Mr. Eran Wickramaratne is the founder Chairman of the Information and Communication Technology Agency (ICTA) of Sri Lanka, which is the apex ICT institution of the Government, and mandated to take all necessary measures to implement the Government’s Policy and Action Plan in relation to ICT. He was the Advisor to the Ministry of Economic Reform Science and Technology in 2002 and played a key role in ICTA’s establishment and in defining the e-Sri Lanka Development Program, which role he played due to his conversance in development.
Mr. Wickramaratne states that the e-Sri Lanka Development Program was the first fully fledged integrated development project that the World Bank had been involved in, with any country in the world and therefore, it was a pioneering project. On planning the e-Sri Lanka Development Program Mr. Wickramaratne states that firstly a vision was needed. Then a plan and a Roadmap were developed. Thereafter it was necessary to work out in detail how the plan was to be implemented. A monitoring mechanism had to be set in place. He further states that sustainability should be ensured for such programs and ultimately all benefits should flow to the people of this land.
Video in Brief
Mr. Eran Wickramaratne was educated at Royal College. He studied Politics and Economics at the University of London and specialized in Economics.
Mr. Wickramaratne’s entry into the ICT arena was unexpected. He was working for an international bank in 1984 where he was introduced to email, of which most people in Sri Lanka were not aware at that time. This was the initial induction. Later, when he was CEO of the National Development Bank in Sri Lanka, he was introduced to Milinda Moragoda, Minister of Economic Reform, Science and Technology. The Minister had wanted to know the way in which ICT could be used for development. He had discussed with the then Prime Minister and Mr. Wickramaratne was requested to head this initiative. Mr. Eran Wickramaratne had demurred but the Minister had explained that this was due to Mr. Wickramaratne’s Eran’s conversance on development.
A team was then formed. Some of those who participated during this initial phase were Mr. Hans Wijayasuriya, Prof. Rohan Samarajiva, Dr. Ruvan Weerasinghe, Mr. Jayantha Fernando, Mr. Kavan Ratnayake and Dr. Ajith Madurapperuma. Discussions were held with the World Bank, which was enthusiastic about the preliminary ideas that were presented.
One of the first necessities was to draft a Roadmap; it was necessary to cast a Vision, decide on what needed to be done and how it was to be achieved and a plan had to be developed. Thereafter it was necessary to think of how it was to be implemented. For implementation, resources were needed. The Steering Committee that had been set up was assisted by Mr. Nagy Hanna of the World Bank, who was meticulous and thorough in synthesizing how ICT could be used for development. Mr. Wickramaratne emphasizes the need for a Roadmap when commencing a venture such as this – a Roadmap with very definite goals for each component therein.
Thus was born the e-Sri Development Project.
This was the first fully fledged integrated development project that the World Bank had been involved in, with any country in the world. Therefore, it was a pioneering project. Components under the e-Sri Lanka Development Project included; policy development; improving the connectivity infrastructure and creating awareness; human resources development; re-engineering Government and technical architecture, security and standards.
With the enactment of the ICT Act no 27 of 2003, the relevant section of the Science and Technology Development Act no. 11 of 1994, under which the previous apex body on ICT, the Council for Information Technology (CINTEC) functioned was repealed and CINTEC was thereby closed. Mr. Wickramaratne explains that the skill sets and expertise needed to deliver the vision and implement the Roadmap were not available then at CINTEC and closing the organization was expedient.
The Information and Communication Technology Agency of Sri Lanka (ICTA) was established and commenced operations on 1st July 2003, at Kirimandala Mawatha in Colombo. Mr. Wickramaratne was the first Chairman and Mr. Manju Haththotuwa was the first CEO of ICTA. Others in the initial team were Mr. Reshan Dewapura who was recruited from overseas and subsequently succeeded Manju in leading ICTA, Prof. Gihan Dias who was Program Director of the area Technical Architecture, Security and Standards, and Mr. Lalith Weeratunga who initially headed the area ‘Re-engineering Government’ of which Mr. Wasantha Deshapriya was a Program Specialist. Others in this initial team comprised Mr. Dilanthe Withanage, Mr. Patrick Canagasingham, Mr. Jayantha Fernando and Mr. Reeza Zarook.
Mr. Wickramaratne explains that it was necessary to encourage the private sector and increase Sri Lanka’s exports. He states that development should result in revenues and in jobs and development should improve the quality of life of the people living in this country. He recollects that at this stage, discussions had been held with several outsourcing companies which were interested in coming over to Sri Lanka. Consequently, HSBC had set up an outsourcing operation in Sri Lanka and WNS had established a BPO.
Assessing the development over the years, Mr. Wickramaratne states that with the change in Government, the emphasis on the private sector seems to have been reduced to some extent and he states that this is an area on which there should have been more focus. Mr. Wickramaratne further states that the private sector is far more coherent today than it was before the implementation of the e-Sri Lanka Development Project and e-Sri Lanka Development Project had definitely helped the private sector consolidate its position.
Mr. Wickramaratne states that Mr. Lalith Weeratunga coming in to head the eGovernment Program definitely helped in getting the program organized. He stated that Government should invest in Government employees, who should be given access to technology and thereby empowered.
The tele-centers which were later known as the ‘Nenasala’ centers (knowledge centers) were established throughout the island to provide affordable access to connectivity, relevant content and training. Relevant content in Sinhala and Tamil and applications were developed and made available through ICTA’s e-Society program. Assessing the Nenasala program, Mr. Wickramaratne states that the economic model had been changed at a later stage in implementation, but the early vision had been to make these centers commercially viable and to make Government services available efficiently to citizens. He emphasizes the importance of sustainability in projects that are implemented.
ICTA’s Program Area Enabling Environment comprised the components Institutional Development, e-Leadership, the Local Languages Initiative, Monitoring and Evaluation, and e-Laws of which Jayantha Fernando was the Program Director. Under this latter area, work leading to the enactment of the Computer Cries Act no. 24 of 2007and the e-Transactions Act no. 19 of 2006 was carried out. ICTA had also initiated the process for Sri Lanka’s accession to Budapest Convention on Cybercrime. Mr. Wickramaratne states that with the implementation of the infrastructure and e-Government services the legal infrastructure also had to improve. That was a part of the e-Sri Lanka Roadmap.
These are some of Mr. Eran Wickramaratne’s recollections of a comprehensive development program initiated 15 years ago.
Mr. Wickramaratne concludes thus; he says that firstly a vision is needed. Then a plan and a Roadmap should be developed. Thereafter it is necessary to work out in detail how the plan is to be implemented. A monitoring mechanism has to be set in place. Sustainability should be ensured and there should be return on investment.
Ultimately all benefits should flow to the people of this land.