* Digital Transformation Agency proposed
* Govt-private sector partnerships for AI
Sri Lanka plans to set up four new universities specialising in new technologies, with one being the result of technological cooperation between India and Sri Lanka, President Ranil Wickremesinghe said on Friday.
President Wickremesinghe told the Summit of the Heads of State and Government of the G77 and China in Havana, Cuba, that the International Climate University (ICU) will be the fifth in this line-up of new universities.
The President emphasised the crucial role of science, technology and innovation in overcoming the development challenges faced by developing nations.
The President outlined his Government’s initiatives, including the evaluation of underperforming Science and Technology Research Institutes and the setting up of a Technology and Innovation Council (TIC) and a Digital Transformation Agency (DTA).
“Educated manpower well-equipped with knowledge and technological know-how is essential for the smooth flow of transformations which will lubricate the development and catching up process in developing nations,” the President said.
President Wickremesinghe cited challenges such as limited access to costly technology, insufficient digital skills and infrastructure, cultural and institutional barriers and financing constraints.
He said the unprecedented challenges confronting the global South, including the Covid-19 pandemic, climate change, food, fertiliser and energy crises threaten the achievement of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and exacerbate the global debt crisis.
President Wickremesinghe delved into the historical perspective of technological development, highlighting how Europe’s advancements in the 15th century, such as gunpowder, cannons and ocean-going ships, enabled it to conquer other parts of the world, resulting in the technological divide seen today.
He said a new technological divide is emerging in the 21st century, necessitating the adoption of digitalisation and new technologies, such as Big Data, Internet of Things (IoT), Artificial Intelligence (AI), Blockchain, Biotechnology and Genome Sequencing, to bridge the gap.
He called for effective cooperation mechanisms within the G77 and China, including the revitalisation of the Consortium of Science and Technology and Innovation for the South (COSTIS) and the commitment of member countries to earmark one percent of their GDP for Research and Development over a decade.
The brain drain from the South to the North and the resulting loss of educated manpower is another threat to the development of Science, Technology and Innovation of the South, President Wickremesinghe said, adding that China, India, Japan and South Korea have developed Science Technology and Innovation by nurturing their manpower. “Therefore, we must ask for compensation from the North for the loss of our manpower,” he said.
President Wickremesinghe stressed the importance of collaboration between Governments and the private sector and proposed the setting up of technological platforms in fields such as digitalisation, health, medication, AI and renewable energy including Green Hydrogen, inspired by the European Union’s Technology and Innovation Platforms.
He called for increased South-South cooperation and proposed a scheme akin to the Colombo Plan to enhance collaboration, exchange best practices and develop policies that harness the transformational potential of science, technology and innovation.
President Wickremesinghe commended Cuban President Miguel Diaz-Canel Bermudez for convening the summit and acknowledging Cuba’s historic role as a champion for the concerns and aspirations of developing nations within various multilateral forums.
He reaffirmed Sri Lanka’s commitment to supporting the new Havana Declaration and called for the collective voice of G77 and China to be heard in international fora.