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THE PRESIDENCY - 4th Anniversary of the assumption of office President Mahinda Rajapaksa | www.dailynews.lk - Sri Lanka

Mahinda Rajapaksa; the 'Tech President' in Asia leads:

IT development in Sri Lanka

President Mahinda Rajapaksa with the first copy of the new local language interface software jointly developed by Microsoft and ICT Agency at Temple Trees on Monday. Microsoft Sri Lanka Country Manager Shriyani de Silva Wijeyeratne, ICTA’s Chairman Professor P.W. Epasinghe, Microsoft Sri Lanka H.R. Director Channa de Silva, ICTA’s Chief Operating Officer Reshan Dewapura, President’s Secretary Lalith Weerathunga and ICTA’s Director Jayantha Fernando are also present.

The past four years have been the most colourful and progressive in Sri Lanka where IT (Information Technology) development is concerned. As promised in the 'Mahinda Chinthanaya' manifesto, President Mahinda Rajapaksa has taken swift action to promote IT industry in the country through a number of national programs. English and IT are two such initiatives that had attracted the world's attention. This national initiative delivers a clear message to the society about the keenness and the commitment of the Government in its drive to develop IT.

It was very recently that President Mahinda Rajapaksa inaugurated the IT University in Kahawatte. Ruwanpura National College of IT Education, will train IT teachers based on industry oriented subjects especially related to the information technology. This would be a good start in all aspects where IT education is concerned. To compete with the global industry standards, we need more skilled people coming out from our schools and from our universities in time to come.

There is no doubt what President Mahinda Rajapaksa has done during this four year period would propel our country forward on the rails of IT. His vision on IT would have been the main reason for these things to take place in such style in the country. It is his personal interest that drives IT and not the political momentum.

WHILE Obama named as Tech President of US ...

It was not so long ago that US President Barack Obama stressed the importance of high speed broadband in American society in the process of economic recovery.  Being named as the 21st Century Tech President, he elaborated specifically how American economy would recover from its present crises if a modern technological tool such as broadband is adopted.

In any society this leadership is critical and it stimulates people's minds by giving a very clear and strong message to the society about the readiness and the commitment what the leadership is providing for country's development. However, Sri Lanka has been identified as a civilization that depends mainly on agriculture. To be with the global trend, we need to take some alternative routes to make this country more strong in this competitive world based on novel industries. To convert Sri Lanka's brand name from agro civilization to high tech industry society would be challenging. Therefore this mind-set is very important and has to come from the top of the Government. Now President Mahinda Rajapakse has identified the potential importance of this social drive and he is taking the lead.

The reality is no one can expect wonders to happen in a country where ruthless terrorism has crippled the normalcy in the civil society for more than three decades. Regardless of the hardships we faced, the IT related achievements we have gained during this four year period would be remarkable. There have been lots of initiatives that have taken place at the grassroots level. However it will take some time to reach the civil society. To make this happen fast some other infrastructure facilities are also needed to be developed simultaneously. The country's data communication infrastructure is one such thing that needed to be developed. Specifically the access services and networks are the drivers in IT that carries development to the society. Non-existence of widely available access networks have prevented this happening in the past. Therefore removal of this bottleneck would ensure a free flow of IT development uniformly in all over the country.

The proper leadership and the ability in foreseeing have paid rich dividends. To be more precise in this, having identified the importance of information technology in time to come, President Mahinda Rajapaksa has taken certain strategic measures as soon as he was elected President of Sri Lanka in 2005. The most significant decision would be the reassignment of TRCSL's (Telecommunication Regulatory Commission of Sri Lanka) duties under his office. It is not necessary to explain the significant role what the regulator is playing in the process of telecommunication development in any country. In this context Sri Lanka is no exception.

Presidential Secretariat's leadership in ICT

Telecommunication and IT cannot be separated easily. This reflects the importance of telecommunication in the process of IT development. If the telecommunication sector needed to be developed some strategic and timely decisions are vital to be taken. However the previous regimes and authorities in the country have failed to realize the reality and no leadership was provided to the strategically important institutes in the country that takes motherland forward. Today the TRCSL operates under the Presidential Secretariat with the purview of the Secretary to the President as the Chairman. This provides better leadership and necessary guidance to the Directorate of TRCSL by allowing this institute to reclaim its regulatory power effectively in the telecom sector. During this period, making things our way Sri Lanka has been awarded with the Chairmanship of UN-ESCAP and the Secretary to the President Lalith Weeratunga has been appointed as Chairman to the committee.

Regulator's role

TRCSL has managed to create a very strong image in the world's telecommunication sphere by closely working with the international organizations. Many international regulatory forums were held in the recent years and NGN (Next Generation Network) forum is one such event that took the world's attention. The eleventh SATRC (South Asian Telecommunications Regulators Council) is just around the corner. So the groundwork has been completed and the regulator is ready to set sail.

ICTA; leading the ICT development

While these things are taking place in the regulatory sphere, the country has embarked on a rapid IT exposition and development process with the directive of the Presidential Secretariat. Information Communication Technology Agency of Sri Lanka, known as ICTA is another organization that operates under the Presidential Secretariat with its main scope focused on ICT develop and promotion of e- Sri Lanka. The new leadership provided by the Government has been able to set in motion the ICTA and as a result many IT achievements were gained. E-Government process is the most significant project that has been undertaken by the ICTA. This will bridge the Government and its services with the public over the networks. Today almost all Government institutes are having a website and in the near future they will provide on-line services to the public by allowing them to transact with the Government efficiently over the Internet. GIC - Government Information Centre is another fruitful initiative launched by the ICTA recently.

This service allows the public to obtain information especially on services provided by the Government by dialing a unique telephone number. LGN - Lanka Government Network operates under the ICTA that connects all Government institutes over a high secure network.

This high-tech secure network can be used to transfer bulky data between Government institutes by cutting down the vehicular transport costs while increasing the efficiency in Government sector. Nenasala - the rural Internet centre that provides Internet and related services to the rural community operates under the ICTA and has boosted its expansion soon after the President's announcement to established 1000 centers in the island.

Ministry of Education

The similar initiatives can be seen in the country's education sector too. SchoolNet - the network that connect schools in the country is a gigantic educational initiative undertaken by the Ministry of Education with the help of the Moratuwa University. To introduce modem educational methods and to uplift our students' skills to international standards this concept has been introduced by the Ministry of education and funded by the Asian Development Bank.

Further with the intention of developing education system in the country the Ministry of Education has taken certain measures to train teachers on IT subjects. Simultaneous programs were also conducted to increase their computer usage by providing incentives to teachers for the purpose of purchasing personal computers. By helping students to learn through innovation, high-tech Satellite education methods have also been introduced with the collaboration of the Ministry of education.

Initiative to uplift knowledge of English and IT are the most effective measures that have been taken by President Mahinda Rajapaksa to promote and develop Sri Lanka in two directions. This will train teachers and students in the country for the purpose of making skilled people to fulfill the future demand in IT industry.

There is no argument. President Mahinda Rajapaksa has managed to create a big boom in the IT industry in Sri Lanka during his tenure in office.

His vision and the support provided by the Presidential Secretariat and the relevant institutes would have been the reason to achieve IT goals in a shorter period of time than we anticipated. President Rajapaksa's name will be added to the history as the "Tech President" in Asia who leads Sri Lanka in IT development (See Box).Therefore it's our duty to strengthen the hands of President Mahinda Rajapaksa in his tireless effort in making Sri Lanka a better place.

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