ICT and e-government for sustainable development in SIDS
How can information and communications technology (ICT) and e-government help to address the challenges that Small Island Developing States (SIDS) face? This question was at the core of a special event of the UN General Assembly’s Second Committee on 14 November, organized by UN DESA’s Division of Public Administration and Development Management.
Mr. Wu Hongbo, UN DESA’s Under-Secretary-General pointed out that SIDS remain a special case for sustainable development in view of their unique vulnerabilities. With human settlements dispersed over large geographical areas, the costs for goods, services, and infrastructure are higher. Dependency on imports and uncertain sectors makes many SIDS vulnerable to economic crises and growing trade imbalances. Susceptibility to natural disasters poses additional obstacles.
Promoting virtual bridges for e-government development
“Technology creates virtual bridges that nullify physical distance, mitigate the impact of geographical isolation, and permit travel in more than one direction,” remarked Ambassador Sebastiano Cardi, Chair of the UN General Assembly’s Second Committee. Tuisugaletaua Sofara Aveau, Minister of Communication and Information Technology of Samoa, pointed to the importance of improved telecommunications infrastructure in SIDS. He highlighted the developmental progress and increase in government efficiency owing to enhanced connectivity, both through local initiatives and through his country’s connection to submarine high-speed fiberoptic cables.
Infrastructure provision emerged as an area where openness to public-private partnerships rather than exclusive reliance on state monopolies has brought significant advances for development. Technical connections, however, are only the first step on a path that also includes changes in mindset: With capable networks in place, e-government ultimately impacts the way in which government operates, and its relationships with other stakeholders, said Ambassador of Papua New Guinea Robert Guba Aisi.
Effective e-government does not mean electronic reproduction of offline practices, but fostering a culture of innovation in government and administration to catch up with ever-advancing technology. Unprecedented levels of citizen participation, as well as transparency of government actions, can also contribute to better, more inclusive governance – from routine decision-making to disaster management procedures.
Opportunities for learning and training multiply in all subject areas when physical presence is no longer a requirement. Furthermore, facilitated data-gathering and knowledge-sharing helps to improve the information flow between developing countries and their development partners throughout the world, a point jointly accentuated by Ms. Rowena Bethel, Director of the National Insurance Board of the Bahamas, and Professor Young Bum Lee of Konkuk University in Seoul, Korea.
Responding to the SAMOA Pathway: The road ahead
Referring to the SAMOA Pathway Call for Action, the outcome document of the Third International Conference on Small Island Developing States, which the General Assembly had adopted the same morning, Mr. Wu underscored the role of good governance in stable partnerships for sustainable development. In line with the global consensus reached at the Rio+20 conference, he emphasized the need for effective, transparent, accountable, and democratic institutions at all levels.
Panel members agreed that e-government can provide the tools for building such institutions in order to help alleviate poverty and improve livelihood, especially by reaching out to the most disadvantaged groups and people living in vulnerable situations, to ensure that nobody is left behind.
Thus, the challenges that SIDS face, which may seem remote to many at first sight, are in fact local instantiations of global issues. As such, they can only be addressed through joint international efforts for sustainable development, and technology can serve as a powerful enabler in such a transformation.
As Ms. Tishka Francis, Vice-Chair of the Second Committee, summarized in her closing remarks: “Building bridges of steel and stone between SIDS and the rest of the world is usually not feasible. But in the 21st century, bridges no longer need to be constructed from steel and stone. Virtual bridges have the potential to unite us all in our effort to face our common but differentiated responsibilities if there is a strong collective vision of the future we want.”
Fostering cooperation and knowledge-sharing on innovative practices in the area of e-government, both among SIDS and with other countries, can help turn development challenges into opportunities. As panel members highlighted, there is a need for champions of innovation everywhere, strong political commitment, leadership, and a shared vision if we wish to achieve sustainable development for all.
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