By Sandun Jayawardana
Sri Lanka has abandoned an initiative to use satellite technology during natural disasters, leaving Rs 72 million worth of equipment unused for four years before finally dismantling it, the Auditor General (AG) has found. The project was initiated in 2011 and given up despite the country facing severe natural disasters in previous years, states the latest report of the AG on the Disaster Management Centre (DMC). The DMC found out that the satellite technology equipment was not compatible with its other systems, only when the full system was installed.
The DMC Director General admitted to the AG that the equipment was bought without first conducting a proper study. The project’s nerve centre was an Information Communication Centre (ICC) established in Padukka under the International Centre for Emergency Techniques based in the Netherlands.
The centre and the equipment were valued at Rs 72.47 million. Both remained idle from the inception, the AG says. After four long years, everything was dismantled and is in storage at the DMC since May 15, 2015. They cannot be used because the equipment and satellite technology remained obsolete, the AG observes. Sri Lanka Telecom–owner of the Padukka land on which the ICC was set up–now wants the property back.
The technology used for the project was obsolete, confirmed Pradeep Kodippili, DMC’s Assistant Director and spokesman. “The problem with such systems is that they become outdated quickly,” he said, comparing it to the Doppler radar system that authorities have failed to put to use.
The project’s first phase was done through the Ministry of Disaster Management while the second phase was by the then Ministry of Local Government. “The DMC is not a technical institute,” Mr. Kodippili said, when asked why a proper study was not done before starting the project. “Technical evaluation is not our area. We only act as a facilitator to help establish and maintain such projects and coordinate disaster relief efforts.”
The Sunday Times reported in June 2016 that a DMC committee had found the project to be a colossal failure. It sought to establish ‘Very Small Aperture Terminal’ (VSAT) satellite units throughout the country to be used in high speed voice communication and data transmission during natural disaster. The district-based VSAT base units were to be connected to a hub station, the ICC in Padukka.
But a DMC committee observed in a report seen by the Sunday Times that VSAT did not fulfill even the minimum standards of a satellite communication system. The connection between the Padukka hub station and the DMC head office was established via ground-based copper cables and contact could break due to system congestion or physical damage. Contrary to claims by DMC officials that the equipment was in working order, the report said, it functioned only for two months.