From left: ICTA Chairman Prof. Rohan Samarajiva, Sectoral Oversight Committee on Education and Human Resources Development of Sri Lankan Parliament Consultant Dr. Piyal Ariyananda, science writer and digital media analyst Nalaka Gunewardene, Mobitel Senior Legal Officer Anduni Wickramasinghe, WSO2 Founder and Director Sanjiva Weerawarana and LIRNEasia CEO Helani Galpaya
Pic by Kushan Pathiraja
- IT industry experts point out SL lacks overarching digital policy
- Say a number of policies could create confusion and contradictions
- Stress on need to improve digital literacy of Sri Lankans
By Nishel Fernando
Sri Lanka’s IT industry experts recently emphasised on the adoption of an overarching digital policy framework to avert confusion and potential policy contradictions as a number of digital related draft policies have emerged in recent times.
“The past year or two has seen a large number of digital policies, strategies, laws being proposed and drafted by various governmental and non-governmental actors.Part of this is that we are catching up with a lot of policies we really do need, which many countries developed years ago. The other part seems to be ad-hoc development of policy documents irrespective of whether we need them or not,” LIRNEasia CEO Helani Galpaya pointed out comparing Sri Lanka’s digital developments with United Kingdom and Singapore.
She expressed these concerns moderating a panel discussion at a public discussion themed ‘Digital Policies for Sri Lanka: Doing better than cut and paste’ hosted by LIRNEasia, a Colombo-based digital policy think tank.
While acknowledging the absence of an overarching policy framework, ICTA Chairman Prof. Rohan Samarajiva said the current Digital Infrastructure and Information Technology Minister and the administration has put more weight behind adopting the draft ‘National Digital Policy for Sri Lanka’ as the island nation’s digital policy.
The draft National Digital Policy which has been opened for public comments outlines Sri Lanka’s digital agenda for 2020 to 2025. The policy provides high-level principles and conceptual framework for Sri Lanka to achieve sustained digital economic development and growth, through the creation of an innovative economy and an effective government.
Joining the discussion, science writer and digital media analyst Nalaka Gunewardene said the country doesn’t have the luxury to wait for the perfect environment to adopt critical digital policies.
However, he pointed out that in absence of a “grand vision or a plan,” the policy discussions could create confusion among public and civil society leading to certain conspiracy theories.
Gunewardene opined that the country also needs to focus on strengthening digital literacy of citizens.
Although 40 percent of Sri Lankans are estimated to be equipped with digital literacy as per the State Information Department, he noted that the definition of digital literacy adopted by them is too narrow. Hence, he opined that actual digital literacy in Sri Lanka should be at much lower levels.
Meanwhile, WSO2 Founder and Director Sanjiva Weerawarana expressed concerns on the expansion of state bureaucracy in implementing these digital policies.
Also, while pointing out that several areas in the country don’t even have 3G data connectivity, he insisted that Sri Lanka needs to increase connectivity to isolated areas in order to reap the benefits of digital policies.
Further, the panellists debated the merits and demerits of adopting the National Digital Policy, the Strategic Roadmap on Internet of Things (IoT), and other legislation related to cyber security and data protection in their current form.
They also discussed how the digital wish lists and strategies announced by other stakeholders, for example, SLASSCOM’s AI Policy, and SLT’s Smart Sri Lanka initiative, can be taken up for wider adoption as national plans.