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



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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Scotland Police to stop training Lankan cops



Sujeeva Nivunhella
reporting from London

Concerns over the human rights record in Sri Lanka has led to the halt of the police training contract between the Sri Lanka and Scottish Police, Chief Constable Iain Livingstone of the Scotland Police confirmed.

He said they have written to the British High Commission in Colombo to inform the Sri Lanka government that they are no longer planning to renew the training contract with Sri Lanka’s police force due to end in March next year.

The British Foreign Office reported last week that Sri Lanka’s human rights situation deteriorated during the first half of 2021.

The report said: “Security forces increased their surveillance and intimidation of human rights activists and their use of the Prevention of Terrorism Act, with a number of arbitrary arrests.

The government proposed new regulations with powers to arrest and send individuals to rehabilitation centres to be ‘de-radicalised’ with no judicial oversight or requirement for further process.”

News of Scotland’s Police not renewing the contract was welcomed by critics of Sri Lanka including Mercedes Villalba who is a Scottish Labour politician who has been a Member of the Scottish Parliament (MSP) for North East Scotland since May 2021.

British MPs and MSPs jointly sent a letter to the Scotland Police and the British High Commission in Sri Lanka a few weeks ago requesting them to stop the training programme.

Villalba was one of the signatories and after this announcement, she said “I have been pleased to support the campaigners and thank them for their tireless efforts in securing the commitment from the chief constable. I also want to thank Police Scotland for being responsive to the real concerns which were expressed about Sri Lanka’s record of human rights violations.”

Talking about the decision to stop training, Chief Constable Livingstone said that a review must be done to accurately reflect the current security and human rights issues in the region, which have changed since the initial deployment after the end of the Civil War in 2010.

“We remain of course committed to supporting the international development of policing services right across the world so that we can enhance and enable human rights and we can underline the values that we hold dear in Police Scotland of integrity, fairness and respect. Those values will always be at the heart of the work we deliver in Scotland and at the heart of everything we do internationally”, he added.

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Interfaith Week celebrated in London



Sujeeva Nivunhella reporting from London

A Pooja to celebrate Interfaith Week was organized here last week with the advice and guidance of Ven. Bogoda Seelawimala Nayake Thera, head of the London Buddhist Vihara and the Chief Sangha Nayake of Great Britain.

This annual event begins on Remembrance Sunday, a memorial day observed in Commonwealth countries since the end of the World War I to remember armed forces personnel who died in the line of duty. This tradition was inaugurated by King George V in 1919.

Adhering to the country’s Covid guidelines, this year’s celebration was held using Zoom technology on the theme “Altruism in each religion”.

Ven. Seelawimala welcomed everyone who joined the session. Notable participants of the event were Ven. Thawalama Bandula Thera, Ven. Kalugamuwe Kassapa Thera from London Buddhist Vihara, Dr Harriet Crabtree – Director of Interfaith Network, UK, Ranjish Kashyap, General Secretary/Director Hindu Council,UK, Dr. Pujya Samaniji Pratibha Pragya, who is a Jain nun from Harrow, Rev Gyoro Nagase, Japanese monk, London Peace Pagoda, Battersea, Dr Desmond Bidulph – Chairman of Buddhist Society and Charanjith and Ajith Singh MBE, Hounslow Friends of Faith, who represented the Sikhs.

All present chanted prayers according to their own faiths to eradicate human suffering, to have peace and especially to see an end to the pandemic situation in the world.

A pre-recorded video of Devotional Songs by London Buddhist Vihara Dhamma School Children was played at the event.

Interfaith Network – UK was founded in 1987 with representatives from the Buddhist, Bahai, Christian, Hindu, Jain, Jewish, Islam, Sikh and Zoroastrian communities,

National and local interfaith bodies, academic institutions and educational bodies concerned with inter-religious issues are affiliated to the organization. Then head of the London Buddhist Vihara late, Ven. Dr. Medagama Vajiragnana Nayaka Thera was actively involved in forming the Network and was a founding member.

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Frankfurt Consulate massive white elephant, alleges Lankan living there



Foreign office looking at closing some overseas mission due to financial constraints

by Harischandra Gunaratna

Sri Lanka’s Consulate in Frankfurt has turned out to be a white elephant although the Sri Lankan government spends a whopping Rs. 200 million per year for its operations, Azad Shaukatally, a businessman and a Sri Lankan expatriate in Frankfurt told the Sunday Island.

“Over the years, this consulate has not contributed anything tangible to the country. All that has happened is successive governments appointing political loyalists to head the Mission. None of them have done anything concrete to promote business between the two countries,” he said.

According to him, the Mission could have contributed a great deal by promoting Sri Lankan exports and tourism as Frankfurt is the business hub of Germany.

“What actually happens is, the Consulate in Frankfurt simply replicates several tasks performed by the Embassy in Berlin and that’s it. But it cost the country exorbitantly without the knowledge of the authorities. This is sheer waste of national resources and it needs to be brought to an end,” Shaukatally said.

When the Sunday Island contacted the Foreign Ministry on the matter, its Acting Director General Sugeeshwara Gunaratna said: “The Foreign Ministry regularly evaluates individual performance of each Sri Lankan mission abroad, and constructively engages with them from time to time on specific issues or matters which are mutually beneficial in promotion of Sri Lanka’s bilateral and multilateral relations with the host country and various international organizations while ensuring best interests of the people of Sri Lanka and Sri Lankan citizens living abroad.”

He said that any decisions related to opening of new missions or closure of particular Missions/Posts abroad including the Consulate General in Frankfurt would be taken after wider consultation with relevant stakeholders based on the relevance of each Mission/Post in promotion of Sri Lanka’s relations abroad.

“Under the current financial constraints, the Foreign Ministry is in the process of closing down some of the Sri Lankan Missions/Posts abroad after obtaining the approval of the Cabinet of Ministers. However, no final decision, has so far, been taken with regard to the Missions/Posts which would be closed down in the near future,” Gunaratna said.

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