10/06/2004 - Wijaya Pariganaka- June issue

e-Sri Lanka is a national development initiative in which, ICT will be mainstreamed into the national development process of the country. ICT is a crucial tool to empower Sri Lankans to face the challenges of the 21st century. It is of utmost importance that all Sri Lankans are involved in this project and play a significant role in the implementation of it.ICTA has been established to coordinate the implementation of this nationally important endeavor, about which all citizens need to have a clear vision. ICTA as a government organization that depends on public funds, clearly recognizes these facts and makes a considerable effort in dissemination of the same. ICTA understands that the general public needs to have some interest about how public funds are utilized in various projects and that the media need to play a crucial role in educating the public on such activities. This is a need of a strong civil society and will be more appropriate when judgments are made based on accurate information. It is with this intention that ICTA wishes to place the following on record:

Q1: Is ICTA is a privately owned institute?
A: ICTA is an institute 100% owned by the Government of Sri Lanka. In May of 2003, the Government of Sri Lanka presented the ICT Act (Act No. 27 of 2003) in parliament and all parties unanimously voted on passing of it. ICTA therefore has been legally established under this Act of Parliament. In order to face and move with the rapid changes in the world of ICT, there was a necessity to register ICTA under the Companies Act to provide necessary flexibility in creating policy and implementation. Hence ICTA was established through an Act of Parliament and registered as an entity wholly owned by Government. The only shareholders of this company are Secretaries to Ministry of Finance and the Ministry of Economic Reforms, Science and Technology. As any other Government institute, ICTA is subject to general Government audit rules and is answerable to the Parliamentary Committee on Public Enterprises. Although registered under the Companies Act, ICTA does not enjoy the freedom that normal private companies do. It works under a policy framework specified by a Cabinet sub-committee as well as under the advice given by a Cabinet appointed Task Force. It functions as a Government entity under the supervision of a Board of Directors.

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Q2: What happened to all of the assets of CINTEC?
A: The decision to close down CINTEC was a legal decision, again made according to the same Act mentioned above. (Parliament Act no 27 of 2003). The Act demands the need to transfer all assets of CINTEC to ICTA. This transfer needs to be viewed as moving assets from one Government entity to another and not as transferring assets from a Government entity to a private company. ICTA has no interest or motivation to shutdown CINTEC or to acquire its assets and in fact when the said decision was passed in Parliament, ICTA was not even established. The staff of CINTEC recently filed a fundamental rights petition regarding their retirement scheme, and the Supreme Court has issued an injunction on the closure of CINTEC. This decision does not indicate that there is a change to the Parliament Act, but deals with the fundamental rights of the CINTEC staff.

Q3: Is "e-Sri Lanka" a World Bank project?
A: e-Sri Lanka is a national development project with the following objectives:

1. To develop ICT industry of Sri Lanka

2. To mainstream ICT into the national development process and use as a tool to empower citizens

3. To bring benefits of ICT to all layers of Sri Lankan society in order to reduce the digital divide

Sri Lankans contributed significantly in designing the e-Sri Lanka project. E-Sri Lanka is a result of cumulative efforts made by various Sri Lankan institutes and personnel during the last 20 years. It is not fair by the Sri Lankans and other donor agencies that contributed to the birth of e-Sri Lanka, to portray it solely as a World Bank project. E-Sri Lanka is a Sri Lankan project and the planning & implementation of it, as well as enjoying the benefits it will bring, belong to the citizens of this country. Understandably, there is a huge funding requirement needed to implement the e-Sri Lanka initiative, and the ICTA is currently engaged in negotiating donor contributions from various institutes. A key result of this activity is the pledging of a significant contribution from the International Development Agency (IDA) of the World Bank, for the initial phase of the initiative. This contribution will come in the form of a soft loan with 0% interest and need to be paid back over a period of 40 years starting 2014. ICTA together with IDA have put in an enormous effort of in preparing the necessary project documentation in order to secure the committed funds. The World Bank has provided ICTA with a Project Preparation Facility (PPF), which the Bank normally expects to be used primarily for project preparation activities. ICTA however have stretched these funds to implement 21 pilot projects in addition to the regular project preparation activities as well as the establishment of the ICT Agency and its capacity building. ICTA has completed all this activity in a remarkable 8 months.It is the Government norm that 10-15% of the project budget is utilized for administrative expenditure even in small organizations. Administrative expenditure of 10-15% is also common in most donor-funded projects. It is therefore a noteworthy achievement that ICTA has curtailed all this administrative expenditure to less than 4% of the total program budget.

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Q4: Has ICTA had any substantial achievements in the last two years?
A: ICTA has not been in existence for 2 years. The Act of Parliament (Act no 27 of 2003) was passed in May 2003 and the ICT Agency commenced operations only on the 1st of July 2003 in humble beginnings. Starting off with only 4 professionals, ICTA in the last 8 months has accomplished a great deal. ICTA was established at its present location, human resources were interviewed and recruited have already laid a good foundation in order to pave the way for implementation of the e-Sri Lanka initiative. During the short time span of 8 months, ICTA has delivered a remarkable output, which is a great achievement under any context. ICTA is also a highly responsive unit and aims to respond to any public query and also brief any enquirers in its open plan office. These details are also available on the ICTA website (www.icta.lk) for the scrutiny of any interested parties.

Q5: Do ICTA employees enjoy high remuneration packages with lots of benefits?
A: ICTA staff are compensated with remuneration packages that are consistent with market and international rates. There has been no secrecy or illegality in this regard. All senior staff including Directors were interviewed and hired on applications received through a paper advertisement published on 29th December 2002 in the Sunday Observer. This advertisement openly and specifically states that salaries and facilities will be provided consistent with market competitive rates. In setting remuneration packages to the senior staff, all salaries and other benefit offered to them in their previous positions have also been taken into consideration. Hence all staff at ICTA have been recruited openly and legally. It is also a fact that ICTA has never hired individuals due to any political influence. Mobile phones are provided to ICTA staff for official purposes. In the information age, mobile phones are no longer considered as luxury items, but as a tool required to carry out duties effectively. In an era where electronic mail is replacing the tradition postal service, it would be a pathetic state of affairs if the officers of the ICT Agency, who are supposed to develop this country with information and communication technology, are not equipped with mobile phones. In implementing a national development project it is imperative to arm the senior officers involved with the right tools. Providing adequate transport facilities are as crucial as providing mobile phones. Although ICTA is handling the implementation of a huge project (similar in size to the entire Mahaweli project), the Agency has only 5 leased vehicles and one 10-year-old vehicle transferred from CINTEC. ICTA officers are also not in the habit of making ad hoc foreign trips, but do travel when the need arises for various official matters. This is all done in an accountable manner according to standard government rules, and is also subject to general government audits. All ICTA staff are recruited as consultants on very short time assignments. It is an extremely difficult choice for these professionals in secure employment to leave and join ICTA for short-term temporary assignments. In addition all these professionals are subject to income tax, though ICTA is a 100% Government organization. It is worthwhile taking to consideration the scarcity of ICT experts and the high demand for them both locally and internationally. The general practice for international consultants working on similar projects is to charge millions of rupees. However ICTA has made efforts to attract capable Sri Lankans with the same (or better) experience, but with much less expenditure and these professionals have joined the agency to make a positive change to the country through ICT.There are no Sri Lankans at the ICTA who earn millions of rupees a month.

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Q6: Is the ICTA Chairman paid a salary?
A: The Chairman of ICTA does not earn any salary or allowance from ICTA. He has contributed voluntarily towards the creation of the e-Sri Lanka program, from December 2001 onwards. Now together with the rest of the Board of Directors of ICTA he works voluntarily and contributes highly without any remuneration from this project.

Q7: Are ICTA and e-Sri Lanka promoting any religious fundamentalism?
A: ICTA staff display specific qualities which, among others, include skill, experience, capabilities and commitment and their recruitment was based on two advertisements. (See Answer for Question 5). It is an extremely difficult task to have the ideal ethnic representation and gender balance in any organization. ICTA however, is an example to Sri Lankan organizations where a multi-cultural environment is encouraged and human values are respected. ICTA believes and practices only one fundamentalism: The fundamentalism of using ICT for the development of Sri Lanka.

Q8: Have any friends or supporters of the former Minister been recruited to ICTA?
A: It is a well-known and open fact that not a single officer or staff member is closely known to Mr. Milinda Moragoda or has any connection with his political party. The minister has never influenced ICTA in the recruitment process. Most of the ICTA staff members met Mr. Milinda Moragoda personally for the first time when he visited ICTA after his resignation recently. At that visit, the minister requested the ICTA staff to continue office activities as usual, and to contribute with the same commitment and dedication to whichever government that is elected. Many hundreds of visitors who have come to the ICTA office during the last 8 months will be a testament to the fact that ICTA is a professional organization, free of any political or any other influe