SOUTH PACIFIC APPLIED GEOSCIENCE COMMISSION (SOPAC)

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Suva, Fiji Islands

NEWS RELEASE July 23, 2001

SOPAC (www.sopac.org.fj/) and SPC (www.spc.int/) are organizing the "Pacific Information and Communication Technologies Needs Assessment and Strategy Planning Workshop" for 27-31 August 2001 (August Workshop) in Nouméa at the SPC Conference Center.

This workshop will include 22 Pacific Island Countries as well as regional and international organizations. The outcome of the workshop will be a regional strategic plan for the Pacific by the Pacific.

This regional workshop comes at the time when countries and organizations have indicated interest in a regional coordinated approach to the various problems of Computing, Data, Internet, and Training.

More information as well as registration forms can be found at:

www.spc.int/it/ictnoumea or by contacting Christine Lemesle christinel@spc.int

INFORMATION PAPER

INTRODUCTION

The development of the Pacific Island Countries and Territories (PICT) has traditionally been hampered by their dispersed populations and the vast ocean distances separating them which impose large costs on service provision in education, development, social welfare, health, travel and communication. With the arrival of global communication services the PICT have the opportunity to address some of the disparities that have hindered service provision for so long.

The "Pacific Information and Communication Technologies Needs Assessment and Strategy Planning Workshop" scheduled for 27-31 August 2001 (August Workshop) is one of many responses to the need for regional organizations to consider what actions they can undertake to assist in greater ICT adoption in the Pacific region.

THE NEED FOR TECHNICAL SUPPORT

ICT is considered a major enabling technology, adoption of which has positive effects across all areas of the economy and society. While the private and/or government telecommunications companies are developing infrastructure within the region, penetration into key areas such as education, health and other government departments is slow. This is due to many factors including lack of funding, training and experience in effective use of ICT, coupled with the relatively high costs of service delivery.

Throughout the last 15 years, regional organizations such as SOPAC, FFA and SPC have targeted technical assistance at small government departments and social development programs where efficiency savings could be substantial and ICT adoption is currently low. Providing such service on a regional basis would give access to expertise that would not be available to smaller states within their budgets and on a longer-term basis than can be achieved if implemented at the national level.

One good example of this approach is the regional Vessel Monitoring System application implemented by FFA which enables all 14 island member countries to track foreign fishing vessels licenses in their exclusive economic zones. There is only one hub system located at the FFA Headquarters in Honiara, Solomon Islands. The system is capable of tracking up to 2,000 licensed fishing vessels over an estimated 30 million square kilometers (12 million square miles) of ocean.

In the same cooperative spirit, the "August Workshop" will provide a forum for representatives from Pacific Island countries and territories to discuss ICT issues that are important to their national development objectives. The national priorities are the most important building blocks in the formulation of regional policies and strategies that will give regional organizations a more transparent service delivery mandate with regards to ICT.

CURRENT ACTIVITIES

Provide Technical Assistance To Core Programs

Advanced and adequate infrastructure does not necessarily lead to improved and cheaper service delivery. This can be due to a perception that the services would be difficult and expensive to install and lack of understanding the benefits that would flow from the use of modern communications services.

This has a significant impact on operational capacity in all program areas. The lack of communication capability means that information penetration is restricted in many areas and key professionals can find themselves marginalized with respect to critical information access and dissemination.

Both SPC and SOPAC ICT Units provide technical support in conjunction with their core programs to ensure that the national counterparts are able to participate in the information flow critical to program development.

The broad mandate of the two regional organizations will ensure that the benefits from ICT reach a wide range of existing and future programs. They provide training and workshop activities both at the national and regional/sub-regional level. They also provide capacity-building training and workshops in key technical areas such as:

There are many groups who do not have access to communications infrastructure by virtue of high-tariffs and low rural penetration.

While current improvement in infrastructure is advancing at a rapid pace, it is still the case that access to communications services is very restricted. The "August Workshop" will have access to the recommendations and priorities identified through the Forum Communication Action Plan and the CROP Information Sector Working Group with respect to promoting more affordable and widely available access to communication services, especially the Internet.

In-Country Visits and Training Attachments

A major activity over the last 15 years has been the provision of technical support via in-country visits or fellowship attachments by member country personnel at the headquarters of either regional organization. These have always been targeted initiatives, based on the requirements of focal points of the SOPAC and SPC programs, ensuring that appropriate technical assistance is provided to those areas in ICT development and deployment.

Sub-Regional Workshops

In some cases, sub-regional workshops have been conducted as follow-up activities to the in-country visits and/or fellowship attachments. The workshops generally promote themes of particular relevance to the participants, providing practical and hands-on training in the development of technical solutions and essential problem solving techniques. The workshops normally include participants from different departments and organizations to foster interchange of ideas between different professional groups.

Regional Seminars and Workshops

The "August Workshop" may provide the catalyst for similar events in future to promote common approaches to ICT issues, particularly at the regional level. These seminars or workshops could be held on a regular basis when necessary, to provide a forum to discuss and develop solutions that relate to key national, regional or global ICT issues that are critical to the social and economic development of Pacific Island countries and territories. The ICT sector is changing rapidly and it is difficult to predict the issues that will arise for future meetings. However, some of the themes of current importance, which would be likely to feature, could include:

Security - Physical And Electronic

BUILDING ON EXISTING STRENGTHS

Technical Capacity

The SPC and SOPAC organizations have an infrastructure that is already optimized for the provision of technical support and a substantial base of technical contacts throughout the region. Both are major users of ICT and have proven the benefits from the appropriate use of ICT. These two organizations, in collaboration with other CROP agencies such as the Forum Secretariat, SPREP and FFA are responsible for all planning activities of the "August Workshop." This pool of expertise has extensive experience in the development of ICT solutions that have been endorsed and adopted by their member countries.

Network of Contacts

SPC covers a wide range of socio-economic development areas and SOPAC complements these with expertise in areas that include mineral and resource development.

Due to these broad multi-sectoral activities, the organizations have developed a network of professional and technical contacts throughout the member countries. These contacts are invaluable in introducing or expanding ICT activities in the region that have direct national benefits while at the same time promoting regional objectives.

CONCLUSION

The "August Workshop" will be instrumental in the formulation of a regional ICT policy framework that will be the foundation for a strategic ICT plan for the next five years. The participation of representatives from all Pacific Island countries and territories will enable all to share and learn about each other’s national ICT initiatives and experiences.

Both the policy framework and strategic plan documents need to be finalized and endorsed at the regional technical level during this workshop. To facilitate the delivery of these documents during the week, seven small working groups will be convened to address a separate theme.

All seven working groups will have a facilitator who will research the topic and make a presentation to highlight the major issues. The contribution from all participants, particularly the member country representatives will be most critical to this information gathering and analysis process. The seven small working groups will report to a plenary session for the development of the policy framework and strategic plan documents. This special plenary session will be chaired by a facilitator whose main role is to ensure the successful completion of the two documents for reporting to the general meeting to be chaired by a member country representative.

During the official plenary sessions of the "August Workshop," the member country representatives will be asked to consider the policy framework and strategic plan documents for approval and endorsement at the technical level.

The expectation that a one-week workshop will be able to cover all areas of ICT and technical support seems overly ambitious. On the other hand, there is limited available information on the real status of ICT and technical support strategies in Pacific Island countries and territories. The "August Workshop" will do more than identify the issues, problems and strategies. It should also be possible to articulate the areas that can best be addressed at a regional level without duplicating national activities. Furthermore, we should end up with a much clearer understanding of the scale and urgency of the work that needs to be addressed. The first step is always a difficult undertaking, but definitely one that must be taken.

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