Interview with Muna Nijem
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
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)
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