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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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Covid-19 vaccination programme: MPs not in priority group; President, armed forces chiefs in ‘third category’ 

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By Shamindra Ferdinando

State Minister for Primary Health Care, Epidemics and COVID Disease Control, Dr. Sudarshini Fernandopulle yesterday (25) said that members of Parliament were not among those categorised as priority groups expected to be vaccinated against the Covid-19 pandemic.

Dr. Fernandopulle said so in response to The Island query whether parliamentarians would receive the vaccine scheduled to be delivered by India this week. Asked to explain, Dr. Fernandopulle said that health workers, armed forces and law enforcement personnel engaged in Covid-19 prevention operations would be given priority.

“Lawmakers haven’t been listed under priority groups. However, some members may get the vaccine if they are accommodated in the over 60 years category and those suffering from diabetes, heart disease, cancer et al,” the State minister said.

In addition to State Minister Dayasiri Jayasekera, several lawmakers, representing both the government and the Opposition had been afflicted over the past several weeks. SLPP lawmaker Wasantha Yapa Bandara (Kandy district) is the latest victim. Health minister Pavitradevi Wanniarachchi was among over half a dozen lawmakers tested positive.

Army Commander General Shavendra Silva told Derana yesterday morning Sri Lanka would receive approximately 500,000 to 600,000 doses from India. Responding to a spate of questions from Derana anchor Sanka Amarjith, Gen. Silva explained the measures taken by the government to ensure a smooth vaccination programme. The Army Chief who also functions as the Chief of Defence Staff revealed India had paid for the consignment obtained from the UK.

Later in the day, The Island sought an explanation from the Army Chief regarding the President, Service Commanders, Secretary Defence given the vaccination along with frontline health workers et al, the celebrated battlefield commander said: “Will be in third priority group.”

Asked whether the student population would be accommodated at an early stage of the vaccination programme, Dr. Fernandopulle said that those under 18 years of age, pregnant and lactating mothers wouldn’t be included at all as such groups hadn’t been subjected to trials. Education Secretary Prof. Kapila Perera wasn’t available for comment.

Dr. Fernandopulle emphasized the pivotal importance of following health guidelines strictly in spite of the launch of the vaccination programme. “We shouldn’t lower our guard under any circumstances,” Dr. Fernandopulle said, urging the population to be mindful of those unable to receive the vaccination due to no fault of theirs. As those under 18 years of age had been left out of the vaccination programme, a substantial section of the population would be denied the protection, the State Minister said.

Sri Lanka is also expected to procure vaccines from China and Russia in addition to the doses from India. Health Secretary Maj. Gen. Sanjeewa Munasinghe wasn’t available for comment.

Sri Lanka launches the vaccination programme with the total number of positive cases nearing 60,000 with nearly 50,000 recoveries. The government recently re-opened the Bandaranaike International Airport (BIA) following a pilot programme that brought over 1,200 Ukrainians in dozen flights through the Mattala International Airport.

Dr. Fernandopulle said that the government was ready to launch the vaccination programme as soon as the first consignment arrived from India.

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Tennis balls filled with drugs thrown into Kandakadu Covid-19 treatment centre

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By Norman Palihawadane

Two tennis balls filled with drugs had been thrown into the Covid-19 treatment centre at Kandakadu, Police Spokesperson DIG Ajith Rohana said.

The contraband was found on Saturday by the Army officers attached to the facility.

DIG Rohana said the two tennis balls containing cannabis, heroin and tobacco, had been handed over to the Welikanda Police.

A special investigation has been launched into the incident, the Police Spokesperson said. Such incidents had been previously reported from Welikada, Negombo and other prisons, but it was the first time contraband containing narcotics had been thrown into a Covid-19 treatment centre, he added.

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All cargo clearances at Colombo port now through electronic payments

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The Sri Lanka Ports Authority (SLPA) has introduced a system where payment for imports could be made via the Internet. This allows port users to make payments from their homes or offices to clear goods from the Port of Colombo.

The SLPA has said in a media statement that the new special facility will enable port users to make their port payments easily without hassle.

At present, all terminals of the Port of Colombo are run according to a strategic crisis management plan.

 

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