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STRAIGHT TALK

Interview with Marc Furrer (Switzerland)

President of the Swiss Federal Communications Commission

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.

 
 
 
 ITU/Guy Perrenoud

M.F.

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.

     
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?

  M.F.

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.

     
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?

  M.F.

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.

     
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?

  M.F.

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 vision.

 

 

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