Statement by Mr. Sha Zukang, Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs UNDESA-GAID Global Forum on Access and Connectivity in Asia-Pacific and on Innovative Financing Mechanisms for ICT for Development
Kuala Lumpur, 19 May 2008

It is my great pleasure to welcome you today to this Global Forum organized by the UNDESA Global Alliance for ICT and Development. Selamat datang. Welcome.

I wish to thank the Government of Malaysia, under the leadership of the Prime Minister, the Honourable Mr. Badawi, for the very warm welcome we have received in Kuala Lumpur. I also wish to convey my sincere gratitude to the Prime Minister and our host, the Minister of Science, Technology and Innovation, The Honourable Mr. Maximus Ongkili, for their leadership and consistent support for UNDESA-GAID.

It is increasingly evident that ICT can significantly improve the economic prospects and performance of countries at all levels of development. Look around you. Malaysia is living proof that sound ICT policies and investments can lead to tangible socio-economic improvements.

The experience in other developing countries -- regardless of their size or level of economic development -- has also been encouraging. We have come to fully appreciate that by building partnerships and exchanging experiences we can accelerate development, especially in the less advanced countries. In particular, South-South cooperation and regional transfer of knowledge are important tools for promoting development. Since its inception two years ago, UNDESA-GAID has worked to facilitate such partnerships and knowledge sharing by providing a platform for all stakeholders to work together towards common objectives.

The Cyber Development Corps, established under the auspices of UNDESA-GAID and led by Malaysia, is a good example of such important knowledge-sharing and cooperation.

You will recall in October 2007, the International Telecommunication Union, the African Union, the World Bank and the UNDESA-GAID, in partnership with the African Development Bank, the African Telecommunication Union, the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa and the Global Digital Solidarity Fund, convened the Connect Africa Summit in Kigali. The Summit was a clear demonstration of the potential of partnerships, with governments, financial institutions and the private sector joining hands to mobilize investment in IT infrastructure in Africa over the next five years. The Connect Africa Summit was a launch pad for our efforts to scale up in other regions of the world.

Here in Kuala Lumpur, we are turning our attention to Least Developed Countries and Small Island Developing States in the Asia-Pacific region. Our hope is that this will build the momentum towards an eventual Connect Asia Summit.

In recent years, Governments in the region have been making determined efforts to promote and develop ICT. There has been phenomenal growth in wireless communications in Asia. Although, the growth has been slower in the Small Island Developing States, many have managed to increase the penetration of mobile telephony to between 10 to 20 per cent of their populations in recent years. The evidence suggests that such strong growth in the mobile phone market is the result of policies that favor infrastructure deployment and competition in the telecommunications market. But a lot of work remains to be done to further improve the policy and regulatory environments in order to speed up the development of wireless communications in the Asia Pacific region.

With regard to Internet access, all countries in the region are now connected. But there are huge discrepancies in access between and within countries. While some countries in the region are among the world’s leaders in terms of broadband penetration, the LDCs are lagging far behind. Remote and rural areas, in particular, suffer from low internet penetration due to the lack of telecommunications infrastructure.

Such lack of access exacerbates socio-economic disparities, further disenfranchising marginalized groups, indigenous communities, women, youth and poor people. Moreover, it seriously undermines the competitiveness of developing countries' economies on the global markets.

Governments in the region, in partnership with the private sector, development institutions and the donor community, need to sustain and increase the level of investments in telecommunication infrastructure deployment, particularly in rural and remote areas. At the same time, we must strive to ensure that the infrastructure is accessible to the majority of the population at an affordable cost. Particular attention must be paid to the availability of a skilled local workforce and the development of locally relevant content, applications and services that provide added value justifying the initial investment in infrastructure.

However, financing such infrastructure development is a great challenge facing the least developed countries and small island developing states which have very limited local resources. These countries need substantial external resources, both official development assistance and private investments, to bridge the gap in connectivity and leverage ICT for their development.

In addition, there are many opportunities for innovative funding and partnership arrangements that can help cover risks and expand the markets for ICT in least developed countries and small island developing states.

Mechanisms such as universal service funds and an audiovisual tax are being used to subsidize the deployment of infrastructure in rural and remote areas. For example, innovative mechanisms such as the “1% digital solidarity principle” or a levy on certain types of transactions have been proposed. The Digital Solidarity Fund, which was endorsed by the World Summit on the Information Society in Tunis, provides a key mechanism for advancing connectivity and access to reduce the digital divide.

Shared local access models, such as the Village Phone or community telecentres have been successful in some countries. Yet another option is to bundle the cost and deployment of ICT infrastructure with that of other basic infrastructure such as roads, railroads or power lines.

A worthwhile endeavor would be to assess the effectiveness of these and other mechanisms and identify best practices.

Finally, governments have an important role to play in mobilizing domestic resources for applications and services. By adopting open and accessible standards and procuring e-government services from local companies, governments can kick start local markets that would develop locally relevant solutions in local languages and also generate employment and wealth.

Over the next two days we will explore these issues and attempt to identify key recommendations that can be suggested to accelerate the roll-out of connectivity in least developed countries and small islands developing states in the Asia Pacific region. We will also focus our discussion on the equally important issue of how to pay for it all.

I look forward to hearing your practical recommendations that will produce concrete results.

Terima kaseh. Thank you.