STATEMENT BY H.E. TANYA VELLA, AMBASSADOR OF MALTA TO
TUNISIA ON BEHALF OF THE HON. AUSTIN GATT, MP, MINISTER FOR INVESTMENT,
INDUSTRY AND INFORMATION TECHNOLOGY
Your Excellency President Ben Ali of the Republic of
Tunisia, Your Excellency Mr Kofi Annan, Secretary General of the United
Nations, Your Excellency Mr Yoshio Utsumi, Secretary General of the
International Telecommunications Union, Your Excellencies Heads of State and
Government, Ministers, Heads of Delegations, distinguished delegates, Ladies
The future is a moving target.
The Action Plan adopted in Geneva two years ago was wise in
recognising this basic fact.
There was much debate during that gathering and some issues
remain unresolved and are likely to remain unresolved for some time. But
there was little doubt even then that the Information Society was not an end
in and of itself. It is a transition to a future beyond, towards which we
must all work even while we cannot all too clearly imagine it.
It is the lot of leaders to combine distant vision with
immediate delivery: and the Tunis gathering is torn between these two
On the one hand we can wind up in a renewed declaration of
principles limiting ourselves to the short list of principles with which we
On the other hand we can limit ourselves to agree on a short
list of deliverables which we can tick off as achievements of our short
political lives that would ultimately not have taken the world anywhere.
Neither of these short lists is intrinsically wrong or even mutually
exclusive. But neither of them is enough on its own.
The Millennium Development Goals load on humanity the
collective responsibility of eliminating poverty. At a time when the
harrowing reality of war, famine, disease, forced migration, ignorance and
isolation shows no sign of letting up, these Goals cannot but feel like
high-sounding nothing: a responsibility far beyond our power to fulfil.
It is under this sometimes overwhelming weight that we must
strive to achieve a global information society. Technologies have no
intrinsic value beyond the fact that they are means to ends and that
ultimately the real end that counts is the fundamental ambition that all
humans live a full, healthy and prosperous life.
Fulfilling that ambition is a long-term project. Getting
there must take the time of individual foot-steps frustrating as our speed
might feel. Individual footsteps are sustainable, are within our reach, and
are enough to accumulate the momentum we need to keep up our pace.
The two years since Geneva have recorded concrete progress
in initiatives that have delivered to the citizens of the world
technological tools to learn, to access public services and to earn
themselves a living.
The greatest barrier experienced during this time was the
unbearably stark gap of infrastructural communications. I am of course
particularly sensitive to the picture in sub-Saharan Africa where huge
stretches of yawning distance are unconnected by any fixed line source.
Delivering information over phone lines or even over power
cables may have solved most problems for large portions of the globe but any
solution for great swathes of Africa must be physically intangible if it is
to be delivered in any reasonable period of time.
We cannot solve this problem by raising funds to pay the
capital cost of setting up this infrastructure. We may very well be able to
go some way towards delivering cables but we would be falling in the trap of
promoting technology for its own sake rather than for the sake of what it
Sustainability must rise from the ground: from the villages,
the class rooms, the clinics and the shops. We are not pursuing a
Technological Society but an Information Society. Indeed having provided
those villages with the means of acquiring information, the Information
Society will become but a transient phase towards the Knowledge Society
where people acquire the means to pursue their individual ambitions and
communities grow and prosper on the strength of their members, not on the
charity of their donors.
We all have a responsibility to deliver that information to
the villages. Europe not only recognises this but our work with our eastern
European neighbours and our partners in Africa, South East Asia and Latin
America, as well as the Caribbean and the Mediterranean has delivered
tangible results that have transformed lives. These efforts are consistent
with our understanding of what it means for people to live a full life, free
Technology is a crucial tool to acquire knowledge and
education; to express ones own cultural identity and strengthen the basis
for community integration; to earn a living; to live free of fear from
vehicles of oppression from governments unrestrained by the rule of law.
Unless technology is used to reach all of these objectives
without exception, the tool risks becoming another vehicle of oppression and
suppression in the hands of those who have already used all resources
available to them to perpetuate their power.
Warlords, terrorists and organised crime have found their
way to this means of monopolising wealth and power sooner than the people in
the villages that are still out of touch.
It is why we must approach a fresh global structure for
governing the Internet to ensure legitimacy and global ownership of this
great asset of the present without damaging any of the liberating and open
benefits that the Internet has brought about.
Nothing that is man-made is good or evil in and of itself.
We are right to commend the educational and cultural power
of the Internet and how this opens up new prospects for our children. But we
cannot afford to gloss over the dangers to our children that are vulnerable
to the abuse of those who are willing to use any means to harm them.
No society that fails to protect its young is worthy of that
Protecting children everywhere must become a genuine
priority unless the Knowledge Society we aspire to become a place where
children are not safe and are exposed to the sophisticated and for that no
less harrowing abuse of technology-using perpetrators.
Malta exhorts this Summit to push further up in its list of
priorities, a credible and coordinated effort to make the Internet a safe
place for children.
Tunis 2005 is not the closure of a cycle of effort and
cooperation: it must be but the opening. We have achieved much from our
individual projects and the sharing of our results and our efforts in groups
as regions and partners. Yet there is no twenty-seventh mile in this
marathon of leadership.
Indeed, the future is a moving target. Thank you.