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Friday March 1st, 2024

Crisis-hit Sri Lanka’s President banks on automation, robots to face aging population

ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lanka may be looking at automation and robotics as potential solutions to labour shortages brought on by the country’s aging population amid a sharp rise in migration of skilled and unskilled labour, according to a remark by President Ranil Wickremeesinghe.

“Our population profile suggests there will be more older people and fewer young people. Why don’t we start now with being semi-automated and then go on to automation, to robotics?” Wickremesinghe said addressing the Post-Budget Forum 2023 organised by the Colombo University MBA Alumni Association last week.

An official from the Ministry of Technology told EconomyNext that the department under whose purview robotics comes is not functioning at present due to a staff shortage.

According to the World Bank report in 2021, Sri Lanka holds an aging population of 12.3 percent, showing the highest proportion of adults over 60 in the South Asian region.

The privately owned Sunday Times newspaper reported that Sri Lanka’s aging population for 2022 could be up to 16 percent and could increase up to 23 percent by 2032.

A research by H R Anulawathie Menike from the Kelaniya University shows that the high rate of aging population is due to a decrease in the rate of fertility, a decrease in child population and a drop in the rate of mortality, all contributing to increased life expectancy.

“In order for automation and robotics to be implemented in Sri Lanka, it must be established with clarity. For optimum results to be seen it will take two to three years. You cannot expect overnight results,” said Silmy Ahamed, an IT specialist.

“Sri Lanka has a decent workforce that can undertake these futuristic measures, but there are certain inefficiencies. Cost of automation is also a potential downfall.”

Speaking at the event, President Wickremesinghe said: “We might as well encourage for automation and robotics, for which we need a completely new system of education.”

The president stated that he had been criticised for the budget having insufficient allocation for education for 2023, as the country’s Education Ministry is still recovering from the pandemic.

“Even if you give more money, they will not be in a position to spend that money effectively. It is much better to plan and give them more money from next year onwards,” he said.

Nihal Ranasinghe, Secretary to the Ministry of Education, told EconomyNext that a draft policy document will be submitted to the president with regard to island-wide implementation of new procedures and developments that can be undertaken.

“The policy covers all these new developments that can be undertaken for futuristic approaches,” he said.

The official said that assistance is also being provided by the Asian Development Bank (ADB), the World Bank and UNICEF.

Senior Research Fellow at LIRNEasia Sujata Gamage told EconomyNext: “These are pipe dreams because our young people are leaving and when they leave who is going to assemble and put all this technology in place?

“To do automation and robotics we need a prepared population. They want to teach Artificial Intelligence (AI) in schools. That’s nonsense. They can barely teach and use Microsoft Word,” said Gamage.

Although Sri Lanka strives to leap into automation and robotics several industries claim that the country is not cash ready and culturally ready to accept the technological challenges posed. (Colombo/Nov21/2022)


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Sri Lanka’s RAMIS online tax collection system “not operatable”: IT Minister

ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lanka’s online tax collection system RAMIS is “not operatable”, and the Ministry of Information Technology is ready to do for an independent audit to find the shortcomings, State IT Minister Kanaka Herath said.

The Revenue Administration Management Information System (RAMIS) was introduced to the Inland Revenue Department (IRD) when the island nation signed for its 16th International Monetary Fund (IMF) programme in 2016.

However, trade unions at the IRD protested the move, claiming that the system was malfunctioning despite billions being spent for it amid allegations that the new system was reducing the direct contacts between taxpayers and the IRD to reduce corruption.

The RAMIS had to be stopped after taxpayers faced massive penalties because of blunders made by heads of the IT division, computer operators and system errors at the IRD, government officials have said.

“The whole of Sri Lanka admits RAMIS is a failure. The annual fee is very high for that. This should be told in public,” Herath told reporters at a media briefing in Colombo on Thursday (29)

“In future, we want all the ministries to get the guidelines from our ministry when they go for ERP (Enterprise resource planning).”

President Ranil Wickremesinghe’s government said the RAMIS system will be operational from December last year.

However, the failure has delayed some tax collection which could have been paid via online.

“It is not under our ministry. It is under the finance ministry. We have no involvement with it, but still, it is not operatable,” Herath said.

“So, there are so many issues going on and I have no idea what the technical part of it. We can carry out an independent audit to find out the shortcomings of the software.”

Finance Ministry officials say IRD employees and trade unions had been resisting the RAMIS because it prevents direct interactions with taxpayers and possible bribes for defaulting or under paying taxes.

The crisis-hit island nation is struggling to boost its revenue in line with the target it has committed to the IMF in return for a 3 billion-dollar extended fund facility. (Colombo/Feb 29/2024) 

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Sri Lanka aims to boost SME with Sancharaka Udawa tourism expo

ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lanka is hosting Sancharaka Udawa, a tourism industry exhibition which will bring together businesses ranging from hotels to travel agents and airlines, and will allow the small and medium sector build links with the rest of the industry, officials said.

There will be over 250 exhibitors, with the annual event held for the 11th time expected to draw around 10,000 visitors, the organizers said.

“SMEs play a big role, from homestays to under three-star categories,” Sri Lanka Tourism Promotion Bureau Chairman, Chalaka Gajabahu told reporters.

“It is very important that we develop those markets as well.”

The Sancharaka Udawa fair comes as the Indian Ocean island is experiencing a tourism revival.

Sri Lanka had welcomed 191,000 tourists up to February 25, compared to 107,639 in February 2023.

“We have been hitting back-to-back double centuries,” Gajabahu said. “January was over 200,000.”

The exhibition to be held on May 17-18, is organized by the Sri Lanka Association of Inbound Tour Operators.

It aims to establish a networking platform for small and medium sized service providers within the industry including the smallest sector.

“Homestays have been increasingly popular in areas such as Ella, Down South, Knuckles and Kandy,” SLAITO President, Nishad Wijethunga, said.

In the northern Jaffna peninsula, both domestic and international tourism was helping hotels.

A representative of the Northern Province Tourism Sector said that the Northern Province has 170 hotels, all of which have 60-70 percent occupancy.

Further, domestic airlines from Colombo to Palali and the inter-city train have been popular with local and international visitors, especially Indian tourists. (Colombo/Feb29/2024)

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Sri Lanka rupee closes at 309.50/70 to the US dollar

ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lanka’s rupee closed at 309.50/70 to the US dollar Thursday, from 310.00/15 on Wednesday, dealers said.

Bond yields were slightly higher.

A bond maturing on 01.02.2026 closed at 10.50/70 percent down from 10.60/80 percent.

A bond maturing on 15.09.2027 closed at 11.90/12.10 percent from 11.90/12.00 percent.

A bond maturing on 01.07.2028 closed at 12.20/25 percent.

A bond maturing on 15.07.2029 closed at 12.30/45 percent up from 12.20/50 percent.

A bond maturing on 15.05.2030 closed at 12.35/50 percent up from 12.25/40 percent.

A bond maturing on 01.07.2032 closed at 12.55/13.00 percent up from 12.50/90 percent. (Colombo/Feb29/2024)

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