Speech from Dr Hamadoun I. Touré, ITU Secretary-General
ITU Council 2009 - State of the Union Address

20 October 2009, Geneva, Switzerland

Dr Hamadoun Touré, ITU Secretary-General, speaks at the ITU Council 2009 - Source:  ITU / V. Martin (Compulsory)Excellencies,
Distinguished Councillors
Ladies and gentlemen,

It gives me great pleasure to welcome you to the 64th session of ITU Council.

It has been another very busy and productive year for ITU, culminating just two weeks ago with the highly successful ITU Telecom World 2009 event here in Geneva.

We have continued making good progress on the seven goals of ITU’s 2008-2011 Strategic Plan.

And we have succeeded in bringing ITU’s key messages to the top of the international agenda. Demonstrating that information and communication technologies, ICTs, are vital and beneficial in addressing each and every one of the global issues faced today. From the financial crisis, to climate change, to cybersecurity.

Our organization is strong financially and is working well. Our staff are focused on the job, and there is less duplication of effort and spending.

Our working methods continue to improve, and we are eliminating paper wherever we can. A good example is our new internal registry project, which means we will no longer have to circulate paper copies of correspondence.

We are also increasingly using virtual conferencing tools wherever possible. The child online protection guidelines, for example, which we published earlier this month, were debated and reviewed entirely using virtual tools.

This morning, I would like to give you a brief resumé of the main events of the past year, followed by a preview of the year ahead.

Brief resumé of past year:
Last November, as many of you will remember, we opened Council with a High-Level Segment, and it was a privilege to have with us two Heads of State, Mr Paul Kagame, President of Rwanda, and Mr Blaise Compaoré, President of Burkina Faso – as well as a video message from United Nations Secretary-General Mr Ban Ki-moon.

The high-level segment addressed the two key issues of cybersecurity and climate change, and was attended by some 400 participants, including 21 Ministers, Ambassadors and heads of regulatory organizations and UN agencies.

Early in 2009, as in 2008, I called top ITU management to a brief retreat to fine-tune our plans and goals for the year ahead. And once again the management retreat proved a powerful and useful team-building exercise.

This was particularly important in the run up to the fourth World Telecommunication Policy Forum, which took place in Portugal in April. The WTPF adopted the Lisbon Consensus, which addressed telecommunications policy and regulatory issues associated with technological change and convergence in the rapidly evolving world of ICTs.

The Lisbon Consensus acknowledged the far-reaching importance of ICTs in extending the benefits of the Information Society for all, and participants expressed consensus on a number of opinions:

  • Internet-related public policy matters;
  • The advent of next-generation networks (NGN) and advanced broadband access, which will enable unfettered high-speed access aimed at consistent and ubiquitous services;
  • ICTs and the environment to address global climate change;
  • Collaborative strategies to create confidence and security in the use of ICTs;
  • Capacity building to support the adoption of IPv6, an Internet protocol used for communicating data across a packet-switched network;
  • International telecommunication regulations (ITRs), which facilitate global interconnection and interoperability for telecommunications worldwide.

Just a few weeks after the WTPF we held the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) Forum in Geneva, which was co-hosted by UNCTAD, UNDP and UNESCO.

The Forum successfully built on the tradition of annual follow-up meetings for the implementation of WSIS outcomes, with six high-level panels addressing issues critical to the multi-stakeholder WSIS implementation and follow-up process:

  • ICTs for Millennium Development Goals (MDGs);
  • Accessing Knowledge;
  • Financial mechanisms in the economic downturn;
  • Cybersecurity;
  • Climate change and ICTs;
  • ICT applications for a better life.

The WSIS Forum provided opportunities to network and participate in multi-stakeholder discussions and consultations on WSIS implementation – including meetings for facilitators, thematic workshops and speed exchanges on critical issues.

As usual, the WSIS Forum was timed to coincide with the celebrations for World Telecommunication and Information Society Day, WTISD.

This year, the WTISD theme was ‘Protecting Children in Cyberspace’, and we were honoured to have Queen Silvia of Sweden as our patron for the event.

ITU’s Child Online Protection (COP) initiative is now an integral part of the Global Cybersecurity Agenda. It is in line with our mandate to strengthen cybersecurity and has been established as an international collaborative network for action to promote the online protection of children and young people worldwide.

The 2009 WTISD awards were given to three laureates for their exceptional work in protecting children online: President Luiz Inácio Lula Da Silva of Brazil; Mr Rob Conway, CEO of GSMA; and Ms Deborah Taylor Tate, former Commissioner of the US Federal Communications Commission.

Distinguished councillors,

The other major event of course – which I mentioned a few minutes ago – was ITU Telecom World 2009, which was held here in Geneva earlier this month.

Highlights included:

  • Heads of State and Heads of Governments; more than 80 Ministers; and over 400 C-level executives;
  • Special VIP and VVIP sessions with CEOs, and a ‘Council of Ministers’;
  • A more varied Exhibition than we’ve ever had before, with many national pavilions, thematic pavilions, and community initiatives on the show floor;
  • A really innovative Forum programme, where many of the key issues of the day – including the financial crisis, climate change, and cybersecurity – were discussed in depth;
  • And the Youth Forum, which brought together some 300 young people from 150 countries around the world to share with us their wisdom – as digital natives – and to engage with industry and government leaders;

None of this would have been possible without the ITU Member States, and we would like to express our gratitude to them for their continuing support.

The Telecom World event also saw the unveiling of the new plaque outside this very room which you will have noticed on the way in. The plaque is dedicated to Professor Alexander Popov, who helped usher in the era of radiocommunications, and who has now given his name to what was formerly Room B.

The Russian administration has generously agreed to refurbish the Popov room, and receives our grateful thanks: thank you, Russia.

Dr Hamadoun Touré, ITU Secretary-General, speaks at the ITU Council 2009 -Source:  ITU / V. Martin (Compulsory) We look forward over the coming years to seeing other ITU rooms refurbished and renamed in honour of pioneers and giants in the field of telecommunications.

The past twelve months have also been very successful for all three ITU sectors, and we have been as busy if not busier than ever in implementing the wishes of our members in ITU-R, ITU-T and ITU-D.

ITU-R – as well as its regular ongoing work – has further strengthened its preparatory activities for the 2012 World Radiocommunication Conference.

This has been done within the framework of the ITU-R Study Groups, as well as through last month’s WRC Preparatory Meeting – which was held in collaboration with the African Telecommunication Union, and which was attended by more than 200 participants and six regional telecommunication organizations: APT, ASMG, ATU, CEPT, CITEL, and RCC.

ITU-T has focused this year on the follow-up to the World Telecommunication Standardization Assembly 2008. A recent meeting gathered Chief Technical Officers from around the world who underlined ITU’s pre-eminent role in standardization.

In terms of its core work in standards, some high profile TSB achievements include the methodology to give ICT companies a consistent way to report their carbon footprints; home networking standards under the banner g.hn; and key standards in identity management, IPTV and optical networks.

ITU-D, for its part, in addition to implementing its extensive regular programmes and providing direct country assistance, undertook a number of initiatives this year to connect the unconnected.

Most recently, BDT launched the ‘Connect a School, Connect a Community’ initiative with the UN Secretary-General during ITU Telecom World 2009. BDT has also begun practical cybersecurity training activities for Members as part of the IMPACT partnership.

And as in previous years, with the support of partners, BDT was able to provide Emergency Telecommunication assistance during disasters.

New connectivity initiatives were also launched with industry partners, including rural projects coming out of the Pacific Ministerial Forum in February and wireless broadband projects in Africa resulting from the Connect Africa event.

Ladies and gentlemen,

It has also been a very successful year in terms of raising ITU’s profile on the international stage, with enhanced media coverage of the Union and its work. This has particularly been the case in the key areas of climate change, cybersecurity, and the financial crisis – areas where ICTs are now clearly recognized as being part of the solution not part of the problem.

I have also welcomed many high-level visitors to ITU, and met many more while travelling on official business.

Since Council 2008, we have been honoured at ITU by visits from UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, as well as by:

  • Six heads of state (Brazil, Bolivia, Burkina Faso, Rwanda, Senegal & Zimbabwe);
  • A number of heads of international organizations;
  • Over one hundred ministers and deputy ministers;
  • More than 50 ambassadors;
  • And many other important representatives of associations, commissions, agencies and unions, as well as prominent business leaders.

While on mission, since Council last year, I have also met with Ban Ki-moon, as well as 13 heads of state, two first ladies, the Queen of Sweden and even the Pope.

I also met many other high-ranked officials from governments and international agencies, and the top executives of many private sector companies.

The past year has also seen us play a more dynamic role as a United Nations organization, with ITU taking part in many high-level UN meetings and playing an active and important role in the lead up to the Copenhagen Climate Change Conference in December. We have also seen much stronger participation in ITU activities by the heads of other UN agencies during the year.

I am therefore pleased to be able to officially announce the opening of our New York UN liaison office, which will allow us to remain tightly-integrated within the UN system.

The head of the liaison office, Gary Fowlie, is with us here this week, and is looking forward to meeting councillors and to hearing their ideas and expectations as we move forward.

Preview of the year ahead:
Distinguished Councillors,
Ladies and gentlemen,

The year ahead promises to be an exciting one for all of us.

In terms of events, we have two very important ones coming up just next month.

The 9th Global Symposium for Regulators (GSR) and Global Industry Leaders Forum (GILF) will take place from 9-12 November in Beirut, Lebanon.

And the Connect CIS [Commonwealth of Independent States] event will take place from 26-27 November, in Minsk, Belarus.

The GSR is a unique venue for regulators and policy makers from both developed and developing countries to meet and exchange views and experiences.

Last year we broadened the scope of this very successful event to create the GILF, with a view to more actively soliciting the involvement of the private sector.

The GILF is designed to promote frank and open dialogue between regulators and key ICT stakeholders from industry, while the GSR is focused on discussions between regulators themselves about new trends and new developments in regulatory best practice.

With the theme ‘Hands On or Hands Off?’, the 2009 edition of the GSR will address the challenges of convergence and the changing role of the regulator.

Just a few days after the GSR we will be in Belarus to launch the next ‘ITU Connect’ event.

In the wake of the unprecedented success of the first ‘ITU Connect Africa’ event in Rwanda in 2007, the next event targets the CIS region. This as an excellent opportunity to highlight the huge market potential of the CIS, as well as its growing importance as a major ICT development hub, particularly in the area of software innovation.

I’m confident that this next ITU Connect event will prove another great success in helping forge the partnerships between industry and government that could help make the CIS a new technology powerhouse.

We then have a very busy time next May, with the WSIS Forum in Geneva and the WTISD in Shanghai (to coincide with Expo 2010).

This will be followed by the World Telecommunication Development Conference (WTDC) in Hyderabad.

These development events are of exceptional importance next year, as 2010 marks the halfway point between WSIS in 2005 and the 2015 deadline for the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).

For us, 2015 also reminds us of the 150th anniversary of the Union – by which time I hope to ensure that the whole world is connected.

The extensive preparations which have already taken place ahead of the WTDC, and in particular the ongoing series of regional preparatory meetings, will ensure that the WTDC is able to adopt programmes and define a work plan for the development sector which will ensure that the MDGs are met.

I am also pleased to report that we are in the process of concluding negotiations with a Member State which will allow us to create an ICT Exploratorium here in Geneva, which will showcase the past, present and future of ICTs. I hope that you will join me in 2010 for the opening of this exciting new museum.

Distinguished Councillors,

Next year, 2010, is also of course the year of the ITU’s next Plenipotentiary Conference, in Mexico.

Every Plenipotentiary Conference is vital to the Union, but I cannot help thinking that PP10 will be the most important one to date.

Developments in ICTs are happening at an ever-increasing rate.

So we must meet the challenge at PP10 of adapting ourselves to the new ICT landscape. We must also make sure that we help to drive and influence change, as well as responding to it.

For my part, I believe that we need to have a good look at the constitution and convention, and to streamline this as much as possible.

Of course we must retain the indisputable principles – without these we are nothing – but there is room to avoid unnecessary debate and to make them leaner and fitter for the modern world. We must make it easier for members to tell us what they want clearly.

We must also review the funding of the Union. It needs to be more predictable – both for members and for the secretariat.

This means that the value of the contributory units should not be subject to debates.

This is why we are suggesting to fix the amount of the contributory unit at its existing value of 318,000 Swiss Francs for the 2010-2011 budget period.

We are not of course suggesting that the number of contributory units given by Members should be fixed. This is always up to Members to decide.

But I do believe – to create a more stable and predictable environment – that for changes in the number of contributory units, there should be a notice period of at least a year before the Plenipotentiary Conference, and that they should not be able to be reduced within any given biennium.

But of course Members are more than welcome to increase the number of their contributory units at any time…

While we are discussing fiscal matters, I would also like to address the budget.

We have been working on zero nominal growth for over ten years now, and have not even taken inflation into account. While we have done a good job, our successors will find the next budget cycles very difficult if we do not at least match inflation.
Several Member States have advised us that, even in a zero nominal growth environment, they still have the ability to adjust their contribution for inflation.

Distinguished Councillors: Four more points concerning PP10:

  1. Firstly, I am pleased with the way the federal structure of ITU has been working over the past three years, and I would like to thank my elected colleagues, Mr. Timofeev, Mr. Al-Basheer and Mr. Johnson for their very close and frank collaboration – and especially Mr Zhao, Deputy Secretary-General, who has been very dynamic and effective in acting as Executive Director of Telecom.

    I do believe, however, that we should change the titles of the directors to reflect their elected status and match their real position within the UN system.

    My suggestion – and I would welcome your feedback – is that they should be designated Assistant Secretary-Generals, rather than Directors. This principle already exists within other organizations, and I believe would help clarify the importance of the Bureaux elected officials.
  2. Secondly, PP10 will deliver a new strategic and financial plan for the Union, and one of the most important tasks we have to achieve during this Session of Council is to create the working group that will draft this plan.
  3. Thirdly, I hope that we will be able to propose to PP10 the introduction of electronic voting, if Members agree – and we are currently investigating other UN agencies’ approaches, and how these might fit in with our Members’ needs.
  4. And finally, concerning the elections at PP10, I am pleased to be able to inform you that the website for these is now live, and you can see information about the candidatures received so far for the elected officials, Council seats and the Radio Regulations Board , in response to my circular letter dated 3 September 2009.

I take this opportunity now to invite you to submit your candidatures as soon as possible.

Ladies and gentlemen,

I would like to take a brief moment to say how proud I am to be leading such a strong organization and such dedicated staff – in all three sectors and in the general secretariat. The staff are the lifeblood of the Union, and without them, and their commitment and enthusiasm, we would simply not exist.

It is true, perhaps that the relationship with the Staff Council has not been as positive as I would have liked over the past few months.

But I am confident that better times lie ahead, and that by joint cooperation we will succeed in rebuilding any bridges that may have fallen into disrepair.

Concerning the tools we use to report to our members, I am happy to say that there has been excellent progress – notably with the dashboard which means that anything I can see as Secretary-General can also be seen by Council Members.

The Internal audit function is now fully operational, and has been enhanced to provide maximum transparency and maximum visibility.

You may also be aware that the UN system is implementing a new accounting standard, known as IPSAS, which stands for International Public Sector Accounting Standards.

Implementing IPSAS is a major undertaking for any organization – but it will make our financial statements more transparent and easier to understand, and it will facilitate a move to full results-based budgeting and results-based management.

ITU is committed to meeting the original deadline for implementation of IPSAS by the first of January next year – and if we are successful, we will be among the first agencies to actually make the deadline.

Indeed, other agencies are now moving the implementation date back to 2012 – but I can assure you that ITU is on track to make the 2010 deadline on time. And under budget.

Distinguished Councillors,

My last words before handing over the floor concern a subject that concerns each and every one of us; our children; and our children’s children.

I am referring of course to climate change.

This is the biggest issue of our time, and we must do everything in our power to address it.

Copenhagen Conference and I will be going to Copenhagen in December.

I also took part in the WMO Climate Summit in Geneva and the UN Climate Summit in New York in September.

All three ITU sectors have actively been addressing climate change this year through various projects and meetings, and World Telecom included the topic as one of the major thematic programmes.

And I am proud of ITU’s work in promoting the idea that ICTs should be included in the Copenhagen Agreement as part of the solution.

Nonetheless, between us – with 191 Member States and over 700 Sector Members and Associates – we must be able to do more.

So in the run-up to Copenhagen in December – and indeed the run-up to PP10 – I would appreciate hearing from any and all of you with ideas and practical suggestions as to what we can do.

You, our members and staff, are the ITU’s most precious asset, and we appreciate you more than you may sometimes feel!

I look forward to working with all of you in the coming year to achieve our goals, and let us make every effort during this Council Session to put in place the decisions and actions that will make this possible.

Thank you.