Business Times

Govt. Info Centre received 1.3 mln calls in 2010

By Jagdish Hathiramani

Sri Lanka's Government Information Centre (GIC) call centre, a part of the e-Sri Lanka initiative, is being used as a "digital intermediary" by citizens that are usually categorised as being at the "bottom of the pyramid" in terms of their earnings.

These people are said to favour calling GIC's 1919 telephone number for information on access train schedules, foreign employment opportunities, crop prices, etc. It has also resulted in GIC having received over 5 million calls so far, including 1.3 million calls in total in 2010 and 1.5 million calls expected by end-2011, according to Wasantha Deshapriya, the Programme Head for the Re-engineering Government unit at Sri Lanka's Information and Communication Technology Agency (ICTA), the organisation overseeing GIC.

Mr. Deshapriya also noted that, with Sri Lanka's Internet penetration being below 10%, there was a need to bypass this disparity and get information across to those who need it. And so GIC, a call centre that has handled as many as 6,000 calls during a day at its peak, had no choice but to take on the role of "digital intermediary." Further, he also revealed that during a recent Sunday there were 290 calls received regarding train schedules and 99 calls about foreign jobs, with 4,500 calls received daily, on average.

Meanwhile, commenting on the findings of the most recent, United Nations e-Government Development Survey 2010, in which Sri Lanka dropped 10 places to 111th out of 192 countries, he opined that this fall was due to the lack of visibility of services offered via GIC. The survey, which assessed the main national information portal,, and the websites of the five major line ministries, Finance, Education, Health, Labour and Social Services, were said to have not accounted for the content in GIC's website, hence the drop in Sri Lanka's global ranking when it should have been ranked higher.

However, this was suggested as being in the process of being rectified with Mr. Deshapriya being hopeful that this would be addressed soon. Further, he also revealed that GIC's website currently offered over 100 services, including the ability to apply for vehicle revenue licences, pay water and electricty bills, etc., as well as 50 RSS feeds highlighting new developments, and all that was necessary on this front was to expose this content at the national portal. In addition, there were about 500 local websites which could be showcased, many with trilingual content.

A number of other measures were also outlined for the improvement of the relevant websites, including adding: an A to Z type index for government agencies, diplomatic mission details, web 2.0 functionality and integration with Facebook, Twitter and other networks, FAQs, links to local government bodies, circulars, gazettes, downloads, investment advice, mobile based service links (GIC), other interactive services, etc. Additionally, there are plans to increase e-participation through forums, blogs, etc. as well as promote an open data culture via the right to information act now pending.

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