Comms in developing world gets UN boost

A United Nations meeting in Berlin this week proposed a global alliance to spur investment in communications technology in the...

A United Nations meeting in Berlin this week proposed a global alliance to spur investment in communications technology in the world's poorest countries.

At the meeting, representatives from the public, private and non-governmental sectors agreed to propose the new alliance to UN secretary-general Kofi Annan in the hope of having the initiative adopted by delegates at the World Summit on the Information Society next year in Tunisia.

"The idea is to keep the ball rolling after next year's summit ends," said UN ICT taskforce director Sarbuland Khan. "We need to help governments in developing countries make significant policy reforms and regulatory changes so that the private sector can play a key role in ICT investments."

Khan said poorer countries were not making investments in computers, telecoms and other infrastructure equipment because government viewed them as risky.

The first step was for local governments to make necessary market reforms, said Khan. Then wealthier countries and multilateral bodies such as the World Bank could absorb some of the risk by guaranteeing support to investors in the public sector.

"Donor countries should join hands and say, 'OK, we'll cover risks up to 25% of the investment but the rest should come from the private sector.' If the necessary market reforms are in place, why shouldn't the private sector be interested?"

Khan added that the proposed global alliance would help bring key people together on a global basis to discuss policy, reforms and investment mechanisms. "The alliance will facilitate action, but the action itself will be taken over by the operating units."

Although the global alliance would be linked to the UN, it would be totally independent so as not to become "hobbled by bureaucracy". The UN has 191 member states, making the agreement process highly complex.

Khan said that 10 organisations, including the International Chamber of Commerce and the World Bank, had agreed to gather views from partners in the public and private sectors and in multilateral bodies before the UN's ICT taskforce met again in April to draft a proposal for the global alliance.

Taskforce participants have already been discussing the financing. "Debate is raging over the various financial mechanisms," said Khan. One proposal is to have contractors that win tenders for public-sector projects contribute 1% of the contract to a solidarity fund. Another is to impose a tax on computer chips.

John Blau writes for IDG News Service

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