Tunis ‘Summit of Solutions’ Takes Shape at Second Preparatory Meeting
Mr Yoshio Utsumi, Secretary-General, International Telecommunication Union and Secretary-General of the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS), opened the meeting of the second Preparatory Committee (PrepCom-2) taking place in Geneva from 17 to 25 February 2005 by asking delegates to use their time “to make sure that we not only share the same goals but that these goals are both ambitious and achievable.”
At the outset, Mr Utsumi reminded participants the importance of this preparatory meeting for Heads of State and Government, Business Leaders and other opinion-formers who will be gathering in Tunis in just a few months for Phase 2 of the Summit. He told delegates that by the end of the meeting “we should have concluded our discussions on the plan for implementation of the Geneva Action Plan and the financial mechanisms for ICT development.”
Mr Utsumi took the opportunity to remind delegates that technology leads to real progress only when fully supported by people, “not to mention governments and industry.” He then announced a new global multi-stakeholder partnership called Partners to Connect the World, to be led by ITU, to achieve the connectivity goals of the WSIS Action Plan by 2015 in partnership with private sector companies, governments, NGOs and international organizations in a joint effort to address the digital divide. He stressed that this will not be just another project, but rather “it will be a complementary, high profile, global platform for partners to promote existing projects, launch new partnerships and share experiences and best practices.” The first major step towards connecting the world will take place at a high level gathering of partners at the Tunis Summit.
Tunisia Welcomes Civil Society Input
Mr Montasser Ouaili speaking on behalf of Tunisia, the host country for the second phase of WSIS, stressed that the success of the process depended on both phases. The second phase was a crucial building block. A special fund had been set up to ensure its success and he thanked all member States that had contributed voluntarily to it.
He pointed out that the involvement of civil society would be crucial and that it should take an active part in deliberations. In this regard, he invited governments to support his approach. Success would also come from their participation in the parallel and side events, which would be a platform to “bring civil society on board” as partners and stakeholders.
Swiss Stress Solidarity
Mr Moritz Leuenberger, Federal Councillor of the Swiss Federation and Minister for the Environment, addressed the gathering on behalf the country that hosted the first phase of WSIS in Geneva in December 2003. That phase had defined the political principles at the heart of the Information Society. Tunis would see the concrete applications of those principles. Thus, both processes were one and the same ultimately. However, the Tunis phase should not focus exclusively on technology. The vision set forth at the Geneva phase was one of solidarity and inclusiveness, which was a “fundamental and political task”, he said.
Millions of people do not have access to the Internet because countries lack basic infrastructure to help them do so. As long as an Internet hook-up costs several months salary, ICTs would remain the preserve of the rich nations. Therefore, it was incumbent on those participating to examine the larger developmental aspects of the question.
The Geneva Summit had articulated the will to pursue the objectives of development, thereby reducing the digital divide. But “the time had come to move from words to actions”, he emphasized.
However, economic and social development constituted just one aspect of WSIS. Governments were muzzling the voices of their citizens and media and curtailing their access to the Internet. That is why “it is imperative that the Tunis Summit should translate in concrete terms the principles decided upon in Geneva on the media, the freedom of opinion and information” he added. “We have fixed the objectives in the Declaration and Action Plan, let us work towards the realization of their vision”. To that end he called for stronger global partnerships.
Switzerland remained committed to supporting ITU and the second phase of WSIS both in tangible ways and behind the scenes, he said.
More than CHF1.3 million in new WSIS contributions confirmed
ITU Secretary-General, Yoshio Utsumi confirmed that the WSIS-2005 Fundraising Campaign has brought in more than CHF 1.3 million in new financial contributions to fund core preparatory activities of the Tunis phase. More than half the fundraising goal of CHF 5 million has now been reached.
“With these new contributions to the WSIS Fund, we have raised more than CHF 2.7 million representing over half of our CHF 5 million goal,” the ITU Secretary-General announced. “I am very pleased with this progress, and thankful to all our donors for their commitment to the success of the Summit”, he added.
The UN General Assembly did not establish a budget for WSIS and instead called upon the international community to support the Summit through voluntary contributions. To meet this challenge, the Secretary-General of ITU and of Secretary-General of the Summit launched the WSIS-2005 Fundraising Campaign in April 2004. The total cost of organizing the core preparatory process and the Summit for the Tunis Phase is estimated to be approximately CHF 15 million (CHF 5 million cash and CHF 10 million in-kind), not including costs incurred by the host country.
Numerous stakeholders have come forward in recent weeks to announce new financial contributions for core preparatory activities. More information on the contributions is available here.
ICTs and MDGs Clearly Tied
The linkage between ICTs and the global development agenda is now widely accepted, as a result of the Geneva Declaration stated Mr Utsumi in his report to PrepCom-2 as Chairman of High-Level Summit Organizing Committee.
He noted that in September 2005 in New York, the international community will gather to review progress made in the past five years on the achievement of the Millennium Development goals. During the next seven days, “we have once again the opportunity to demonstrate that the ongoing Information Society revolution should promote well being, progress and further sustainable economic development for all and, to link ICTs closely to the realization of the Millennium Development Goals.”
In order to do this a set of practical tools is needed. In October 2004, ITU and the Executive Secretariat developed a stocktaking database to provide an inventory of activities undertaken by governments and other stakeholders to implement the Geneva Action Plan.
The WSIS stocktaking database will continue to be updated with new inputs, both up to and beyond the end of the Tunis Phase. Successful ongoing work on indicators will also help us to quantify the extent of the digital divide, to evaluate progress made in bridging the digital divide and to track global progress in the use of ICTs to achieve the UN Millennium Development Goals.
The report (available here) highlights activities from a representative range of governments and stakeholders but the database itself will include a wider range of WSIS-related activities in the future. It is intended to be a dynamic portal that is constantly updated and function as an open resource to all researchers and stakeholders.
WSIS Goes Regional and Thematic
Reports from WSIS Regional conferences for West Asia and Africa were submitted to the PrepCom-2 plenary. The Damascus conference called for partnerships for building the Arab Information Society, based on a suitable enabling environment to attract regional and foreign direct investment. The Accra conference reported on formulating a regional action plan for Africa and the launching of the voluntary Digital Solidarity Fund that would complement existing financial mechanisms without duplicating them. The Latin American and Caribbean Region (GRULAC) made a presentation on the upcoming WSIS Regional Conference in Rio de Janeiro.
The PrepCom also heard reports from WSIS-related thematic meetings covered issues such as Spam, Freedom of Expression in Cyberspace, Economic and Social Implications of ICT, Applications in Natural Disaster Reduction, Information Technology and Law, Digital Divide and Knowledge Economy, and The Role and Place of Media in the Information Society. These reports can be found here.
Government and Civil Society Bureaus
One of the highlights of the opening day was the joint meeting of the PrepCom Bureau with the Bureau of Civil Society. PrepCom President Ambassador Karklins underscored the importance of such meetings, keeping with the tradition of the WSIS preparatory process that seeks to encourage transparent exchange of views and the free flow of ideas. Renate Bloem of the Conference of Non-governmental Organizations (CONGO) emphasized the need for greater involvement of Civil Society in areas concerning security, logistical arrangements, selection of parallel events, roundtables, implementation and evaluation mechanisms as well as follow-up of the WSIS process. She also requested more funding for Civil Society at PrepComs and the Summit through fellowships and projects financing.
Finance Mechanisms Take Centre Stage
The World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) Plan of Action, at its first phase in Geneva in December 2003, requested that UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan establish a task force to review the adequacy of existing financial mechanisms to meet the challenges of information and communication technologies for development. In collaboration with the World Bank, UN bodies and key partners such as the OECD, the Task Force completed its report at the end of December 2004 for consideration by PrepCom-2.
Mr Nishimoto of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), who presented the report, explained that it focused on providing an analysis of the existing mechanisms and an identification of gaps and best practices that could be used to facilitate a broader set of consultations to feed into the WSIS deliberations. The findings represent the Task Force's point of departure that the use of ICT is firmly rooted in a financing and development perspective, said Mr Nishimoto.
Turning to multi-stakeholder partnerships, he pointed out the need to establish a “virtual” financing facility, or platform, to leverage sources and the creation of a mechanism to coordinate research.
As for the issue of a voluntary Digital Solidarity Fund, he stated that this mechanism was yet to be operational and its more concrete goals and objectives were still evolving. Therefore “the Task Force felt it was not in a position to assess its role among the various ICT financial mechanisms”.
“Without question, the engine of ICT development and finance over the past two decades has been private sector investment, especially foreign direct investment (FDI) by an increasingly diverse and competitive array of multinational and regional ICT sector corporations” said Mr Nishimoto. He highlighted the need to build human resource capacity (knowledge) at every level was key in achieving Information Society objectives.
He indicated that the financing of information and communications technologies for development needed to be placed in the context of ICT as a development enabler, which could help to more effectively deliver the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and the Monterrey Consensus of 2002, which committed states to intensify their efforts to mobilize international financial resources in support of development.
In the ensuing general debate, which included Member States, civil society, international organizations and business, an array of viewpoints emerged. Developing countries, such as Ghana, Nigeria and Iran (Islamic Republic of), took pains to disabuse participants of the notion that developing countries that had taken steps to liberalize their economies in order to create conditions conducive to investment would see investors on their doorstep. The truth was that business was reluctant to commit capital to projects with high risk/low return profiles. Therefore, the Digital Solidarity Fund was necessary to address this major shortcoming. Nepal agreed by stating that least-developed countries (LDCs), disadvantaged nations, remote or mountainous countries faced an additional set of problems deterring investors.
Egypt, Nigeria and Ghana stressed that the problems peculiar to Africa had not been adequately spoken to in the Report, and certain proposed solutions, such as microcredit, could not yet be applied on that continent. Nigeria added that President Obasanjo and the African Union were fully committed to supporting the Digital Solidarity Fund, which will be launched on 14 March 2005. They called on partner stakeholders to contribute towards its success.
Argentina and many developing states concurred that infrastructure and access to ICT were not enough; human capacity building and training were vital to attract investors and ensure sustainability of projects.
The United States felt that good governance was an equally important aspect of the debate, since countries that shunned democratization would also see investors and business shy away.
The Women’s Centre for Social and Economic Development for Africa highlighted the need to adapt content into local languages. UNESCO went further saying that content should be produced so as to enhance education and scientific knowledge. ITU said it would continue to press for ICTs to figure as a cross-cutting development issue and the World Bank put emphasis on “substance realism and practicality” of projects aimed at supporting development imperatives.
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