Interview with Marc Furrer
President of the Swiss Federal Communications Commission
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.
| ||ITU/Guy Perrenoud
It is true that WSIS has been an excellent opportunity for ITU to
change its image and the success of the event has been acknowledged
worldwide. ITU’s leading role in ICT for development has been
recognized, both at the political and the grassroots level. ITU must now
sustain this momentum and act in order to succeed in its tremendous
challenge of connecting the world by 2015. All delegations contributed
to the success of WSIS: those from the ITU Member States, the private
sector and civil society. Their intense commitment and their incredibly
hard work during the preparatory process enabled us to find consensus
and adopt a Geneva Declaration of Principles and Plan of Action, as well
as a Tunis Commitment and Agenda for the Information Society that
constitute a milestone in the creation of a new information society for
all. But there is a risk that this momentum will be lost if no concrete
actions to implement the WSIS results are taken in the near future. If
the ITU Member States decide to give me the mandate to serve as new
Secretary-General for the next four years, implementation of the WSIS
results would be one of my priority tasks to be tackled immediately, in
order to maintain the recently acquired new visibility and leading role
of the Union. Nothing would be worse than seeing ITU slip back into its
limited technocratic image.
If elected, within the first 100 days of my mandate as Secretary-General I
would accomplish three vital tasks:
Firstly, in cooperation with the leading agencies in the WSIS implementation
process, I would establish a clear concept outlining who does what, with clear
delineation of responsibilities and concrete tasks. This would require immediate
contact at the highest level with the relevant UN organizations, in order to
gain the strong personal commitment of their leaders. Direct contact with the
leaders of the private sector and civil society would also be required, in order
to hear their input and proposals, as they are important players in the WSIS
implementation process. I would try to build on the confidence that has been
built among the different stakeholders during the long WSIS preparatory process,
in the full knowledge that working together in a constructive way is essential
for effective and successful implementation of the WSIS results.
As a second measure, I would assign some ITU staff to the WSIS follow-up
process in order to implement the new concept and support those activities
falling within ITU’s mandate. These measures would help create a new image and
new organizational structure for the activities of ITU, which are clearly
required. To launch this conceptional process, I would, thirdly, also like to
gather an autonomous group of active and innovative ministers of communications
who wish to accompany the Union in the implementation process and breathe fresh
life into it.
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?
As new Secretary-General, I would seek to direct the work of ITU in constant
dialogue with the
Directors of the three Bureaux. Leading is persuading! I believe that a
Secretary-General should give his input and feedback on the work of the
different Sectors. At the same time, as legal representative of the Member
States, he also can assert his position without resorting to the veto or
creating a climate of mistrust. But I am acutely aware of the fact that to
regain a creative and constructive climate in ITU, not only the commitment,
the sensitivity and the good governance of the Secretary-General is needed, but
also the goodwill and the cooperation of the Directors of the Bureaux. The
Secretary-General’s main job is to support all three Sectors.
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?
The new Secretary-General will certainly have a tough job! He will have to
produce more, with less money, and this will necessitate immediate management
reform. This is a challenge I have had to face already several times in my
professional life. Resources and services must be used more efficiently. There
are savings to be made in using information technology (IT) for example. In
addition, ITU must focus more on the essentials and leave other tasks to those
better suited to performing them. I am aware that also, depending on the results
of the elections, some countries might want to reduce their contribution. So ITU
must find new partners — predominantly in the private sector — who are willing
to pay more. As new Secretary-General, I would certainly improve contact with
private companies. But increasing earnings would only have a mid-term effect. To
ensure a short-term effect, the new Secretary-General will have to tackle the
cost-reduction programme as one of his main priority tasks. Especially, the ITU
Member States from the developing world need a financially healthy ITU.
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?
During the WSIS process in particular, I personally experienced the commitment of the ITU staff, the quality of
their work and above-average productivity levels. It is vital to give them new
perspectives, new motivation and also recognition for their work. As
Secretary-General, I would take an active interest in their work via personal
meetings within each Sector. Who knows me knows that I would certainly not be a
leader locked in his Ivory Tower, but would seek direct contact with the people
working for the Union, in order to know what every unit does, what problems they
face and their proposed solutions. My experience shows that direct dialogue with
staff improves motivation and output. It is also my deep conviction that the ITU
staff are sincerely committed to the effective implementation of the WSIS
outcomes, to tackling the challenge of bridging the digital divide and to
promoting the new visibility and positive image of the Union. To achieve this,
the staff will accept hard work and support a new leadership with the same