Welcoming Remarks by Mr. Sha Zukang, Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs to the World E-Parliament Conference 2009
3 November 2009, Washington D.C.
Honourable Speaker Pelosi,
Honourable President of the Inter-Parliamentary Union,
Honourable Speaker of the People’s Assembly of Egypt,
Honourable Deputy Speaker of the National Assembly of Hungary,
Distinguished members of Parliament,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
I am pleased to join the Speaker of the House of Representatives of the United States in welcoming you to the third World e-Parliament Conference. I wish to thank our gracious host, Madame Speaker Nancy Pelosi, for opening this historic Chamber to the United Nations and to your fellow Parliamentarians from around the world.
The United Nations and the Inter-Parliamentary Union came together in 2005 to launch the Global Centre for ICT in Parliament. An alliance of many partners, the Global Centre serves as a powerful catalyst for legislatures wishing to exchange experiences and measure their progress among peer institutions.
Today, within the framework of the Global Centre, representatives of more than 90 assemblies, from 77 countries, are gathered here for this conference. Our focus is on using ICT to enhance legislative processes and strengthen the role of parliaments as key drivers of effective governance, democracy and development, including building the ‘information society’ worldwide.
Technology has, time and again, been the engine of human progress. In recent years, information and communication technologies have been credited for numerous advances in human development, from education and health to agriculture and sustainable development.
For parliaments, the benefits of ICT can be enormous. ICTs can make the democratic process more transparent, accessible and accountable, by facilitating access of members of parliaments, parliamentary administrations, media and citizens to information and services.
ICTs can be instrumental in strengthening citizen engagement, providing innovative ways to interact with citizens, as well as enable their access to parliamentary proceedings and documents.
The application of ICTs to internal practices and services can help to make parliaments more efficient in carrying out their legislative, oversight and representational functions.
And ICTs can help connect parliamentarians and parliamentary institutions with their counterparts, in North and South, strengthening their knowledge and information on the issues they confront.
Indeed, from the financial and economic crisis, to food security, energy challenges, public health and climate change, many of the challenges that weigh on the legislative agendas in countries around the world are global challenges that we all confront.
Despite the evident potential of ICTs, and despite some progress made in improving access, a vast digital divide remains between developed and developing countries.
Consider the findings of last year’s World e-Parliament Report, produced by our UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs, based on survey information from 105 parliaments. More than 90 percent of the parliaments surveyed had basic ICT and internet access. Yet, only 59 percent had a system for managing bills and amendments.
Statistics from the developing countries paint an even worse picture: only four percent of respondents from developing countries had a system for managing bills, compared to 74 percent in the developed nations. And while 73 percent of the developed countries had a system for communication between members of parliament and their constituents through a website, no respondents from the developing countries – not a single one — had such a capacity.
Preliminary data gathered for the 2010 World e-Parliament Report indicates that there is still a big gap between what has been achieved and the transformative potential ICTs hold.
I am heartened to note that some parliaments are at an advanced stage of ICT adoption. They have valuable experience and expertise to share. I extend my appreciation to those parliaments and parliamentary staff who have contributed to reinforcing the activities of the Global Centre.
At the United Nations World Summit on the Information Society, in 2003 and 2005, world leaders set out a vision of an equitable, open and accessible information society, in support of achieving development for all, especially for the poor and most vulnerable.
I want to remind everyone here of our collective responsibility, as an international community, to ensure that all countries, rich and poor, have access to the full benefits of technology, so that they can achieve their development goals.
I look forward to our fruitful discussions and wish us all a successful outcome.