The President’s Senior Advisor on National Security and Presidential Chief of Staff Mr. Sagala Ratnayaka, delivering a keynote address at the 16th International Research Conference – 2023, of the General Sir John Kotelawala Defence University yesterday (07), under the theme ‘Achieving Resilience through Digitalization, Sustainability and Sectoral Transformation, commended the pivotal role of timely and fearless decisions of the President in navigating the country through its recent crisis.
Discussing the country’s economic challenges, Ratnayaka emphasized the importance of decisive actions taken by the president, the governor, the treasury secretary and their teams, with support from the people, to stabilize the situation. While acknowledging progress, he stressed the need for sustained efforts to achieve economic growth and prosperity.
Mr. Ratnayaka underscored the conference’s theme, emphasizing the significance of digital transformation in various sectors, including business, public services and governance. He also highlighted the need for a cultural shift to adapt to digitalization, cautioning against potential risks for individuals lacking digital skills, such as fraud, data distortion, identity theft and cyber bullying. He stressed the importance of thoughtful technology implementation and a society-wide approach to address these challenges.
Following is the full speech delivered by Mr. Sagala Ratnayaka;
“I had the privilege of being guided through KDU a few weeks ago by the former Vice Chancellor, General Milinda Pieris and I really liked what I saw and felt. The KDU has delivered to the nation shows to the country, as well as the world, what it has developed to be.
It’s what Sir John Kotelawala left to this country that we are all enjoying and that is now producing exemplary products, not just for Sri Lanka, but also for other countries as well. KDU, as I mentioned earlier, plays this leading role in determining the future, not just for the military but also for civilian students through high-quality education. The university has been recognized as a seat of excellence in higher education.
We are at this research conference at a critical time in Sri Lanka’s post-independence history. This is the worst economic crisis that we have faced. From time to time, we have faced economic crises and usually, countries do, but it’s how you come out of it before you hit rock bottom that matters the most. In this case, we hit rock bottom. I must mention that it is because of timely, critical and fearless decisions made by the president, the governor, the secretary of the treasury, their teams and the country that supported them that have made us come out of this, or at least stabilized. We haven’t come out fully. There are still many more steps to go and what is important is not just stabilizing, but growing the economy again so that we give prosperity to the country and the people.
The theme is timely. The theme is achieving resilience through digitalization, sustainability, and sectoral transformation. Digital transformation is the integration of digital technology into all areas of business, whether it may be economic activity or the delivery of public services and governments. It’s about fundamentally changing your operations and delivering value to the customers or the citizens at the end of the day. It also requires a cultural change that challenges the status quo. Digital public infrastructure, the digital network that enables countries to safely and efficiently deliver economic opportunities and social services to its citizens, is going to be critical in moving forward this way.
What is important is sustainability. The endgame of resilience through digitalization is in keeping with the path to sustainable development fulfilled by sectoral transformation. The general definition of sustainable development is development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. It’s a simple concept. Sustainability and digital transformation are also complementary growth drivers that we need to accept.
So, whether it’s Facebook, crypto currency, public digital services, or platforms like Airbnb that disrupted the hospitality sector, these are all part of the digital transformation that will continue to grow in our lives. It can empower underrepresented groups to participate meaningfully and contribute to sustainable development for future generations.
However, there’s also the downside of digitalization. The vulnerable and those lacking in skills could be susceptible to risks like fraud, data distortion, identity theft, and cyber bullying. The advent of artificial intelligence could also negatively impact people’s lives if not addressed correctly. Whether technology empowers or harms is a matter of choices we make. Therefore, technology needs to be thoughtfully designed and applied with a society-wide approach.
For Sri Lanka, digital transformation is just one piece of the puzzle. To reach its potential, the country needs to address various aspects, including economic growth, reforming state-owned enterprises, creating a favourable economic climate for investment and opening up while maintaining the right regulations and safeguards. This approach, combined with research and education, will help Sri Lanka achieve its potential.
The President has a vision for KDU that will further improve education for the future youth of Sri Lanka. Let’s all work together to develop this country to its full potential.”
Many eminent persons attended the two-day conference in person while some will join the Conference online. This year’s keynote speakers include Dr Nandalal Weerasinghe, the Governor of the Central Bank and Prof Leland Hartwell, 2001 Nobel Prize winner for Physiology or Medicine for the discovery of a specific class of genes that control the cell cycle.
Mr. Sagala Ratnayaka graced the occasion as the Chief Guest, with Defence Secretary General Kamal Gunaratne (Rtd) as the Guest of Honour. The event also saw the presence of Chief of Defence Staff Gen. Shavendra Silva, along with the Commanders of the Army, Navy and Air Force. Among the distinguished attendees were Chancellor of the KDU General SHS Kottegoda (Retd), Vice Chancellor Rear Admiral Dammika Kumara, immediate past Vice Chancellor Maj. Gen. Milinda Peiris and numerous other notable personalities.
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