Statement by Mr. José Antonio Ocampo, Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs at the Inauguration of the Office of the Global Centre for ICT in Parliament
New York, 17 November 2006

Excellencies, Distinguished participants, Ladies and gentlemen:

It is with great honour that I welcome you to our office in Rome for the inauguration of the new premises of the Global Centre for ICT in Parliament.

I am very pleased to share this event with President Casini of the IPU, President Marini of the Italian Senate, President Sorour of the Egyptian People’s Assembly, Vice President Baccini of the Italian Senate, Hon. Doidge of the South African Parliament, the Italian Vice-Minister for Foreign Affairs, Ms. Patrizia Sentinelli, and the President of the Foreign Affairs Committee of the Italian Chamber, Umberto Ranieri, and to address such a distinguished audience.

The decision by the Department of Economic and Social Affairs to establish the Global Centre here in Rome is the recognition of the efforts made by the Italian institutions - the Parliament and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in primis - to support the United Nations’ work in strengthening legislatures around the world through ICT means, and thereby promoting the principles of good governance and democracy.

I would like to recall that, since 2002, DESA and Italy have been working together for the modernization of parliamentary practices in nine African Parliaments. I am now pleased to say that that project has evolved into a full Africa i-Parliaments Action Plan, a continental challenge embraced by the majority of African assemblies under the auspices of the Pan African Parliament.

We must remain engaged in this African process and keep the political momentum high. Other donors and partners, as the European Parliament has done, shall join the United Nations, Italy, the Pan African Parliament, and all the African Parliaments in exploiting new technologies in favour of democratic values: openness, transparency, dialogue, and citizens’ participation.

The Global Centre for ICT in Parliament builds on our experience in Africa, where we have learned that parliamentary cooperation can be strong, and coordination can pay off.

The lesson from Africa is clear. Regional approaches, genuine partnerships, and inter-parliamentary dialogue can avoid unnecessary duplication of efforts and waste of resources and, at the same time, promote common understandings.

Let me give you an example. In mid February 2007, in Nigeria, representatives from more than 30 African parliaments will meet to find consensus on how to provide better access to legislation and parliamentary documentation to the public, and on how to do it more efficiently and effectively through common standards. This is a very important step to increase openness and transparency of parliaments, but even more relevant for its regional and cooperative nature.

But more importantly, the Global Centre comes to light as a result of a series of political consultations championed by President Casini and President Sorour, who gathered consensus from Speakers of Parliaments around the world on the need to place the many fragmented initiatives in this field under one framework.

The inception of the Global Centre initiative was announced at the World Summit for the Information Society in Tunis in November 2005—exactly one year ago—as a result of the productive collaboration between the United Nations and the Inter-Parliamentary Union, and in response to the 2005 World Summit recommendation calling for stronger cooperation between the United Nations and national and regional parliaments.

I am very pleased to say that the latest report of the UN Secretary-General on cooperation between the United Nations and the Inter-Parliamentary Union has highlighted the good progress made toward the achievement of this objective.

And let me say that the Global Centre, in the year since Tunis, has demonstrated its potential concretely by bringing, through a multistakeholder dialogue, the parliamentary dimension into the WSIS implementation process; by building a network of promising alliances with key players from different segments of the society, including the Global Alliance on ICT for Development (GAID); by establishing a very rich portal where information and best practices are already shared; and by carrying out and planning a series of analytical and capacity-building activities that will fully unfold in 2007 and 2008.

We need to acknowledge that this was made possible thanks to the generous contributions of the Italian Development Cooperation and the Dutch Development Cooperation, which gave impetus to the Global Centre’s activities.

I expect the Global Centre to continue to work in this direction, and I will spare no effort to make sure that we deliver effective results to increase parliaments’ integration and role in today’s interdependent and interconnected world. President Casini and I will do so with the help of a group of Members of the Board of the Global Centre, who will guide and inspire its work.

In this regard, I am very pleased to announce that the Speakers of the Chamber of Deputies of Italy, the People’s Assembly of Egypt, the House of Representatives of the Philippines, the Assembly of South Africa, the European Parliament, and the Pan-African Parliament have firmly accepted our invitation to be Members of the Board. We expect other members to confirm in the next weeks and join in the first Board meeting to be held here in Rome on 2 March 2007.

Excellencies, ladies and gentlemen,

While not the only instrument at hand to cope with these challenges, information and communication technologies offer great opportunities and potential gains that legislatures should seize to enhance their capacities to oversee the operations and performance of Government, improve the lawmaking process, and increase their abilities to ensure that concepts of good governance are upheld in society.

Parliaments capable to establish participatory channels of communication with their citizens, including at the sub-national level, and to implement effective constituency outreach, will be better able to serve people’s interests and to ensure inclusive and representative decision-making processes.

And Parliaments able to analyze, share, and compare legislation and procedures internationally will be in a better position to debate, promote, and monitor international agreements and negotiations, including those reached at the United Nations, and to address and advance major development issues requiring the enactment or revision of national laws.

With the establishment of the Global Centre, the United Nations, the Inter-Parliamentary Union, and Parliaments around the world cannot miss the opportunity to leverage the forces of the information society in support of development and democracy.