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

ITU Council 2010: State of the Union Address

13 April 2010, Geneva, Switzerland

Photo: Dr Hamadoun Touré, ITU Secretary-General, speaks at the openning ceremony of ITU Council 2010 Excellencies,
Distinguished Councillors
Ladies and gentlemen,

Let me start on a commemorative note.

Firstly, you will have heard of the recent sad and untimely passing of former ITU Secretary-General Dr Pekka Tarjanne, who held office from the beginning of November 1989 to the end of January 1999.

Dr Tarjanne was a passionate believer in the power of ICTs to change the world, and was a leading advocate of the ‘Right to Communicate’ as a fundamental human right. He was not only a tireless campaigner for ICT development and international cooperation, but a scientist who took a keen interest in the work of ITU in radiofrequency management and standards development. He presided over ITU during an era of unprecedented growth, and charted a sure and steady course for the organization through a period of immense change and upheaval.
We have opened a Book of Condolences for Dr Tarjanne, which will remain open for signing by all interested parties until the close of Council next week. It will then be sent on to Dr Tarjanne’s family in Finland.

Dr Tarjanne was a close personal friend of many of us here today, so let us now take a moment of silence to remember him, and his huge contribution to the Union.

And secondly, we were all terribly shocked to hear of the news of the sudden death of the President of Poland, Lech Kaczynski, who was involved in a tragic aircraft accident in Smolensk at the weekend, along with his wife and many other senior Polish government officials and military leaders. This is a terrible event for Poland, and for all who know Poland.

On behalf of ITU, I present our deepest condolences to the Government and the People of Poland.

So let us please stand now, and pause, in commemoration.

Distinguished Councillors,

Let me now formally welcome you to the 2010 session of ITU Council.

It is only six months since I addressed you last, here in Geneva, and just under six months before we reconvene in Guadalajara for the Plenipotentiary Conference. So please treat this as an intermediate State of the Union address, between more comprehensive reports.

Over the past six months I am pleased to note that ITU has continued to be both busy and productive. And I am particularly pleased that we have continued to leverage the benefits of the federative structure of the Union.

Each of the three Sectors has been doing exemplary work since we last met. I will not go into detail now, but I would like to highlight just a few examples, among their many other activities, which show the Sectors’ dedication and commitment to the Union’s greater goals and wider achievements.

ITU-R, for example, has been making headlines with its work in standardizing 3D TV, and has been promoting the use of space technology in delivering emergency communications.

ITU-T, for its part, moved quickly to adopt a new standard for universal charger solutions for mobile phones, which will help combat climate change – and which attracted a high-level of media interest around the world.

ITU-D has also been doing fantastic work, especially in the area of emergency and disaster communications, and in particular provided – and continues to provide – considerable assistance in Haiti and Chile after the earthquakes in those countries.

All three Sectors also held their annual Advisory Group meetings in February, and I was honoured to be present at RAG, TSAG and TDAG.
Distinguished Councillors,

We also organized a number of important external events since the last time we met here, and will organize others between now and October.

These events offer an unrivalled opportunity for us to interact more closely with membership, as well as giving us the chance to bring the ITU agenda to the highest international level.

Just after our previous Council meeting, we held the 9th Global Symposium for Regulators in Beirut, with the theme ‘Hands-on or Hands-off? Stimulating growth through effective ICT regulation’.

The GSR focused on the challenges of convergence and the changing role of regulators, with the participants – including regulators, representatives from the private sector, investors and consumers – discussing a broad range of issues. These included: creating an enabling environment for investment; IP interconnection; consumer protection; regulation of mobile termination rates; and Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP).

Following its success in 2008, the GSR was again held in conjunction with the Global Industry Leaders Forum, which discussed regulatory and policy issues related to stimulating ICT investment during a period of global economic downturn, universal service, and convergence.

Photo: Openning ceremony - ITU Council 2010 Just a few days later, at the end of November, we held the second in the series of ITU Connect events, ITU Connect CIS. This took place in Minsk, and brought together some 350 participants from across the CIS region, including five Heads of State and Government, and many other leaders from both the public and private sectors.

Priority areas to emerge from the Connect CIS event included investing in broadband infrastructure to support advanced services and applications; enhancing cybersecurity; policy and regulatory reform to boost ICT investment; and preparing for the transition from analogue to digital broadcasting.
Ladies and gentlemen,

Looking ahead over the next few months, we are especially busy in May and June this year.

From 10 to 14 May we will be hosting the WSIS Forum here in Geneva. The WSIS Forum is absolutely key this year, as 2010 marks the half-way mark from WSIS in 2005 to the Millennium Development Goals in 2015. This gives us a unique opportunity for a mid-term review.

I am pleased to report that almost 50 countries participated in the open consultation process for this event, and submitted more than 110 contributions.

The Forum itself will offer participants a series of diverse meetings, including high-level debates addressing critical issues to the WSIS implementation and follow-up in multi-stakeholder set-ups; WSIS action line facilitation meetings; thematic workshops; kick-off meetings for new initiatives and projects; and speed-exchanges facilitating networking among the participants; among others. Let me encourage as many of you as possible to attend!

On the occasion of the WSIS Forum this year we will also be publishing the World Telecommunication Development Report, which will detail the latest data, trends and analysis from around the world.

Hot on the heels of the WSIS Forum, comes World Telecommunication and Information Society Day, WTISD, which this year will be celebrated in Shanghai to coincide with the World Expo 2010. It will also, of course, be our opportunity to celebrate 145 years of ITU’s existence.

As you know, the theme for WTISD this year is ‘Better city, better life with ICTs’, and we will be using the occasion to demonstrate how ICTs play a catalysing role in achieving better living standards in future urban environments and in building greener cities which help to combat climate change.

Shortly after WTISD in Shanghai comes an event of great consequence for ITU. I am referring of course to the World Telecommunication Development Conference, which is taking place in Hyderabad, India, from 24 May to 4 June.

I cannot over-emphasize the exceptional importance of the WTDC this year, and I hope to see many of you actively participating. The WTDC reviews the numerous programmes and initiatives of the Development Sector and sets ITU’s development agenda for the four years ahead.

WTDC-10 marks the culmination of a series of regional preparatory meetings in each region of the world, and will be an essential step in assessing the progress achieved in the implementation of the ambitious action plan launched in 2006 in Doha. The Conference will adopt a declaration and an action plan that will pave the way to building on the foundations of a truly global information society for all.

Distinguished Councillors,

Looking now at some more internal activities of the Union which I would like to share with you today, I would first like to update you concerning IPSAS, the new International Public Sector Accounting Standards being implemented within the UN system.

I am proud to be able to confirm that ITU is one of the first agencies to have successfully implemented IPSAS – on time and under budget!

As a result, our financial statements will now be much more transparent and easier to understand, and the move to full results-based budgeting and results-based management will be greatly facilitated.

I hope you will also have noticed the opening in January of the History of ITU Portal, which marks an important moment in ITU's history. Not only does this ensure the long-term preservation of documents which go right back to the founding of ITU in 1865, but it also makes ITU's history available and freely accessible to anyone with internet access, wherever they live or work. We will be having a presentation on the History of ITU portal during Council.

I look forward to seeing further key documents and outcomes of major conferences becoming available online through the portal over the coming months and years.

Returning to the present, I was very pleased with the third ITU Senior Management Retreat, which was held over the last weekend in February this year. We were successful in our primary aim for this retreat, which was to clarify and build consensus among the senior management around the organization’s vision in relation to the ICT sector and the UN.

I would very much like to thank the staff members who took part and who brought a fresh enthusiasm and optimism to the weekend.

A key aim of the retreat was to reflect on how ITU could ensure that its state of expertise keeps pace with ongoing changes and keep its activities relevant to the most important issues facing our industry. To this end, I invited highly-renowned industry leaders to join us on the first day of the retreat, and their participation enabled open and frank discussions with some of the world’s leading experts in the ICT sector.

As well as engaging with industry leaders, we have also been strengthening our ties with the UN, notably through the opening of the ITU’s UN liaison office in New York.

Our UN liaison office has an important role to play in interpreting the ITU to other UN bodies and providing an integrated marketing communication service for the ITU. You may have noticed that in this regard we have refreshed the ITU flag with the UN blue, to celebrate 60 years of ITU as a UN specialized agency.

Last month, I was also pleased to be able to address a well-attended UN Ambassadors’ meeting in New York, which gave a detailed overview of ITU’s work and highlighted ITU’s important role within the UN system.

And during this past weekend, I participated in the UN Chief Executive Board meeting in Vienna. I briefed the Executive heads on major ITU activities, and I must say that it is very gratifying to see that ITU initiatives are now receiving more attention throughout the UN system. In particular, the impact of ICTs on major UN global issues – such as emergency and disaster relief, climate change, and the MDGs – is now clearly recognized.

Ladies and gentlemen,

In other UN-related news, you may also have heard that ITU is working with UNESCO in establishing a ‘Commission for Broadband Development’. This will be chaired by President Paul Kagame of Rwanda. The Vice-Chairs will be Irina Bokova, Director-General of UNESCO, and myself.

The broadband commission has the full support of the UN Secretary-General, and will report to the 2010 MDG Summit in September.

The commission complements ITU’s own ‘Build on Broadband’ campaign, which is designed to increase awareness on the vital role broadband will play in the 21st century in every country in the world.

High-speed broadband networks already underpin the great majority of human activity – ensuring that everything from hospitals to schools to government offices can function properly, as well as enabling international food distribution, transport, and industrial processes.

Indeed, it is fair to say, that broadband is a kind of ‘project for the planet’, as we can see from the plethora of national broadband programmes currently underway around the world. It is therefore gratifying to see that ITU has taken the lead with ‘Build on Broadband’ in getting ICTs back into the mainstream of the mandate of the UN and its specialized agencies.

Broadband will no doubt be one of the many topics we will discuss in October in Guadalajara at PP-10, as we define and chart the future shape and direction of the Union over the next four years.

Indeed, I am hoping that we can boost the visibility of the Plenipotentiary Conference, and enrich and inform the debate, by organizing a High-Level Segment dedicated to ‘Our Shared Broadband Future’, on the opening day of the Conference.

Other UN agencies and programmes devote part of their governing bodies to high-level consideration of strategic issues, and the proposed HLS would enable PP-10 to gather and incorporate government and industry visions, right from the start.

I would therefore propose that we invite a number of Heads of State and CEOs from ITU Sector Members to share their vision for the future of ICTs and broadband internet, in order to offer delegates the opportunity to benefit from a range of perspectives on the latest trends and enhance our debates.

Three other observations about PP-10, before I close:

Firstly, as I mentioned last year at Council, it is very important for the future of the Union that we find the right way to put in place more stable and more predictable funding mechanisms – for the benefits of both membership and the secretariat. With the implementation of new systems such as IPSAS we now have the necessary transparency and discipline to achieve this. Indeed, with better reporting mechanisms, I hope that Member States will be convinced that supporting ITU’s work is good value for money, and as the world moves out of the present financial crisis Member States will consider increasing their ITU contributions.

Secondly, I would like to see PP-10 take steps towards stabilizing the basic texts of the Union, with a view to seeing if we can create durable texts that do not require frequent amendment, and which make it easier for the membership to tell us clearly what they want.

And thirdly, I believe we need to work together to increase our Sector membership, to broaden and strengthen the Union. As a market-responsive organization in a fast-changing environment, we need to work constantly to continue to increase our relevance. To this end, we must attract and welcome new members from all branches of ICTs – from traditional players to new market entrants – while retaining existing members with active engagements across our three Sectors.

So perhaps we need to ask whether the membership categories – which go back to 1998 and beyond – are still relevant and appropriate in today’s world. In a world with close to five billion mobile cellular subscriptions and two billion internet users, perhaps we can simplify things for prospective members? Let’s explore this together, taking into account the complex needs of different constituencies, such as developing country members or academia, and see if we can find a way to strengthen our membership. This would be to everyone’s advantage.


Distinguished Councillors, we have a full agenda before us, so let me close at this point so that we can move ahead. I thank you for your attention, and look forward to another productive session of Council.