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Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat Conference Center
Suva, Fiji
April 17, 2002

OPENING ADDRESS By Mr. W. Noel Levi, CBE Secretary General

Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat


Honorable Tuilaepa Sa'ilele Malielegaoi, Prime Minister of Samoa; Honorable Ministers; Mr. Hamadoun Toure, Director General of the Telecommunications Development Bureau, ITU; Mr. Amerendra Narayan, Executive Director of the Asia Pacific Telecommunity; Distinguished Officials; Representatives of Multilateral and International Organizations; Ladies and Gentlemen.

1. Ni Sa Bula. It gives me much pleasure to welcome you all to the Forum Secretariat and to the second Forum Communications Policy meeting. Since our first meeting in April 1999 and the adoption by regional governments of the Forum Communication Action Plan 1999, there has been considerable worldwide movement forward in the areas of information and communication technologies. In this regard, the meeting today is timely for the region to review and take stock of the progress of the 1999 Action Plan.

2. Your meeting today will basically focus on consideration of policy issues for the development of regional information and communication technologies, popularly known by its acronym, ICT. Information and communication technologies or ICT are viewed by governments, the private sector, and users in many walks of life as holding much promise for development. In the context of our region, better information and more efficient affordable communications have greater potential to connect our island communities to the rest of the world. I am told that this phenomenon is the best thing to connect the scattered Pacific communities to the rest of the world since the introduction of the canoe technology. Promoting ICT development, however, takes concerted national and regional efforts.

3. Forum Island Countries face significant challenges to achieving sustainable development due to inherent characteristics such as small domestic and international markets, geographic dispersion, limited natural resources and high transportation costs. On top of these, we also face the challenges of an increasingly integrated global economy.

4. It is not all gloom and doom, however, as we are also faced with great opportunities. The potential to expand tourism, export of high value added commodities, increasing regional integration in trade, and global opportunities in education and health set the stage for development. There is a better future for the region out there, and ICT could be the key to creating it.

5. It is perhaps true to say that we have come to recognize modern communications as an essential service, and obviously people are looking to their respective governments to not only improve it, but to also make it affordable to the majority of those in the rural communities. The question we need to ask ourselves as we sit down to our deliberation is, how should we respond to these challenges and opportunities.

6. I do not have an answer to this question. However, I do have a suggestion that you could perhaps adopt "ICT for every Pacific Islander" to be the theme of this meeting. I understand a recent strategic workshop, among other things, had decided the regional goal should be to create an environment where all stakeholders--governments, teachers and students, business people, doctors and NGOs are provided the tools they need to further their own development, and through the aggregation of these individual efforts, that of our countries and the region.

7. The agenda for your meeting has been designed to provide the required policy leadership to make this vision a reality. In your deliberations, you will move from consideration of the existing ICT sector, through efforts to reform national frameworks and cope with the international environment, to strategic planning. I hope in the process, you will come to appreciate the potential for ICT to open new doors, and the opportunity to consider the very real constraints to progress that Forum Island Countries are grappling with. The agenda is ambitious but I believe at the same time essential and realistic.

8. You will recall that the Forum Communication Action Plan 1999 set out a vision, and called for action in the areas of infrastructure, regulation, liberalization, tariffs and internet charges. Above all, it called for improved regional cooperation. Much of the plan was for national action. There have been some success in its implementation but like all our regional initiatives, much remains to be done. The task ahead of you in this regard is to review reports on the status of each of the Action Plan issues, and consider recommendations to move work forward.

9. Many new issues have also arisen since the last Forum Communication Policy Meeting that have led to some additional areas for your consideration. I would like to highlight two in particular.

10. The first is the broad area of Internet applications, which were the subject of a daylong regional technical meeting held earlier this week. Distance education, tele-health, and appropriate universal access in remote areas are only three of the promising regional success stories on which you will be briefed. Each of them contains lessons for further development.

11. The most important lesson is that the old models of monolithic service providers and narrow definitions of services between telecommunications, data, and broadcast are holding back development. The convergence of technologies makes it essential that we re-think the regulation of operating environments, and create frameworks that allow entrepreneurs and communities the freedom to access the services they need. The second lesson is that we face global markets in all areas and can take advantage of their offerings, while still maintaining local control of those services through appropriate planning. A third lesson is that important economies of scale exist that can best be leveraged by combining activities across sectors and across countries. And a final lesson is that these tools are no longer just the realm of technical professionals, but are basic services for everyone, and thus require broad cross sectoral participation and planning.

12. The second new area for your consideration is cooperation in national and regional strategic planning. The number of new international initiatives is growing every day, and the demands of coordinating them along with domestic needs can be taxing. In response, your officials in concert with the regional organizations have worked hard to create a framework for a coordinated regional approach, to bring many diverse threads together. You will consider a proposed Pacific Islands ICT Policy and Strategic Plan that is intended to coordinate the work of your regional organizations as well as to provide guidance for national action, in order to leverage our collective expertise and make the most of our resources.

13. This proposed framework suggests strategies to develop human resources, infrastructure, Internet applications, and policy and regulation. The concrete actions that have been discussed earlier this week, such as satellite access to remote areas, community telecenters, and improved training and retention of professionals are covered in detail, and I commend the plan to your attention for adaptation to national circumstances. In terms of new regional initiatives for your consideration, your officials have proposed the creation of a regional information clearinghouse for telecommunications regulators, in conjunction with regulatory harmonization. These recommendations support both national institutional strengthening and regional cooperation.

14. In this regard, I want to emphasize the need to think regionally in developing the implementation strategy on the issues you will consider here today. It is important that in the areas of international policy, access to development assistance, and political support, we need to stand together. I am much encouraged by the productive partnerships that have evolved in this sector between governments, regional organizations, industry, and multilateral agencies represented here today, and I encourage you all to consider adopting the proposed regional policy and strategic plan as a framework for continued cooperation.

15. Over the years, Forum members have shown that cooperative initiatives, combined with determined national efforts, can help to overcome the challenges I mentioned earlier. We in the Pacific are known for our sense of community -- this is one of our greatest strengths -- and we know that by supporting each other, much can be achieved. Forum policy meetings provide an avenue for our concerted regional efforts, and we are embarking on one today that will have far-reaching effects.

16. Let me end by wishing you all the best in your deliberations. It is now my pleasure to invite the Honorable Savenaca Draunidalo, Minister for Works, Telecommunications, Energy, Road Transport and Shipping for Fiji, to address you as well as to formally open our meeting. Vinaka Vakalevu!

For additional information, contact: Ulafala Aiavao at 

Ulafala Aiavao Media Adviser Forum Secretariat Private Bag Suva, Fiji

Tel: (679) 220 220 Mob: (679) 998 674 Fax: (679) 305 554 Email:  Web:  Mirror site: 

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