The Pacific Islands Forum Leaders have realised that the regional Information and Communications Technology (ICT) initiative has been progressed to a level that Leaders oversight is not required any more.
This was confirmed during the 47th Pacific Islands Forum Leaders’ Meeting in Pohnpei, Federated States of Micronesia in September 2016.
This understanding comes in light of the expansion of the Council of Regional Organisations of the Pacific (CROP) ICT Working Group, to include more members in the group.
The decision to expand the group comes following the review of the CROP Working Group Mechanism in 2015 and the Leaders choosing regional ICT as one of their key initiatives under the Framework for Pacific Regionalism.
The new members are: Asian Development Bank, World Bank, Australia and New Zealand government representatives, Pacific Islands Private Sector Organisation, Vodafone, Digicel, Territories of the region, International Telecommunication Union, Civil Society Organisation, member country representation through the Forum Troika and Small Island States (SIS), and other CROP agencies. An invitation to Japan International Cooperation Agency has also been extended to become part of the Working Group.
The CROP ICT Working Group before the review of the CROP Working Group Mechanism comprised: Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat (PIFS), Pacific Community, Secretariat of the Pacific Regional Environment Programme, Pacific Islands Telecommunications Association, and The University of the South Pacific (USP) as members.
The Working Group on ICT is one of the sectoral Working Groups of CROP and is led by USP, chaired by Professor Rajesh Chandra, Vice-Chancellor and President.
The Pacific Islands Forum Leaders adopted five key initiatives at their Summit in Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea in September 2015. One of these initiatives was on ICT, which the Leaders recognised as a game-changing and transformative enabler of development and regional cooperation and integration.
Hence, the CROP ICT Working Group has overall responsibility for ensuring that the vision of the Leaders is effectively advocated, coordinated, and facilitated, therefore the need for it to be strengthened.
During the second meeting of the CROP ICT Working Group in mid-2016 at USP’s Laucala Campus, the Vice-Chancellor and President and the Chair of the Working Group said that in light of ICT being chosen as one of the regional priorities to advance sustainable development of the region, the CROP ICT Working Group needed to be augmented with new members to take the work forward and ensure that the Working Group can take on the responsibility of implementing the decision of the Leaders.
“The Working Group needed to be expanded and broadened to include as many relevant partners as possible who can take the role of advocacy, synergise efforts in ICT, and promote a degree of coordination for ICT development in the region with an outcome that the region develops ICT at a greater speed and impact to support the region’s effort in sustainable development and essentially improving the lives of Pacific people,” Professor Chandra added.
Professor Chandra, further stated that the rationale for strengthening the CROP ICT Working Group was to ensure that the strengthened group can work towards identifying specific areas under ICT that needed improvement and strengthening in a collaborative manner by identifying regional approaches that will provide greater benefits to countries as envisaged under the Framework for Pacific Regionalism.
The CROP ICT Working Group members noted that a strengthened Working Group will provide the necessary coordination and advisory services to ensure development of ICT in the region.
With the strengthened CROP ICT Working Group now fully inducted, PIFS and USP as well as other key members agreed that there was no need to establish a separate mechanism but use the strengthened CROP ICT Working Group instead as the mechanism of advancing work on regional ICT initiative. This was also noted by the Specialist Sub-Committee on Regionalism (SSCR) which recommended to the Leaders that CROP ICT Working should be responsible for the regional ICT initiative rather than establishing a different entity.
In the 2016 Forum Communiqué, the Leaders endorsed the SSCR’s recommendation that the 2015 priority relating to ICT be referred to the relevant ministry for discussion and oversight. Leaders agreed that while important, this issue do not require their continued discussion to be progressed.
In the same Communiqué, they also welcomed the exponential growth in internet connectivity in the region and access to world markets and global knowledge it brings. Leaders agreed that Forum members should work together to establish a Computer Emergency Response Team capacity for the region to combat cyber threats and cybercrime. Cyber security is one of the priorities of the CROP ICT Working Group and the members will be deliberating further on how to incorporate this in their work programme.
A number of priorities such as revival of ICT for private sector development; connectivity options for SIS; and Pacific Computer Emergency Response Team (PacCERT) for cyber security, depending on development or external financial support have been identified by the CROP ICT Working Group and USP as lead agency will ensure that these priorities are undertaken by relevant agencies.
Further momentum is expected to be gained through more active engagement with all the members of the strengthened CROP ICT Working Group and governments.