Helen Clark: "Together toward Digital Inclusion” at the 2nd International e-Governance Conference

Dec 2, 2012

Opening Address
Helen Clark, UNDP Administrator
“Together toward Digital Inclusion”
2nd International e-Governance Conference
10:00am, Baghdad, 2 December 2012


I am delighted to participate in this Conference on e-governance, “Together towards Digital Inclusion”, organized jointly by theGovernment of Iraq and the United Nations Development Programme. 

The close partnership between the Government and UNDP, and the vision and drive of the Iraqi e-Governance steering committee, has resulted in many innovative programmes and initiatives at the national and local levels.  The initiative taken by the Government to adopt an integrated approach on e-governance for development and launch the new Strategy and Action Plan for 2012-2015 is commendable.     

The aims of this conference are to review the achievements of the Iraqi e-Governance programme to date, discuss implementation challenges, and assess the impact of e-Governance as a tool to achieve public sector reform and digital integration and inclusion, in support of national and international development goals.

Before highlighting some notable successes of the Iraqi e-Governance programme, allow me to offer some broader observations on the role of e-governance in development.

UNDP has been working in the area of ICT for development since 1992. We see new information and communications technologies both supporting better delivery of a wide range of services and engaging people in democratic governance through increased access to information and greater transparency. 

E-governance is about using ICTs to improve government processes themselves, making them more efficient, and about transforming the relationship between governments and citizens by enabling more direct interaction and fostering inclusive development.  Indeed, a common feature in UNDP’s work in this area has been to enable the poorest and most vulnerable people to be reached, and to expand the dialogue between governments, civil society, and citizens.

We have also observed the significant role played by ICTs and social media in the dramatic political and social transformations in the Arab Statesregion over the past 22 months. Around the world, we see new technologies and social media providing citizens with new tools to voice their concerns and discontents, and to reach large audiences as they do so.

Where governments do not deliver quality services to all, and when they are not seen as responsive or accountable, relations between the state and citizens can break down.  ICTs can be part of building better governance and delivery of services, including by reaching those previously excluded because of geographical or other factors. 

By the beginning of this year, UNDP was supporting more than 220 e-governance projects in 95 countries – our work here in Baghdad is one of those.  We have been pleased to partner with the Iraqi Government in its transformation and modernisation of public services.

Since 2009, when the first e-governance conference co-organised by the Government of Iraq and UNDP was held here in Baghdad, a number of tangible results have been achieved:  the Iraq e-governance portal was launched; more than 6,000 professionals have been trained in the “Training-of-Trainers programme on e-governance”; and a number of federal and local government ICT strategies have been developed and launched. 

As a result, Iraqis can now access a more diverse range of online services, particularly in the areas of:

  • E-health – where citizens can, for example, now make appointments for Primary Care Centres online;
  • E-education  – enabling parents to enroll children for school online;and,
  • E-municipal services – where processes have been simplified in a range of areas, from checking land holding status to  subscribing to water services and submitting and tracking social security benefits online. 

While ICTs have transformative potential for societies, that will only be harnessed where policies are put in place to achieve it, and by ensuring that the needs of everyone, including the poor and marginalised, are addressed.

For UNDP, digital inclusion is part of the core governance work we do to enhance people's participation in the public sphere, broaden access to public information, and give voice to those who traditionally had none in decision-making processes.  Our support for modernising systems goes beyond supporting good technology platforms to ensuring that they can contribute to equitable and sustainable human development. 

This conference will review the status of e-governance in Iraq, and reflect on the experiences and challenges of implementation.  It will also look at how to strengthen and harmonize e-governance initiatives within the wider public sector modernisation agenda. 

The sessions to follow will address a number of relevant issues, including:  creating an enabling legal environment; defining the role of the private sector and fostering innovative public-private partnerships; and reviewing the key role of local government within the broader national e-governance programme.

I note that infrastructure remains an important challenge to e-governance initiatives here, as it does elsewhere, as internet penetration remains low and uneven.  Only around 2.5 billion people in the world currently have access to the Internet, and the “digital divide” is apparent not only between countries, but also within them.  In Iraq, the rate of internet penetration remains below ten per cent, and there are significant disparities in the rates between urban and rural areas. 

On the other hand, mobile phone penetration here is close to eighty per cent, according to the International Telecommunications Union (ITU).  There are more opportunities to innovate with this technology for mobile governance (m-governance), while also encouraging public-private partnerships to expand internet coverage across the country. 

As I conclude, can I emphasize how much UNDP values the strong partnership with the Government of Iraq, the e-Governance steering committee under the leadership of the Minister of Science and Technology, and the experienced and committed group of Iraqis working on promoting ICT for development. 

Numerous countries around the world, with varying degrees of success, have implemented programmes in the last decade aimed at achieving strategic alignment of public administration reform, ICT policies, and e-governance initiatives.  Iraq is a very good example of progress in these areas. I hope that this conference will highlight good practices which can be shared with other nations wishing to go down this path.

I wish you a very successful conference, and thank you for the opportunity to be part of this discussion on transforming Iraq for the 21st Century.

Shukran Jazeelan

UNDP Around the world