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Embarking on a digital journey: Exploring Sri Lanka’s readiness

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The new normal requires new approaches and solutions, an imperative change that must be embraced by all sections of the economy to survive and to stay relevant.

The outbreak of the pandemic saw the country grappling to keep up with day-to- day activities, both on a personal and corporate level. One of the key challenges observed was in the areas of transacting for goods and services in what can be called an increasingly contactless word.

Although relevant authorities have pushed for Sri Lanka to move towards a cashless economy, it was during the initial outbreak of COVID-19 that people actively looked to use the digital payment infrastructure that is in place.

Across the world, including Sri Lanka, the digital modes of communications including payments are continuing to boom, thanks to the introduction of new technologies coupled with other developments to encourage the emergence of innovative ways of doing things, which leads to the creation of new business opportunities.

The Information Communications Technology Agency (ICTA) has been in the forefront in driving the adoption of digital technologies and legal frameworks in the country especially within the government.

However, despite efforts to deploy platforms and technologies by many stakeholders, the uptake has been slow largely due to the lack of awareness.

Sri Lanka’s readiness to embrace the digital journey

Even before the crisis hit, Sri Lanka had all the necessary framework to embark on the digital journey, and the ability of consumers to make an immediate transition from manual to electronic transactions provide clear evidence that a strong foundation has already been laid.

In order to enable this transition from a policy perspective, Director/Legal Advisor at ICTA & Director, Sri Lanka CERT, Mr. Jayantha Fernando affirmed that Sri Lanka has the enabling legal framework to transform every form of physical activity that is carried out, into the digital medium, except for certain classes of instruments where notarization is needed.

“I believe and can firmly say that we have sufficient legal grounds to embrace this transition,” Fernando assured.

 

Digital signatures

 

Making the digital journey even more convenient to embark on is the ability to use digital signatures. Digital signatures essentially work by proving that a digital message or document was not modified, intentionally or unintentionally, from the time it was signed. This is done by generating a unique hash of the message or document and encrypting it using the sender’s private key. In addition, the sender is bound to the communication if a digital signature is affixed, thus, providing non-repudiation.

In this context, Sri Lanka has been successful in terms of cross border transactions as well, since the root key from the island nation is recognized globally from the beginning of this year, after its launch on 14th February 2020.

In the first phase, digital certificates were provided to banks for use in financial transaction clearing systems, such as SLIPS and CITS.

During the second phase of development in 2011, digital certificates were provided to all sectors including their enterprise applications; SSL certificates and end-user certificates on both private and public networks. LankaSign provided an affordable option to Sri Lanka’s financial as well as other sectors and allowed them to automate documentation work, which was previously done manually.

With regards to verifying the validity of digital signatures, what is required is a valid certificate from the signatory, and the complete issuer chain of certificates up to the root certificate. In addition, the signatory’s public key, issuer Certificate Status Protocol (CSP) certificates and their Certificate Revocation List (CRL) are also required.

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While most enterprises have been focusing on their digital transformation over the last few years, many are still utilizing processes that have manual, physical, or face-to-face components and document signing is probably the best example of this.

According to Fernando, digital signatures actually help in the current context since there is reluctance at the moment to work on premise due to the outbreak of the pandemic.

“The digital signatures are the electronic equivalent of hand-written signatures. A digital certificate issued from a trusted party would have a higher degree of validity attached to them, which ensures integrity to the transactions. What should be ideally done is for governments, Corporates and SMEs to consider the option of using digitally signed documents, so that they can communicate those in electronic form to all participants in a transaction,” he said.

However, due to lack of awareness, most private organizations are somewhat reluctant to use digital certificates or digital signatures for their day-to-day transactions, he said.

Fernando stressed that companies should embrace digital signatures as they are convenient, versatile, legally binding, secure and adaptable.

 

The choice of digital signatures

 

This again is a business choice. Customers opting for digital signatures under the Electronic Transaction Act have a number of options across various categories.

“In law, we have left it to the trading parties to decide the category of electronic signatures they would like to use. One important feature of the Act is that we have kept the law technology neutral so that it can adapt to developments in technology,” Fernando, further said.

He added that under the law, it is said that any method that helps to identify a person and to indicate that person’s intention in relation to an electronic communication would fall within the framework of an electronic signature and depending on the type of transaction, the parties can use various methods.

“So basically, customers and businesses have choices, they must pick what is suitable to them. My suggestion is to make that choice wisely and use a method that is secure, ensures integrity to the transactions and guarantees digital transactions are not tampered with. Digital signatures achieve this objectives and there are no legal barriers to use them”, he said.

Fernando outlined that Sri Lanka has been examining this area and plans are afoot to fast track the Data Protection Bill. He Chairs the drafting committee responsible for this area, and drafted the Legislation that went through a public consultation process, which has received policy level approval.

Given the recent developments in the country and the world since the emergence of an unforeseen crisis, the Data Protection bill is being further refined and amended, Fernando stressed.

The bill will be finalized in the next few months and the new Ministry of Technology, established on 20th November 2020 is given the mandate to fast track the initiative and set up the institutional framework for its implementation.



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Pakistan Navy ship arrives in Colombo

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Pakistan Navy Ship (PNS) Taimur arrived, at the port of Colombo, on a formal visit, yesterday morning (12). The visiting ship was welcomed by the Sri Lanka Navy, in compliance with naval traditions.The 134m-long ship is commanded by Captain M. Yasir Tahir and it is manned by 169 as the ship’s complement.

The Commanding Officer of PNS Taimur is scheduled to call on Commander Western Naval Area, at the Western Naval Command Headquarters, today. The ship is expected to remain in the island, until 15th August, and the crew of the ship will take part in several programmes, organized by the Sri Lanka Navy, to promote cooperation and goodwill between the two navies.

PNS Taimur is also expected to conduct a naval exercise with the Sri Lanka Navy in western seas on its departure on 15th August.

Meanwhile, PNS Tughril, an identical warship belonging to the Pakistan Navy, arrived in Sri Lanka on an official visit on 13th December 2021 and conducted a successful naval exercise with SLNS Sindurala off the western coast on 16th December. Naval exercises of this nature with regional navies will enable each partner to overcome common maritime challenges in the future, through enhanced cooperation.

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Stalin reads riot act to govt. over proposal to allow schoolchildren to work part time

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By Rathindra Kuruwita

The Alliance of Trade Unions and Mass Organisations yesterday warned that the government’s decision to allow schoolchildren, between the ages of 16 and 20, to work part time, would have disastrous consequences.Addressing the media on 11 Aug., General Secretary of the Ceylon Teachers’ Union, Joseph Stalin, said that the government was planning to amend laws, allowing schoolchildren to work in the private sector for 20 hours a week.

“Now, this may look like a progressive idea. A lot of families are

struggling and if another family member can chip in, it would be a great help. I am sure a lot of children feel the same way. It is also true that there may be children who will find great jobs and horn their skills,” he said.However, these proposals have come at a time when education is in crisis and the schools are on the verge of collapse.

“During the last two and a half years, most children have learnt nothing. But children who go to elite schools are doing better. These schools have systems in place, but most others don’t. Children who do not go to tier one schools have suffered and most children who do not go to such elite schools will not find part time work that will prepare them for the jobs of the future,” he said. “It’s not easy to balance school work with vocation training, especially physically intensive work. Most people will drop out and social mobility will further stagnate. Fix the education system first and create a more level playing field,” Stalin said.

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Harsha: Will RW use Emergency to steamroller his economic reforms?

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By Saman Indrajith

SJB MP Harsha de Silva yesterday asked President Ranil Wickremesinghe whether the latter was planning to use Emergency powers to suppress the people who might oppose his economic reform agenda.

“It is being asked why the government wants to continue the State of Emergency. The anti-government protesters have gone home. There is no unrest. There are those who say that the President wants to keep the Emergency laws to carry out economic reforms. Does that mean the President will use these laws to scare people into submission if they do not accept his economic reforms? I don’t think people can be intimidated. I want the President to answer this question,” he said.

MP de Silva said that the government did not have public support and that it was obvious that the spectre of the Rajapaksas was haunting the government.

“I agree that Wickremesinghe was appointed constitutionally. We have to work within the Constitution. However, the 134 votes he received on 20 July were not realistic. They have managed to manipulate the Constitution, but the government doesn’t have the support of the people. The problem is can the government win the support of the people,” he said.The SJB lawmaker added that Sri Lanka needed to restructure its debt. However, the country had not even started the process.

“One of the consultants we hired, Lazard, says that we have to start with China because it is new to debt restructuring. But we have not done so. Not only that, we have in fact started a diplomatic issue with China. What’s the front page news today? Can this government solve this sensitive international issue? Can it carry out the necessary economic reforms?” he asked.

MP de Silva said that the government had to work with the people and that it had to be honest with them. The government needed to present a common programme on which an all party government could be established.

“In 2020, we said that the government was on the wrong path and that we needed to seek IMF assistance. The government didn’t listen. We need an all-party programme to go before the IMF and get a decent deal. Today, I present to Parliament an economic recovery plan we have prepared. When we decided to throw our weight behind SLPP MP Dullas Alahapperuma, I was entrusted with the task of making an economic plan. We have run it through experts too. I ask the MPs to look at this and suggest improvements.”

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