IT experts frown on adhoc policies | Sunday Observer

IT experts frown on adhoc policies

As a number of digital related draft policies have emerged in recent times, Sri Lanka’s IT industry experts recently emphasised the need to adopt an overarching digital policy framework to avert confusion and potential policy contradictions.

“The past year or two has seen a large number of digital policies, strategies, laws being proposed and drafted by various governmental and non-governmental actors. Part of this is that we are catching up with a lot of policies we really do need, which many countries developed years ago. The other part seems to be ad-hoc development of policy documents irrespective of whether we need them or not,” LIRNEasia, CEO Helani Galpaya pointed out, comparing Sri Lanka’s digital developments with that of the United Kingdom and Singapore.

She outlined these concerns while moderating a panel discussion at a public discussion themed ‘Digital Policies for Sri Lanka: Doing better than cut and paste’ hosted by LIRNEasia, a Colombo-based digital policy think tank, recently.

While acknowledging the absence of an overarching policy framework, ICTA Chairman Prof. Rohan Samarajiva said the current Digital Infrastructure and Information Technology Minister and the administration has put more weight behind adopting the draft ‘National Digital Policy for Sri Lanka’ as the island nation’s digital policy.

The draft National Digital Policy which was opened for public comments outlines Sri Lanka’s digital agenda from 2020 to 2025. The policy provides high-level principles and conceptual framework for Sri Lanka to achieve sustained digital economic development and growth, through the creation of an innovative economy and an effective government.

Joining the discussion, science writer and digital media analyst Nalaka Gunewardene said the country doesn’t have the luxury to wait for the perfect environment to adopt critical digital policies.

However, he pointed out that in absence of a “grand vision or a plan,” the policy discussions could create confusion among public and civil society leading to certain conspiracy theories.

Gunewardene said that the country also needs to focus on strengthening digital literacy of its citizens.

Although 40 percent of Sri Lankans are estimated to be equipped with digital literacy (as per the State Information Department), he noted that the definition of digital literacy adopted by them is too narrow. Hence, he opined that actual digital literacy in Sri Lanka should be at much lower levels.

The panelists debated the merits and demerits of adopting the National Digital Policy, the Strategic Roadmap on Internet of Things (IoT), and other legislation related to cyber security and data protection in their current form. They also discussed how the digital wish lists and strategies announced by other stakeholders, for example, SLASSCOM’s AI Policy, and SLT’s Smart Sri Lanka initiative, can be taken up for wider adoption as national plans.

The discussion was organised as part of LIRNEasia’s 15th anniversary celebrations.