It is my pleasure to join this conference as a member of the small states of the Commonwealth Secretariat. As always, this is an excellent opportunity to discuss interesting ICT trends and opportunities that are shaping the dynamics of the information and communication industries.
The theme adopted for the workshop "Harnessing ICTs for better Public Administration" is indeed appropriate in today's competitive and connected ICT landscape. There are many positive trends we are seeing with the convergence of technology and innovation. And at the same time there are challenges that we need to collectively develop practical and efficient solutions that are based on experimentation and risk-taking. This will enable us to harness the full potential of ICT to improve public administration in our respective islands.
There is no doubt ICT has enormous power to change economic structures and greatly contribute to economic prosperity and a better quality of life. ICT can also enrich people's lives through providing greater choice and supporting social, welfare and cultural activities.
The modernisation of ICT's infrastructure and the restructuring of service delivery is essential to my government and Tonga's economic development and prosperity. In responding to ICT challenges, the development of a future vision for communications services in Tonga is motivated not only by local market parameters, but recognising that the global nature of the information economy transcends national borders and interests.
In order to address the challenge, the Government of Tonga reviewed the state of the sector, its level of development and the future requirements of users in the late 1990s. In considering a range of options available to the country, the Government had formulated a policy framework, which is designed to deliver a step-function improvement in the provision of services and applications. This policy framework will guide the development of our communications sector into the future.
The policy framework is centred on the need to strive to give every Tongan citizen access to ICT tools so that the benefits from ICT can be shared by all individuals.
The Government's policy framework for the ICT sector is driven by an understanding that expanded connectivity will stimulate domestic growth and will provide the scope for greater Tongan participation in the global information economy. On this basis, the following statement of objectives is designed to not only capture the imperatives necessary to deliver step-function gains in the provision of communications services, but to guide the overall development of the Kingdom's communications sector.
In order to achieve and provide support to this objective, the Government has adopted a set of underlying policy principles, which include: -
Nurturing a sustainable and financially viable communications sector.
Developing a robust policy and regulatory framework that ensures competition encourages growth that is distributed across the total sector (and to underserved segments of the market in particular), rather than allowing for a fragmentation of the existing subscriber base.
Tonga introduced competition in 2003, the first Pacific Island Country to introduce competition in such a small market size, when a local private company TonFon Communications Limited started operation as mobile operator. Digicel purchased Tonfon towards the end of 2007. Competition is very tough and vigorous but it kept tariff for all services very competitive and affordable, improved the quality of service and helped expand businesses, thus helping our economic and social development.
I believe Tonga now offers the cheapest telecom charges in the world.
To maximise infrastructure availability.
Tonga aims to have in place an efficient and affordable communications infrastructure necessary to support its economic development, and especially in the key development sectors of tourism, fisheries and agriculture. Given global technology developments, this also includes the provision of network capability in order to support relevant electronic commerce applications.
The World Bank, the Asian Development Bank and the incumbent carrier, the Tonga Communications Corporation have put up the first fibre optic cable for Tonga and it will start operation by July of this year. This will offer more Internet capacity at a faster speed and at a lower price. This will bring more opportunities to Tonga such as developing e-government, e-education, e-procurement etc. My government is currently working on developing an investment strategy to utilize the capable capacity once connected. Certainly, having a submarine cable connecting the Kingdom to the rest of the world is like putting in place a modern, robust bridge between the Kingdom to the rest of the world information wise. This would propel the government effort to improve government's operational efficiency, enhancing services to business and citizens, improve transparency and promote citizen's participation in public policy making.
Today in Tonga, various individual government departments have established their own internet presence. Some of them are hosted overseas for easy access by users outside of Tonga. There is lack of government-wide ICT infrastructure to support interconnection between government agencies. We will take the opportunity of the commissioning of the cable to initiate a government wide ICT program focusing on enhancing its backend ICT interconnection and more importantly to host all content of government wedsites physically in Tonga for ease of central public administration, maintenance yet allow seamless access of their and services in Tonga as well as overseas.
Support new industry investment and attraction.
Skills and human capital are key elements in any national strategy for the information industry sector. On this basis, the Government is committed to creating a supportive environment to attract and retain activity (such as regional hubbing opportunities) in communications markets.
Tonga is currently negotiating with Samoa for fibre optic cable connection to Tonga and we would also talk to other neighbouring countries for possible connection to Tonga which will be offered at a much cheaper price.
Maximise strategic and economic benefits from communications assets.
Tonga must position itself to be able to take advantage of any possible short or long-term opportunities, which arise, from its ownership and control of national communications assets. In particular, international precedents suggest that such assets should include frequency spectrum as well as numbering and electronic addressing blocks.
Encourage the development of an information society
In order for Tonga to benefit from faster and more efficient economic and social interaction enabled by ICT, it is essential to encourage the development of various applications, including the use of ICT through e-government and e-commerce.
Tonga has started the process of implementing its E-Government project with enhancing its Government Portal site to be launched at the same time as the fibre optic cable in July. This would be a one-stop shop enabling access to all the Government's 14 Ministries, 11 Agencies and 15 Public Enterprises. These entities will be connected by fibre optic to enable full integration of Government Online and delivering services online.
At this juncture, I want to thank the Commonwealth Secretariat who has assisted the Ministry of Justice and the Supreme Court vital statistics system to be computerized and manage this important project. The project includes a comprehensive review and cataloguing of all current Births, Deaths and Marriage records, audit of existing records-scanning inventory preparations and planning, comprehensive archive systems, and staff training among others.
In essence, the main benefits of this project for all Tongans are that their personal records are securely and digitally stored and easily accessible by the relevant individual whenever required. There is still much work to be done on the national registry system of the Kingdom including its legislation, but this project will fulfill the main priority of the preservation of birth, death and marriage records. This will ensure that historical data is digitally captured before it deteriorates beyond recognition.
Enhancement of ICT Literacy
As ICT penetrates increasing areas of social and economic activity, and the Government is committed to ensure that every citizen is given the opportunity to develop the basic skills needed to fully participate in the information society. The objective is to increase the number of skilled personnel in advanced areas of ICT. The enhancement of ICT literacy amongst the Tongan population as a whole will be given a high priority.
The Ministry of Education and Training is spearheading this initiative and they are currently working on an intranet project to connect its head office with main training centres to achieve this objective.
As can be seen, Tonga has undertaken a comprehensive framework for action and major policy initiatives, as well as establishing a legislative platform to support the development and sustain the telecom and ICT sector.
On the other hand, Government is also addressing the many challenges facing ICT both at national and global level, and to preserve at the same time our own Tongan culture and values. We are all aware of cybercrime and other negative impacts of ICT associated with criminal activity, fraud, e-commerce and other dangers, inherent within the system. Tonga is currently working on revising its cybercrime legislation to punish those who intend to misuse and abuse ICT.
As Albert Einstein once said: "It has become appallingly obvious that our technology has exceeded our humanity". I do have this constant fear that our humanity will be seized by freedoms, that people have with greater access to the internet at the touch of the key pad. But I believe we must make a commitment to humanity, while remaining vigilant of the developments in ICT.
Before closing, Mr. Secretary General, please allow me on behalf of my Government of the Kingdom of Tonga, to convey our most sincere and heartfelt gratitude to the Commonwealth Secretariat, and to all those who have helped for the logistical planning and arrangements of this Conference; and the Government and the people of this most beautiful country of the United Kingdom for your kind hospitality that have been duly accorded to us since our arrival and during our stay.
I only hope that what we have shared during this two days conference has shed some light on our common efforts to develop practical solutions to address our ICT challenges within the Commonwealth.
Issued by the: Ministry of Information and Communications, Nuku'alofa, 2013.