Opposition should not worry about my future – Minister Namal Rajapaksa | Sunday Observer

Opposition should not worry about my future – Minister Namal Rajapaksa

4 July, 2021
Namal Rajapaksa, Sports Minister and State Minister for Digital Technology and Entrepreneur Development
Namal Rajapaksa, Sports Minister and State Minister for Digital Technology and Entrepreneur Development

Youth and Sports Minister Namal Rajapaksa was recently given new responsibilities as State Minister for Digital Technology and Entrepreneur Development. He outlined his vision for the youth during an interview with the Sunday Observer, and the need to equip them with the skills and knowledge to become young entrepreneurs who could be a part of the drive to generate USD three billion income for the country through the ICTA sector as envisioned in the President’s manifesto, Vistas of Prosperity.

The Minister highlighted the need to provide the Sri Lankan youth with an opportunity as he points out that they are equally creative as those in other parts of the world.

Minister Rajapaksa also responded to the Opposition’s speculation on his political journey and ambitions, stating that none should worry about his political future and that dynastical politics or pre-assumptions and are not going to work any more.

Following are excerpts of the interview:

Q. Your vision for the future of youth in Sri Lanka.?

A. It is about adapting to the new normal and giving youth the opportunity to connect. Digitalisation is not what we thought long years ago. It’s about connectivity.

We need to have the laws to regulate and protect the privacy of individuals. Youth in Sri Lanka are very creative and looking for opportunities. But we need a bigger entrepreneurship drive and get them engaged in economic activities.

The rural youth have seen only a few opportunities in life. They are more focused on traditional professions, such as doctor or engineer, or traditional farming and fishing. We need to show them that there are more opportunities in the country and world. If they want to get in to their agricultural farming or fishing or other industries, we need to encourage them to do that while including new technology.

That way, there would be more job opportunities with good revenue and better quality. Overall, Sri Lankan youth are on par with the rest of the world but we need to provide them opportunities.

Q. Your plans for the youth to support them in entrepreneurship.?

A. Youth have to adopt digitalisation and technology. My plans will be based on technology. The entrepreneurship plan is both long term and short term with technology based startups and non-tech startups.

We address all three spheres – small, medium and large scale industries in tech and non-tech. We are looking to get more people involved in entrepreneurship and simultaneously look at upgrading small scale industries to medium scale, and medium to large scale.

For tech startups and entrepreneurship based in tech industry, we are looking at five techno paths – Galle, Kurunegala, Kandy, Nuwara-Eliya and the Eastern coast. We will do startup incubators in Jaffna and Colombo which will be launched this year.

Most people don’t use digital platforms and social media for the right cause. But many young people use it to become entrepreneurs.

My aim is to provide speed and access to internet. The speed has to be given to the right person, not to stalk someone and use social media for fun. If you want to use it for fun, you need to pay for it. But my concern is to provide proper, clean data to the people who are living out of social media and become entrepreneurs through technology.

Q. According to the President’s manifesto, the government aims to draw USD three billion earnings to the country from the ICTA sector by 2025. How do you plan to propel this forward?

A. It’s a big challenge at this stage but it is still achievable. With the tech parks we are going to build and startup incubators, USD three billion is not a big challenge or task given that all stakeholders work together to achieve it.

We are in touch with the relevant organisations like Dialog on a startup program. We are working with Huawei, Mobitel etc. on other programs.

Collectively with all other stakeholders, we are looking at creating a more tech startup ecosystem in the country and also provide regulations for tech and non-tech startups to be established in Sri Lanka. We are trying to get the policies right. Once we do the start up policy and tech policy based on that, we’ll be able to attract more funds to the country rather than approaching individual startups. At the same time, we will also create a fund for tech and non-tech start ups in the country on different footings.

The biggest challenge we face at this stage is finding access to funding. So the government has to step up and that’s how the rest of the world has done it and we are also keen to do that.

We are in talks with the Finance Ministry to include that to the next budget to create a fund for tech and non-tech startups. Already, Cabinet approval has been granted.

Q. As the Chairman of the Sri Lanka-China Parliamentary Friendship Association, what opportunities are there for more cooperation?

A. There’s a lot of cooperation in the political front between the two countries from Parliament to local council level. We are looking to send some of our athletes and coaches to train in China for more exposure in sport, sports management and coaching.

We celebrate the 65th year of diplomatic ties between Sri Lanka and China next year. We are looking to sign a free trade agreement to mark the occasion which will be historic.

But our ties go beyond diplomatic ties with a strong people to people relationship since ancient times. The time is now for them to invest in the industries in Sri Lanka, not only depending on infrastructure projects but also investing in job creation and other logistics.

Q. Former Minister Basil Rajapaksa’s entry into Parliament has caused a stir among the Opposition who claim that this is a threat to your political journey. What’s your response?

A. They shouldn’t be worried about me. [Laughs] I can look after myself.

Q. Any truth about speculation that you will be running for Presidency?

A. Not as far as I know! I always believe in one thing. Dynastical politics or pre-assumption in politics is not going to work anymore. So, I will not be able to answer that question now. But at this stage, we have a President who can run for a second term. So, it is not something we should be debating at this stage because when the President who is the leader of our government is clearly legally eligible to run for another term, this kind of thing should be out of the topic.

Q. As a young politician with a young family, how do you maintain your work-life balance?

A. It’s a difficult thing with Covid because I travel a lot. It gives me little time to stay at home. But I always spend that little time with my wife and son. It’s a challenge because if I go home two or three times a day, I have to take the equal number of showers. We have to go through this as politicians. It’s all about balancing and I’m glad that my wife is very understanding. She accommodates me in my profession in a positive manner.