Briefing by Ambassador Tiina Intelmann on Success, Failure and Management of e-Governance Initiatives
Introductory remarks by Ambassador Tiina Intelmann, Chairperson of the Second Committee for the 61st Session of the General Assembly, Permanent Representative of Estonia to the United Nations in New York
Distinguished colleagues, ladies and gentlemen,
I am very pleased to participate in today’s event and to start today’s discussion together with assistant Secretary-general Civili and with the distinguished Ambassador Hamidon Bin Ali of Malaysia.
During the current session of the General Assembly I have the privilege of chairing the Second Committee which as you know focuses on development, economic growth, financing for development, poverty eradication, globalization and other related issues. We also have an agenda item entitled “Information and communication technologies for development”. The linkage between ICT and development is widely acknowledged and stated at major international fora. This year we decided to put a special focus on it in the second committee by organizing, together with DESA, a special event on best practices in e-governance. We examined the experience of three countries – the Republic of Korea, Mexico and my own country, Estonia.
Of course, different countries have different approaches and every country creates its information society from a unique starting point. The conclusion we drew, however, was that ICT is an extremely powerful tool in today’s world. It is a catalyst for change. Among other things, ICT development stimulates economic growth and all aspects of society can benefit from it.
Today’s discussion is focused on success, failure and management of e-governance initiatives.
As far as success is concerned, I would say there are numerous examples of success. ICT use in governance means accessible and comprehensive databases, better opportunities for citizens to participate in decision-making, better access to information, better possibilities to fight crime and corruption. These are just a few examples.
ICT and e-governance are a goal in its own right, at the same time they are also instrumental in achieving Millennium Development Goals.
My own country Estonia has for a number of years held the development of information society high on the national agenda. Widest possible access to information technologies has been the cornerstone and the basis for our e-governance system, which today enables our citizens to participate more effectively in decision-making on local and national levels. The latest achievement was e-voting during parliamentary elections in March 2007.
I am sure that during our today’s discussion we will be able to speak about a lot of success stories. Some words about the challenges we all face. I would say that the biggest challenge we face is how to change the mentality. There are still a lot of skeptics in the discussion about ICT. Sometimes countries in the South say that countries in the North have no understanding about the real situation in developing countries. There is a need for basic infrastructure – roads, ports, energy systems. There are no schools, in some places no sewerage system.
The same skepticism is often voiced by traditional donors.
I would argue that ICT in the 21st century is another issue of basic infrastructure; it is an absolute necessity in today’s world. The ICT infrastructure needs to be developed in parallel with other infrastructural projects and I would also argue that the costs are not excessive in comparison with other infrastructural undertakings. ICT development is not a technical challenge but rather a social, political and governance challenge. The role of state is very important, in setting priorities and providing a vision for a whole country.
I think that to overcome the digital divide in the world development assistance should target all types of infrastructure to the same extent, including ICT. As I said earlier, ICT is not a luxury good but a basic necessity. This is the approach that Estonia as a donor has taken in development cooperation. We have also established a special agency – the Estonian E-Governance Academy that assists governments by introducing Estonia’s own experience and providing assistance at request.
As we get more connected we also face new threats. Cybercrime, cyberterrorism, cyberwar are no longer words from a science fiction book. When ICT is used in virtually all aspects of life starting from banking (97% of all transactions in Estonia are done over the Internet) and ending with government sessions in virtual environment we also become more vulnerable and we have to make sure that we have done everything to protect our servers and ensure proper use of Internet.
Over the past month my country Estonia has experienced intense, fierce and well coordinated attacks against government, bank and private internet sites. Considering the scale of the cyber attacks and the way these attacks are organized, they resemble cyberterrorism. I think it is high time to ask if we have a functioning international framework to combat this kind of crime. There is a Council of Europe Convention on Cybercrime which was negotiated some years ago and has now entered into force. The convention is open for accession for non-members of the Council of Europe. This convention gives a definition of cybercrime and also mechanisms to fight it. There is no mention of cyberwar, however.
Recent attacks in Estonia have made us think that maybe it is time to move ahead and have a truly international framework of commitments to combat these heinous acts? As we all get more connected a problem that may seem a problem of few may quickly become a problem of all of us. I feel that as more and more governments start investing in e-governance it would be useful to be sure that there is a functioning framework to combat cybercrime.
I hope that these and other key issues will be addressed in today’s discussion and I am confident that this panel will provide fresh ideas for bridging the access divide and for enhancing safety of using ICT.