January 2005

UN-sponsored IT meet envisages future needs

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On a cold and snowy Friday morning, ambassadors, ministers, secretaries, CEOs and entrepreneurs from all over the world passed through computerised security checks to participate in the 7th United Nations Information and Communication Technologies Task Force (UNICTF) annual conference with the overall theme, 'Promoting Enabling Environment for Digital Development' in the old but wholly digitised building of foreign ministry of Germany in Berlin.

Established by Secretary-General Kofi Annan in 2001, the UNICTF brings together representatives of governments, the private sector, civil society and international organisations in a global effort to harness the immense potential of ICT for promoting development.

In the welcome remarks by Ambassador Martin Lutz, Director General for Economy and Sustainable Development of Federal German Government formally started the session by giving a quick review of the core activities of the Task Force and the success story of ICT's working groups and regional nodes that lucratively served as multi-stakeholder mechanism to facilitate and promote collaborative initiatives as regional, sub-regional and national levels and to mobilise new public and private resources to support ICT-for-development programmes and projects.

With the introductory remarks of Jose-Antonio Ocampo, UN Under-Secretary General for economic and social affairs, Lucio Stance, Minister for Innovation and Technology, Italy read out the efforts by his government for enabling environment for digital development at national and international level. He highly regarded the recent eGovernment initiative GovNet by Mozambique in which the intranet connects 12 ministries. Referring to the Italian contribution he dwelt on the ongoing collaborations with Iraq and Jordan in Middle East, Macedonia and Albania in South East Europe and Nigeria and Mozambique in Africa.

The plenary session focused on policy and regulatory issues. Jean Michel Hubert, Ambassador, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, France discussed the factors of institution and capacity building in the IT sector and solutions to provide low cost (affordable) access not only to the developed but also to the rural areas of under developed countries. Panelists involved the participants in finding out the ways to strengthening the institutional capacity building of developing countries in ICT for development policy-making and to enhance their ability to participate in and contribute to international policy-making processes.

Organisers treated the participants to a working lunch where Ambassador Karklins, President of the WSIS PrepCom made a brief statement on the preparatory process of the Tunis phase of the summit followed by presentation on WTO, e-Commerce and IT read by Sacha Wunsh-Vicent of OECD in reference to Uruguay Round through the Doha Development Agenda.

One of the important sessions of the day was financing ICT for development. The session explored key issues relating to financing ICT for development that emerged out of the discussion of the first phase of the World Summit on Information Society (WSIS) in Geneva in December 2003. The session addressed to the changing role of public, private and not-for-private sectors and collaboration and contribution of stakeholders in innovative financial mechanisms.

By end of the day the participants split into three groups for breakout sessions. In these simultaneous sessions, area of focus for first group remained policy and regulatory issues where moderator Richard Simpson took comments, questions and suggestions. Participants of second group discussed the new models for financing ICT for development.

The attention and input of private firms and entrepreneurs went to the third group, which discussed the promotion of private sector investment and entrepreneurship.

The first day closed on a 10-dish reception arranged by the Task Force and served by German citizens.

The second day started with opening remarks by Talal Abu Ghazaleh and moderation by David Gross (Ambassador for US State Department).

Despite being a weekend, the turnout was remarkable as participation crossed over 500 people. As crucial portion of the conference was already discussed, networking breaks “with coffee and tea” remained the centre of attraction for the newcomers and private enterprises. The last plenary session was conducted by Brendan Tuohy, Secretary-General, Department of Communications, Marine and Natural Resources, Ireland, who summed up the deliberations of preceding sessions, breakout session and identified the area of action and collaboration between stakeholder groups, modalities for engaging stakeholders in innovative partnerships. The chairman, Jose Maria Figueres Olsen, ended the final session in a closed door meeting with members of the task force and gave directions about the next meetings.

Reported by : Hasnain Bokhari in The Statesman, Pakistan
hbokhari_2000@yahoo.co.uk

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