By Devin Jayasundera
Telecommuni-cation and Digital Infrastructure Minister Harin Fernando yesterday said the Household Transfer Management (HTM) system was on track, with seven international companies applying for the tender.
Commenting on the current status of the tender process, Fernando said “The tender is over. Currently we are conducting a technical evaluation and will be moving in to the Cabinet-appointed Procurement Committee for final approval. According to my knowledge seven leading international companies have applied for this tender.”
Fernando, who is at forefront of the country’s digitisation efforts, believes digital identification systems will prevent wastage and corruption in financial transactions.
“When concessions such as Samurdhi, pension, school uniform coupons and fertiliser subsidies are given by the Ministry of Finance, most of the time cash does not get transacted properly to the right person. This is specially the case at the Divisional Secretariat level where there a lot of malpractices. According to some accounts, even dead people still receive their pensions.”
The Household Transfer Management (HTM) card enables a secure portal for financial and nonfinancial digital transactions. This system provides a unique identity number based on individual biometrics such as a fingerprint to recognise ghost and fake identities to avoid leakages in transactions. Recently the Indian Government launched a similar program called e-Aadhaar with limited security integration.
Pressure groups are accusing that such identification systems would way to infringement of human rights by the State without a proper data privacy law.
“There will definitely be a Data Privacy Act,” assured Fernando. “The biggest concern is who owns the data. The Government should take the responsibility in that regard. Secondly we have to assure the protection of the data and for that we are planning a cyber-security centre in the country.”
He said that the act would be presented to Parliament by the end of the year.
Fernando also announced the latest developments in the sphere of Government digitisation. “As many as 960 Government institutions will be provided with 100mbps internet connections through fibre optics in the next two years. This will allow Government officers to conduct video conferences and improve digital documentation efforts.”
With the new Telecommunication Levy inevitably coming into effect, the Ministry of Telecommunication and Digital Infrastructure has proposed that the Minister of Finance remove all related taxes for smartphone units. “Even though fees for call charges are increased, we are trying to remove the tax for phone units,” said Fernando. Currently smartphones are taxed 7% duty and 1% NBT.
“We should try to increase penetration of more smartphones in Sri Lanka. In the world only 20% still use voice calls, most calls are data calls. In Sri Lanka it is the contrary. If we are to increase data calls, smartphone affordability is a must.”