Out of a large number of projects the World Bank has set up in the world, the world body considers the eSri Lanka initiative as its flagship project. This is because of the great success of the eSri Lanka initiative. Many countries have adopted and adapted the eSri Lanka initiative like, eUganda, eBrasil and so on. This was stated by President’s Secretary Lalith Weeratunga in reference to the eSri Lanka Development programme implemented by the ICT Agency of Sri Lanka (ICTA).
The Presidential Secretary said so while participating at the inauguration of 22 ICTA-initiated Government eServices projects in Colombo recently (Sep. 03). These projects accessible free of charge by registering via www.srilanka.lk are within the Re-engineering Government Programme of the eSri Lanka Initiative implemented by ICTA. The eSri Lanka initiative is implemented under the Presidential Secretariat. Speaking further on the occasion the Presidential Secretary said: “Once Indian Central Government Cabinet Secretary Chandrasekar asked me how ICTA implemented the ‘wonderful’ Government Information Centre project or 1919 as it is popularly known. I told him that there was nothing very scientific or technically complicated about it. “We, at ICTA, felt a need, we discussed and necessity led to this creative concept based on common sense. Recalling an incident that made such an impression as to confirm the saying that necessity is the mother of invention Weeratunga said: “In 1977 or 78 when I was an Assistant Controller – at the Department of Immigration and Emigration, a farmer came to me to ask what he considered a very important question. His clothes were soiled with dust. He had come from Moneragala the previous day and slept at the Fort station before visiting the Department of Immigration and Emigration in the morning that he visited me. The question he had come to find the answer for spending so much time and energy and going through much hardship was “How do I get a passport?”. This made me ponder deeply: “Should one go through such inconvenience just to know this information?”
“In 1972 I wanted a certified copy of my birth certificate for some purpose. From Colombo I sent word to my father in my hometown to try to get a copy of my birth certificate. My father had tried to obtain it, with all the earnestness of a loving father. But after all his genuine endeavours his reply to me on the basis of the reply he had got from the relevant Government officials was: ‘Son, it will take about three months for you to get your birth certificate’. Today if a son were to tell his father: “Dad, please get my birth certificate’, the father is sure to reply: ‘Son, why are you telling me to do this? You just go to the nearest Divisional Secretariat; you will be able to get your birth certificate in five minutes. You know the basic details – date and place of birth…’. This is the miracle of the use of ICT today. When His Excellency President Mahinda Rajapaksa took over the portfolio that covered the subject of ICT, when he become Prime Minister in April 2004 the ICT literacy of the country was less than 5 per cent. Today it is more than 40 per cent. This is due to the farsighted guidance of His Excellency the President.
Historically important step
Continuing his address as Chief Guest on this occasion of the kick-off the largest number of Government eServices projects in the history of Sri Lanka, the Presidential Secretary emphasised the importance of the event. ‘The British rulers set up some of the Government institutions and departments more than 100 years ago. Some of these, though established more as Government Revenue Collection Centres than public service offices, are more than 100 years old today. Some originated after Sri Lanka gained Independence in 1948. In this background, this prime move of a positive change in the attitude of the Government service to the people, setting in motion as many as 22 Government eService projects is of great historical importance. Although I am honoured to participate in this occasion, this inauguration is such an important turning point as to deserve to be carried out by the Head of State.
Courtesy and technologically infinite possibility
“ If there is any negative element in this whole programme of moving towards a better public service and making the best benefits of ICT reach the people, I would say it is this: “There is much to be desired in the way some of those engaged in public service carry out their duties - from the point of view of courtesy and people-friendliness. Those who join the public service come from varied backgrounds, cultures and temperaments. It is not always easy to provide a uniform and courteous public service of high quality out of such a motley mass of public servants, whether at the top or the lowest rung. This negative element can be mitigated if everyone offering public service pays attention to his own level quality of people-friendliness in delivering public service.
Speaking on a positive note to counterbalance as it were the aforementioned negative element of a lack of people friendliness among some in Government eServices, the Presidential Secretary said that the possibilities of innovation for using ICT for people’s comfort were infinite. He referred to what he thought was a dream come true with modifications today. Long time ago when today’s internet facilities were not even imagined in Sri Lanka, the Presidential Secretary had conceived the idea of having one’s new passport delivered without involving the need of the applicant to go any Government Office but printed at the closest post office using an appropriate code number.
Chief Innovation Officers drawing the attention of the international community
Referring to a genre of officers who have been and are pivotal in this path towards making the best benefits of ICT reach the people, the Presidential Secretary said that the position of the Chief Innovation Officers was created with the dedicated duty of bringing about ICT innovations that would make the lives of people as comfortable as possible. Weeratunga traced the origins of this position to brainstorming sessions and discussions held about eight years ago with the participation of stalwarts including former ICTA CEO Majjula Hattotuwa, current ICTA CEO Reshan Dewapura, current ICTA Legal Advisor / Programme Director Jayantha Fernando and current ICTA Engineering Government Programme Wasantha Deshapriya. One time the proposal was to name the position Chief Information Officer. But better wisdom prevailed and the position was named Chief Innovation Officer truly reflecting the service expected of the incumbent of this position. In fact even a circular was issued in 2003 or 2004 urging all Government Institution Heads to provide all the encouragement that the Chief Innovation Officers needed in carrying out their special task. This position as different from the position of Chief Information Officer set up in Sri Lanka has drawn the attention of several foreign countries and is adopted in their countries with appropriate adaptation to suit their specific needs and circumstances.
Thanks and honour to ICTA and all Govt. institutions
In a glowing tribute to ICTA and all Government institutions the Presidential Secretary said: “I offer my thanks and honour to ICTA for the hard work ICTA has put in for achieving what has been achieved for making the lives of the people more comfortable through the use of ICT. I offer the same gratitude and honour to all Government Institutions for their co-operation and commitment in their endeavour to reach the success that has been achieved.
Collective effort; Voice of the heart is enough reward
“Success in all worthwhile projects almost always comes as a fruition of collective efforts. We may say even as a rule that no one can achieve great things single-handed. The contribution of even the person of the lowest rung too is important. Even a team of two persons cannot achieve much without the co-operation of many. A head of an institution once told me that the problem with some officers in contributing their share towards the common goal of the whole institution was the concern as to whom the credit would go when a job is done. I urge you not to be over-conscious of the credit. I am sure that the credit of much of the work done by public officers is taken by someone else. It does not matter; the one who contributed and laborured hard to achieve the common goal of the institution knows in his heart the contribution he made. This still but firm voice of the heart itself is reward enough.
Paying his plaudits to the private sector’s role in making the Government eServices make the strides it has made the Presidential Secretary said that the private sector had played an important role in making the Government eServices reach the level of success they had reached.
ICTA Chairman Professor P. W. Epasinghe, ICTA CEO Reshan Dewapura, ICTA Re-engineering Government Programme Director Wasantha Deshapriya, ICTA eServices Programme Head Kanchana Thudugala also spoke at the inauguration. A large number of personnel from the public and private sector participated in the historic inauguration.
The 22 Government eServices Projects initiated by the ICT Agency of Sri Lanka (ICTA) aimed at a more people-friendly and efficient public service that occurred on Sept. 3, 2012 under the patronage of the Presidential Secretary are as follows
The project is a landmark step forward in the fulfillment of a pledge contained in the Mahinda Chitanaya Vision for the Future, namely of bringing the computer to the village. The purpose of the newly launched project is to increase further the efficiency and people-friendliness of public service provided by Government institutions by optimum use of ICT. The departments and projects under them where eServices were launched on Sep.3 are given in the table below. The table also indicates whether the project is based on SMS or online. In addition the Table indicates the type of the eService provided, whether information service or a paying service.
Government eServices launched on September 3rd, 2012
Presidential Secretary Lalith Weeratunga, Senior Advisor to the President, Peradeniya University Chancellor and ICTA Chairman Professor P. W. Epasinghe, ICTA CEO Reshan Dewapura and ICTA Engineering Government Programme Director Wasantha Deshapriya at the inauguration of the ICTA initiated 22 Government eServices projects
Presidential Secretary Lalith Weeratunga delivering his address.
This article is carried in the Sunday Observer of 16th September 2012