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

Excellencies, distinguished participants, ladies and gentlemen,

While many in the world still remain untouched in any direct way 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.

The rapid progress of these technologies are reducing many traditional obstacles, especially time and distance, to make it possible for people and groups to advance their specific goals through blogs and web-based applications, as is increasingly happening during political elections; for businesses to re-engineer their production systems and quickly outsource segments of it to different parts of the world, as in the classic example of 24-hour, seven-day-a-week call centres located thousands of miles away from their clients; and for “new Silicon valleys” to come alive in technological parks, where companies have now to compete to retain and attract scarce human resources skills.

Several gatherings of country, business, and non-governmental organization representatives have converged towards common understandings on the use of ICT for development. The outcome produced by the Geneva and Tunis phases of the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) clearly demonstrates this convergence.

It is now agreed, for instance, that the promotion of ICT should not be treated as a goal in itself or as a substitute for efforts to develop and modernize the public administration and basic public sector services, such as health and education. Rather, promoting ICT should be approached as a means to complement and enhance those efforts. Consensus also exists on the potential of ICT 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 ICT 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. On one hand, they have empowered citizens and media to take part in public life, while on the other, they have helped 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 ICT 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 three broad, non-exhaustive examples:

First, 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 ICT applications, which in turn could dramatically strengthen the policy-making process.

Second, 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 in the way they interact with the outside world, including through the use of ICT.

Third, through their legislative and oversight functions –and, more generally, their constitutional functions– Parliaments can make the difference for the advancement of an inclusive and equitable Information Society, and therefore of democracy. They can also create the space for a political dialogue and for consensus to give direction to national Information Society strategies and policies.

There is no doubt, therefore, that Parliaments can and must do more in this area. As individuals sharing the same interests from the world over form powerful communities to advance their own goals, Parliaments should find strength around a global partnership to advance the interest of their citizens in this field.

There is in fact an urgent need for greater collaboration at the international level to make experiences and resources available in order to facilitate the integration of ICT in parliamentary processes and to ensure that all Parliaments can contribute meaningfully, from a strengthened position, to implementing and monitoring the internationally agreed goals that make up the WSIS agenda.

This, however, can only thrive through a structured dialogue and continuous cooperation among Parliaments and the many actors playing a role in this domain: governments, international organizations, civil society, academic institutions, the private sector, and the donor community. The Information Society is intrinsically global in nature and national efforts need to be supported by effective international and regional cooperation, as well as by multi-stakeholder approaches.

Yet, coordination mechanisms to increase levels of resources and improve efficiency in this area have not responded sufficiently to the call in the WSIS outcome to foster multi-stakeholder synergy in the implementation of its plan of action. Again, Parliaments, through their oversight functions, could play a critical role in it both at the domestic level, by helping Governments to prioritize and coordinate resources, and at the international level, by better coordinating their own bilateral and multilateral assistance initiatives.

Excellencies, distinguished participants, ladies and gentlemen,

I believe that well ICT-equipped and informed Parliaments have the potential to find new modalities to help build better societies and a better globalization, based on an equitable Information Society.

With the launch of the Global Centre for ICT in Parliament at the Tunis Summit in late 2005, the United Nations and the Inter-Parliamentary Union have expressed their commitment to partner together and to seek innovative ways to leverage the efforts of the international community in support of democracy and economic and social development.

The engagement and policy direction provided by Parliamentary leaders and the Inter-Parliamentary Union in advocating, shaping, and generating support for an effort of this kind has proved essential to its successful first year of life, and will be even more crucial to its effectiveness in the years to come.

I hope that this partnering mechanism and common framework of action can be exploited by parliaments, governments, international organizations, civil society, academia institutions, the private sector, and the donor community to channel knowledge, experiences, best practices, and financial resources in a more coordinated way to advance the Information Society.

I am delighted to note that this conference has benefited from the support of the United Nations and the Inter-Parliamentary Union through this mechanism –the Global Centre for ICT in Parliament– and I am confident that, through it, there will be many opportunities to step up UN cooperation with the IPU and Parliaments in the global struggle for fair, equitable, and inclusive development.