Mr Ahmed Laouyane, Tunisia
Candidate for the post of Director, Telecommunication Development Bureau (BDT)
Many consider that the ITU is threatened by the upheavals of the telecommunication industry. New organizations such as the WTO or regional bodies take center-stage and industry fora that are less formal and more focused multiply. What future do you see for the ITU? What would be your personal contribution (what initiatives/focus would you bring) as elected official to bringing innovation and fostering the adaptation of the Union to the driving forces of change so as to keep the ITU a pre-eminent forum for international telecommunications?
I must admit that I do not share the opinion of those who believe that ITU is threatened by upheavals in the telecommunication sector. On the contrary, while these radical changes confronting the public and private sectors in the telecommunication world of course constitute a challenge for the Union, I also perceive them as an undeniable and exceptional opportunity to enhance the status of our organization still further and make its work even more relevant worldwide.
The prosperity, not to say explosion, of the telecommunication sector, has not come about by chance. ITU's untiring work over a period of more than 133 years has something to do with it. It is not surprising, therefore, to see ITU projected from the periphery to the very centre of economic, social and cultural life and to the centre of attention of the international community.
For a long time, ITU was virtually the only player on the world stage promoting the development of the global telecommunication network. Throughout the last two or three decades, we have not ceased preaching high and low that telecommunications have a strategic role to play in the economic, social and cultural development process of the Member States. Few people would now refute this. It is thus only natural, and even desirable, that other organizations, both regional and international, should now be realizing the significant contribution that telecommunication products and services make to economic growth, and that they should wish to contribute their share to the smooth development of the sector.
Whether it be on the thorny issue of accounting rates, the WTO agreements on liberalization of telecommunication services or the emerging global mobile personal communication systems (GMPCS), never before has the international community been so in need of a worldwide organization whose major objective is to promote the smooth development of telecommunications for the utmost benefit of all nations; one could jokingly - but in fact quite seriously - say that if ITU didn't exist, it would have to be invented!
ITU's future is therefore extremely promising, in so far as it manages to succeed, as it has indeed always done, in adjusting to the new environment. Indeed, the ease with which, since its inception, ITU has always adjusted to the constantly changing environment is to my mind one of our organization's greatest strengths.
The Union is the oldest of the international organizations, and yet, at the same time, the most youthful by virtue of its dynamism and efficiency. It has always been able to take a long hard look at itself and adjust to the new environment, from Plenipotentiary Conference to Plenipotentiary Conference, with from time to time a major "overhaul" instigated after considered reflection and without haste. An example of this can be seen in the changes that were introduced following the work of the independent commission (the so-called Maitland Commission) that studied the Union's development mission, leading to the establishment of the Centre for Telecommunications Development (CTD) in 1986 and, three years later, the establishment of BDT by the Plenipotentiary Conference (Nice, 1989). Following on from this, the work of the High Level Committee resulted in a new structure for the Union, adopted by the Additional Plenipotentiary Conference (Geneva, 1992), giving the Union new instruments in the form of a Constitution with stable provisions, and a Convention for provisions, liable to require frequent updating.
In the new structure, the Development Sector and BDT were also given their rightful place on a par with the other two Sectors and Bureaux.
In Kyoto in 1994 ITU introduced, on a trial basis, a new mechanism for discussion of aspects of world telecommunication policy which clearly exceed purely national jurisdiction, namely the World Telecommunication Policy Forum. It may be seen, therefore, that ITU has always found ways and means of adjusting to changes in the environment, and I remain extremely confident that the Minneapolis Conference will not only endorse the ITU-2000 recommendations, but also take innovative measures to strengthen the financial base of the Union as well as introducing the necessary changes to enhance the role of the private sector in ITU. In any event, as far as the Development Sector is concerned, the Valletta Conference laid the necessary foundations for such an enhanced role by setting up an advisory subgroup on the private sector.
Many seasoned observers have remarked that since 1995 the BDT's and ITU Development Sector's many initiatives and accomplishments have been well-designed and successful. I believe that I have made a significant contribution to establishing and consolidating the structures of the Union's Development Sector and instilling a new momentum in BDT's work. These initiatives are reflected in practice by a spectacular growth in the number of ITU-D Sector Members, from 40 to 170 in the period 1995-1998. ITU has always collaborated with regional and international organizations; but, for the first time in ITU, we have also taken the initiative of involving non-governmental organizations (NGOs).
At the operational level we have launched large-scale projects, some of them covering several sectors, such as TELEMEDICINE, TELE-EDUCATION, SPACECOM, GMPCS, the Internet Initiative for Africa, community TELECENTRES, regional submarine cable systems, the Youth Programme, environmental protection and, most recently, establishment of the Task Force on Gender Issues, all with the aim of securing sustainable development.
At the same time, mammoth efforts have been undertaken to establish an information system for our membership, through databases and documents, the publication of regular regional and world telecommunication development reports, the last of which was devoted to universal access, the central theme of our programme for the forthcoming period. The information and reports we publish are now considered as authoritative sources within the international community and have become an undisputed international reference.
I have the very firm intention to continue in the same vein over the next four years, while laying more emphasis in greater input from the private sector to BDT's activities, the development of new partnerships, quantitative and qualitative strengthening of ITU's regional presence and increasingly sound and dynamic internal management within BDT, giving pride of place to work in the field, specific projects and tangible and measurable outputs. My ambition is to make BDT the international centre of excellence for telecommunication development.
I was particularly honoured when, in September 1997, Time Magazine placed me among the top 50 world cyber elite.
In todays telecommunication environment, it is no longer realistic to believe that the Union can be the focal point for all matters relating to telecommunications in the global information economy and society. The world is now too complex and telecommunications too pervasive for a single organization to be the focus of all issues of concern to the international community. What do you consider to be the core competencies of the ITU? What issues should ITU focus on and what could be phased out of ITUs mandate or left to regional/sub-regional organizations? What should be ITUs role in telecommunication sector reform?
First of all, it is obvious that, with the globalization of the economy and the emergence of the global information society, the Union can no longer deal with all telecommunication issues on its own. As I stated above, I look very favourably on the involvement of other organizations in activities within ITU's institutional jurisdiction. Our aim must be complementarity in the implementation of the work programmes of all these organizations, including the ITU Sectors, so as to avoid duplication of tasks and ensure that financial and other resources available for telecommunication development worldwide are pooled and used effectively.
As to ITU's core competencies, it must be remembered that the responsibility for identifying and setting these competencies lies with the Member States of the Union, and not the General Secretariat or the Bureaux of the ITU Sectors, or even with the elected officials. Having said that, my own personal view is that the issue is less one of broadening the Union's competencies, of curtailing certain activities or of "passing on" some activities to other organizations, than of "delivering the goods" more effectively, in other words improving the services we offer our membership in terms of speed, relevance and quality of the products and services delivered.
As far as ITU's role in telecommunication sector reform is concerned, while recognizing that it used to be the World Bank which was the leader in this field in the mid-1980s, ITU realized the importance of this phenomenon very early on, taking the initiative to set up the Hansen Group which issued the report entitled "The changing telecommunication environment" (1987). As Deputy Director of CTD at the time, I had launched, in collaboration with the World Bank, a series of colloquiums on telecommunication liberalization and privatization, work which I subsequently carried on within the framework of BDT, through the Buenos Aires (1994-1998) and Valletta (1998-2002) Action Plans, Study Group 1 and operational programmes (databases, publications, guides, training programmes, direct assistance and advice) with the aim of helping governments formulate the necessary policies and regulatory structures to create a stable and transparent environment conducive to attracting investment. This is one of BDT's major priorities for the four years to come.
Recent ITU conferences have shown that the requirements of global networks and national sovereign rights are increasingly on a collision course. How can they be reconciled in an ITU context?
The Plenipotentiary Conference (Kyoto, 1994) showed great foresight in anticipating the potential conflict between the requirements of global networks and national sovereign rights, and was wise enough to institute an ad hoc discussion mechanism within the Union where the main players involved could get together to find solutions to their problems. I am referring, of course, to the policy forum. The results obtained at the 1996 Forum, on global mobile personal communication systems by satellite (GMPCS), and the 1998 Forum, on trade in telecommunications, testify to the value of such a global meeting at which the international community can address issues whose scope clearly exceeds national jurisdiction, and find appropriate solutions. The two Forums have proven that ITU can effectively reconcile some of the needs inherent in the global information society and national sovereign rights, and I am confident that the Minneapolis Conference will take the necessary measures to maintain this global discussion forum with its specific characteristics (openness, flexibility, minimum formalism ).
Demands on the organization are increasing faster than its resources: deregulation brings more players on the scene and, in turn, more members in the ITU; on the other hand, the financial foundation of the organization is eroding because of the smaller number of contributory units chosen by members. Various proposals to strengthen the ITU including cost-recovery and revenue-generation options have met stiff resistance as did the proposal to grant the industry a greater say in the allocation of resources and in the setting of priorities in exchange for a more important share in the expenses. What would you advocate as the way forward?
Much has been written on this subject over the last four years, particularly within the ITU-2000 Group. I am not sure that the ITU-2000 recommendations before the Plenipotentiary Conference - if they are adopted, which I sincerely hope they will be - will alone be sufficient to strengthen the organization's financial base. I should like, first of all, to make a few observations in this regard.
It is worth recalling that it is the Member States of the Union that, at Plenipotentiary Conferences and Sector conferences, establish work programmes and approve the necessary budget appropriations so that those work programmes can be carried out. It is therefore up to the Member States of the Union to ensure that the volume of the financial contributions provided to the Union is consistent with the extent of the work programmes that they themselves have decided upon.
In this regard, I believe that over 75 per cent of the financial contributions to the Union's regular budget comes from the Member States. While this may have been all well and good in the era of State monopolies, I fully appreciate that administrations, which have seen their national providers of telecommunication services privatized and the political, regulatory and operational functions split, are no longer in a position to make financial contributions at the same level as in the past. I believe we need to find a better balance between contributions from administrations (government authorities) and contributions from the private sector. And I am convinced that the private sector would willingly agree to increase its financial contributions substantially if it could also play a larger role in decision-making and in the running of the Union's activities. What is needed is to find the right apportionment formula.
While recognizing that the possibilities offered by cost recovery and other revenue-generating solutions in the provision of the Union's products and services must be explored further, a note of caution is warranted: given that some 80% of the financial contributions ITU receives today comes from 20 or so major industrialized countries, the Union's financial base can only be strengthened in so far as there is a political will and consensus to do so within that group of countries. Moreover, I think one must not lose sight of the sense of solidarity that has always prevailed among the Union's Members, wealthy and less wealthy alike, contributing on a voluntary basis and enjoying a "buffet-type" service, each according to its own appetite and needs.
Given the broad membership of the organization (vendors, scientific organizations, service providers, broadcasters in countries from the poorest of the planet to the most powerful nations), how can the organization address their competing needs in a cost-effective way?
ITU's broad membership is, in my view, one of its greatest assets and one of its main challenges. Your question is certainly on the mark, for the Union's very raison d'ŕtre rests first and foremost on international cooperation between all Members of the Union, as stated in Article 1 of the Constitution. There can be no doubt that it is the industrialized countries that have benefited the most from ITU's activities to date. However, as demonstrated by WTO's free-trade agreement on telecommunication services and the GMPCS accord, to give but two examples, the opening up of markets for telecommunication services, particularly in developing countries, has become a priority. Never before has the world economic environment been so propitious for increased cooperation between industrialized countries and developing countries, in the framework of what I refer to as the strategic partnership for development.
The 1995-1999 Strategic Plan said "At present, the ITU is surely one of the least known international organizations, in spite of the fact that the development of the global telecommunication network is increasingly vital to the welfare of humanity. The Members of the Union have asked it to play a leadership role in the international community. To do this, the ITU must communicate its message more effectively than it does at present, to ensure that governments are aware of the importance of telecommunications as a tool for social and economic development". What concrete steps would you take to fulfill this objective, what would be your "Communication" agenda?
I entirely agree that ITU needs to communicate its message more effectively. To do that, we first have to carry out the work programme that the Member States and Sector Members have established for the coming four years in the most efficient way possible. There is no better way to get the message across than by living up to our Members' expectations and successfully carrying out the activities entrusted to us.
We must also open our doors wider to the new players that want, in ever greater numbers, to join with ITU in pursuit of our objectives. Here, I am thinking in particular of the private sector, which increasingly is recognizing the advantages of a partnership with ITU. From 1994 to 1998, the number of Sector Members participating in and contributing to the work of the Development Sector increased from 40 to 170. I intend to do everything possible to maintain that growth, focusing particularly on the small and medium-sized enterprises that are springing up daily in developing countries, so as to spur on a partnership movement that shows great promise
Thirdly, it is essential that ITU should continue to serve as a forum for discussion, for dealing with world telecommunication policy issues, as in the case of the policy forums held in 1996 and 1998 and the development conferences and colloquiums. The experience gained at those gatherings and the success they enjoyed should, I hope, encourage the Minneapolis Plenipotentiary Conference to decide to continue organizing the Forum, although with greater involvement on the part of the Sectors concerned (with a Sector leader being named according to the subject matter to be taken up on each occasion), and to hold them, in so far as possible, in conjunction with larger Union conferences.
What would be your top three priorities for the period up to the next Plenipotentiary Conference?
My priorities are those of the Development Sector as set forth in the draft Strategic Plan of the Union 1999-2003, and as reflected in the Valletta Action Plan, namely direct assistance, development and mobilization of resources, partnerships, sharing of information and internal reforms. So far as specific actions are concerned, my priorities will be as follows:
One: Implementing the Valletta Action Plan fully, including the special programme for the least developed countries, supported by the implementation of the resolutions and recommendations of the Valletta Development Conference about a central focus activity, namely the establishment of strategic partnerships and cooperation agreements - with the private sector, to be sure, but also with international and regional telecommunication and development organizations and non-governmental organizations - and the mobilization of resources, including financial and human resources, in the interests of telecommunication development, all with one overriding strategic objective: to broaden coverage further, towards universal access worldwide.
Two: Strengthening the competencies of BDT personnel (both at headquarters and in the regional offices) so as to make the Bureau a true international network of centres of excellence in telecommunication development, in regard to policy, regulatory affairs, economics, finance, research and new technologies.
Three: Consolidating the structure of ITU-D and enhancing its working methods in order better to serve its customers and furnish them with the products and services they want, promptly and to a high standard. This will be done by furthering the internal reforms begun during the first period from 1995 to 1998, particularly in regard to:
Any other message you would like to communicate?
As a candidate seeking a second term of office as Director of the Development Bureau, I should like to mention a few of the things the Bureau has accomplished during my past four years at the helm.
I am particularly proud to have seen the establishment of the Development Sector's first study groups and the organization of their work, the holding of two regional conferences (one for Africa and one for the Arab States) plus the World Telecommunication Development Conference in Malta, the implementation of 12 operational programmes pursuant to the Buenos Aires Action Plan, the establishment of the Telecommunication Development Advisory Board (TDAB), the holding of a full series of regional colloquiums on financing, trade and tariffs, and the implementation of cooperation projects amounting to some $US 30 million a year, largely within the framework of funds-in-trust financing.
I am, too, especially proud of the success of the various initiatives I have undertaken, and of the progress made by the different national, regional and worldwide projects that I have launched during my first term of office. These I regard as representing an auspicious foundation from which to pursue our development programmes in the future.
Those who placed their trust in me in Kyoto, and the even greater numbers that have expressed to me their high regard, know that I have devoted the whole of my being to advancing the cause of telecommunication development in the world. My credo is simple: no fantasies, no rash promises, only actions, deeds, and tangible results, without slogans or fanfare, just faith and a commitment to work for a better world for all, at the dawn of the new millennium.n
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