Committed to connecting the world


ITU Council 2019

​Speech by ITU Secretary-General, Houlin Zhao

ITU Council 2019: State of the Union Address

10 June 2019, Geneva, Switzerland ​

Mr. Chairman,
Ladies and Gentlemen, 

Welcome to the 2019 Session of ITU Council. This is our first Council since the conclusion of our 2018 Plenipotentiary Conference.   

PP-18 gave us a new ITU Council. Please join me in welcoming our councilors, including our new Council Members from the Bahamas, the Czech Republic, Côte d'Ivoire, El Salvador, Hungary, the Islamic Republic of Iran, and South Africa.

PP-18 gave us a new leadership team. I'm very proud to lead this team. For the first time in our Union's history, a woman sits on the ITU Management team. It was long overdue and more progress needs to be made on the gender issue in ITU. I'm pleased to continue this endeavour with BDT Director Doreen Bogdan-Martin and my other colleagues so that it is something we can all be proud of. 

I take this opportunity to encourage you to nominate more women in your delegations to ITU meetings and to leadership positions. I will continue to track gender balance in delegations and report on our progress in strengthening gender equality both in ITU and in our industry. 

We also welcome a new Director of the Radiocommunication Bureau in the person of Mr. Mario Maniewicz, who didn't waste any time beginning to prepare for the World Radiocommunication Conference 2019 and the Radiocommunication Assembly 2019. 

Our entire team is very grateful for the support and trust that our Members have placed in us. We will do our best to meet your expectations and more – and make ITU a model among UN agencies. 

PP-18 also gave us a new Strategic Plan that asserts ITU's role in facilitating progress towards the implementation of the United Nations 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, sets bold and ambitious targets of the Union for the next four years based on five strategic goals – growth, inclusiveness, sustainability, innovation, and partnership – as well as a vision and mission. 

These goals are at the centre of our work. Let me just mention some of the important events that have taken place in the last few months. 

We held our Council Working Group meetings, the Conference Preparatory Meeting for WRC-19, and the Member States Advisory Group on the New Building. We celebrated the 50th anniversary of World Telecommunication and Information Society Day. Our three Sectors' Advisory Groups have met. And so has the new Radio Regulations Board. We hosted the WSIS Forum 2019 and the third edition of our AI for Good Global Summit. Finally, ITU actively participated in the activities of the Broadband Commission for Sustainable Development as well as the 2019 G7 and G20 Digital Economy Ministerial Meetings. 

The work of the External Auditor and the Independent Management Advisory Committee has proceeded according to schedule. We are grateful for their reports. 

All this is making our Union stronger. What's at stake is our ability to leverage technology to tackle some of the most important issues of our time. In turn, this requires that our Union be efficient, transparent, open and accountable. And that starts with using ITU's resources efficiently. 

To that end, PP-18 gave us a new Financial Plan. Thanks to this plan, the Strategic Plan and the excellent teamwork spirit of my elected colleagues and staff, the Draft Budget for 2020-2021 was presented to the Council Working Group on Financial and Human Resources last January. It's a balanced budget without any withdrawal from the Reserve Account. This session of Council will also be presented with the Financial Operating Report for 2018 and the External Audit Report. 

Across ITU, we are modernizing how we work to better serve the needs of our Members. Efforts are being made to streamline and digitize internal processes. We've already centralized finance and administrative tasks. And we will continue to do more. 

A modern ITU is an ITU that explores avenues for cooperation and ICT infrastructure investment, especially in those poorly connected and unconnected areas. Just last March, we brought together ICT Ministers from across Africa to ITU to develop a common strategic framework for Africa-wide digital priorities and initiatives. And I'm eager to see how this discussion evolves, knowing that such a framework could help overcome the hurdles to investment that can often stifle progress. 

Although the role of ITU as the lead UN specialized agency for ICTs has been widely recognized, our role and potential as an ICT development agency is still overlooked. This is despite the fact that ITU's Development Sector was established over 25 years ago and we have assisted so many developing countries with infrastructure and policy development since then. Even though our resources − both human and financial − are limited, we have to change the perception of our Union as being more than just a technical agency. I made a lot of effort during my first term to make the most of the resources we have to show what ITU can do for development, and to strengthen our role in this area, more importantly by promoting ICT development capacities through Administrations and through our partners.    And I will continue to do so. But we still have a long way to go. With ICTs being so critically important for development and the implementation of the SDGs, I count on your support and cooperation in this effort. 

A modern ITU is an ITU that attracts members who reflect the rapidly changing nature of today's digital economy. I'm pleased that the ITU family is growing and becoming ever more diverse, with both large and small companies active in all sectors of the economy − from energy and cybersecurity to automotive and shipping and logistics. And I'm confident that the decision of PP-18 to introduce a new category of membership with reduced fees for SME Associates will reinforce this trend. 

And a modern ITU is also an ITU that serves as a leading global platform for transformative technologies ranging from the Internet of Things and smart cities to AI and 5G, and looks to the future with confidence. 

This Council will consider important issues, from the World Telecommunication/ICT Policy Forum 2021 to International Telecommunication Regulations (ITRs) to PP process and election procedures. It will make all the administrative and financial arrangements and take the decisions necessary to facilitate the implementation of the new PP-18 resolutions affecting ITU's future. 

We will also review the status and financing related to ITU's future modern home. I take this opportunity to thank Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates for their sponsorship, and the Czech Republic and Ghana for their donations. And I encourage all the other Member States and all our Sector Members to follow their example. 

The coming months will be busy for our Union, with important ITU events such as GSR-19, ITU Telecom World 2019, and RA-19 and WRC-19 so I would also like to thank the Governments of Vanuatu, Hungary and Egypt for their generous support and the hosting of these events. 

Before I close, I'd like to pay tribute to our dear colleagues from the African Regional Office, Marcelino Tayob and Maygenet Abebe, who perished in the Ethiopian Airlines crash three months ago today. I would like us to pause in a moment of silence for Marcelino and Maygenet, and for all the victims of this terrible tragedy.  

Ladies and gentlemen, a new cycle begins, a four-year period that will drive the growth of our Union and technology into the third decade of this century. I want to thank our Chairman, Mr. Fabio Bigi, who stepped in at very short notice to replace Dr. Elsayed Azzouz who could not join us due to an urgent matter to be dealt with.  I wish our new Chairman and all of you a successful Council 2019! 

As the new decade opens, information and communication technologies are transforming the world we live in. And our Union is at the forefront of this digital revolution. 

The world needs ICTs. The world needs ITU. Rest assured that we will do everything possible to strengthen our Union and facilitate the development of ICT technologies and services to advance Connect 2030, the WSIS Action Lines and the Sustainable Development Goals. May we continue to work together to build a stronger, more open and more efficient ITU – a people-centred, service-oriented and results-based organization that will increasingly have a profound and positive impact on the lives of people across the world.  

Thank you very much.