ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lanka’s government has been urged to issue guidelines to all agencies to accept e-signatures in transactions to break a corrupt and inefficient bureaucracy resisting electronic commerce that is retarding exports and economic growth.
Verité Research, a private think tank, said accepting e-documents with e-signatures would be a “small step for government” but “a giant leap for the country.”
Improving export performance is a national priority for Sri Lanka but the room for exporters to improve their competitiveness is significantly constrained by the time it takes to process export documentation at various Sri Lankan border agencies, it said.
It takes 76 hours in Sri Lanka for exporters and 58 hours for importers to comply with documentation requirements for international trade compared with only four hours and one hour in Singapore, 61 and 67 hours in India and 10 hours each in Malaysia.
“The time and cost expended to comply with numerous government border regulations are two of the factors that impede export growth,” Verité Research said.
“Shifting from manual documentation systems to fully functioning electronic processing platforms can help to save money and time for traders, which will in turn improve Sri Lanka’s trade competitiveness.”
For example, Malaysia’s enabling of e-document processing platforms in Port Klang cut processing time for certain documents from 12 hours to 15 minutes and reduced document error rates from 40% to 5%.
“The main factors hindering the successful adoption of e-documents and e-signatures are bureaucratic resistance to change and administrative lethargy,” the think-tank said in a policy brief on the issue.
It said there were numerous complaints of people being forced to offer inducements to facilitate manual transactions.
It recommended the government issue central guidelines to accelerate the acceptance of e-signatures.
“Issuing central guidelines, which apply to all government agencies, on the proper and acceptable use of e-signatures in electronic communications and electronic records would be an efficient solution to inaction at the institutional level,” Verité Research said.
“Such guidelines can be issued by the Ministry of Telecommunications and Digital Infrastructure. Many countries, including India, have successfully followed this course of action.”
Verité Research also recommended the government activate a National Certification Authority (NCA) to facilitate international acceptance of Sri Lankan-issued digital signatures.
In some instances and jurisdictions, the international acceptance of digital signatures requires the use of an accredited digital Certificate Service Provider (CSP).
Accreditation of local CSPs is facilitated by the creation and activation of a National Certification Authority hich is a responsibility that either the Information and Communication Technology Agency (ICTA) or the Central Bank of Sri Lanka can be re-tasked with in 2017, it said.
The necessary laws enabling the acceptance of e-signatures together with e-documents has been in place in Sri Lanka for over a decade, since the passing of the Electronic Transactions Act No. 19 of 2006.
(COLOMBO, May 29, 2017)