Bernadette Lewis – Keynote 04 24

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18 June 2024 | 14:30 EEST | Auditorium | Video recording | Transcript
Consolidated programme 2024 / Keynote

Bernadette Lewis, Secretary General of the Commonwealth Telecommunications Organisation

Bernadette Lewis

Secretary General of the Commonwealth Telecommunications Organisation

Ms. Bernadette Lewis was appointed as the Secretary-General of the Commonwealth Telecommunications Organisation in August 2020. This is a historic appointment as she is the first female Secretary-general in the 120-year history of the CTO. This is indeed a major accomplishment that should encourage women everywhere to strive for the mastery of whatever profession they may choose and especially in science and technology.

Breaking the glass ceiling is not new to Ms. Lewis; she was also the first female Secretary-General of the Caribbean Telecommunications Union (CTU) and she is credited for making the CTU the foremost information and communication technology (ICT) inter-governmental institution in the Caribbean.

A national of Trinidad and Tobago, Ms. Lewis brings to the CTO a wealth of experience in public and private sectors and is knowledgeable in national and regional ICT issues. The 4th Industrial Revolution, the COVID-19 pandemic and its associated financial contagion, is changing the world irrevocably, ushering us into an environment of unprecedented uncertainty. For the CTO, surviving, indeed thriving in this environment will necessitate innovative leadership, a deep understanding of ICT and faith and courage to deviate from the beaten paths of 20th Century thinking to build a 21st century organisation that is relevant and serves its members with integrity and excellence. Ms. Lewis brings these qualities to the CTO.

Video record


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Transcripts and more session details were provided by the Geneva Internet Platform

Bernadette Lewis: Good afternoon. First of all, I would like to thank the organizers and the chair of the Council of the Regulatory Authority for inviting me to participate in EuroDIG in this intriguing city of Vilnius. Internet governance is very close to my heart. In my former position as the Secretary General of the Caribbean Telecommunications Union, we established the first internet governance forum in the world. That was in 2005. The Caribbean IGF. It was the first regional internet governance forum to develop a policy framework, which is consistently updated and the policies are being implemented regularly. The work of the Caribbean IGF has had a tremendous impact on the Caribbean. And so, I am really, really, I have to be, I have to agree with the words of the chair of the Council that this EuroDIG can have a tremendous impact on this country and Europe as well. So, I think she said EuroDIG can serve as a catalyst for collaboration, creativity, and collective action, and I absolutely endorse that. Now, a little bit of the organization, about the organization I work with at this time. I’m now at the Commonwealth Telecommunications Organization. This is the oldest commonwealth intergovernmental institution dedicated to information and communication technologies. And in 2020, the CTO, as we are called, charted a new course to support members in accelerating digital transformation. And the CTO will be focusing on two areas, affordable, meaningful, universal broadband connectivity, and 21st century or digital government. So, I’m very happy to speak on the subject of GovTech, putting people first in the digital in digitalizing public services and the use of data. GovTech, or 21st century government is a term I’ll be using, employs an approach to public sector modernization that uses digital technology. And before I start speaking about GovTech, I want to step back a little and speak about the institution of government and its relationship with its citizens. A national government has a unique relationship with its citizens. It is the only institution with which a citizen must consistently interact and interface with through every phase of life. Every citizen has to be registered at birth. They have to be educated. They have to find employment or start a business. They have to pay taxes, get married, purchase land, receive health benefits, all of these things. Ultimately, at the end of his journey in this life, his departure from this life has to be registered. So, the government, therefore, is uniquely and exclusively positioned to know its citizens and, therefore, has a responsibility to create and maintain systems that efficiently and effectively service their needs and enable them to participate in and contribute to the development of their society. And I want to make three points. They may seem obvious, but they are not trivial and should not be taken for granted. At the first point, and I believe there is a need for a new social contract, one that puts the citizen at the center of the government’s activities, we should be aiming for citizen serving, not self-serving government. Governments must do what is right for all of their citizens without discrimination and not what is politically expedient or personally beneficial. We need visionary, servantly, leadership. We need leaders who genuinely care for their citizens, who inspire them to believe in and work together towards a digital future. And it’s not possible to serve citizens without knowing them, without understanding their needs. It requires recognition of the local circumstances and customization of solutions to solve the problems that they face without harm to the environment, without harm to the culture or the people. A government cannot assume, and our first speaker said that very clearly. You assume that this is needed. You can’t afford to do that if you’re going to serve your citizens. But the government must engage with its citizens to know them, to ensure that the services that they provide is what the citizen needs. We have the technology to enable government to connect with every citizen and their communities and to know them and to understand their needs. So I go back, you know, you cannot assume. The government must be able to understand and properly articulate the challenge. And sometimes articulating the challenge can be problematic because if you don’t articulate the challenge, you’re going to come up with a solution that does not have the impact you would like to see. So we have to really define priorities. The government needs to define the priorities. What are the important things? And the objectives, they have to plan appropriate service programs that would enable the attainment of the goals that they specify. And after you come up with the plans, implementation is mandatory. I have seen wonderful plans, wonderful strategies, but they’ve never been implemented. You have to implement it. That is how you make progress. And of course, you’ll be putting the things in place, your metrics, your systems in place to monitor, to measure the process and the impact. And in order to come up with these plans, these processes will involve consultations with citizens and diverse stakeholders. And they must be supported by a comprehensive, progressive communication strategy that engages your population, the stakeholders, identifies the type and level of engagement that are necessary, the clients and the beneficiaries. You can’t be, as a government, you can’t be doing things in the dark. You have to involve your citizens. And periodic revisiting and appropriate adjustment of those processes will ensure that the government attains their objectives. And you have a number of tools, digital tools. And by making effective use of these technologies, we have artificial intelligence, blockchain, social media. By making use of these tools effectively, the government can know each citizen intimately and create a comprehensive digital information profile about the citizen and their interactions with government. And this profile can be associated with a digital ID that has been assigned from birth to facilitate efficient, seamless, secure citizen interaction with the government and the effective delivery of services, those services that the citizens require. But of course, there’s this word of caution. As the government embraces the digital technologies, new cyber vulnerabilities and also new risks are arising. So they must design and must implement appropriate systems to mitigate the potential negative impacts of a 21st century government and also preserve the rights of the citizens as they embrace, as the governments embrace the technology to serve their citizens better. And governments have a responsibility to safeguard their citizens, enabling them to conduct business securely online. They must ensure that the best practices are in place to protect citizens’ privacy, their well-being, their mental health. These are issues that are coming to the fore. Our last speaker spoke about these things. And also, these systems have to be put in place from the design phase. And it’s not a one and done thing, but you have to have those processes in place that would monitor, discover, and address breaches in those security systems and address them expeditiously. And trust is a necessary aspect of the citizen’s relationship with his government. Citizens must have confidence in their government. And yes, just a couple of days ago, I was reading an article in a magazine under the headline, We Deserve Leaders We Can Trust. And it reported in a poll of their readers that 0.6% of women trusted their political parties. That’s not good. That’s certainly not good. But I think the tools are available for the government to really change that and build confidence of the citizenry in them. Now, the second point I want to make is there’s this need for a whole of government approaches. Historically, the knowledge systems governments employed are rooted in paper-optimized processes that support the operations of independent government ministries and agencies. And in some countries of the world, the law actually prohibits a ministry from sharing information they collect from the citizens with other government ministries so that the citizen is required to provide his information to every ministry or agency with which he interacts over and over and over, notwithstanding the fact that information about the citizen may already exist elsewhere in the government and often in the form of physical documents. And this imposes unnecessary burdens of inefficient, time-consuming, costly processing, duplicated storage, repetitive processes, security risks, and a lack of transparency in the delivery of government services to its citizens. A 21st century government will apply digital technologies to improve the delivery of services to citizens transparently, effectively, and efficiently. And the goal of building this 21st century government which uses digital technology to engage its citizens and serve its citizens is not straightforward. It’s a complex undertaking. It requires investment in the technology and development of an infrastructure to create a seamless government where all of the government processes can be made available securely and seamlessly across all departments of government. And it doesn’t happen by chance. Building this infrastructure doesn’t happen by chance. It doesn’t happen at once. It takes planning and governments must adopt an iterative approach to developing the enterprise architecture for deploying government-wide interoperable frameworks and interconnecting all the platforms that may currently exist in silos. And when the governments are able to effectively begin delivering these services to their citizens, they should ensure that the technologies and systems that they employ have the flexibility to be reinstated rapidly in case of a disaster. And that will enhance the government’s continuity and resilience, particularly, as I said, in the time of natural disasters. And I want to mention it may not be applicable here in Europe, but when you’re talking about technology, you also need to speak of energy in some countries. The whole issue, technology needs the energy. And my training, the workforce is important, upskilling, automating routine business processes and developing the business processes that are needed that requires a skilled workforce. And the last point that I want to make about government, it has to do with policy. And when you are dealing with serving the citizen, the policies must be evidence-based. As I said before, you cannot afford to assume. And if the challenge, as I said, is not properly articulated, the solution will not have the desired impact. And articulating the problem is not trivial. There has to be a deliberate system of evidence-based policies that direct the actions of the government to effectively deliver services to citizens. And those policies must consider such areas as the infrastructure development, affordability and accessibility, upskilling, as I mentioned, the workforce, digital literacy programs, content and local language support, public-private partnerships, and any policy development exercise. It must first start with public awareness and education and must end with the implementation of the policies that you formulate. And there are many trends that are being employed that are transforming the public service. Digital capabilities must be foundational. We see governments are increasingly adopting artificial intelligence in the design and the delivery of the policies and services. AI is routinely being used in recruitment and also facilitating productivity gains. Blockchain is being used widely for tracking the evolution of document creation. The Internet of Things has enabled many governments to measure, to measure, to collect information, to collect evidence that to enable them to do their business. Policies should also, some of the other things, facial recognition, I have experienced this facial recognition in airports. I have to say I’m not, I don’t know, I still have mixed feelings. Yes, the process is much faster, but my question is what are they doing with my information? Where is this going? Who’s collecting it? These are things that concern me. Nobody asked me if I could, if they could use my image to verify my identity. Those are questions that have to be answered. The virtual reality, the metaverse, is being used for supporting training. I know that Interpol uses the metaverse in a lot of their training for their officers. And at the end of the day, the government doesn’t exist in isolation, as I said. They exist to serve their citizens. So, every citizen must be connected to the networks, and they must be able to use the tools, the resources of the technology, and there must be multiple channels so that if one channel doesn’t work for me, be heard about it, I can’t read my phone. Maybe there’s some other channel that would be suitable to me and give me the capacity to engage and have the services that I need. And finally, the last thing I want to talk a little bit about is the use of data and the importance of data. There are organizations and countries collecting information on ordinary people and making merchandise of it. And the information pertaining to citizens, it must be protected, it must be managed, and the integrity assured. And governments have large repositories of information. I encourage governments to open up their data. I think in the European Union, they are instruments, notably the Open Data Directive and the Data Governance Act, as well as national open data policies that integrates open data into the activities of all areas of public administration. And I think this is a very useful trend. I think Europe is doing very well. Other countries may not be doing that well. And finally, I just want to speak about the whole issue of privacy. Those security systems cannot be an afterthought. They have to be from the design stage. And it’s not a permanent fix. It requires constant review, upgrade, and adjustment to ensure that our citizens’ human rights are respected. And in closing, I want to say that the governments cannot do this alone. It’s a collective responsibility. It requires collaboration. It requires cooperation. Partnerships. Yesterday, we heard the Vice Minister speak to with the partnerships with the private sector and the academia, the civil society organizations, the NGOs. They can also play a significant role. And use your local talent. Use your people. They best understand the culture, the challenges that they are experiencing. They’re the ones. You can find the solution for yourselves. Look around and see what’s happening out there. But ultimately, there’s no one who knows the challenges better than someone in your own country. So use local talent. Help to development. Help to the development. Help to develop them. That’s a tongue twister. So with that, those are my remarks. And I thank you for your attention. And it’s really been a privilege to be here. Thank you.