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STRAIGHT TALK

Interview with Roberto Blois (Brazil)

ITU Deputy Secretary-General

Q.1

The World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) has put ITU in the spotlight of the world community. For the first time, ITU’s leading role in information and communication technologies (ICT) was recognized at the political and grassroots levels; it is now generally seen as much more than a purely technical organization. This recognition has not only created enormous potential for ITU, but also great expectations of what it can and should do to connect the world by 2015 as prescribed in the WSIS Plan of Action.

Given that most of the activities to bridge the digital divide fall within the mandate of the ITU Telecommunication Development Sector, how would you reconcile the world’s expectations and the current role of Secretary-General, which is constrained by the Constitution and the Convention to general management with no specific authority over Sector policies or programmes?

What would you do in the first 100 days of your mandate to leverage the visibility and leadership gained by ITU through the WSIS process? And how would you maintain the momentum? Please provide specific examples.

 
 
 
R.B.

At the World Summit on the Information Society, world leaders clearly recognized the vital importance of information and communication technologies as key tools for economic and social development in the 21st century. As a result, the mandate of ITU has taken on added importance on the global agenda and the WSIS outcomes place the Union at the centre in building the information society and bridging the digital divide.

Now is the time to take concrete actions to turn “principles into actions”.

An urgent task is to develop a “Roadmap 2015”, a dynamic plan for ITU to meet the expectations set forth in the summit outcomes.

Roadmap 2015 will demonstrate how ITU intends to meet the key 2015 connectivity targets in the Geneva Plan of Action and its many responsibilities under the Tunis Agenda. It will describe how present ITU activities contribute to meeting the WSIS expectations and what new activities are required of the Union. Roadmap 2015 will include clear responsibilities, concrete actions, costs, specific deadlines and regular evaluation to measure progress. It will reflect the decisions taken by the membership at Doha and in Antalya, and will be submitted to the ITU Council for its consideration.

To strengthen secretariat efforts, consideration will be given to the creation of a small Unit dedicated to work on the information society. This unit could initially be composed of a mix of staff from the General Secretariat and the Bureaux, to avoid duplication of efforts.

It is vital that the membership be fully involved in this process. A survey will be conducted of the entire membership to identify their expectations of the WSIS implementation, and seek indications of how each can contribute to the success of implementation efforts.

A number of measures will be taken to raise the visibility of ITU in WSIS implementation.

ITU will convene a second meeting of WSIS Action Line facilitators/moderators early in 2007. This meeting will take a critical look at what has been done so far and what needs to be improved, in order to get the “action line” process on the right track.

ITU will strengthen its efforts for those Action Lines, namely C2 (infrastructure) and C5 (cybersecurity), where it is taking a lead role and which are directly related to its core competencies.

The information society is fast taking hold throughout the world, reshaping our lives, our societies and our economies. ITU must act now so that the hopes and dreams of the information society become a reality for all.

     
Q.2

The nominal role of the Secretary-General is to manage the Union and act as its legal representative, with most of the substantive work carried out in the Sectors. This creates a situation whereby the Secretary-General is accountable to the membership without having the required authority to decide or to implement members’ decisions across the Union. At the same time, Directors of the Union’s three Bureaux are vested with de facto authority which they derive from their responsibilities, but for which they are not answerable. This puts the Secretary-General in a position where he or she can exercise his or her authority only through a veto of the proposals that he or she receives.

As Secretary-General, how would you lead the organization on behalf of the members without the required authority over what the Sectors do, taking into account the fact that irrespective of personalities, this divorced principle of accountability and responsibility has led to difficult working conditions with other elected officials and ultimately their staff?

  R.B.

My management philosophy will be to instill a culture called “One ITU”.

To achieve our common objectives, it is imperative that the next four years see an improvement in the cohesiveness and morale at all levels of the secretariat.

With its present structure, ITU has achieved great things in the past few years, including WSIS, the Regional Radiocommunication Conference (RRC), the Global Symposium for Regulators, and the development of key industry standards. ITU’s historic record of achievement has never been linked to a particular structure and a number of other options have already been tried.

It is my firm belief that the Secretary-General must lead the organization and set the example. Leadership does not depend solely on the words in the Constitution and the Convention, but springs as well from the initiatives and tone set by the Secretary-General, from the moral authority of the office holder, and from the efforts that he or she makes to engage the membership, the other elected officials and the staff in an open, transparent, respectful and cooperative working environment.

The culture of “One ITU” will be instilled through the following actions:

The elected officials will meet regularly, through the Coordination Committee and other channels, to work together to plan the major conferences and assemblies of the Union and guide the strategic mission of ITU. There will be regular exchanges of information so that all are informed on what the others are doing. We will move away from the notion that each conference belongs to its respective Sector, to a spirit of shared responsibility, and will consider more carefully the impact of each major meeting on the overall work of the Union.

We will focus on the overall product that we provide to the membership, to provide Member States and Sector Members with comprehensive solutions to challenges in the industry and we will focus on the needs of developing countries.

Work by the secretariat will increasingly use a multidisciplinary approach, especially in areas such as regulatory policy, statistics and enabling environment, where the skills of different parts of the secretariat come into play.

The website will be an important tool in creating “One ITU”. Immediate steps will be taken to vastly improve the current website and use it as a means to show ITU as a unified agency, while respecting its different constituent elements.

     
Q.3

Since 1999, cost efficiencies of the order of 25 per cent have been achieved against a background of requests for increased output and cost increases. At the same time, members are not willing to increase resources to meet the spiralling demands placed on the Union for new activities, more deliverables and faster turnover.

With little room for any further cost efficiencies, how do you plan to deal with the problem of shortage of resources?

In concrete terms, how would you tackle the CHF 50 million shortfall in the next financial plan for 2008–2011?

  R.B.

Following the most recent meeting of the Working Group of the Council for elaboration of the draft financial plan, and taking into account the additional efforts made to cut down on expenditure in the period 2008–2011, the “shortfall” in the forthcoming financial plan is expected to be in the order of CHF 34 million, or CHF 13 million if the Member States agree to increase, from one-fifth to one quarter, the ratio used for establishing the amount of the contributory unit for Sector Members.

Bearing in mind that 80 per cent of our expenditure is on staffing, we would need to do away with a significant number of posts in order to achieve a balanced financial plan.

My commitment is to preserving our staff to the extent possible and guaranteeing a high-quality service.

Together with the Member States, we now have to set priorities and, as necessary, reduce or eliminate activities; and we, the secretariat, must continue to strive for greater efficiency, even if the opportunities for doing so are becoming ever more slim.

We must tackle major reforms head-on, by:

  • reorganizing meetings and restructuring the secretariats of the different Sectors’ study groups to allow for the pooling of our resources;
  • using our internal capacity such as to reduce expenditure on external consultants;
  • continuing the work of the NEC (New Efficiency Committee) to eliminate duplication of administrative tasks;
  • taking advantage of retirements and looking once again at the question of vacant posts and whether to refill them, and of terminating certain activities.

I am continuing to ask the Member States to consider the possibility of increasing the ratio used to establish the amount of the contributory unit for Sector Members and also the level of the contributory unit.

Finally, I do not rule out the possibility of introducing a voluntary separation scheme along the lines of the one we had in 2003.

     
Q.4

The ITU staff have been measured as having above-average productivity levels. However, several years of financial constraints, which resulted in higher demands placed on them together with a deep reduction in career opportunities for professional development, has led to low staff morale with an unwillingness to shoulder more work without any hope of improvements.

What immediate measures would you take in order to improve the situation?

What steps do you plan to take in the next four years to reverse this trend of having to do more with less?

  R.B.

My first step would be to take further measures to improve dialogue with the Staff Council. For example, I think that we can revisit Council Decision 517 and agree some mechanisms that could improve communications between management and staff. Good communications, and realistic expectations by the staff, should help to address the very real morale issues.

Another high priority is to establish a new contracts policy that addresses the legitimate concerns raised by staff, while being consistent with UN policies and the financial constraints of the Union. We should undertake to agree that new policy, in a dialogue with the staff, as soon as the UN General Assembly has made its decision regarding a new contract framework.

And we need to tighten up our current performance appraisal system, so that we can identify very early any individual performance weaknesses and take appropriate remedial action, for example training or coaching. And we need to train our managers and our staff in proper performance management.

It is important to set realistic expectations. The trend of doing more with less is not limited to ITU, nor to intergovernmental organizations. It is a general trend that has been with us for some time and that may continue for some time.

While I do not believe that this trend can be reversed in the near future, I certainly can, and will, take steps to diminish its impact on ITU. Those steps include improving communications with the membership and the staff, so that all know where we are going and how to get there; further streamlining internal processes and procedures, so that we can indeed deliver more results with less effort; continuing to make greater use of information systems tools to automate routine work; finding an appropriate balance between the General Secretariat and the Sectors for the delivery of key administrative services such as information systems, personnel and finance; and implementing appropriate systems to measure how we are performing so that we can take steps to improve.

 

 

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