The government of Sri Lanka claims the e- Sri Lanka initiative to be world’s first integrated e-Development project and aspires to make the project a model for other aspiring countries.
Sri Lanka‘s national development initiative titled ‘e-Sri Lanka’ has plotted it prominently on the e-Governance map of the South. Supported by the World Bank, the objectives of the Sri Lanka government are to harness the potential of ICTs to foster social integration, peace, growth, and poverty reduction. The government is actively looking at deploying ICTs to improve the reach and responsiveness of public services, reduce transaction costs to business, make itself more transparent and accountable, and address the urgent need of poor and isolated communities and regions.
How and when was the e-Sri Lanka initiative started?
In order to accelerate the pace of achieving MDGs by using mainstream ICTs, the Information and Communication Technology Agency of Srilanka (ICTA) was set up by an act of the parliament ( ICT ACT 27 of 2003) as an apex government body for setting up the ICT policy and direction for the nation. The agency was formally established in July 2003 under the Ministry of Science and Technology and now comes under the leadership of the Prime Minister with the participation of industry experts, international agencies, and the civil society organisations.
What is the mandate per se of the initiative?
The ICT agency has planned a sixpronged strategy that encompasses:
• ‘ICT Leadership and Policy-making Programme’
• ‘Information Infrastructure Programme’
• ‘Re-engineering Government Programme’
• ‘ICT Capacity Building Programme’
• ‘ICT Investment and Pvt Sector Development Programme’
• ‘e-Society Programme’
What about the investment and expertise for the undertaking?
The estimated cost to implement the e-Sri Lanka development project is USD 83 million. The project was formally approved on 21 September 2004. The World Bank is primarily supporting the project with additional commitment from other funding agencies like EDCF of South Korea, JSDF of Japan and GoSL. In terms of expertise we are already working with agencies like NIC from India, civil society organisations, and Industry experts.
What are the achievements of the e-Sri Lanka initiative till date?
We have been able to accomplish the following tasks till date:
• CIO (Chief Information Officer) forum established. This covers all government departments / ministries and statutory bodies, district and divisional secretariats, and Provincial Counsels.
• Working relationship with ARC for public officers to obtain ICT proficiency at least to the ICDL level approved by ARC. Conducted workshops with ARC for divisional secretaries. Identified processes that could be reengineered at the divisional secretariat level with minimum funding and high impact. Launched ARC website.
• Obtained funding from Oracle Corporation and Cisco for ‘Center of Excellence in e-Government’.
• NCS Singapore undertaking e-Government study to provide master architecture and key initial e-Government services for reengineering. Completed local e-Gov study by AC Nielson to identify existing IT infrastructure and services at 85 government departments and ministries.
• Government web portal launched.
• Launched the government printer website online. All gazettes, acts, bills and some government forms are currently available online.
• Pilots for e-President, e-Cabinet and e-Parliament initiated.
• Launched legal draftsman website. MoU signed for eHRM and eForeign employment e-Services projects.
How do you address the need for content in local language (and of local relevance) in Sri Lanka?
The inability to use languages one is familiar with has resulted in a gap between how people use computers and what computers can actually do. Recognising this problem, the ICTA has established a language requirement working group to address these issues.
How do you plan to raise awareness regarding ICTs and government programmes among rural citizens?
As mentioned earlier, the government has initiated a unique programme of community information centers called Vishva Gnana Kendras (meaning Global Knowledge Centres), which are multi-service community information centres. These centres provide rural citizens in remote village communities with the opportunities to easily access key information services and e-Government services through the Internet and telephone. The VGKs are located in temples and churches in remote areas with the priests being the in-charges of the centres.
This is a very unique concept. Any reasons for locating these centres in Temples and Churches?
In remote areas in Sri Lanka, most people visit these places on a regular basis. The government has provided hardware, software and other equipment besides Internet connectivity. In addition to government content, electronic copies of religious texts are also available at the centres. Locating the centres at these places ensures cultural discipline by default as these are places of respect. We have 10 such centres at the moment and, inspired by the success of such centres, we are planning to have 1000 such centers by the year-end.
You talked about development of local language software. What about development of content of local relevance?
ICTA has formed specific teams that visit various parts and access the need for local content. Students and NGOs have been incorporated as part of the teams that visit various parts of the country with a well-designed questionnaire to report back on the needs for local content. ICTA will act on the feedback to make local content available.
How do you plan to ensure the take up of services?
This can be achieved with media support, road shows and planned PR campaigns. Though I admit that not much attention has been paid to this aspect as yet.
Any initiatives requires political committment to succeed. What are your plans on capacity building in the political community?
I appreciate the fact that there is a need to make the political community aware of the role of ICT in building political capital. The leaders need to be motivated to learn the language of the new millennium i.e. ICT. I am planning to request my Prime Minister and the political representatives to find time out from their schedules during International engagements to visit ICT and e-Government events of importance. Any suggestions to build capacity at the political level keeping in view the tight working schedules of the political representatives would be welcome.