The 2023 National Information Technology Conference (NITC-2023), co-organized by the Ministry of Technology and the Computer Society of Sri Lanka, commenced yesterday (11) at the Shangri-La Hotel in Colombo. The conference, under the leadership of President Ranil Wickremesinghe, will span two days with the central theme “Towards a Sustainable Digital Society – 2030 Digital Economy.” It brings together both local and international IT scholars and experts.
In alignment with the goal of transforming Sri Lanka into a fully digital economy by 2030, a comprehensive “Digital Roadmap and Policy Framework for Sri Lanka” was developed by experts and scholars from six sectors within the IT field. The presentation of this roadmap to the President was conducted by Mr. Kanaka Herath, the State Minister for Technology.
Furthermore, Minister of Agriculture Mahinda Amaraweera presented the “Enhanced Digital Agriculture Transformation” report, a collaborative effort of agricultural and technology experts from the Ministry of Agriculture and the Ministry of Technology, aimed at modernizing Sri Lanka’s agriculture.
Additionally, President Ranil Wickremesinghe recognized and awarded innovative achievements in the field of information technology at various educational levels, including schools, universities, post-graduate institutions, businesses and professorial contributions.
Speaking at the event, President Ranil Wickremesinghe further said:
“I didn’t anticipate having to make a speech here. I had already spoken my share when I attended the SLASSCOM exhibition in the morning. We’ve covered the entire spectrum of human development. Secondly, that’s how we plan to tackle the issue of human capital formation that we require. Now, you have presented two reports that we will certainly read and discuss with you before proceeding. One of the other issues that has been concerning me is the digital infrastructure. How do we provide the necessary digital infrastructure? Given the present economic crisis and limited government resources, my thinking and the government’s thinking, is that the private sector should take over the basic digital infrastructure. The government should step in where it is not feasible for the private sector to do so. Therefore, our digital infrastructure policy will be based on this approach.
This means that the emphasis will have to be on cities and the western province, especially in most parts of Gampaha, Colombo and Kalutara districts. Then, we will extend to areas with population centers and towns where access is needed. The second phase will be to expand further. By that time, the providers will be in a better position for longer investments and the government will also have sufficient resources to proceed with the investment. So, no matter what, we have to provide the digital infrastructure and we will have to rely on private investments for the first part. This will enable about 40 to 50% of the population to have that infrastructure. It won’t take us long to reach about 60%. However, from there onwards, we will have to gradually work on it. So, these are the key issues we are considering.
Another important aspect is the availability of capital in the financial sector. This is why we are going ahead with the restructuring of banks to ensure there is an adequate capital supply. This money should be available and channelled into this sector. We require a diverse financial sector different from what we have today. The other crucial aspect is digital inclusion. Digital inclusion is necessary to bridge the digital divide between the rich and the poor. How do we achieve that? These are the three main issues that we have to address immediately. There are other issues like the legal system and cyber security. Some can be addressed by the government, while others can be handled by the private sector.
However, these three are the most critical areas: digital infrastructure, capital financing and addressing the digital divide. These are the initial areas the government will focus on in your digital initiative. I don’t want to speak at length. I think I have been speaking too long on this subject and I am not a specialist. So I thank you for inviting me and wish you all the best in your deliberations.”
Speaking at this event the Senior Consultant to the President on National Security and Chief of Staff Mr. Sagala Ratnayaka said;
“The President is spearheading a modernization initiative, appointing a committee led by a prominent professor with a pre-established roadmap. This modernization effort will operate on a decentralized basis, utilizing agrarian service centres as key focal points. It will bring together the private sector, scientists, government officials and, crucially, farmers. The primary goals are to provide farmers with advice, input materials and training, with the aim of doubling current productivity. For instance, the Agriculture Minister plans to raise paddy productivity from 3.5 to 7 metric tons per hectare.
The Inclusive Digital Agri-Transformation (IDAT) program will introduce a digital platform for sharing agricultural data to support decision-makers in agriculture, land, irrigation, plantation and fisheries sectors. This program aligns with the President’s agri-sector modernization initiative, involving multiple ministries, including Agriculture, Irrigation, Tourism, Lands, Fisheries, Plantations, Public Administration and Technology.
The strategy encompasses the creation of a robust data and decision management system, incorporating AI and GPS-based decision-making. It also includes the introduction of agri-data tech pilots to showcase early solutions and bolster the agri-tech incubation ecosystem. All of these efforts are aimed at enhancing technology access and capacity building for government departments.
The strategy roadmap is in development and a data-driven decision-making dashboard is being created to eventually deliver services to farmers.”
Meanwhile, State Minister of Technology Mr. Kanaka Herath also addressed the gathering;
“In March 2023, we launched DIGIECON 2030 with the aim of expediting 10 key areas. We’ve made substantial progress, covering more than 70% of the six thematic areas outlined in DIGIECON’s Initiatives. Some of these areas had been under discussion for years but hadn’t materialized due to various reasons. The Digital Economy 2030 roadmap and framework for Sri Lanka were presented to the Parliament Consultative Committee and are now open for public input.
Our next step is to seek Cabinet approval. Today, we’re delighted to announce that we’ll present this strategic document to the President. Our digital roadmap and policy framework, developed in collaboration with the industry and with support from the World Bank, is founded on six thematic pillars.
Recently, the President inaugurated the Kandy campus of SLWIT, where students showcased remarkable innovation projects. These projects featured AI-driven solutions and innovative applications of machine learning, particularly in the agricultural sector. This demonstrates the abundant talent in Sri Lanka’s IT industry, which can be harnessed to develop the country’s services and enhance our international service exports.
Lastly, we extend our gratitude to the Melinda and Bill Gates Foundation for their initial three-year support.”
Ministers Mahinda Amaraweera, Dr. Ramesh Pathirana, Ministers of State Lasantha Alagiyawanna, Jagath Pushpakumara, Sagara Kariyawasam, ambassadors and high commissioners of foreign countries, Secretary to the President Saman Ekanayake, Secretary to the Prime Minister Anura Dissanayake, Secretary to the Ministry of Technology Prof. M.D. Gunawardena, and Officials, experts in the field of information technology and academics participated in this event.
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