In our previous article, we explained exactly the National Payment Platform is, how it works, and the difference between its Digital Infrastructure Providers & developer. We also mentioned that work on the project began in 2015 as an upgrade to the Lanka Gateway Payment Service. Since then, two years have passed. So what exactly was the ICTA doing during these two years to make the NPP a reality?
The alternatives: PayPal and Stripe
Following the selection of the three digital infrastructure providers, the ICTA received approval from the Inter-ministerial committee to implement the National Payment Platform on the 16th of October 2015. A series of meetings were then held throughout the early months of 2016. The purpose of these meetings was to demonstrate the key functionalities of the NPP and to present the implementation approach of the NPP.
Yet, as these meetings occurred to discuss the implementation of the NPP, it wasn’t the only project to bring digital payments to Sri Lanka. On the 15th of March 2016, a meeting was held to discuss the introduction of PayPal and Stripe, which ICTA was intending to introduce to Sri Lanka with the collaboration of the Central Bank. We reached out to PayPal and Stripe regarding these discussions.
PayPal responded by saying, “PayPal’s ambition is for everyone ultimately to have access to our services for digital payments and commerce, in accordance with applicable regulatory requirements. We appreciate the interest that the Sri Lankan community has shown in PayPal. While we do not have anything to announce for the immediate future, we continuously work to develop strategic partnerships, address business feasibility, regulatory, and compliance needs and requirements, and acquire the necessary local authority permissions for new market entries.” We will update the article once we get a response from Stripe.
Alas, while meetings occurred, nothing materialized to bring these services to help facilitate digital payments. And so we returned to working on the National Payment Platform. Soon after this meeting, the NPP proposal sent to the Department of National Planning had been approved on the 20th of April 2016. Shortly after, a meeting was held with the Cabinet Committee on Economic Management that was chaired by the Prime Minister. At this meeting, the Prime Minister instructed the Central Bank to work with the ICTA to establish the National Payment Platform.
The findings of the NPP Review Committee
However, there were a few concerns raised at the meeting with the Cabinet Committee on Economic Management. Thus, the decision was taken two days later on the 3rd of June 2016 to establish a review committee. This review committee would appraise the National Payment Platform and its direct integration by LankaClear to Sri Lanka Customs.
This committee consisted of 13 members and was chaired by Rohan Muttaih – COO of Cargills Bank (at the time he was the COO of NDB) and Madu Ratnayake – Executive Vice President and General Manager of Virtusa. These 13 members came from the IT industry, banking industry, and academia. Together, they held a series of meetings throughout June in 2016 to appraise the National Payment Platform. Following the review of the NPP, the committee released their recommendations in a report, which are as follows:
- Scalability: The maximum transaction completed time, including time taken for responses by the various entities, should be specified to ensure a good customer experience and to encourage usage.
- Application Security: ICTA to adhere to the recommendations made by TechCERT who was recommended by the Central Bank of Sri Lanka to carry out the security audit. Periodic reviews should be conducted by TechCERT and SLCERT. Digital instructions/transactions should meet the bank’s authentication requirements, including 2 Factor Authentication and other mechanisms. A bank can accept or reject the service request subject to their internal compliance requirements. The core government systems and any other system connected to NPP should accept digital instructions/transactions from banks subject to their internal compliance requirements.
- Data Sovereignty: Appropriate steps to safeguard the privacy of data should be adopted as NPP will accumulate sensitive data. Data should be kept in a manner that access to the data Is under the control of the government of Sri Lanka. Further, access to this data should be granted except under the purview of the laws of Sri Lanka.
- Governance: The National Payment Platform should function under a governance framework that ensures the integrity of digital transactions/instructions, safeguards all stakeholders/participants, and includes a non-repudiation and a dispute resolution mechanism. The institution operating the National Payment Platform, currently ICTA, should have agreements with stakeholders/participants. The agreement should cover the individual responsibilities and obligations of each stakeholder/participant.
Discussions, discussions, and more discussions
Following the findings of the NPP Review Committee, the project received approval from the Cabinet on the 12th of July 2016. Afterwards, the ICTA, Central Bank, the banks, SL Customs and LankaClear would hold a series of meetings for the remainder of 2016. The first of these meetings, which was held in August 2016 saw the ICTA sharing a demo with a team from the Central Bank of the NPP workflow and the systems of the core platform that were functional at the time.
Having seen this demo, the Central Bank raised its concerns regarding the implementation of the NPP, which ICTA has claimed to have clarified. Afterwards, another meeting was held on the 14th of September with the participation of the Central Bank, LankaClear, Bank of Ceylon, Sampath Bank, HNB, SL Customs, and ICTA. The purpose of this meeting was to derive a mutually agreeable implementation for the NPP and a solution being implemented by Lanka Clear.
Following this meeting, another meeting was held on the 12th of October 2016. This meeting was held at the Finance Ministry with the participation of ICTA, SL Customs, and the banks. The purpose of this meeting was to discuss the Phase 1 implementation of the National Payment Platform, which was set to be launched on the 1st of November 2016.
Alas, the only thing we heard on that was that day was the budget speech, where it was said that “ICTA will also implement the National Payment Platform (NPP) which will facilitate persons, businesses, and government to make peer-to-peer payments, including fund transfers and online payments for goods and services, using computing devices, including mobile devices.”
Once again, the launch of the NPP had been delayed. The year would end with the NPP once again being reviewed not only by SL Customs but also by the Cabinet Committee on Economic Management. The year of 2017 would open with the ICTA responding to the questions raised by the Cabinet Committee regarding the NPP, with the latest response having been sent on the 3rd of March 2017.