site will also be established for LGC 2.0 so that critical data is not lost in times of exogenous shocks, including natural disasters such as flooding and cyclones.

“The vision of ICTA is to improve living conditions and livelihoods across Sri Lanka irrespective of geographical locations and other disparities. This will be done through effectively adopting digital technologies and developing the required enabling environment, including the legal framework, basic infrastructure such as unique digital ID and government wide digital connectivity as well as various other aspects that are required to develop the digital economy,” says Prof. Lilith Gamage, Chairman of ICTA.

Transforming Sri Lanka into a technology-based society is one of the key national policy objectives of the country, as highlighted in the President’s manifesto, Vistas of Prosperity and Splendor. This includes the implementation of a “whole-of-government approach” to digital government to improve the delivery of public services to all Sri Lankans; developing the technology industry for jobs and growth; and supporting digital entrepreneurship and growth of a digitally savvy workforce and population.

The government is developing a foundational digital ID system that is backed by biometrics. ICTA together with the Ministry of Justice has also commenced an initiative to establish a country-wide court management system with the aim of improving the efficiency and effectiveness of the judicial system.



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MONLAR: Govt. has fallen for millers’ ruse

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By Rathindra Kuruwita

Farmers would be harvesting their paddy by the time the government imports 100,000 tonnes of rice and it would lead to a decrease in prices they received from millers, Chinthaka Rajapakshe, Moderator of the Movement for Land and Agricultural Reform (MONLAR) warned yesterday.

Addressing a post-Cabinet Press Conference on Monday, co-Cabinet spokesman and Media Minister Keheliya Rambukwella announced that the Cabinet had approved the import of 100,000 tonnes of rice to increase competition in the market.

Rajapakshe commented that successive governments had been importing large quantities of rice close to the harvesting period.

“Several large mill owners create an artificial shortage of rice when the harvesting season nears. The government responds by importing large quantities of rice, often of dubious quality.  The paddy prices collapse, allowing mill owners to buy paddy from farmers at dirt cheap prices and then the mill owners release some of the stocks they have to the market. Given that Sri Lankans prefer to eat Sri Lankan varieties and that the imported rice is of poor quality; no one buys the imported rice,” Rajapakshe said.

 The MONLAR moderator said that there was an assumption that the Yala harvest would be low because of the impact of fertiliser shortages on rice production. There had been reports that rice plants were yellowing and their growth was retarded due to a shortage of nitrogen.

 Commenting on the allegations that there was a shortage of fertiliser, Minister of Plantation, Ramesh Pathirana told The Island that by the next paddy season the government would be able to provide adequate amounts of compost fertiliser. “There will be some difficulties in the next few months. We must work together to face them. Everyone agrees that organic agriculture is good, but some think the government’s decision was too hasty. However, by the time the Maha season starts we will have enough fertiliser stocks. We are also ready to compensate farmers if there are issues in the current season.”

In response,  Rajapakshe said that it was not too late to address the issues that had arisen from nitrogen shortages and questioned how the government had decided that it needed to import 100,000 tonnes of rice, given that it had not studied the impact of fertiliser shortage on the paddy harvest.

“How on earth did they come up with this number? Obviously, this is a scheme to enrich a few businessmen, politicians and some officials. The government should empower farmers’ associations, cooperatives and small mill owners if it wants to find a permanent solution to annual rice shortages experienced by the people,” he said.

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Wijeyadasa no longer considers himself govt. member

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By Shamindra Ferdinando

SLPP lawmaker Dr. Wijeyadasa Rajapakse, PC, says he no longer considers himself as a member of the ruling party.

Asked to comment on his present status, the Justice Minister, in the previous UNP regime, said that he had stopped participating in SLPP group meetings since the passage of the 20th Amendment to the Constitution in Oct last year.

Dr. Rajapakse, who entered Parliament from the Colombo District on the SLPP ticket at the August 2020 general election, voted for 20th Amendment despite his criticism of it. In the previous Parliament, Dr. Rajapakse represented the UNP.

Responding to another query, Rajapakse said that the SLPP had refrained from appointing him to any committee though he had in the past served and in some instances headed important outfits, such as the Committee on Public Enterprises (COPE).

 The former minister alleged that the SLPP had caused so much turmoil that the country was now in a bind. Instead of taking the people into confidence the incumbent administration adopted strategies meant to suppress dissent.

 Commenting on what he called a severe economic crisis against the backdrop of the worsening Covid-19 epidemic, Dr. Rajapakse alleged that those at the helm lacked basic understanding to rationally address issues.

The former minister said that the government appeared to have ignored the growing threat of the EU going the whole hog in the wake of its parliament adopting a resolution against Sri Lanka.

The resolution expressed the concern of the European Parliament regarding the PTA (Prevention of Terrorism Act) and related human rights issues in Sri Lanka. It highlighted that the GSP+ status is linked to the implementation of 27 international conventions by Sri Lanka. The GSP+ monitoring process is conducted on a regular basis by the European Commission and the European External Action Service, the EU mission in Colombo told The Island.

The following is the relevant section from the EU resolution: “…Underlines that the GSP+ scheme offered to Sri Lanka has made a significant contribution to the country’s economy, from which exports to the EU have increased to EUR 2.3 billion, making the EU Sri Lanka’s second-largest export market; highlights the ongoing monitoring of Sri Lanka’s eligibility for GSP+ status and stresses that the continuance of GSP+ trade preferences is not automatic; calls on the Commission and the European External Action Service (EEAS) to take into due account current events when assessing Sri Lanka’s eligibility for GSP+ status; further calls on the Commission and the EEAS to use the GSP+ as a leverage to push for advancement on Sri Lanka’s human rights obligations and demand the repeal or replacement of the PTA, to carefully assess whether there is sufficient reason, as a last resort, to initiate a procedure for the temporary withdrawal of Sri Lanka’s GSP+ status and the benefits that come with it, and to report to Parliament on this matter as soon as possible.”

For want of a cohesive strategy, the SLPP hadn’t been able at least to rationally assess external and internal threats and take remedial measures, the MP said.

Referring to the passage of the Colombo Port City Economic Commission Bill, MP Rajapakse alleged that the government was on an extremely dangerous path. The EU resolution reflected the Western thinking and the current leadership acted as if China was our main buyers. How could they ignore the fact that the US and EU countries remain major contributors to the Sri Lanka economy though our decision-making process was aimed at satisfying China.

 

 

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Geneva concerned about deaths in police custody, Shani’s safety

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The Sri Lanka Core Group has joined the Bar Association of Sri Lanka (BASL) in calling for what it calls independent and impartial investigations into deaths in police custody. The six-member grouping led by the UK has also stressed the need to ensure security of former CID Director SSP Shani Abeysekera, who recently received bail.

Abeysekera had been interdicted. The ex-CID Director has also figured in taped conversations with former MP Ranjan Ramanayake now serving a jail sentence for contempt of the Supreme Court, discussing how to fix certain court cases then being heard, especially against political opponents.

The following is the text of statement issued by Canada, Germany, North Macedonia, Malawi,

Montenegro and the UK at the 47th sessions of the Geneva-based United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC): “Council resolution 46/1 called upon the Sri Lankan Government to address the harmful legacies of war and to protect human rights, including for those from religious minorities. We regret the lack of progress on these issues, with a number of further concerning developments.

The Sri Lankan Government has attempted to dismiss a number of emblematic cases and to initiate criminal proceedings against individuals pursuing some of these cases. This counters the Council’s call for prompt, thorough and impartial investigations. We call for former CID director Shani Abeysekera’s safety to be ensured.

We are deeply concerned about the ongoing use of the Prevention of Terrorism Act and the recent intention to introduce a rehabilitation process lacking adequate judicial oversight. Human rights lawyer Hejaaz Hizbullah, and poet and teacher Ahnaf Jazeem, remain detained without trial and further arrests under this Act have continued, including among minority communities and the political opposition.

We remain concerned about the restrictions on memorialization . We join the Bar Association of Sri Lanka in requesting independent and impartial investigations into recent deaths in police custody

We are concerned over appointments to the Office on Missing Persons and reiterate the importance of ensuring independent and credible institutions to achieve justice.

We encourage Sri Lanka to cooperate with the Council and OHCHR in relation to resolution 46/1 and stand ready to support this.”

 

 

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