Science and innovation bolster economic growth
“Science, technology, innovation (STI) and culture play a key role
towards the achievement of global development goals. These elements hold
a gamut of potential as main drivers in overcoming challenges of this
century such as extreme poverty, inequality and environmental
degradation. The realisation of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs)
by 2015, in less than a thousand days, poses a great challenge.
Senior Minister of International Monetary Cooperation and Deputy
Minister of Finance and Planning Dr. Sarath Amunugama at the
Inaugural Session of the High Level Segment of the Substantive
Session of ECOSOC in Geneva. Sri Lanka’s Permanent
Representative to the UN in Geneva Ravinatha Aryasinha is also
in the picture.
STI bolster economic growth and strengthen the economic backbone of
countries willing to compete in the global market. It advances and
diversifies sectoral productivity in employment and industries, food and
agriculture, water and energy and environment conservation. With
population growth, resources become constrained. Therefore, the role of
technological and scientific innovations becomes crucial. Once a country
meets the basic requirements of its population, its people are in a
better position to face economic and social challenges. Thus, our strong
commitment is imperative to create an enabling environment for both STI
This year’s theme is particularly important for Sri Lanka. My country
has been focusing on people-oriented socio-economic development since
independence. In spite of a long drawn out battle against terrorism for
nearly three decades, and being further constrained by the 2004 Asian
tsunami and the impact of the global recession, we have successfully
realised our MDG targets.
The introduction of the Millennium Development Goals in 2000 boosted
our drive for a more people-centred development path, mainly by our own
efforts for the past 65 years. Sri Lanka has integrated MDGs effectively
in to the national development agenda. In addition to several targeted
special programs, the Government conducts a large number of development
interventions with the aim of increasing opportunities for every segment
In fact, we are trend-setters in this field as recognised by Nobel
Laureate Amartya Sen. Our achievements are highlighted in regional and
global statistics in terms of realising or even surpassing many MDGs.
The first and the most important MDG has already been achieved, with
a decline of the poverty level from 15.2 percent in 2006/07 to 6.5
percent in 2012, surpassing mid-term targets. Sri Lanka has performed
equally well even in the multi-dimensional poverty index.
The multi-dimensionally poor in Sri Lanka was 1.9 percent6 in 2012. A
zero poverty goal is set for 2016. This is mainly due to our better
performances in terms of child mortality, nutrition, schooling, access
to safe drinking water, sanitation and housing compared to many
As recognised by UNICEF, Sri Lanka’s experience is among the most
compelling in achieving the best indicators for child and maternal
health and access to primary health care in South Asia.
We successfully reduced child mortality in the last half century. The
infant mortality rate of nine per 1,000 live births in 2010 was a
significant achievement when compared with many affluent countries.
Sri Lanka also decreased the Maternal Mortality Rate - 30 per 100,000
live births in 2010. Near-universal free access to health, including
widespread rural family healthcare and 98 percent of births taking place
at institutional delivery centres support this success. Our immunisation
system is a global success.
The average life expectancy was 74.9 in 2011, with women (77) living
longer than men (72). We have an enviable record in combating malaria,
tuberculosis and HIV/Aids. Many research papers refer to Sri Lanka’s
success in eliminating malaria and tuberculosis.
Under the MDG of Environmental Sustainability, our mid-term targets
of 2010 have already been achieved with water and sanitation. Despite
the recent expansion of the economy with increased infrastructure
development and industrialisation, Sri Lanka’s carbon footprint remains
negligible at 0.6 tons per capita per year.
Sri Lanka has been committed to ensure gender equality many decades
before the introduction of MDGs. In fact, women are the driving force
behind many of our socio-economic successes.
The Sri Lankan Constitution guarantees equal right to all citizens
without discrimination. We also maintained gender parity in primary
education reaching 100 percent in 2009/10. The percentage of women's
enrolment was grater than their male counterparts at all streams of
Education is a success story. Sri Lanka is internationally well-known
for its very high literacy rate and easily achieving the universal
primary education target.
The net enrolment rate reached 99 percent in 2010, for both males and
females. We have recently increased the age limit of compulsory primary
education to 16.
The national education policy now aims at enhancing the qualitative
aspect of education, enabling children and youth to face emerging
challenges of a global knowledge economy.
Sri Lanka uses new and emerging technologies and scientific
innovations to meet its goals, and firmly believes it can improve upon
these achievements. We are shifting from a traditional education system
to a system of innovation and employability by introducing the necessary
infrastructure for making Sri Lanka a regional knowledge hub.
Accordingly, we placed more focus on science, technology and
entrepreneurship, which has been heavily supported by our technical
vocational education and training sector development strategy.
The vision of the Government is to ‘create a society where there is
no person without skills’ by 2020. Our National Science and Technology
Policy aims to develop a timely knowledge-base on national development.
Initiatives of technology transfer, the sustainable use of natural
resources, and indigenous and cultural technology have been
Country-wide development programs are being implemented aiming at
increasing ICT literacy from 35 percent to 75 percent by 2016, and also
to promote a science and technology innovation culture in the general
education system. Special attention was made to expand access and to
make appropriate structural changes to meet human resource demands.
An ICT policy aiming at reducing the digital divide in the country
has been adopted to bring in the common approaches in realising
The development of ICT infrastructure is being pursued with emphasis
on the private sector. Cellular phone penetration stands at over 110
percent. Our Global Network Readiness ranking, which now stands at 3.88
(at the 69th place in 2013), has improved significantly. This
infrastructure drive helps placing the country’s ICT/BPO sector as the
fifth largest contributor to the GDP.
Youth are the driving force of science, technology and innovation.
Today, commercial agriculture, the garment industry and booming service
sectors depend on the contribution of young people, particularly women.
Entrepreneurial youth dominate the fields of ICT, eco-friendly
technologies in energy, agriculture and industrial sectors.
These initiatives, along with the scientific innovations and
application of technology, have enabled reducing the country’s
unemployment to four percent in 2012. We coupled youth strategically
with skills development in light of the youth’s role in our development
agenda. Collectively, we must create national and regional platforms to
recognise their talent and expertise. Sri Lanka, as the host of the
World Conference on Youth in 2014, will provide a global platform to
mainstream youth aspects in the internationally agreed development
Food security is the main strategy in achieving all key MDGs. Food
insecurity is no longer an issue for Sri Lanka as it is self-sufficient
in the staple food production with a surplus of rice and maize and 85
percent of population for improved water sources. Our aim is to
drastically reduce dependence on external food supplies. New technology,
innovations and research in the agriculture field have enabled us to
increase our food production, ensuring the nation’s food security by an
eco-friendly manner. However, we have not forgotten our centuries-old
sustainable irrigation and agriculture practices, which is our cultural
Sri Lanka also identified the importance of Small and Medium
Enterprise (SME) as a development mode of bridging regional growth
disparities. New industries are encouraged to be launched away from
urban localities, as to promote inclusive growth and eliminate poverty
and unemployment. Banks are given incentives to engage in micro-finance
schemes. Agricultural exports are exempt from taxes and business-owners
keep their profits for the first five years of operation.
It is important to note that developmental and technological needs
vary from country to country. A systems-oriented approach is more
suitable than a “one-size-fits-all” approach. Developing countries must
obtain a clear understanding of conducive and sustainable practices that
can be replicated domestically to address the challenges they face in
the fields of science, technology and innovation.
We have to keep in mind that middle income countries such as Sri
Lanka face specific economic, social and environmental challenges. One
such concern is unexpected weather patterns that trigger droughts and
floods causing damage to our food and energy production. We are still
vulnerable to external economic shocks, but have the potential to
advance in economic strength if a forward-looking culture supportive of
technology-induced growth is achieved.
The unique policy mix improved Sri Lanka’s status from low-income to
middle-income, illustrating further potential for economic growth. We
stand ready to help the region, sharing our experience, not in only
achieving the MDGs, but also in terms of establishing peace and
stability in the region.”
Address by Senior Minister of International Monetary Cooperation and
Deputy Minister of Finance and Planning Dr. Sarath Amunugama at the
Inaugural Session of the High Level Segment of the Substantive Session
of ECOSOC in Geneva last week.