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

Third Parliamentary Forum on Shaping the Information Society

3 May 2010, Geneva, Switzerland

Honourable Members of Parliament,
Distinguished colleagues,
Ladies and gentlemen,


It is my great pleasure to welcome you all here to the ITU to the Third Parliamentary Forum on Shaping the Information Society.

It is a privilege and great pleasure to have you with us today. I know I am looking forward to some productive and incisive debate here over the next two days covering the financial crisis, its impact on the information society and the range of legislative response options, and I hope you are too.


Cloud of words: ITU, society, international, crisis, infrastructure, people, parliamentarians

I am delighted that my good friends Sha and Anders have joined us, and I looking forward to learning more about your work and concerns about shaping the future of the Information Society. I am sure that this Forum will mark the start of a long and mutually beneficial collaboration for us all.

In particular, I welcome the recognition that DESA and IPU give to the fact that it is not just the legislation which matters, but that building consensus and capacity among the legislators and parliamentarians is also vital.

As an organization founded on consensus, ITU knows very well the importance of helping to build a common vision among policy-makers, especially in this present era of globalization, where the stakes have been raised in our increasingly complex and interdependent global systems of governance.

For me, the single lasting lesson from the outbreak of the financial crisis in September 2008 to the downgrading of Greek sovereign bonds last week, decline in global stock markets and present pressure on the Euro is our growing dependency – and vulnerability – on each other.

These are two points I cannot emphasize strongly enough. Back in 1999, when a little-known legislative instrument called the Glass-Steagall Act was repealed in the United States, who could have predicted that an incentive structure designed for American mortgage brokers and the entry of commercial banks into speculation in the complex derivatives built around those mortgages could indirectly lead to an additional 64 million more people living in extreme poverty around the world by the end of this year due to the crisis, according to the World Bank? 

In the summer of 2007, at a time when most of us were just coming to terms with the phrases “sub-prime” and “credit crunch” (now part of our everyday lexicon), who could have foreseen the disappearance of global icons such as Lehman Brothers or the forced sale of Merrill Lynch and Bear Stearns? [Only two of the original five American investment banks in mid-2008 currently remain in independent operation, and they have now become commercial banks].

And today, while government stimulus packages seem to be working, and global GDP is forecast to reverse its decline of 2.2% last year, and grow by as much as 2.7% this year, it is NOT simply a case of “back to business as usual”.

The very fabric of the international system of finance has changed, and it is up to us as policy-makers and parliamentarians to lead this change, and design new systems of governance that work for the twenty-first century, rather than being overtaken and pulled along by events. And this is my challenge to you here today – to engage proactively to debate the best ways forward out of this crisis, rather than persist with practices and policies which we know are no longer working, simply because “it has always been done this way”.

For although the economists may reassure us that the worst of the crisis is now over, and that GDP growth rates – and sometimes even employment rates – are picking up again in many countries, millions of people, in both developed and developing countries alike, are still living out the aftermath of the financial crisis in their daily lives, and will be for some time yet.

Millions of people have lost their jobs and are living with the spectre of unemployment, unable to find work or living without an income, or living on sharply reduced pensions, or have had their homes repossessed. Or, more likely, today’s victims of the financial crisis are suffering a combination of several of these calamities at the same time.

And it is up to us, as parliamentarians at the national level, and international organizations at the international level, to fulfil our responsibilities as the guardians of the global policy framework and work together to safeguard the interests of the poorest and most vulnerable members of our society.

In this age of globalization, our wellbeing and security are increasingly interdependent, in our shared common future. The financial crisis may have had its origins in the United States, but it affects us all, and will continue to affect us all for some time yet, as several of the Sessions here will undoubtedly show us, over the next few days.

And what is the role for ICTs in all of this?  As you will hear in Sessions over the next few days, there is growing evidence that ICTs contribute both directly and indirectly to economic productivity and growth. ICTs can do this both across economic sectors that already exist and by generating entirely new products and services in new sectors online – for example, in web design and advertising and web sales.

A report last year by the US Interactive Advertising Bureau estimated that in the US, the Internet sector alone accounts for 300 billion US dollars of economic activity, equivalent to 2.1% of total US GDP, with 3.1 million jobs in over twenty thousand firms providing web design, publishing and software consultancy throughout the US.

Taking into account the far broader informal economy of e-bay shops, full-time bloggers and army of people buying and selling goods over the Internet expands these figures many times over.

The size, growth and spin-off benefits of the online economy are partly why many governments and administrations now acknowledge broadband as a vital basic infrastructure determining their nations’ future economic competitiveness.  And they are also reasons why next week, ITU and UNESCO will launch the Broadband Commission for Digital Development here at the WSIS Forum 2010 – to prioritize broadband on the national and international policy agenda and to help ensure that developing countries are not left behind in the coming digital Industrial Revolution.

For we have learned that the benefits of broadband connectivity are best realized in full when broadband and high-speed connectivity are integrated with other forms of infrastructure. One well-known example of our networked future are smart grids, where intelligent network infrastructure monitors and distributes power across the grid to deliver power efficiently where it is needed most, in real-time. But other examples of intelligent network infrastructure abound – in integrated transport infrastructure, cloud computing and Next-Generation Networks, to name but a few.

However, as we build these advanced intelligent networks, we must also be aware of some of the risks and vulnerabilities inherent in a fully digital society. And this is why two years ago, in May 2007, I launched ITU’s Global Cybersecurity Agenda or GCA, to provide an international framework for dialogue and exchange regarding some of the risks relating to the Information Society and to make stakeholders, policy-makers and common people aware of some of the downsides and vulnerabilities arising through new and evolving cyber-threats.

ITU has partnered with the International Multilateral Partnership Against Cyber-Threats (IMPACT) as the physical home of the GCA to assist countries in building cybersecurity capacity and to raise awareness of the issues involved in this fast-moving field. IMPACT works with stakeholders to provide an international early warning system and training facilities to interested ITU Member States.

For this is how I see ITU’s mission – ensuring that equitable and affordable broadband access to the Internet is made available to all to empower everyone and give everyone a voice, whilst ensuring adequate safeguards are put in place to guard against the online risks of the Information Society.

I am sure you share many of the same concerns as legislators and parliamentarians at the national level, and I look forward to learning more about your work and concerns over the next two days.

Thank you.