Statement by Mr. José Antonio Ocampo, Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs at the Opening of the Conference on the Policymaking Role of Parliaments for the Development of the Information Society
Rome, 3 March 2007

Honourable Speakers and Presidents,
Distinguished Members of Parliament,
Ladies and Gentlemen:

It is a great honour to welcome you to this important Conference from this podium, in the heart of ancient Rome, together with the Honourable Mr. Bertinotti, President of the Chamber of Deputies of Italy, and the Honourable Mr. Casini, President of the Inter-Parliamentary Union, and to address such a distinguished audience.

Let me thank with particular gratitude the President of the Chamber of Deputies of Italy for hosting the event in his “house”, in this beautiful setting, and for allowing international dignitaries from more than 60 countries around the world and representatives of international organizations and institutions to gather here to debate for the next two days key issues concerning the advancement of the Information Society.

Today, we live in a fast changing world where free flows of information, ideas and knowledge across the globe are making profound changes on the way the world itself functions.

Year after year, public sector services, voice and data communication, media information, and even television programmes are being delivered differently, and we cannot predict what new technological and scientific advances will achieve for human developments.

The Internet has become an important global resource, critical to both developed and developing countries in their quest to expand economic and social opportunities for all. New information and communication technologies have been adopted for different purposes: by individuals and communities to make their voices heard; by businesses and institutions to compete in the global economy; by governments and local authorities to innovate and engage their citizens more directly.

Yet, the benefits of the ICT revolution are still unevenly distributed between developed and developing countries. And within societies, including in the most advanced, opportunities are still simply not available and certainly not available on an equal basis to marginalized and vulnerable groups, such as unemployed and underprivileged people, migrants, minorities, older persons, and persons with disabilities. And, as underscored a few years ago in the UN’s World Public Sector Report, ICT is still greatly underutilized as a tool for enhancing political participation and, we could add, for enhancing parliamentary action.

Our challenge is therefore to harness the potential of ICT to achieve common development goals and, in the words of the World Summit on the Information Society, “to build a people-centred, inclusive and development-oriented Information Society, where everyone can create, access, utilize and share information and knowledge, enabling individuals, communities and peoples to achieve their full potential in promoting their sustainable development and improving their quality of life”.

It took long and complex negotiations for world leaders to agree on such an all-inclusive and equitable global vision at the World Summit. This vision also reflects the dialogue held with many actors who contributed to it through the multi-stakeholder and participatory process that characterized the Summit proceedings.

Here in Rome, we have the unique opportunity to remain engaged with the spirit of the World Summit on the Information Society and to keep the political momentum alive. By bringing the views of Members of Parliament and, through them, of their constituencies, to the global debate, we shall continue to foster the multi-stakeholder approach and ensure that the principles agreed upon by UN Member States, first in Geneva in 2003 and later in Tunis in 2005, are upheld and advanced.

Parliaments have a key role to play in shaping the future and giving next generations the opportunities they deserve. As institutions that exercise oversight and legislative functions, Parliaments have the responsibility to act as political catalysts for directing new technologies towards social and economic development goals, to ensure the adequate protection of new and emerging rights, and to promote those enabling frameworks needed for the development of a truly inclusive Information Society, in which the diversity and identity of different constituencies and communities can be effectively safeguarded.

Excellencies, distinguished participants,

The world cannot miss the opportunity to leverage the forces of the Information Society in support of development and democracy. My hope is that our deliberations will strengthen your determination and give you the means to help hold your country’s executive accountable on its commitments for an inclusive and equitable Information Society in which every citizen will feel, with dignity, a genuine sense of belonging.