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Prime Minister of Malta opens Valletta summit on telecommunications development

Valletta (Malta), 23 March 1998 — The second World Telecommunication Development Conference opened today, with nearly 800 policy makers and government delegates converging on the Mediterranean International Conference Center in Valletta, Malta.

The Conference, which will meet until 1 April, will examine a range of strategies which could provide rapid and effective solutions to countries’ telecommunications problems and enhance access to as many citizens of the world as possible.

The event was officially opened this morning by the Honourable Dr Alfred Sant, Prime Minister of Malta.

Addressing a full room, Prime Minister Sant told participants that tele-education, telemedicine, telecommunication and information technologies could help countries cope more effectively with problems arising from social inequalities, demographic imbalances, prejudices, misgivings and lack of trust. "We can provide effective tools to combat terrorism, illegal migration, illicit trade in drugs and armaments and money laundering, and above all to strengthen international efforts to eradicate poverty", the Prime Minister said. He also praised the work of the ITU Telecommunication Development Bureau in advising countries on how to meet the privatization and deregulation challenges and how to meet their national goals. "The ITU has a special if not unique role to play in the coming years particularly in advising policy-makers on the options available in tailoring policies and regulatory structures to fit a country’s particular requirements" he told delegates.

In his keynote address, Sir Donald Maitland, author of the "Missing Link" – a report of the Independent Commission for World-Wide Telecommunication Development published in 1985, reminded the audience that the convergence of technologies raised fundamental questions of global concerns. "The importance of the information society raises questions about the international division of labour, about the structure of corporations, the future of work, the nature of human society, the individual’s sense of identity, systems of governance and the meaning of sovereignty in an interdependent, interconnected world" he said. "But it is a curious fact that, at the political level throughout the world, there has been a marked reluctance to address these issues" he added. He also indicated that with the advance of the information society and the expansion of the Internet, a new gap had been opened up between "information-rich" and "information-poor" societies. "This disturbing trend seems to have been largely unaffected by other developments during the restructuring of the telecommunications sector, such as the separation of operational and regulatory functions, privatization and the liberalization of segments of the market" he stated. He urged the ITU to strengthen its programme on regulatory and commercial strategies to improve revenue and teledensity, particularly by providing targeted advice specific to countries. "The process of liberalization on accounting rates systems could inadvertently prejudice revenue flows and, in consequence, the prospects for investment in developing countries" he concluded.

Mr. Ahmed Laouyane, Director, ITU Telecommunication Development Bureau, talked of the new form of civilization which this conference was called to launch: that of information and communication in which small countries can play a definitive contribution. Malta is a role model in this area not only because of its legendary entrepreneurship but also because of the dynamism of its people and leadership. Mr Laouyane also warned participants of the danger of perpetuating a world in which there would be "oasis" of the privileged which could benefit from the progress of telecoms and information technology in the middle of a barren "desert". The Valletta Summit aims at creating a better balance and reaching fairness, Mr Laouyane stressed. "Very positive results have indeed been achieved since the publication of the Missing Link Report" Mr Laouyane said. "In 1984, there were 3 billion people who lived in areas with a teledensity of less than 1%. Today, that number has dropped to less than 800 million" he added. "We have done well but much remains to be done" he concluded.

Taking the floor, ITU Secretary General Pekka Tarjanne said "As much as any country, Malta has shown the world the power of telecommunications to help people transcend the apparent limitations imposed by the physical realities of space and time. With will, imagination, enterprise, and intelligence small nations can become world telecommunication leaders, as you have done". Acknowledging that the telecommunications world had changed – and has changed forever, he said it was not possible to go back, even if we wanted to. "The best way forward, he said, is the question we should focus on over the next ten days".

"The real challenge we face is to project a future which moves the world of telecommunications to an even higher level of development – a future which adds human value to these trends – a future which once again transforms how the world views the telecommunications industry – and how the telecommunications industry views the world" he added.

Speaking on behalf of the Secretary-General of the United Nations, Dr. Vladimir Petrovsky, UN Under-Secretary-General, said that the delegates had come here as leaders who will be shaping telecommunication industry of the next century and open channels of communication between those regions and cultures and so doing help promote greater understanding and tolerance among their communities. "New technologies that are simpler to use at a fraction of the cost hold out the possibility of a new truly global information society. The communications revolution is probably one of the most important phenomena of the end of this century conducive to the improvement of the well-being of the people" he said. However, he also warned that as with any new powerful technological innovation, telecommunications could offer astonishing opportunities whilst creating grave problems. Dr Petrovsky urged delegates to take measures to fully utilize the benefits of telecommunications and minimize negative consequences, in particular through achieving universal access to communications. In this context, he said that the proposal of the ITU Secretary-General to all UN programmes and agencies to start to promote "the right to communicate" as a fundamental human right was an outstanding and timely strategic initiative which demands a co-ordinated approach from the international community.

The opening ceremony was followed by the election of the Conference Chairman, His Excellency Mr. Joe Mizzi, Minister of Telecommunications of Malta, the adoption of the structure of the Conference and the election of officers. The next two days will be devoted to ministerial statements in the context of a strategic session on trends and strategies.

The statement of the Secretary-General at the launching press conference of Sunday, 22 March 1998 is available on

Structure of the Conference (substantive committees)

Chairman: Mr Joe Mizzi, Minister without Portfolio in the Office of the Prime Minister

Vice-Chairmen: HE Mr Ezan Akele (Côte d’Ivoire), Dr. Abdul Monem Youssef (Lebanon), HE Mr. Zhou Dequiang (China), Mr. Ralph Everett (USA), Mr. Valery Timofeev (Russia)

Committee A: Policies and Strategies

Chairman: Mr. Alberto Gabrielli, Argentina

Vice-Chairmen: Mr. Emamgholi Behdad, Islamic Republic of Iran and Mr. P.G. Touré, Sénégal

Committee A will examine all questions concerning polices and strategies of telecommunication development: national structures, sector reform, financing and partnerships.

Committee B: Development of Networks

Chairman: Mr. Guellouz, Tunisia

Vice-Chairmen: Mr. Wyn Lucas, BT, United Kingdom and Mr. Toru Arizono, Japan

Committee B will treat all questions concerning new technologies and the development of networks including large projects and global and regional initiatives.

Working Group of the Plenary on the Valletta Action Plan

Chairman: Mr. Nabil Kisrawi, Syria

Rapporteur: Mr. Roderick Sanatan, Caribbean Telecommunication Union

This Working Group will integrate all proposals made towards the future Action Plan (including the draft Strategic Plan) and present a consolidated proposal to the Plenary. It may also consider proposals for a Valletta Declaration and present a draft text to the Plenary.

Working Group of the Plenary on the Least Developed Countries

Chairman: Mr. Tiemoko Maiga, Mali

Rapporteur: Mr. Abdul Chowdhury, Bangladesh

This Working Group will examine the report on special actions for LDCs as well as contributions and proposals towards a future action plan for LDCs and prepare a draft proposal for consideration by the Plenary.

Working Group on the role of the private sector

Chairman: Mr. Ron Davidson, Final Analysis, USA

Rapporteur: Mr. Dag Norrby, Telia, Norway

This Working Group will examine proposals aiming at the implementation of the ITU-2000 recommendations on the role of the private sector in the ITU Development Sector, as well as any other proposals in order to establish a draft Resolution or Recommendation on improved participation of the private sector in the work of the ITU-D, for consideration by the Plenary.

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