Statement by Ambassador H.E. Dr. Palitha Kohona,
Permanent Representative of Sri Lanka to the United Nations
Second Committee on Agenda Item 17
Information and Communication Technologies for Development
26th October 2010

Madame Chair,

My delegation affiliates itself with the Statement made by Yemen on behalf of the Group of 77 & China.

The proliferation of modern Information and Communication Technologies is rapidly changing the lives of millions around the world. The MDG Summit Document last month echoed the need to strengthen public-private partnerships to enhance the role of ICT in empowering societies across countries and income groups, specially through access to ICT education. We must therefore explore new avenues to utilize ICT as a catalyst for the global development agenda, and to bridge the digital divide.

The Internet Governance Forum (IGF) sets a viable platform to enhance our cooperation in the ICT sector. Sri Lanka is fully supportive of the open and multi-stakeholder framework of the IGF. We therefore endorse the extension of the IGF’s mandate by another five year period. The Tunis Agenda provides a sound basis for intergovernmental discussions on the Internet and the Vilnius outcome last month has further contributed to consolidate international cooperation in this regard. While welcoming the inclusion of Internet Governance for Development as a new theme in Vilnius, we stress the need of linking regional internet governance initiatives and the IGF.

Madame Chair,

Our national ICT policies are founded in the same fundamental principles accommodating multiple stakeholders. The Information and Communication Technology Agency of Sri Lanka (ICTA), as the apex ICT institution in Sri Lanka, is empowered to formulate and implement ICT strategies and programmes, in both the public and the private sectors. The ICTA prepared programs and strategies on ICT, including the “e-Sri Lanka Development Project” with a view to delivering the dividend of ICT to all Sri Lankans. The “e-Sri Lanka Development Project” is the National Information Technology Action Plan. It functions as a public-private partnership. This Action Plan is following the National ICT Roadmap by building information infrastructure and an enabling environment, developing human resources in ICT, modernizing government and citizen services, leveraging ICT for economic and social development, and promoting Sri Lanka as an ICT and knowledge hub in South Asia.

Our policies have already brought dividends. In a short span of five years, we have witnessed a considerable growth of computer literacy in Sri Lanka from 5% in 2005 to nearly 30% to date. President Mahinda Rajapakse, in his policy statement, `Mahinda Chintana’ vision document, pledged to increase computer literacy in the country to 50% within the next five years. We firmly believe that ITC can make a huge contribution towards innovativeness, including developing the capabilities to cater to the needs of international business, such as through E-commerce, and Business Process Outsourcing (BPOs).
 
According to recent surveys, 11.4% of households in Sri Lanka own desktop or laptop computers. This varies from 26.3% in some urban to 9.8% in rural areas. The government is cognizant of the digital divide within the country and has therefore established rural ICT centres under the theme “e- Life” to bridge this gap. We have launched a “one laptop per child (OLPC)” project with the active contribution of the private sector to reach 1:1 student PC ratio in Sri Lanka, which is currently about 200:1. The Government encourages private entrepreneurs to produce or assemble low cost computers and loan schemes are available for teachers and students to purchase PCs.

Madame Chair,
 
We have included ICT education into our school curricula. 25% of the youth of the country between the ages of 17-20 years possess internet and E mail capability. Over 60% of teachers in Government schools have been trained in the International Computer Driving license (ICDL). About 600 ICT centers, called “Nena Sala’-Centers of Wisdom, have been established with broad-base access. Approximately 50% of the school population in Sri Lanka now has connectivity to internet resources through a project called SchoolNet (
www.skoool.lk). This initiative provides the basic infrastructure for distance education. The Intel driven initiative called “SKOOOL Sri Lanka” brings innovative and interactive learning resources for students and teachers. Additionally the government has launched English language training in addition to ICT, as according to surveys, people who are literate in English have shown a 3 times higher computer literacy rate (56%) than the national average.

Another key determinant to Education through ICT is its affordability. We strongly believe that the private sector can play a constructive role by bringing innovative and cutting-edge technology to disseminate information. We have launched a public-private partnership project in Sri Lanka with World Bank assistance to build an open access, high speed optical fiber backbone network to enhance access to the Internet. The Government is committed to provide potential capacity to cater to all households in the country within the next three years under competitive rates. We have realized that by guiding students to utilize E-resources, the government can save considerable annual expenditure on school text book printing.

The telecommunication sector has focused more in providing low cost internet facilities. Currently 13.1% of country’s population use the internet and 12% use E-mails. Overall 17% of the schools have a computer laboratory, but only 6% of the schools have internet connectivity. The government is developing a National Broadband Policy to empower all segments of Sri Lanka society. The Government’s flexible regulatory environment encourages Internet Service Providers from the private sector to operate independently. We have introduced stringent laws to prevent child abuse and pornography in the cyberspace. The courts have fully supported this.

Madame Chair,

We support the proposals in the Secretary-General’s report A/65/276 to develop a United Nations Round Table advocacy strategy, as well as to provide a common learning and knowledge framework on communication for development. The UN System’s approach to ICT must complement our national efforts. Sri Lanka hosted the 50th Council Meeting and the Annual Forum of the Commonwealth Telecommunications Organisation (CTO) in Colombo last month under the theme “Towards a Digital Commonwealth-Broadband Connectivity for All” to further demonstrate our commitment to promote ICT across borders as a strong vehicle for development.

I thank you Madame Chair.

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