Namal Rajapaksa, state minister of digital technology and enterprise development at Sri Lanka, speaks to Telecom Review about the digital transformation shaping his country and its efforts in digitally enabling the citizens.
Transforming Sri Lanka into a technology-based society is one of the key national policy objectives of the country. Can you share the key initiatives being executed in line with this?
Digital transformation is an essential need and also one of the main policies of His Excellency, president Gotabaya Rajapaksa and prime minister Mahinda Rajapaksa.
When we look at digital transformation, we are looking at a holistic approach to create an ecosystem where citizen services will be supported by digital transformation. The key for digital transformation is to provide smoother and seamless services to the citizens of Sri Lanka. The unique national digital ID (UID) will be the key milestone for this transformation as a platform for citizens to get services done in a much more smooth and transparent manner.
We also believe we need to expedite our coverage process. For that, we have launched the Gamata Sanniwedanaya program that will cover the entire island with 4G. In the meantime, the two main telco companies in Sri Lanka are also putting 5G in trial phase and looking to have a 5G auction in 2022.
Another initiative is our E-Gramasevaka project through which we are aiming to digitize citizen services in rural areas as well as enabling government services on digital platforms. So, from a holistic approach, we believe that launching the UID will provide a better platform for citizen services. Along with this 30-month roadmap, we are looking to expand the digital economy in the country, especially when it comes to digital banking and the adoption of digital currencies. We would also like to expand the DTM industry as we believe we have a very strong and skillful digital labor force. At the moment, it totals to around 150,000 and we aim to reach 300, 000 in the next couple of years. Working with the private sector is key to achieve this goal and we believe that by working hand in hand with public-private partnerships, we can digitalize citizen services and expand our digital economy to make it a $10 billion industry in Sri Lanka.
Sri Lanka is considered an ICT destination, serving many industry verticals with a highly-skilled talent pool. How are digital technologies being utilized in this matter?
We do have about 150,000 digitally skilled people in the digital industry but we're looking at expanding that up to 300,000 in the next couple of years. We believe that the roadmap of digitalizing the entire government scheme and citizen services with the digital ID card will enable people to be more digitally savvy and get used to using digital services to access education as well.
As a step in this direction, we aim to connect 10,000 schools with fiber-optic this year which will offer high-speed internet for all the schools. We are also establishing a few universities that will be adopting digital education. At the same time, I think Sri Lanka has done tremendously well when it comes to development in the software industry and now we're looking at hardware as well. We will initially be looking for assembling and in the long run, we will look at value addition and development as well.
Our country has a couple of institutions for research and development as well, such as SLINTEC for high tech research for the technological industry.
We are looking at Sri Lanka as a hub for technology and we are establishing five technoparks in Galle, Kandy, Nuwara Eliya, and Kurunegala, which will allow more businesses to be established on technoparks or be digital nomads. Digital nomad tourism is a trend businesses are very keen on. We have seen during the pandemic that it has been picking up very fast globally. At this stage, Sri Lanka is one of the key main attractive destinations for digital nomads. The transformation of knowledge will happen through this concept and Sri Lanka will also be a destination for digital nomads who come and enjoy the country while they do business.
Sri Lanka needs to ensure access to high-speed and affordable internet to accelerate digitalization. How is connectivity being improved in the country? What is Sri Lanka's readiness for 5G digital infrastructure?
As previously stated, Sri Lanka is setting up for a 5G auction hopefully this yea. We are covering the entire country on broadband for telecommunication coverage. We have launched the Gamata Sanniwedanaya program to establish towers in rural Sri Lanka and provide coverage in all parts of the country.
At the same time, developing and establishing the infrastructure as well as the legal framework for regulations is important. We will be passing the Data Protection Act by the first week of March. We are also on the verge of announcing the framework for cybersecurity policy as well as the cybersecurity Act to be introduced to the parliament.
So in brief, first we are working on the infrastructure and second, we will move to the legal framework for data protection and the regulatory changes that will enable us to digitally transform.
What do you aspire to as key takeaways during MWC 2022 and how can these be beneficial to the progress of the ICT ecosystem and enterprise development in Sri Lanka?
MWC is where the industry meets government officials as well as the public and private sector. Representing a government, it is very much needed to understand the changes that take place in technology and how better we can use it for citizen services. This will enable us to understand the best practices in the industry in order to implement the necessary changes to the administration systems and citizen services and see how we can enable the digital economy in our country.
This is a great opportunity for governments all over the world to meet the industries.
How can collaborating with global ICT companies like Huawei contribute to Sri Lanka's path towards a thriving and effective digital economy?
Huawei has been in Sri Lanka for many years. They have done amazing work when it comes to digital infrastructure and contributed massively to the local industry. Huawei has experience in global transformation and they have worked with many governments globally as well as with global private sector companies in digital transformation. We believe working with companies such as Huawei and will give us more opportunity to understand the best practices needed for a smoother digital transformation. At the same time, the Huawei SPARK program and other acceleration programs and boot camps will give more technology knowledge to the Sri Lankan youngsters as well.