Remarks from the Commonwealth Broadband Pacific forum
Professor Rajesh Chandra, Chairman, (CROP) ICT Working Group Vice-Chancellor & President, The University of the South Pacific
The Chief Guest, Her Excellency Honourable Fiame Naomi Mata’afa, Acting Prime Minister of Samoa; Deputy Prime Minister of Tonga, Hon. Siaosi Sovaleni; Hon. Ministers; Dr. Shola Taylor, Secretary General of CTO; Mr. Sione Veikoso, President of PITA; Excellencies and members of the diplomatic corps; Distinguished speakers; participants; ladies and gentlemen.
I wish to congratulate the Prime Minister of Samoa and the people of Samoa for hosting this important Forum which I have no doubt will benefit the Pacific region significantly.
I also wish to thank CTO and the Organising Committee for inviting me to say a few words at this very important Forum as the Chair of the Council of Organizations of the Pacific ICT Working Group.
Most of us present here will agree that information and communication technologies and knowledge are crucial for our survival, development, and competiveness for engaging with the world system with dignity and prosperity.
Adequate broadband is one of the most important drivers of contemporary development. Studies have indicated that for every 10 percent increase in broadband penetration in countries, there is an increase of up to 1.38 percent increase in the GDP.
There has been unprecedented broadband development in the Pacific in recent years with the laying of marine fibre in so many Pacific Island countries—so much so that by the next two to three years, most of the countries—including some very small ones—are planned to have fibre cables.
This is a very welcome if somewhat delayed development for the Pacific and will allow the Pacific Island countries to catch up with other regions—many of which have made great strides with their ICT development.
These marine fibre cables have been supplemented with the deployment of newer satellite systems, such as O3B, with the promise of even newer systems in the very near future.
Over the last decade the region has experienced considerable liberalisation and entry of new service providers in the ICT sector. Greater availability of broadband and liberalisation of the telecom market has resulted in falling prices and considerable mobile coverage which improve lives of our people in the Pacific. However, the benefits associated with the increase in capacity need to be expanded to remote and rural areas. The Pacific Islands Forum Leaders adopted ICT among the five KEY initiatives at their Summit in Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea in September, 2015.
They recognised ICT as a game-changing, transformative enabler of development and regional co-operation and integration for Pacific Island Countries.
The CROP ICT Working Group has been assigned overall mandate and responsibility for ensuring that the vision of the leaders is effectively advocated, co-ordinated, and facilitated.
Although there are pockets of advanced ICT developments, the overall ICT development in the Pacific Islands is seriously lagging behind other regions. The region is only now making serious, concerted efforts to promote ICT development and more importantly, to leverage it more intensively for their overall development. This Forum comes at a very opportune time and can accelerate the use of ICTs in the Pacific to improve the lives of Pacific Islands people.
The University of the South Pacific has been recognised as the lead regional agency for ICT and the Secretariat is based at USP.
The CROP ICT Working Group has been significantly strengthened with new members that now include representatives of Pacific governments, representatives of the Australian and New Zealand Governments, the ADB and the World Bank, and, private sector, leading ICT service providers, and representative of the civil society.
The CROP ICT Working Group has conceptualised the whole spectrum of ICT system as consisting of 10 synergistic pillars led by associated active agencies in the Pacific:
Connectivity, with ADB/World Bank, Governments and Companies active;
Regulatory issues, data, monitoring and evaluation of ICT, with the Pacific Regional ICT Regulatory Development Project based at USP, World Bank, USP and others active;
Cybersecurity, with PacCERT at USP and other recent initiatives (National CERT). The 2016 Forum Communiqué has also recognised cyber security as a priority for Forum Island Countries. Australia has also begun a new cyber security initiative;
e-Government, with governments and development partners;
e-Commerce, with Pacific Islands Private Sector Organisations and firms;
e-Learning, with USP leading in this area, but ministries of education becoming increasingly active;
e-Health, with WHO, governments active;
Capacity building, education and research, with USP as the main supplier, World Bank, ADB, others;
Disaster management, with governments and regional organisations; and
Standards and protocols, with governments, regional and international organisations being active.
It is vital that these areas are progressed as just providing connectivity is just the beginning and will not result in delivering full benefits.
The CROP ICT Working Group is working to ensure that all the players active in Pacific Islands ICT development can work closely together to yield better results and avoid wastage of scarce resources.
In concluding, let me reiterate some key points this Forum perhaps need to be considered:
Strong partnership is needed between governments, development partners, regional agencies, and the private sector—this is now possible through the CROP ICT Working Group and through the actions of many governments and development partners;
The smaller island countries, because of their extreme vulnerabilities and small economies, need special assistance; as much of the earlier assistance was for marine fibre and they were not considered to have a strong business case for it, they lost out in the earlier round of ICT development.
Need to move to applications now that significant cable and satellite developments are already in place (e-Commerce, e-Government, e-Learning and e-Health; e-Agriculture);
Crucial to remove monopolies; promote competitive markets; and for the Governments to use their policy and fiscal mechanisms to promote ICT development.
Collective results will be greater if we have better co-ordination, sharing of infrastructure and services, and adoption of common standards; this is now being facilitated by the CROP ICT Working Group.
I wish you all a most productive and enjoyable Commonwealth Broadband 2017 Forum.
Vinaka Vakalevu; Thank you.