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Monday, January 10, 2005
Posted 1:04 PM by Luigi
Fiji and the World Summit on the Information Society
In the article reproduced below CTA's ICT Update, Abel Caine reports on how Fiji’s involvement in the WSIS process has brought Information and Communications Technologies s to the top of the national political agenda.
As a member of the Fijian delegation, I was just one of the 11,000 participants from 175 countries, including 44 heads of state, at the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) in Geneva in December 2003. We had gathered to develop a better understanding of the information revolution and its impact on the international community, but I was also able to discuss the best routes to Fiji and possible trade deals.
During one of the sessions I found myself sitting next to the President of Finland, Ms Tarja Halonen, and she asked where I was from. ‘Ahh, Fiji … paradise’, she replied when I told her. Ms Halonen then turned to the man sitting next to her and asked, ‘Jorma, does Nokia have an office in Fiji?’ Jorma Ollila is the CEO of the Finnish company Nokia, the world’s largest mobile phone supplier. As I sat there next to the president of a country and the head of Nokia, I thought about the ultimate goal of the Summit – to bring the benefits of ICTs to all nations – and began to imagine what it could mean for Fiji.
Fiji’s involvement in the WSIS all started from an email I sent to a few colleagues in the Pacific in late 2002 about the ‘wee-sis’ summit, and asking what we should do about it. Within days we had a busy email list (WSIS Pacific) up and running, and by January 2003 about 20 representatives of 10 Pacific Island countries were heading for the WSIS Asia regional conference in Tokyo. We had worked long and hard on the wording of the ‘SIDS’ paragraph that was to be included in the Tokyo Declaration. It was therefore tragic to see our beautifully crafted paragraph reduced to just a brief reference to ‘small island developing states’ in the final declaration.
By doing the diplomatic rounds and attending meetings, I have become much wiser in the ways of ‘horse-trading’ and national interest politics. Fiji may have missed out with the SIDS paragraph in Tokyo, but it scored big with the ‘youth’ paragraph of the WSIS Geneva Declaration of Principles. Two full sentences were taken directly, with full consensus, from the Fiji submission: ‘… We recognize that young people are the future workforce and leading creators and earliest adopters of ICTs. They must therefore be empowered as learners, developers, contributors, entrepreneurs and decision-makers’.
I always feel very proud when I see my own words being used in documents or on posters at international youth events. As I was a borderline youth (just 32!) at the time of the Geneva summit, I can now use the ‘youth’ paragraph as an example to show young Fijians that they too can make a difference. With the second phase of WSIS now under way, there are still some thorny issues to be settled, such Internet governance and financing for ICTs for development. Fiji will again participate in the discussions to ensure that our unique needs are acknowledged and, perhaps, reflected in the final declaration. We are aware that such a small country is unlikely to have much influence, but it is heartening to know that it is possible to contribute to the process.
One lesson I learned from attending WSIS was that the side meetings are sometimes more important than the formal sessions. In the corridors of the conference centre and at the numerous meetings, I was able to meet an incredible range of people, and to negotiate financial and technical assistance for Fiji.
No less important, Fiji’s involvement in the WSIS process has brought ICTs to the top of the national political agenda. As a result of the constant reporting to senior ministry officials, as well as briefings to cabinet ministers, ICTs are now critical elements in government planning. All ministries are required to produce IT plans to complement corporate strategy plans. What’s more, all ICT expenditures are now routed through one agency and linked to a centralized system that is aligned with regional and global obligations (such as WSIS). The Ministry of Finance has allocated US$6 million for ICT for development in 2005 and, through contacts made at WSIS, Fiji has almost concluded negotiations with China for a concessional loan of US$20 million for e-government projects.
I am about to leave my government post, so I won’t be representing the Fiji government in Tunis. One day, however, I hope that I will once again be sitting next to the President of Finland, so that I can invite her to Fiji to see how we used the WSIS process to become one of the world’s leading ICT countries.
Abel Caine is currently business development manager for ITC Services, Ministry of Finance and National Planning, Fiji.
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