Statement by Mr. José Antonio Ocampo,Under-Secretary-General of the United Nations for Economic and Social Affairs and chairman of the UN ICT task force to the High-Level Dialogue on Governance, Global Citizenship and Technology: the Role of Parliaments in the Information Society
Tunis, 16 November 2005

While many in the world still remain directly untouched by the information revolution, its transformative effect on our global society cannot be denied. Information and communication technologies offer tremendous potential to raise standards of living and enlarge opportunities for individuals, communities, countries, and regions.

In its Ministerial Declaration of 2000, the high-level segment of the Economic and Social Council called for national programs for putting ICT in the service of development. Since then, several gatherings of country, business, and non-governmental organization representatives have converged towards common understandings on the use of ICTs for development. The WSIS Declaration and Plan of Action produced by the Geneva phase clearly demonstrate this convergence.

It is now agreed, for instance, that the promotion of ICTs should not be treated as a substitute for efforts to ensure the development and modernization of basic sectors. Rather, it should be used to complement and enhance those efforts.

Consensus also exists on the potential of ICTs to empower, benefit, and link people the world over, and to enable “global citizens” to express themselves and to know and respect one another.

No final conclusions can today be drawn on the impact of ICTs on good governance. But these technologies clearly have been helping countries to respond to international calls for standards of accountability, transparency, and participatory governance as critical elements of democracy and State legitimacy. They have also helped to increase dialogue among State institutions and the society at large.

Good governance is a priority goal for both developed and developing countries. Indeed, advanced democracies are still investing resources and efforts to improve governance, not least through ICT tools, at the national and regional levels.

Among the institutions central to promoting and consolidating good governance, Parliaments are especially well placed to take advantage of ICTs to foster democracy and narrow the democratic deficit, to help shape the Information Society and to improve their own particular role within it.

Consider these four broad, non-exhaustive examples:

First, the capacity of a given Parliament in the area of oversight, law-drafting, and general parliamentary procedure depends on efficient administration and the institutional ability to gather, record, manage, and deliver information and knowledge to its Members and staff in a timely manner. This may be improved by introducing parliamentary information systems designed to increase the quality and speed of information flows. That would in turn reinforce the effectiveness and efficiency of the work of the MPs and administrative staff in the research and legislative domain, including on ICT-related legislation.

Second, openness, transparency, and accountability, as well as people’s participation in the democratic process, largely depend on the quality of information available to MPs and parliamentary administrations and on citizens’ access to parliamentary proceedings. Both can be improved through web-based and other ICT applications, which in turn could dramatically strengthen the policy-making process.

Third, people’s participation means more than access to information. The 2003 World Public Sector Report of the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs found that, worldwide, while public administrations are increasingly making use of e-Government as an information tool, there is vast under-utilized potential for e-Government as a tool for increasing citizens’ participation. And Parliaments are perhaps best placed to tap that potential.

Fourth, full and effective participation in the emerging global information network is crucial for an Institution that wants to avoid marginalization from the process of globalization. Parliaments today are confronted with a new reality of integration and information and knowledge exchange, as well as with a new demand for inter-parliamentary cooperation. And that demands a change in the way Parliaments act internally and interact with the outside world, including through the use of ICT.

Distinguished participants:

We gather here to launch an initiative: the Global Centre for Information and Communication Technology in Parliament. Its aims are several: to find new modalities to better inter-relate relevant research and operational work in ICT so that they deliberately reinforce each other; to identify best practices that should be exploited in a much more systematic way; and to create a hub that could help leverage the wide-ranging capabilities of Parliaments to help build better societies and a better globalization.

The Global Centre draws on my Department’s experience in advancing, since 2003, parliamentary information systems and inter-operability in nine legislatures in Africa. But most importantly, it is built on the dialogue and consultations undertaken by Hon. Pier Ferdinando Casini, President of the Chamber of Deputies of Italy, and Hon. Ahmed Sorour, Speaker of the National Assembly of Egypt, with key Parliaments’ leaders around the world.

The close cooperation with African Parliaments is now resulting in a continental Africa i-Parliaments Action Plan. This has inspired the growing realization of the need to place ongoing and related ICT initiatives in Parliaments within a broader framework. While remaining firmly rooted in the application of ICT, such a framework could help harness in a more comprehensive way the efforts of the international community to leverage the forces of the Information Society in support of democracy, the rule of law, and economic and social development.

The engagement and policy direction by national leaders and the Inter-Parliamentary Union in advocating, shaping, and generating support for an effort of this kind has proved essential to its successful launch—and will be even more crucial to its effectiveness. The informal but intense consultations on these issues with key Speakers of Parliament in various regions generated genuine interest and encouraged convergence at the highest level, forging consensus on the most productive way ahead.

The Global Centre, however, can only thrive through a structured dialogue and continuous cooperation among the many actors: Parliaments, academia and centres of excellence, international organizations, civil society, the private sector, and the donor community. There is a need for greater collaboration at the international level to make experiences and resources available in order to facilitate the integration of ICTs in parliamentary processes and to ensure that all Parliaments around the world can contribute meaningfully, from a strengthened position, to implementing and monitoring the internationally agreed goals that make up the global UN Development Agenda.

I am delighted to note that the recommendations in the Outcome Document of the 2005 World Summit are providing additional strength to this initiative. And I am confident that the recent election of Hon. Pier Ferdinando Casini as President of the Inter Parliamentary Union will offer many opportunities to step up UN cooperation with Parliaments and the IPU, especially in the global struggle for fair, equitable, and inclusive development.