Minister of Telecommunication and Digital Infrastructure, Harin Fernando, is a dynamic politician who has embraced the warmth of the good governance regime in all ways possible. However, during the past few weeks MP Fernando faced various mud-slinging campaigns on print and social media. In a candid interview with the Daily Mirror MP Fernando responded to these ‘campaigns’ while also speaking about projects that are planned to be carried out under his ministry and the pace of the present regime. He shared the following with us.
Q As a developing country, how important is a ministry of digital infrastructure to a country like ours?
As a country that is looking at a 10-15 year goal, there needs to be a complete transformation. We need a digital economy and therefore the digital infrastructure has to be developed within the country. At the moment we need to start with the education system and see how we can develop in the future. When considering the IT sector, we have fallen behind and I think digital infrastructure has to be a key component in the government. If we take India, at many instances PM Modi has mentioned about introducing a digital economy and when taking our country, we have the best sample size to introduce a digital network. We are looking at creating job opportunities while introducing value added services.
Q What are the developments that have been done other than Wi-Fi?
Wi-Fi is a basic thing that is connecting people. Today, 25% of the Sri Lankan population use Internet and 85% of Sri Lankans have Internet access. But unfortunately, we do not have smartphones. The challenge we are facing right now is to encourage people to use Internet at a faster rate. Currently the technology in the world is fibre optic to home and we have thought of giving fibre optic connections to every home. In another 5-10 years, the television would be no more and with fibre optic connections people would be able to watch what they want by browsing the internet. So, in order for these services to be installed, the infrastructure should be in place. Under my ministry, I have Sri Lanka Telecom as the landline network infrastructure body plus Mobitel providing the mobile space. The ICTA is the policy-making and administrative body for IT related matters in Sri Lanka and it too comes under my ministry.
Q What are the new projects that are underway?
Currently we have initiated a project to interconnect 3500 government offices. Therefore every government office from Colombo to Jaffna are to be interconnected; for example, a staff member from Jaffna can communicate with his colleague from Ampara. This would help paper wastage and documentation, but one challenge that we would face is, the mindsets of the people. But if you take other parts of the world such as the Pentagon, it is entirely monitored by computer network. Therefore there needs to be a bit of a revamping on our part.
Q We see that many ministers in the Good Governance regime are up against each other. Why has it reached such a level?
This is exactly what Good Governance is all about. Earlier we didn’t have a chance to voice out our opinions. But now we have the freedom to say what we want. However, sometimes there are instances when we overdo it and in some other instances the Prime Minister and the President have to intervene. But it is left to the people to decide what’s right and what’s wrong. People should have the Right to Information and that is exactly what is happening now, although no Bill was passed. Take this budget for example; how many changes had taken place ever since it was presented in November? This is what a budget debate is all about. Earlier a debate was done for the sake of it but now we have it with a purpose. Because of this healthy debate people are getting involved, and this includes civil societies, trade unions and all other factions. Sometimes these trade unions might over react, it’s totally fine.
Q So do you justify the trade union-aided strike?
Sometimes one tends to believe that strikes would do some good to the country, but at the same time, I fear if these groups have hidden agendas. Strikes are an example of good governance. I am anyway optimistic that this government would be strong enough to move ahead. They have a clear vision and would be able to achieve bigger goals. There should be some changes and some of them look too adventurous. But in time to come, we would be able to take a better shape. In Sri Lanka, when a government changes people expect things to happen overnight, but that is practically impossible. We need to start from somewhere, and what we need to do first is to change the policy and then create opportunities. Through the Ministry of Digital Infrastructure, we are going to introduce a concept of e-governance, where the people can get involved in governing.
Q How could the people get involved?
We will be giving tabs for every single family with a bundled up package of only Rs. 750 per month. Through this they would have access to all government institutions and they could communicate with each other. Also we would be giving 25,000 free tabs for first year university students in order to improve digital education. In other countries, children use iPads and Tablets for their educational activities. They have the entire curriculum on their tab. In the future, we have plans to introduce holograms in schools where even children from remote areas such as Wellawaya could easily use the technology to access and learn new things. This is how we are planning to improve higher education in the country. I would be meeting Mark Zuckerberg (founder of Facebook) to discuss how they can get involved in skills development programmes. In addition to that, there would be 25 innovation centres to be set-up in 25 districts in the country with the assistance of companies such as Microsoft, Google and Oracle.
Q In this context, what are your views about cyber crimes?
We are going to block all unauthorised websites. We will have protection for cyber crimes and the ICTA will be enacting new hacking laws in order to safeguard cyber security. All these aspects are being looked at.
Q When it comes to your electorate, there was an issue in appointing Chief Ministers for sometime. As a former CM, what are your views on this?
What happened was after I came to Parliament, there was a void and the President invited the SLFP to take over. However, we were not very happy with that decision since the government had an agreement to work together, we didn’t have any issue with it. As a politician, I believe that in the capacity of the CM, you get to work for your electorate; whereas if you are elected to Parliament, then you have to work for the entire country and not only that particular electorate that you represent. I am also in two minds because my involvement is curtailed with people of my electorate. I won in all 9 electorates but I fear that I would lose the grip of my people.
"In addition to that, there would be 25 innovation centres to be set-up in 25 districts in the country with the assistance of companies such as Microsoft, Google and Oracle"
Q It was in the news that MP Chatura Senarathne came to your ministry to find some documents. Could you please elaborate...?
I do not want to mention any names, also I do not want to give publicity to any individual who wants to be in the news, thinks that he is the most important figure in the government. The country knows what I did for the party and the UNPers know what I did for the party when it was in crisis.
Q What is your stance on the Avant Garde issue?
Whether Dr. Wijeyadasa Rajapakshe or Thilak Marapana support the Avant Garde is not my concern. I only defended the legal point which Dr. Rajapakshe mentioned about the responsibility for the weapons, which, according to him, was the property of Rakna Lanka (Pvt) Ltd. I still remain in that stance.
The budget is absolutely brilliant
The government cannot change things overnight
News went round that MP Chathura Senarathne has come in to your ministry to find some documents. What exactly happened? I will not give publicity to people who want to be in news
We have the best sample size to introduce a digital network
Q Your name has been attacked at various instances lately and became popular among social media sites. What is the reason behind this?
I think it is natural. When you are an underdog, people support you. But when you are in the hot seat they discourage you. There are a few who do not like to see me in this position.
Q How is the budget allocation helpful for the activities under your ministry?
The budget is absolutely brilliant. I have undertaken 64 projects at a cost of approximately 16 billion, which would be a massive task for the next few years. We would be having the Google- Doodle project which would be the first pilot project under my ministry. We have focused our attention already and this topic has been discussed at many forums. I am also trying to invite Mark Zuckerberg to Sri Lanka so that we could receive more attention from the international community. We want to upgrade the IT industry and if I could create 100,000 job opportunities, I think I would have done my best.
Pics by Kushan Pathiraja
Comments - 6
Henry Saturday, 26 December 2015 01:58 PM
OMG - are you paid for such comments?.
OMG Monday, 21 December 2015 01:03 PM
I admire his talent and his courage. One of the young and knowledgeable MP in the parliament.
nan Wednesday, 23 December 2015 09:54 AM
what an excuse to avoid weakness.
gamaati Tuesday, 22 December 2015 09:17 AM
people know whether strikes are good governance or weak governance.
Nims Monday, 21 December 2015 02:12 AM
Corruption too are examples of Good Governess?????
mahinda Monday, 28 December 2015 06:38 PM
Bluffing the publ;c is good governence.My foot
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