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Asian Tribune is published by World Institute For Asian Studies|Powered by WIAS Vol. 12 No. 2647

Sri Lanka's impressive socio-economic achievements placed before UN Summit

By Daya Gamage - Asian Tribune US Bureau Report
Washington, D.C. 19 November (Asiantribune.com):

While Sri Lanka being recognized by the United Nations at its 'Development Goals' summit in Zhongzhou, China on November 15 for its “significant progress toward achieving the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), and exceeding the target of halving poverty well before 2015 and its continuing progress towards the timely achievement of MDGs regarding universal primary education, eliminating gender disparity in education, reducing child and maternal mortality", Sri Lanka's Ambassador to the UN Dr. Palitha Kohona presented his nation's impressive achievements since the separatist war was concluded in 2009.

Among the widespread achievements:

- Literacy rate is 95.6%. Women’s literacy is around 94.6%.

- Women outnumber men in the university intake. More women qualify as doctors, nurses and teachers. A significant portion of civil servants are women. Increasingly women are qualifying as engineers and technicians.

- Sri Lanka will easily achieve the goal of universal primary education by 2015.

- Increased investments in relevant educational technical teaching infrastructure have resulted in a drastic reduction in the unemployment level.

- Absolute poverty in Sri Lanka declined to 6.7% in 2013 from 15.2% in 2007, surpassing the MDG mid-term target.

- The infant mortality rate of 9.7 per 1,000 live births, is on par with many affluent countries. Sri Lanka's accomplishments in healthcare have been highlighted by the UNICEF as a success story.

- Sri Lanka’s IT literacy has grown steadily from a mere 3 percent in 2005 to almost 50 percent in 2014. Disadvantaged and marginalized individuals and groups could be highly benefited by appropriate ICT applications. There is a special focus on schools to enable the young to be a vital part of this development process. The government plans to increase IT literacy to 75% by 2016.

- In Sri Lanka, the total employment in the ICT sector grew from 33,700 in 2007 to 75,100 in 2013. This sector generated revenues of USD 720 million in 2013. Our vision is to increase revenue to USD 5 billion, with 200,000 employees by 2022. Sri Lanka-trained IT personnel, with high level skills, are now a factor in the global IT employment market.

- Well distributed urban and township development resulting in a GDP growth of 7.8% and per capita income of US$ 3,280 in 2013. It is also a matter of deep satisfaction to recognize that the economic and political empowerment of the people of the formerly conflict affected North, supported by massive investments in infrastructure and livelihoods, have also contributed to this growth.

This then was Sri Lanka's impressive socio-economic achievements less than a decade spelled out by Ambassador Palitha T.B. Kohona at the UN's "Approaching the Negotiations on the Ssustainable Development Goals" in China held on 15 November.

Sri Lanka was recognized by the United Nations at this session in China for making:

“significant progress toward achieving the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), and exceeding the target of halving poverty well before 2015 and its continuing progress towards the timely achievement of MDGs regarding universal primary education, eliminating gender disparity in education, reducing child and maternal mortality, combatting diseases such as malaria, and halving the proportion of people without access to safe drinking water and sanitation. The achievement of these milestones were reached in sometimes the most adverse possible circumstances, and the tireless efforts of the government, its leadership and its Ambassador to the United Nations, Dr. Palitha Kohona are therefore particularly praised”.

Here are some excerpts from Ambassador Kohona's presentation:

" Creating a solid and sustainable human resource basefor the future is imperative for development. This must start early – from childhood. Sri Lanka has therefore mainstreamed education, especially youth education in its post 2015-development agenda. Youth concerns must remain in the spotlight and the improvement of their skill levels must be a priority. It is an area that has not received adequate attention in the past. Sri Lanka hosted the Commonwealth Youth Forum in November 2013 and the World Conference on Youth in May 2014. Both designed to focus attention on youth needs. The Colombo Declaration on Youth was a joint effort which involved policy makers, youth and civil society. Sri Lanka’s initiative to promote a resolution for a World Youth Skills Day recognized by the UN reflects the importance that we attach to youth. We acknowledge that youth without marketable skills will pose the greatest challenge to society in the future. As a country, we have consistently emphasized education. In Sri Lanka, education is state funded and free from kindergarten to university. Our literacy rate is 95.6%. Women’s literacy is around 94.6%. Women outnumber men in the university intake. More women qualify as doctors, nurses and teachers. A significant portion of civil servants are women. Increasingly women are qualifying as engineers and technicians. Our health statistics are equally impressive with a state funded birth to death free health care system. Immunisation is almost at 100%. The country has been declared Malaria free by the WHO.

"Absolute poverty in Sri Lanka declined to 6.7% in 2013 from 15.2% in 2007, surpassing the MDG mid-term target. We will easily achieve the goal of universal primary education by 2015. Increased investments in relevant educational technical teaching infrastructure have resulted in a drastic reduction in the unemployment level.
"The infant mortality rate of 9.7 per 1,000 live births, is on par with many affluent countries. Our accomplishments in healthcare have been highlighted by the UNICEF as a success story. The early recognition of the crucial role of women in political leadership was demonstrated by Sri Lanka producing the first elected Woman Prime Minister, Mrs Bandaranaike, in 1960.

"Sustainable industrialization is a key area in development. Information and Communication Technology is pivotal in future industrialization, and, therefore, Sri Lanka has advocated that it should be an integral part of the post-2015 development agenda. ICT has proved to be a successful catalyst for enhancing and accelerating development and generating wealth in a wide range of countries".

IT Development

"Despite the consequence of employing ICT, and positive trends in ICT connectivity and affordability, there is a continuing digital divide and a gap in broadband access between developed and developing countries. One of the main challenges for developing countries is to mobilize resources for investment in ICT diffusion.

"For its part, due to the implementation of a carefully calibrated people-centered national policy, Sri Lanka’s IT literacy has grown steadily from a mere 3 percent in 2005 to almost 50 percent in 2014. Disadvantaged and marginalized individuals and groups could be highly benefited by appropriate ICT applications. There is a special focus on schools to enable the young to be a vital part of this development process.

"A knowledge-based economy will need to rely on ICT and the young will be a vital part of this development. Sri Lanka in this context, has made commendable progress. The Government seeks to develop Sri Lanka as the major ICT and knowledge hub of the region. ICT will be a key promoter in transforming Sri Lanka as a dynamic global hub in the shipping, aviation, commercial and energy sectors.

"We have launched a process for capacity building in ICT by providing training in ICT skills development, including for government officials, teachers and school children. The government plans to increase IT literacy to 75% by 2016. This will also attract a significant portion of rural youth to ICT based “green” jobs. Given that Sri Lanka will emphasise environmentally sustainable development, the focus on green jobs augurs well for the future of the country. In Sri Lanka, the total employment in the ICT sector grew from 33,700 in 2007 to 75,100 in 2013. This sector generated revenues of USD 720 million in 2013. Our vision is to increase revenue to USD 5 billion, with 200,000 employees by 2022. Sri Lanka-trained IT personnel, with high level skills, are now a factor in the global IT employment market".

Adoption of 'Mahinda Chintanaya'

"The adoption of the National Development Strategy, the Mahinda Chinthana, ‘Vision for the Future’, reflects the Government’s forward looking inclusive and people-centric development programme. This has involved bold policy decisions connected with macro-economic management, revitalization of agriculture, infrastructure development, including rural roads and expressways, ports and airports, irrigation and water distribution, a strong telecommunication network and well distributed urban and township development resulting in a GDP growth of 7.8% and per capita income of US$ 3,280 in 2013. It is also a matter of deep satisfaction to recognize that the economic and political empowerment of the people of the formerly conflict affected North, supported by massive investments in infrastructure and livelihoods, have also contributed to this growth".

Here is the complete text of Dr. Kohona's address at the UN summit in China:

(Begin Text) The overall theme for the UN this year is, “Delivering on and implementing a transformative post-2015 development agenda”, as outlined by the President of the General Assembly. However, this is an extensive theme. We need to be pragmatic. We must set priorities as we begin work on the post-2015 development agenda, especially as we transition from the Millennium Development Goals to the SDGs. The MDGs brought a real sense of optimism to all, especially to the poor and the marginalized. Unfortunately and disappointingly we did not achieve our goals in full in many cases. Now, the numerous multilateral processes must converge to create a single and coherent post-2015 development agenda to continue what was achieved with the MDGs while adapting to the challenges of our times. We owe this to future generations.

The post- 2015 Development Agenda must be consistent with the outcomes and agreed principles of the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development (Rio+20). Centuries of unbridled and, in many instances, unsustainable growth in advanced economies have left little carbon space for the developing world who also yearn for the benefits of development. Benefits that are taken for granted in developed countries. Balancing economic growth and simultaneously protecting the environment will, therefore, remain a preeminent challenge. In this context, it is critical that developed countries honor their commitments and balance the damage that they have done to the environment as they charged towards development, based on the principle of common but differentiated responsibilities. This would be particularly important as we approach the COPs of the UNFCC in Lima this year and Paris in 2015. We can no longer engage in obtuse argumentation as climate change poses a critical threat to the very existence of humanity.

Sri Lanka was an active participant of the Open Working Group on Sustainable Development. The outcomes of the Open Working Group must be preserved and they should not be re-opened or re-negotiated as member states of the United Nations contributed with great enthusiasm to these outcomes. They reflect the collective aspirations of the world. They must be the basis on which the Sustainable Development Goals are developed for the post-2015 development agenda.

Clearly, the post- 2015 Development Agenda must focus on implementation. This is vital. The failure of developed countries to fulfil Millennium Goal 8 – to develop a Global Partnership for Development should not be repeated in the post-2015 agenda. Development is a commitment that both the developed countries and developing countries have entered into. We must build in accountability and monitoring mechanisms to ensure that agreed commitments are delivered. As we refine the agenda, countries must be allowed their policy space to set their own domestic priorities.

Instead of demanding that countries re-prioritize domestic spending, there should be a focus on strengthening partnerships between developed and developing countries, backed by a sincere commitment to realize the goals as agreed.

There are certain key areas, which we believe that should demand our attention, in the context of a transformative post -2015 development agenda.

Creating a solid and sustainable human resource base for the future is imperative for development. This must start early – from childhood. Sri Lanka has therefore mainstreamed education, especially youth education in its post 2015-development agenda. Youth concerns must remain in the spotlight and the improvement of their skill levels must be a priority. It is an area that has not received adequate attention in the past. Sri Lanka hosted the Commonwealth Youth Forum in November 2013 and the World Conference on Youth in May 2014. Both designed to focus attention on youth needs. The Colombo Declaration on Youth was a joint effort which involved policy makers, youth and civil society. Sri Lanka’s initiative to promote a resolution for a World Youth Skills Day recognized by the UN reflects the importance that we attach to youth. We acknowledge that youth without marketable skills will pose the greatest challenge to society in the future. As a country, we have consistently emphasized education. In Sri Lanka, education is state funded and free from kindergarten to university. Our literacy rate is 95.6%. Women’s literacy is around 94.6%. Women outnumber men in the university intake. More women qualify as doctors, nurses and teachers. A significant portion of civil servants are women. Increasingly women are qualifying as engineers and technicians. Our health statistics are equally impressive with a state funded birth to death free health care system. Immunization is almost at 100%. The country has been declared Malaria free by the WHO.

Absolute poverty in Sri Lanka declined to 6.7% in 2013 from 15.2% in 2007, surpassing the MDG mid-term target. We will easily achieve the goal of universal primary education by 2015. Increased investments in relevant educational technical teaching infrastructure have resulted in a drastic reduction in the unemployment level.

The infant mortality rate of 9.7 per 1,000 live births, is on par with many affluent countries. Our accomplishments in healthcare have been highlighted by the UNICEF as a success story. The early recognition of the crucial role of women in political leadership was demonstrated by Sri Lanka producing the first elected Woman Prime Minister, Mrs. Bandaranaike, in 1960.

Sustainable industrialization is a key area in development. Information and Communication Technology is pivotal in future industrialization, and, therefore, Sri Lanka has advocated that it should be an integral part of the post-2015 development agenda. ICT has proved to be a successful catalyst for enhancing and accelerating development and generating wealth in a wide range of countries.

Information and Communications Technology (ICT) has proved to be a significant catalyst for economic and social development in the contemporary world, with critical spin offs for employment generation and wealth creation. ICT must be a central component in the development strategies of developing countries as they seek to eradicate poverty and realize the broader Sustainable Development Goals.

The central role of ICT in global partnerships was recognized under MDG 8. Although MDG 8 was intended to make available the benefits of new technologies for the betterment of humanity, as it sought to develop sustainably, in cooperation with the private sector, as was mentioned above, we are still to achieve this goal in full. The paucity of full private sector engagement remains a disappointment. There must be more effective collaboration between the two sides if we are to successfully realize this goal. Long-term strategies must be implemented by governments to facilitate partnerships and for developing new technologies. The developing world has for a long time advocated the transfer of technology to assist with their development processes. Sometime this may cost money. It is important to create a facility to provide the funds for developing countries, including the private sector, to develop or acquire the necessary technology. Without modern technology development will not occur or will occur in a non sustainable manner.

It is our firm belief that ICT should be central to the post-2015 development agenda. Well adapted ICTs are a source of innovative employment creation, and they can generate a vast employment opportunities, both in the developed and developing economies. We are aware of the enormous wealth generated, both in developed counties and in some developing countries, as they relied on dirty industries. Many countries are aspiring to develop knowledge based economies and this may be the future – a future away from dirty industries.

Despite the consequence of employing ICT, and positive trends in ICT connectivity and affordability, there is a continuing digital divide and a gap in broadband access between developed and developing countries. One of the main challenges for developing countries is to mobilize resources for investment in ICT diffusion.

For its part, due to the implementation of a carefully calibrated people-centered national policy, Sri Lanka’s IT literacy has grown steadily from a mere 3 percent in 2005 to almost 50 percent in 2014. Disadvantaged and marginalized individuals and groups could be highly benefited by appropriate ICT applications. There is a special focus on schools to enable the young to be a vital part of this development process.

A knowledge-based economy will need to rely on ICT and the young will be a vital part of this development. Sri Lanka in this context, has made commendable progress. The Government seeks to develop Sri Lanka as the major ICT and knowledge hub of the region. ICT will be a key promoter in transforming Sri Lanka as a dynamic global hub in the shipping, aviation, commercial and energy sectors.

We have launched a process for capacity building in ICT by providing training in ICT skills development, including for government officials, teachers and school children. The government plans to increase IT literacy to 75% by 2016.

This will also attract a significant portion of rural youth to ICT based “green” jobs. Given that Sri Lanka will emphasize environmentally sustainable development, the focus on green jobs augurs well for the future of the country. In Sri Lanka, the total employment in the ICT sector grew from 33,700 in 2007 to 75,100 in 2013. This sector generated revenues of USD 720 million in 2013. Our vision is to increase revenue to USD 5 billion, with 200,000 employees by 2022. Sri Lanka-trained IT personnel, with high level skills, are now a factor in the global IT employment market.

The Island-wide rural telecenter network “Nenasala” or “wisdom outlets” of over 790 centers is a people centric ICT knowledge disseminating mechanism in Sri Lanka. Mainstreaming indigenous knowledge, content development, and delivering e-Government services in the local languages, based on private-public partnerships, serve as the framework for our successful SME model. Women and youth rural leaders are the backbone of the success of this initiative. More than 790 telecenters have now been established in Sri Lanka. 40 centres have been established in the formerly conflict affected Northern Province. Sri Lanka’s e-Library Nenasala Programme (eLNP) was awarded the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation’s 2014 Access to Learning Award as the best rural IT access program in the world. eLNP is a project of the Information and Communication Technology Agency (ICTA) of Sri Lanka and part of a larger country-wide initiative to “take the dividends of ICT to every village and every citizen”.

E-government services have been introduced to enhance access to health, education, employment, communication, immigration, trade, finance & banking and tourism facilities. Now, individuals seeking information in the above areas or accessing relevant government services, can do so through the web.

Our success following the investments on e-Government has been positively recognized by the United Nations.

Making the biggest progress by a Member state from its previous ranking in the United Nations E-Government Development Index (EGDI), Sri Lanka has advanced from the 115th in 2012 to the 74th position in 2014.

The national broadband policy of Sri Lanka too is helping to narrow the digital divide. The island-wide national backbone network supports this policy. The service is open to use by private enterprise, which competes fiercely to provide services, making Sri Lanka a leader in this area. Cellular phone penetration in Sri Lanka is more than 110%. We will continue to work at improving our position in ICT, both quantitatively and qualitatively.

These accomplishments of Sri Lanka have resulted from the people-centric policies implemented by our government. Our vision is to distribute the benefits of growth across all segments of the population and to mitigate inequality. Providing education to our youth, and increasingly equipping them with the tools to be part of the fast changing world, including ICT proficiency, is part of this vision. Despite being challenged by a ruthless terrorist group, and the devastating 2004 tsunami, Sri Lanka has achieved most of the MDGs, largely through its own efforts. Sri Lanka has been ranked well ahead of all South Asian countries in the 2013 Human Development Index.

The adoption of the National Development Strategy, the Mahinda Chinthana, ‘Vision for the Future’, reflects the Government’s forward looking inclusive and people-centric development program. This has involved bold policy decisions connected with macro-economic management, revitalization of agriculture, infrastructure development, including rural roads and expressways, ports and airports, irrigation and water distribution, a strong telecommunication network and well distributed urban and township development resulting in a GDP growth of 7.8% and per capita income of US$ 3,280 in 2013. It is also a matter of deep satisfaction to recognize that the economic and political empowerment of the people of the formerly conflict affected North, supported by massive investments in infrastructure and livelihoods, have also contributed to this growth. (End Text)

- Asian Tribune -

Amb. Palitha Kohona addressing UN Conference in Zhongzhou, China 15 November
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