Cablegate: BSA Smears Sri Lanka’s Government for Moving to Free/Open Source Software

Posted in Asia, Cablegate, Free/Libre Software at 2:10 pm by Dr. Roy Schestowitz


Summary: US diplomatic cables from Sri Lanka reveal interesting stories about the small country’s flirtations with freedom-respecting software

According to the following Cablegate cables (first one in ¶7): “During a March 22 meeting with members of the American Chamber of Commerce, DAS Patterson outlined USG views on regional developments of the past two years and asked for insights into the current domestic political situation and business climate. IBM Managing Director and former Amcham President, Kavan Ratnayaka described IBM efforts to support open source software development, noting that Sri Lanka has become an internationally recognized “brand” in the open source community.”

IBM is right because here in Techrights we accumulated many examples of Free software in Sri Lanka. But just like in Thailand, there is a fight back from Microsoft proxies. Let us remember that “[w]hen the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami seriously damaged the coastline of Sri Lanka, Virtusa funded salaries and benefits for its employees as they developed open-source software for disaster relief management. It continues to fund its employees as they travel to disaster-affected countries and assist in implementing the software program.” (see cables below)

The BSA (Business Software Alliance) is not happy with the country’s embrace of Free software. Here is what the BSA says according to cables: “While we see this as a step in the right direction, the Business Software Alliance (BSA) is not fully satisfied with the policy and accuses the government of “more funny business.””

So when a country seeks digital independence, that is “funny business” in the eyes of the BSA. Good to know. Perhaps the BSA does not speak for FOSS like it claims to. Here are three Cablegate cables from which we extract the evidence:

C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 03 COLOMBO 000545 
E.O. 12958:  DECL:  03-26-14 
TAGS: PGOV [Internal Governmental Affairs], PREL [External Political Relations], ECON [Economic Conditions], 
PTER [Terrorists and Terrorism], CE [Sri Lanka], LTTE [Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam] - Peace Process, Elections, ECONOMICS 
SUBJECT:  In visit to Sri Lanka, SA DAS Patterson 
discusses April 2 elections, plus peace and economy 
Refs:  Colombo 515, and previous 
(U) Classified by Ambassador Jeffrey J. Lunstead. 
Reasons 1.5 (b, d). 
¶1.  (C) SUMMARY:  SA DAS Torkel Patterson visited 
Colombo, March 21-23.  Highlights of the visit included 
meetings at the MFA, with a key adviser to President 
Kumaratunga, with local diplomats, and with local 
business leaders, including the American Chamber of 
Commerce.  Key issues discussed included the April 2 
parliamentary elections, the peace process, and the 
economic situation.  The visit served to underscore 
continued high-level USG engagement with Sri Lanka 
during this sensitive timeframe.  END SUMMARY. 
MFA Meetings 
¶2.  (C) Deputy Assistant Secretary for South Asian 
Affairs Torkel Patterson visited Colombo, March 21-23. 
On March 22, DAS Patterson and Ambassador Lunstead held 
separate meetings with Foreign Minister Tyronne Fernando 
and Foreign Secretary Bernard Goonetilleke.  Patterson 
and the Ambassador used both meetings to review CHR 
priorities, including the Cuba and China draft 
resolutions, and the Iraq situation (see Reftels).  In a 
brief discussion regarding Sri Lanka's April 2 
parliamentary elections, Goonetilleke remarked that he 
felt that voter turnout might be lower this time around 
due to voter dissatisfaction with the two major parties. 
Foreign Minister Fernando claimed that the campaign of 
his United National Party (UNP) was getting a good 
response among younger voters, but admitted that 
confidence in the UNP on economic issues among "the 
average voter" was low. 
Meeting with Key Presidential Adviser 
¶3.  (C) On March 22, DAS Patterson and Ambassador also 
met with Lakshman Kadirgamar, former foreign minister 
and a key adviser to President Kumaratunga.  Asked for 
his views on the election campaign, Kadirgamar seemed 
confident that Kumaratunga's "United People's Freedom 
Alliance" (UPFA) would do well.  There had not been much 
violence so far in the campaign, he related.  He 
thought, however, that there could be some post-election 
violence.  President Kumaratunga was prepared to deal 
with any such incidents, he said.  Queried re the split 
in the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) (see 
Reftels), Kadirgamar thought there was some prospect of 
reconciliation between breakaway eastern rebel leader 
Karuna and Tiger leader V. Prabhakaran.  That said, any 
possible reconciliation would likely take place after 
the April 2 election, as would any possible armed 
conflict between the two sides.  DAS Patterson noted the 
degree of control the GSL had over Sri Lanka's media. 
Kadirgamar, who is currently the Minister of Media and 
Communications, agreed that the state-run media outlets 
were quite influential.  There had been attempts to 
reform the situation in the past, but they had all 
failed.  (Per Reftels, the Ambassador also raised the 
issue of the fabrication of results of a poll in 
government-controlled newspapers on March 20.  The poll 
had been partially financed by USAID.  Kadirgamar said 
he would look into the matter.) 
Dinner with Local Diplomats 
¶4.  (C) DAS Patterson also attended a March 22 dinner at 
the Ambassador's residence with local diplomats, 
including those from Norway, the UK, the EU, 
Netherlands, and Canada.  The natural focus of 
conversation was the upcoming parliamentary election. 
The overall feeling at the dinner was that it was not 
precisely clear how the political situation was playing 
out.  That said, most agreed that the President's UPFA 
grouping had gotten off to a fast start and was probably 
ahead at this point in the race.  Prime Minister 
Wickremesinghe's UNP had gotten off to a very slow 
start, but its campaign was getting more active. 
Norwegian Ambassador Brattskar noted that the anti-peace 
process JHU party -- in an unprecedented move -- was 
running an all-Buddhist monk candidate slate, and might 
pick up between 2-5 seats in Parliament.  It was not 
clear whether the JHU's support would come from voters 
who might have supported the UPFA, or would come from 
voters who were dissatisfied with the two major parties 
and were looking for other alternatives.  Regarding the 
LTTE split, there was widespread agreement that the main 
LTTE organization would probably wait until after the 
April 2 election to try to displace Karuna via an armed 
attack or by trying to entice Karuna's supporters away 
from him. 
Commerce Ministry Meeting 
¶5.  (C) Secretary of Commerce and Consumer Affairs 
Harsha Wickramasinghe and Director General of Trade K.J. 
Weerasinghe updated DAS Patterson March 22 on current 
political activities, GSL positions in the WTO, and 
progress in BIMST-EC (Bangladesh, India, Myanmar, Sri 
Lanka and Thailand Economic Cooperation) and SAFTA 
(South Asia Free Trade Agreement) talks.  Wickramasinghe 
discussed UNP election tactics designed to discredit the 
JVP's stance that it is a credible political party, by 
highlighting its brutal past actions.  He also noted 
that the pro-LTTE Tamil National Alliance (TNA) had said 
they would not ally with the United People's Freedom 
Alliance (UPFA), but would hold out for as much as they 
could get from the UNP. 
¶6.  (C) On WTO issues, Weerasinghe promised that the GSL 
Representative in Geneva would support USG positions on 
UNCTAD and on food aid issues.  The GSL is now busy 
finalizing its proposals for accession to the 
Information Technology Agreement, fulfilling a 
commitment made during the last round of TIFA talks. 
Wickramasinghe mentioned that he saw BIMST-EC as an 
important bridge between SAARC and ASEAN, and as a tool 
to open up Myanmar's trade regime.  Weerasinghe bemoaned 
the multiplicity of bi- and multi-lateral trade regimes, 
and noted the need for convergence. 
AMCHAM Roundtable 
¶7.  (U) During a March 22 meeting with members of the 
American Chamber of Commerce, DAS Patterson outlined USG 
views on regional developments of the past two years and 
asked for insights into the current domestic political 
situation and business climate.  IBM Managing Director 
and former Amcham President, Kavan Ratnayaka described 
IBM efforts to support open source software development, 
noting that Sri Lanka has become an internationally 
recognized "brand" in the open source community. 
¶8.  (SBU) Amcham Director Graetian Gunawardene, whose 
company manufactures Samsonite luggage, noted that the 
export sector has been driving growth and employment. 
He asked specifically for DAS Patterson's support in 
pushing for a U.S.-Sri Lanka Free Trade Agreement (FTA) 
and in returning U.S. visa validity to 5 years.  (Note: 
We are discussing possible changes in our visa 
reciprocity schedule with the GSL.)  Noting that Sri 
Lanka has a long democratic tradition, even through some 
very difficult times, Gunawardene suggested there should 
be closer U.S.-Sri Lanka commercial ties to match their 
shared democratic ideals.  Patterson promised to review 
FTA issues when he got back to  Washington, and urged 
the Amcham to consult with the GSL's Ministry of Foreign 
Affairs to promote a review of the reciprocity issues 
that have led to the limited validity of U.S. visas for 
Sri Lankans. 
¶9.  (C) On the current political situation, optimism 
about the future mixed with concerns about short-term 
political realities.  Ratnayaka (a longtime UNP 
supporter whose family is close to the Prime Minister) 
raised concerns about the opposition's ability to move 
forward on the peace process due to the LTTE's lack of 
trust in the President.  Others in the group, including 
Citibank CEO Kapila Jayawardena, thought the LTTE would 
look closely at who wins the April 2 election and would 
be willing to deal with whichever party wins, assuming 
that party has the intention of negotiating a workable 
solution.  Outgoing Energizer Managing Director Sunil de 
Alwis commented that Sri Lanka remains an attractive 
place to do business.  He mentioned Energizer's new USD 
2 million investment, which upgraded its manufacturing 
facility and improved Energizer's ability to meet 
increased domestic demand and a potential export market 
into India as well.  Citibank and Energizer reps said 
their Sri Lankan operations are leading performers in 
their respective companies.  Jayawardene noted that 
American companies tend to do well in Sri Lanka. 
Citibank's own return-on-equity in Sri Lanka is over 50 
percent, the best in Asia. 
¶10.  (C) As the many threads laid out above indicate, 
this is a very sensitive timeframe for Sri Lankans, who 
have deep worries about the future of the peace process 
and the economy.  These overall concerns are fed by 
specific worries over the unstable pre- and post- 
election period, over what the radical JVP might due in 
power if the UPFA wins, over what the LTTE split means 
for the peace process, etc.  Given this complex, fluid, 
situation, DAS Patterson's visit was reassuring to Sri 
Lankans, who deeply appreciate continued high-level USG 
engagement in support of the peace process.   END 
¶11.  (U) DAS Patterson was not able to clear on this 
message before departing Post. 
¶12.  (U) Minimize considered. 

Cable II:

E.O 12958: N/A 
TAGS:  ECON [Economic Conditions], BEXP [Trade Expansion and Promotion], ETRD [Foreign Trade],
ELAB [Labor Sector Affairs], KSEP, SENV [Environmental Affairs], AMGT [Management Operations], CE [Sri Lanka] 
REF: STATE 47222 
¶1.  I am pleased to nominate Virtusa for the Secretary's Award for 
Corporate Excellence in the small and medium enterprise category. 
While meeting all eligibility requirements for this award, Virtusa 
has demonstrated outstanding corporate citizenship by assisting 
disaster-ridden countries with an open source disaster recovery 
management system it developed following the 2004 tsunami which 
struck Sri Lanka and other Indian Ocean countries.  Virtusa also 
contributed to the advancement of Sri Lanka's scientific and 
technology policies by enhancing information and communications 
technology (IT) capacity in local universities.  Finally, by 
creating an intensive training program which converts unemployed but 
motivated graduates without sufficient IT training into IT managers, 
Virtusa is directly contributing to Sri Lanka's overall growth and 
¶2.  When the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami seriously damaged the 
coastline of Sri Lanka, Virtusa funded salaries and benefits for its 
employees as they developed open-source software for disaster relief 
management.  It continues to fund its employees as they travel to 
disaster-affected countries and assist in implementing the software 
¶3.  The system, called Sahana, was initially designed for Sri Lanka 
to have a good disaster recovery system following the tsunami.  It 
has been widely used in recent disasters, including Pakistan 
following its 2005 earthquake, the Philippines following its 2006 
mudslide in Southern Leyte, and Indonesia following the Yogjakarta 
earthquake of 2006.  The software has received several awards, 
including the Free Software Foundation's 2006 Award for Social 
Benefit, the 2006 Good Samaritan Award from Software 2006. Sahana is 
now managed by the non-profit Lanka Software Foundation.  In 
addition to Virtusa's continued support through its personnel, 
Sahana receives funding from IBM and the U.S. National Science 
¶4.  Sri Lanka has identified IT as a potential growth sector, and is 
actively encouraging its development.  Hundreds of "Virtusans" have 
volunteered their time and skills over the past few years to create 
IT awareness within communities and share best practices with 
academia. In 2006, the company introduced information technology to 
over 700 students in a southern district of Sri Lanka, donated a 
computer lab to a Colombo-based school, provided career guidance and 
leadership skills to thousands of undergraduate and advanced level 
students, and contributed to fostering free and open software 
education in Sri Lanka. 
¶5.  Virtusa supplies staff to universities to serve as 
lecturers/trainers.  It shares industry best practices with 
university staff and invites them to Virtusa for special seminars. 
Through Virtusa's Project Enhancement Initiative, university 
undergraduates receive software engineering and management guidance. 
 All of these activities promote the importance of IT to Sri 
Lankans, furthering Sri Lanka's prospects for growth in the IT 
¶6.  As Sri Lanka's IT industry continues to grow, the country's 
shortage of IT workers becomes increasingly critical.  Universities 
still have not adapted sufficiently to meet the demands of the IT 
sector.  In 2006, Virtusa implemented a dynamic IT Leadership 
COLOMBO 00000851  002 OF 002 
Conversion Program to help resolve this shortage.  The company 
identifies self-driven, high-aptitude graduates who do not have 
sufficient IT skills.  It then provides these individuals with a 
fast-track career conversion opportunity enabling them to make the 
transition into an IT services career. 
¶7.  The company has hired 30 successful Virtusa IT Conversion 
Program graduates from the 40 it trained.  It plans to double the 
number of Conversion Program candidates this year, enabling Sri 
Lanka to meet a greater demand in the growing IT sector. 

Cable III:

C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 02 COLOMBO 000063 
E.O. 12958: DECL: 01/28/2020 
TAGS: KIPR [Intellectual Property Rights], ECON [Economic Conditions], PGOV [Internal Governmental Affairs], CE [Sri Lanka] 
Classified By: Deputy Chief of Mission Valerie Fowler for Reasons 1.4 ( 
B) and (D). 
¶1. (SBU) SUMMARY: Sri Lanka's intellectual property rights 
regime is good on paper but lax on enforcement.  Still, since 
the passage of comprehensive legislation in 2003, things have 
slowly been improving.  The Embassy, American Chamber of 
Commerce, Business Software Alliance, a cadre of specialized 
law firms, and a number of government offices have worked 
hard to increase awareness and provide much-needed training 
for judges, police, and investigators.  While much remains to 
be done, new and ongoing initiatives should reduce the amount 
of pirated and fake items available in the marketplace.  END 
¶2. (U) Sri Lanka's intellectual property rights (IPR) regime 
is, like that of many emerging economies, good on paper but 
lax on enforcement.  The country enacted a comprehensive IPR 
law in 2003 that governs copyrights and related rights, 
industrial designs, patents, trademarks and service marks, 
trade names, layout designs of integrated circuits, 
geographical indications, unfair competition, databases, 
computer programs, and undisclosed information.  Infringement 
of intellectual property rights is a punishable offense under 
the law and falls under both criminal and civil courts of 
jurisdiction in Sri Lanka.  Recourse available to owners 
includes injunctive relief, seizure and destruction of 
infringing goods and plates or implements used for the making 
of copies, and the prohibition of imports and exports. 
Penalties for the first offense include a prison sentence of 
6 months or a fine of up to Rs 500,000 ($4,425).  Penalties 
can be doubled for a second offense. 
¶3. (C) Since the passage of the 2003 IPR law Sri Lanka has 
slowly begun enforcing its provisions.  However, counterfeit 
goods continue to be widely available.  Local agents of 
well-known U.S. and other international companies 
representing recording, software, movie, clothing and 
consumer product industries continue to complain that the 
lack of IPR protection is damaging their businesses.  Piracy 
of sound recordings and software is widespread, making it 
difficult for the legitimate industries to protect their 
market and realize their potential in Sri Lanka.  The Police 
occasionally raid stores selling counterfeit goods -- 
especially garments.  However, it is rare for the Police to 
act without a formal complaint and assistance from an 
aggrieved party.  Several offenders have been charged or 
convicted by courts.  A leading anti-piracy lawyer, Sudath 
Perera, told EconOff that his firm has successfully conducted 
several raids in Colombo in 2008-2009.  In January 2010, 
police and the law firm (representing the rights holders) 
recently raided two outlets in Colombo selling counterfeit 
garments and stationary. 
¶4. (SBU) Software companies complain of the lack of IPR 
enforcement within government institutions and even some 
larger corporations, including several banks.  According to a 
survey commissioned by the Business Software Alliance (BSA) 
and conducted by the IDC, a leading global IT market research 
firm, software piracy in Sri Lanka is as high as 90 percent. 
Sri Lanka,s software companies and the Sri Lankan 
Association for Software and Service Companies (SLASSCOM) 
dispute the findings of the study, questioning the sampling 
methodology used by the IDC.  However, both organizations 
have bottom-line reasons to publicly doubt the study.  For 
example, SLASSCOM's members worry the bad publicity could 
cause potential clients to go elsewhere due to the high 
piracy rate.  ICTA, in collaboration with the SLASSCOM, is 
planning to commission an independent IPR survey covering a 
sample of about 5,000 companies. 
¶5. (SBU) Sri Lankan government officials in charge of IPR 
protection acknowledge there is a high software piracy rate 
COLOMBO 00000063  002.4 OF 002 
in the government.  The government and industry leaders are 
taking various actions to improve IPR protection in the 
Information and Communication Technology (ICT) sector.  In 
December 2009, the government of Sri Lanka approved a new 
Information Technology (IT) policy for the government sector 
which includes rules on hardware and software procurement. 
When the new policy will be implemented is not known.  Under 
the new policy, the government will issue IT procurement 
guidelines requiring all government agencies to stick to 
licensed software or open-source software.  If the cost of 
licensed software or maintenance and consultancy fees of 
open-source software is higher than proprietary software, the 
government will provide additional funds to purchase 
proprietary software. 
¶6. (C) While we see this as a step in the right direction, 
the Business Software Alliance (BSA) is not fully satisfied 
with the policy and accuses the government of "more funny 
business."  Shalini Ratwatte, BSA's local consultant, told 
EconOff that she sees it as a push for open source software. 
However, she acknowledged that pricing is an issue.  For 
instance, global software producers are not willing to offer 
discounted prices to Sri Lanka (as they do in mass markets 
such as India).  They argue that Sri Lanka, although a 
developing country, does not offer economies of scale to 
justify discounts.  Nevertheless, BSA is contemplating 
starting IPR awareness programs for senior Sri Lanka 
government officials covered by the new procurement policy. 
¶7. (U) Post,s recent efforts focus on IPR protection in the 
ICT sector.  In a bid to support the ICT sector, Post teamed 
up with BSA to hold an IPR awareness program for the Sri 
Lanka Police on January 8.  The U.S. Department of Justice 
Office of Overseas Prosecutorial Development, Assistance and 
Training (USDOJ/OPDAT) and Business Software Alliance 
provided funds for this workshop.  Approximately 45 police 
officers from the Criminal Investigations Division (CID) of 
the Sri Lanka Police participated.  The program focused on 
the importance of IPR to the economy, elements of IPR law, 
and investigating and prosecuting IP cases.  Industry 
representatives from pharmaceutical, software, and electrical 
product industries provided technical information about 
product identification.  At the conclusion of the seminar, 
participants from the CID requested continued training on IPR 
awareness and education and more involvement from the 
¶8. (U) Demonstrating a positive trend, well-known vendors of 
branded laptops and computer systems now advertize that their 
products come "only with licensed software."  Previously, 
laptop and desktop computers were sold without any reference 
to software and the sellers and users freely copied software. 
 Furthermore, Dr. D.M. Karunaratne, Director of the National 
IP office, informed EconOff that a World Intellectual 
Property Office,s (WIPO) intellectual property academy will 
soon be established in Sri Lanka.  Sri Lanka has been chosen 
for this academy as a pilot project.  Earlier, WIPO carried 
out a successful pilot project on WIPO outreach programs in 
Sri Lanka. 
¶9. (SBU) The end of the war gives an opportunity to refocus 
efforts on IPR enforcement.  The Embassy, the USPTO regional 
office in New Delhi, AMCHAM and BSA are working to pursue 
more aggressive enforcement and enhance public awareness, and 
require the active cooperation of the National IP office of 
Sri Lanka.  Upcoming training programs in the first quarter 
of 2010 for law enforcement agencies include USPTO-sponsored 
training programs for the Attorney General,s Office and Sri 
Lanka Customs, and an AMCHAM/BSA sponsored training program 
for magistrates in the Central, North Central, Eastern and 
Northern Provinces, ensuring that magistrates from all nine 
of Sri Lanka's provinces receive training. 

Those propaganda workshops are indirectly funded by the likes of Microsoft. To quote, “recent efforts focus on IPR protection in the ICT sector. In a bid to support the ICT sector, Post teamed up with BSA to hold an IPR awareness program for the Sri Lanka Police on January 8. The U.S. Department of Justice Office of Overseas Prosecutorial Development, Assistance and Training (USDOJ/OPDAT) and Business Software Alliance provided funds for this workshop.”

And who provides funds for the BSA? Follow the money.

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