Speech from Dr Hamadoun I. Touré, ITU Secretary-General

WSIS Forum 2009 - UNDESA-ITU Workshop - Session: E-Government, the MDGs and the New Economic Reality
Geneva, Switzerland
21 May 2009

Distinguished colleagues,
Ladies and gentlemen,

It is a great pleasure to be with you here this morning.

One of the key tasks facing any large organization – and governments are perhaps the best example – is the effective gathering, maintenance, management and distribution of huge quantities of information.

Happily, in the 21st century, we no longer require vast armies of pen-pushers to achieve this.

Indeed, with the power of ICTs, we can not just ‘do the job’, but we can do it far better than ever before. And ICTs are an absolutely crucial tool in helping us in our efforts to achieve the Millennium Development Goals.

One area where ICTs continue to make an important difference is in the progressive move globally towards e-government.

E-government brings with it huge benefits. It allows governments to manage information and deliver services much more efficiently and effectively.


 And at the same time, it facilitates public participation in government and promotes transparency – which is essential to maintaining public confidence and trust in government and civil services.

So much for the good news.

But e-government doesn’t happen on its own.

For the full benefits to be derived, you need a secure ICT infrastructure; you need the right ICT support systems; you need an ICT-fluent population; and you need a sound strategy both to deliver quality e-government services and to encourage the public to use them.

In developing countries and emerging markets special attention needs to be dedicated to increasing mass access to computers and the Internet; increasing bandwidth; and putting in place strong e-commerce legislation. Education also needs to take place within government itself, to demonstrate the full advantages and benefits of the transition to e-government.

This is why e-governance is such a key component of the WSIS Forum.

Ladies and gentlemen,

In order to use the power of ICTs to enable new e-government initiatives, it is useful to establish ‘what we know’ about successful e-government programmes already in place – and in particular what makes them successful. Once we have done this, we can then be in a position to offer practical guidance to policy makers.

The most public face of e-government to date has been the creation of web portals, which are now widely used to provide valuable information to constituents at both the national and local levels. By using a web portal to deliver services, government agencies both improve service delivery and reduce the costs involved.

More sophisticated portals not only include standard information and documentation services, but also deliver interactive communication and transaction functionalities, further empowering not just constituents, but also government staff, suppliers and partners.

To illustrate the value of this, let me cite just a few successful examples:

In India, to reduce corruption, state governments are web-enabling land record search functions and property tax statements – which both improves transaction transparency and increases state government revenues.

In countries from Australia to Estonia, you can vote online.

In Singapore – and increasingly in other rapidly advancing nations – you can pay your utility bills online.

In France you can pay your speeding fines online – and obtain birth, marriage and death certificates free of charge through the government portal.
In Argentina, the government uses its portal to publish all budget records pertaining to government spending.

And in Africa, virtual universities have been created to offer courses and degrees in an e-learning environment.

Distinguished colleagues,

How will the continuing global economic slowdown affect e-governance initiatives?

Personally, I believe we will see them flourish and thrive, and that this will be at least in part due to a growing role for public-private partnerships – PPPs – in their implementation.

If there has been one common characteristic of the crisis so far – across both industry and governments – it has been a drive to tighten belts, rein in costs, and look for more efficient ways of delivering services.

Using PPPs to enable e-government gets over many obstacles and around many constraints – from a lack of financial resources, to low skill levels within governments, to the absence of incentive-structures for rewarding performance.

Globally, private sector investment in ICTs is estimated to be more than three times greater than public sector investment. So private sector participation not only adds important financial muscle to government efforts, but also increases competition and R&D investment. Meanwhile the public sector reaps the benefits of a well-developed e-government strategy without absorbing significant costs.

In developing countries and emerging markets there is high donor support for e-government programming. Bilateral and multilateral organizations all recognize the importance of ICTs not as a panacea, but as a true enabler which helps to improve government services, increase accountability, and bring down costs.

It should be noted, however, that PPPs are not simple. Indeed, in both their execution and in the issues they raise – especially as an alternative to traditional procurement – they can be remarkably complex.

As a result, e-government projects can themselves raise governance issues which need to be carefully addressed.

These issues include implementation, of course, but also the need for appropriate legal frameworks; the need to comply with procurement rules and anti-corruption efforts; the need to apply principles of selection (including the relative priority given to local and international partners); and the need for effective methodologies for assessing public costs and benefits – both in the short and the long term.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Before closing, I would like to say a few words about ITU’s own work in the area of e-government.

Through our Telecommunication Development bureau, we have initiated work on a framework for deploying e-government services in developing countries.

As part of this framework, ITU-D is working on an e-government Implementation Toolkit, which will provide tools and analytical support to assist decision makers in the development and implementation of national e-government strategies and projects.

The different modules of the toolkit will focus on principles and strategies for the key dimensions of e-government, such as infrastructure, policy, institutional capacity and outreach.

The first module is currently being finalized, and includes an interactive tool to illustrate e-readiness, using accessible and recognized e-government indicators.

We have also provided direct support for the implementation of e-government projects in countries such as Belarus, Bhutan, Moldova and Uzbekistan.

On a much broader level, we have recently launched the ITU Wireless Broadband Partnership, which is mobilizing key stakeholders and partners to finance, plan, build, operate and maintain wireless broadband infrastructure within beneficiary countries – with particular attention to underserved populations in rural and remote areas.

The idea behind this exciting initiative is to balance social and economic development aims with the need for investors and industry participants to yield sufficient returns as part of a long term sustainable business model that can be widely replicated.

The ultimate objective of the ITU Wireless Broadband Partnership is to provide access to broadband-supported services and applications in the developing world at rates comparable to – or even below – those in developed countries.

I think we all recognize the tremendous benefits e-government can bring – both to governments themselves, and to the people and businesses they serve.

What remains is for us to do everything in our power to help countries which are on the path towards implementing e-government to benefit from the experiences of countries which have already done so, and to be equipped with the knowledge they need to enter into advantageous PPPs.

So I trust that the work we do here today will help us – each and every one – in our efforts towards meeting the Millennium Development Goals.

Thank you.