Fanning the flame of speculation regarding an electronic voting system for Sri Lankans, Presidential Secretary Lalith Weeratunga publicly stated last week that the Government planned to introduce such a system in a bid to promote "democratic engagement" among citizens.
Making this comment as the keynote speaker at a recent event on electronic governance, the two-day FutureGov Forum Sri Lanka 2011, which was held in Colombo; he also asserted that the "whole idea of expediting government processes is to save time of citizens.
It also saves time for the public servant. The additional time available for citizens can be therefore spent productively – to engage with family members, community and voluntary work and more importantly, to live a contented life, the dream of every human being."
He also opined that "government has to be more open and receptive so that it can differentiate and recognise different requirements of various strata of people" and noted the example of Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa who "always reiterated the unavoidable requirement of citizen-centric governance. Every time he speaks to public sector officials – ranging from newly recruited, operational level, young front line officers to very senior, strategic level Ministry Secretaries – he does not forget to sensitise them and impress upon them the dire need to comfort the citizens who come to many government offices at every level."
Further, Mr. Weeratunga also commented that "government has to achieve the great potential of making business online. E-government applications to serve the business community is also creating more choices for citizens to spend his or her money more rationally to get a quality service. Facilitating ICT and other infrastructure to encourage stakeholders to fall in line with this global trend is therefore imperative."
Elaborating, he noted that this country was "now engaged in a process of developing our national data transfer backbone" and added that the government had "already installed the Lanka Government Network, interconnecting hundreds of public institutions thus saving time, costs of communication and humongous volumes of paperwork. At a glance, one may not see other benefits. But, undoubtedly there are many. However, to recover the investment, we have to deploy more applications and to increase the usage of applications we have introduced so far."
Mr. Weeratunga also suggested that "savings of e-business can be reinvested thus keeping the economy moving at a healthy pace. In addition, the accurate information flow supported by ICT also enables the government to take prompt decisions to shape the economy strategically and to avoid possible failures."
He also noted the impact of Infromation Communication Technology, or ICT, on other areas of governance, and gave the example that "very senior officials at the level of Foreign Secretaries use Facebook, Twitter, etc. to connect up with various public groups as well as with vociferous groups. On behalf of one's citizens, a government has to safeguard a country’s image from different open and hidden international movements, as in our case."
Additionally, Mr. Weeratunga revealed that the "Minister of Public Management Reforms has now started [the] establishment of Management Reforms Cells in each public agency to convert them into citizen centric smarter organisations in which the application of ICT catalyses the service delivery mechanism."
And, also being looked into, "how best we could help patients and health workers in government hospitals by introducing eHealth applications." Concluding, immediate areas of concern for the government were identified as including: "Expansion of the Lanka Government Network (LGN), developing more online payment facilities under Lankagate, issuing Visas online, grievance handling through the Government Information Center (GIC 1919), facilitation of exports and imports using ICT solutions, and increased use of SMS with eGov applications."