ICTA under a cloud to spearhead courts digitization project
By Shamindra Ferdinando
The Committee on Public Enterprises (COPE) has reminded the Information and Communication Technology Agency (ICTA) of the inordinate delay in responding to queries raised by the parliamentary watchdog committee at a recent session that revealed staggering losses amounting to at least Rs 2.6 bn over a period of time.
ICTA bosses had been present at the meeting along with representatives from the Auditor General’s Department.
COPE Chairman Prof. Charitha Herath yesterday (12) said that they recently sent ICTA a reminder.
The SLPP National List lawmaker said that the COPE would pursue the matter. The MP said so when The Island asked him whether ICTA responded to concerns raised by the parliamentary watchdog committee. The Island raised the issue with the COPE in the wake of ICTA entering into a major contract with the Justice Ministry on Thursday (11) for the digitalization of the entire court system.
Those controversial projects that had been inquired into by the COPE were implemented during the previous Rajapaksa administration in 2013 as well as yahapalana administration, according to the Communication Department of the Parliament.
The COPE is empowered to report to Parliament on accounts examined, budgets and estimates, financial procedures, performance and management of Corporations and other Government Business Undertakings.
The Island also sought an explanation from the Justice Ministry regarding its agreement against the backdrop of the COPE questioning ICTA’s integrity. An authoritative ministry spokesperson said that the issues that had been referred to by the COPE happened before the incumbent board took over. “ICTA will act as consultants and the project would be awarded after competitive bidding process expected to begin in March 2021,” the spokesperson said.
The change at the helm of the institution took place close on the heels of the recent revelation of massive waste, corruption and irregularities at the country’s apex ICT institution.
Justice Ministry Media Secretary Chamila Wijesekera said that local contractors would receive preference in the project funded by the Treasury.
In terms of the project, the Justice Ministry envisaged maintenance of files, management of the courts, maintenance of files pertaining to court proceedings, issuance of court records and payment of fines et al.
According to Wijesekera though some sections had been computerized, there hadn’t been previous project to digitalize the entire setup. Wijesekera said that ICTA would be responsible for overall planning, execution, monitoring and technical operations. The Justice Ministry said that the project would benefit all stakeholders.
Prof. Lalith Gamage, who has been a member of the ICTA board, succeeded Jayantha de Silva whereas the latter received appointment as Secretary to the newly created Technology Ministry.
The current ICTA board consists of Prof. Lalith Gamage, Reshan Dewapura, the Chief Executive Officer at GSS International (Pvt.) Ltd., Vimukthi Janadara, Director General, Information Technology Management Department, Oshada Senanayake, Director General of the Telecommunications Regulatory Commission of Sri Lanka, Kushan S. Kodituwakku, Managing director of Orel Corporation, Mano Sekaram, Chief Executive Officer (CEO) & Co-Founder of 99X Technology Ltd and Madu Ratnayake, Group CIO and the Center Head for Virtusa Sri Lanka.
Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe led UNF Government established ICTA in terms of the Information and Communication Technology Act No. 27 of 2003, (ICT Act), was subsequently amended by the UPFA by Act No. 33 of 2008.
According to the Communications Department, a high profile ‘e-Pensions’ project launched in late Oct 2010 had been abandoned on Nov 1, 2013 after spending a staggering Rs 510 mn. At the time of the launch of the project involving ministries of Public Administration and Home Affairs, ICTA had been under the Presidential Secretariat
The abandoned project was meant to develop the required hardware and software for its implementation in the Western Province covering the District Secretariat, the Armed Forces, the Department of Prisons, the Department of Railways and the Department of Civil Defense.
The COPE asserted that ICTA performances in respect of other failed developments, too, could be compared with the disastrous ‘e-Pension’ project.
The COPE also examined Google Loon project officially announced in June 2013 but finalized in late July 2015, too had been abandoned after spending Rs 1,851, 322 mn to clear Google Loon equipment from the Customs, in addition to Rs 64 mn spent on project promotions.
It also revealed that another high profile project called ‘Lanka Government Network’ or LGN launched in Nov 2016 by then Minister Harin Fernando amidst much fanfare to provide internet services countrywide, too, failed to achieve desired results with the progress asserted at just 17 per cent. Of Rs 850.47 mn approved for the project, Rs 148.33 mn had been spent, the COPE bared while categorizing LGN, too, as a failed initiative.
Funds amounting to Rs 32.5 mn allocated for ‘e-NIPO’ (project undertaken for the National Intellectual Property Office) had been utilized by the I.C.T.A to pay salaries of its officials.
The country’s apex ICT body came under scrutiny over some employees receiving monthly salaries in the range of Rs 755,000 to Rs 245,000 outside public sector salary scales though they were paid by the taxpayers’ money.
The COPE also found fault with ICTA for not including Rs 39 mn spent on ‘e-Local Authorities’ yahapalana project in the performance reports.
The COPE also made the shocking revelation that a 2017 Corporate Plan that had been prepared at the cost of Rs. 2,737,000 mn was thrown away without seeking approval from the board. One of the challenges faced by the new Chairman is to conduct an internal inquiry as regards preparation of Corporate Plans beginning 2003-2019.
SJB, JVP move SC against Finance Secy. for contempt of court
The main Opposition, Samagi Jana Balavegaya (SJB), and the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) yesterday (21) moved Supreme Court against Treasury Secretary Mahinda Siriwardana over his failure to provide funds required by the Election Commission to conduct the Local Government polls, ignoring an interim order issued by the apex court, on 03 March.
Ranjith Madduma Bandara, MP, is the petitioner for the SJB and Vijitha Herath, MP, moved court on behalf of the JVP, the leading party in the Jathika Jana Balawegaya (JJB).
Two Opposition parties declared action against Siriwardana the day after the Freedom People’s Alliance (FPA) issued a seven-day ultimatum to the Finance Secretary to release the funds.
EC Chairman Nimal Punchihewa is on record as having said that in spite of SC directive he didn’t receive fresh funding.
The petitioners sought the issuance of summons on Siriwardana for contempt of court over failure to carry out its interim orders, given on 03 March.
The petitioners want the Finance Secretary punished in terms of Article 105 (3) of the Constitution.
The SJB stated that Siriwardana had refrained from carrying out the March directives, on the basis of a Cabinet decision, taken on 13 Feb., 2023. The SJB also pointed out that the offensive conduct of the Treasury Secretary, inter alia, causes grave prejudice to the esteemed authority of the Supreme Court and in turn disturb the public confidence in the authority of the highest Court in the country. (SF)
Minister indicates reduction in fuel prices in April
Power and Energy Minister Kanchana Wijesekara told Parliament yesterday that fuel prices would be reduced considerably according to the fuel price formula at the next fuel price revision, due in April.
The Minister said that the government would be able to procure fuel shipments, at lower prices, during competitive bidding, with the receipt of the IMF bailout.
There had been practical issues, and problems, in opening Letters of Credit, and obtaining credit facilities, in the recent past, as Sri Lanka could not give a guarantee to fuel suppliers, Minister Wijesekara said.
“We could not open LCs and obtain credit facilities when procuring fuel. After the IMF bailout, we will be able to procure fuel at lower prices during competitive biddings. We will be able to obtain a long-term credit facility as well. Fuel prices in the global market seem to have declined and the rupee has also gained strength against the US Dollar. Having considered all these factors, fuel prices will be reduced by a considerable margin which could be felt by the people,” he said.
IGP tells CID not to brook any interference from any quarter while they probe ’Harak Kata’ and ‘Kudu Salindu’
By Norman Palihawadane
IGP CD Wickramaratne has directed the CID to maintain a special log of names and details of any attempts by external parties to influene the ongoing investigations on notorious drug traffickers Nandun Chinthaka Wickramaratne aka Harak Kata and Salindu Malshika aka Kudu Salindu.
The suspects are currently under the custody of the CID.
The IGP issued the orders to the DIG CID and its director during a meeting of senior police officers on Monday, police headquarters said.
Sources said that the IGP has further instructed not to allow statements from the detainees to be taken by any police team other than the team currently investigating the suspects.
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