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Interview with Muna Nijem (Jordan)

President, MN Nex Gen Telecomm LLC


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/Zein Dajani


I view this year’s campaign for ITU Secretary-General as a unique opportunity to elect an executive who is a consensus-builder and who can meet the challenges posed by the revolution in communications technology, particularly the internet. These challenges have placed ITU in the spotlight of the world community. If I am elected ITU Secretary-General, I will use my proven skills as an administrator, negotiator and facilitator to direct the organization successfully to the benefit of its members and the world community.

In the first 100 days on the job I would engage directly, openly and honestly with my colleagues; that is, the four other executives who hold elective positions, the unions, and the staff. The team relationship that I would build among these stakeholders would be the foundation for ITU’s performance under my leadership.

At the same time, I would engage directly, openly and honestly with all ITU members — with governments, advisers, members of civil society and with industry. I have developed the ability, over the years, to understand the needs of all ITU members. As an engineer, I worked in industry as well as government. As an executive and administrator, I have an insider’s understanding of the challenges that face developing countries, as well as the interests and concerns of the countries with advanced communications companies. As a woman, I understand the need to bridge the gender gap to ensure that both men and women benefit from the communications revolution.

In the first 100 days on the job I would also engage directly, openly and honestly with executives in other international organizations. ITU’s future role in communications (including the internet) will be intensified through close cooperative relationships with these international organizations. I will use my understanding of the international community, including my diverse, linguistic, cultural and ethnic experience, to lead among my United Nations colleagues.


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?


If elected ITU Secretary-General I would inject a consensus-based, team-building spirit into the institution. I believe that it would take an “outsider” (such as myself) to renovate the internal relationships in ITU. At present, these relationships do not provide an incentive to promote cooperation between ITU Bureaux; I will change this immediately and I have a plan for doing so. I am known for being a decisive, thorough and efficient chief executive. I am dedicated to using my skills to renovate ITU by instilling in it a new sense of purpose, mission and responsibility.

I believe that in all organizations with elected officials, whether corporate, governmental or intergovernmental, executive officers are ultimately responsible to their constituencies. I will use this fact to provide an incentive to ITU’s new Bureau directors. Together we will fashion a working ethos to inspire the organization, its employees as well as sector and programme members, to do great things in communications, including the internet field.


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?


If I am elected ITU Secretary-General I will not waver in my focus on fiscal responsibility. The dues-paying members of ITU deserve to know how their contributions are spent. The process needs to be open, transparent and responsive. This is a precondition for being a 21st-century organization. I will make sure that this happens.

As an executive and administrator, I have a proven experience in managing budgets, institutions and processes. I would apply this experience to implement a three-step plan. My first specific step would be to focus on the areas in which ITU excels, such as spectrum management, setting standards, and assisting developing countries in building communications (including internet) networks.

The second step would be to conduct a thorough review of ITU’s budgetary process, with the objective of instituting new, streamlined policies and procedures. I plan to build on the progress that ITU has achieved so far, in the knowledge that there is always room for further savings through automation, digitization, and the use of ICT. Indeed, ITU should be a pioneer in applying the solutions that ICT offers to answer its budgetary challenges.

The final step in my plan would be to engage in a two-way dialogue with members, with the aim of building a future budget plan that they can fully support. I would envision that this plan, developed cooperatively in an open and transparent manner, would lead to growth in ITU’s programmes and in funding for ITU to engage effectively in new activities.


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?


As ITU Secretary-General I would advocate the interests of the ITU staff because I believe that the staff should be recognized and rewarded for their hard work, dedication and ability. My advocacy of the staff would concentrate on three main initiatives. I would:

  • institute open and transparent personnel procedures to remove any impressions of discrimination or bias;
  • promote an atmosphere of respect and honour for each employee’s contribution; and,
  • encourage a staff debate and dialogue aimed at improving ITU’s workplace environment.

I believe that there should be staff committees that deliberate on the problems that the organization faces and whose recommendations are taken seriously in the search for solutions. I would be accessible to the staff, and would be willing to meet with any who require it.

Frustration and low morale result from a feeling of injustice or impotence. Transparency and access to information are very important measures to counter these. The ITU leadership should trust its staff and give them a greater role in facing problems that exist. In short, I will encourage the ITU staff to take responsibility and to step up to challenges faced by ITU’s changing role brought about by the communications revolution and the role of the UN in the 21st century.



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