Monday 1st September 2014 – Apia, Samoa: The Private Sector Forum of the UN SIDS conference closed on Sunday with Digicel Chairman, Denis O’Brien, calling for an undersea cable from Papua New Guinea through the Pacific and back into Sydney to increase connectivity by providing access to broadband services for all – as well as asking for a new economic plan for heavily indebted Caribbean states.
Chairman of Digicel Group, Denis O’Brien, used the forum to impress the importance of connectivity for UN SIDS to unlock economic growth. “There won’t be a real change in economic growth in most of the Pacific Islands until a submarine cable is built to these remote countries. Broadband is the umbilical cord for economic development. The Private Sector must partner with the World Bank, Asia Development Bank, IFC, The European Union and Pacific Governments to come together to build a submarine cable in order to close the digital divide that exists where Pacific Island nations do not have access to broadband. This cable would lead to the ‘death of distance’ and bring this last geographic frontier into the global information age,” he said.
Digicel is proposing a new submarine cable that would connect Papua New Guinea, Palau, Federated States of Micronesia, Nauru, Solomon Islands, Vanuatu, New Caledonia, Wallis and Futuna, Fiji, Tonga, Samoa and Cook Islands back into Sydney. This new submarine cable would deliver unlimited connectivity to consumer and business customers and have a major impact in developing the economies of these Island States. Mr. O’Brien’s vision to increase connectivity was supported in principle by World Bank Vice President and Special Envoy for Climate Change, Rachel Kyte, who indicated that the World Bank would consider following if Digicel were to lead on the project.
“I want to see that every child has access to the Internet; despite their location, they should be able to access a virtual classroom. A new submarine cable will deliver much greater bandwidth while significantly reducing the cost of accessibility for people, making it so much easier for them to become part of the information age. Furthermore, it will become vital to the national economies of these islands,” continued Mr. O’Brien.
In attendance at the closing of the forum, United Nations Secretary General, Ban Ki-moon, commented that, “extraordinary partnerships” were essential for Small Island Developing States. Many echoed the sentiment and there was an overall agreement that extraordinary partnerships between government, private sector and international agencies are required to drive economic growth and increased connectivity for Small Island Developing States. Furthermore, continued follow up and annual meetings are essential to ensure progress is made and outcomes reached following the promises made over the duration of the conference.
A New Economic Plan Needed for Heavily Indebted Caribbean States
Mr O’Brien also used the forum to highlight the need for a new economic plan for heavily indebted Caribbean states saying; “Just like what happened in Africa where countries were given Debt Forgiveness in lieu of revised economic plans, there has to be new policy for debt forgiveness put on the agenda so that a number of Caribbean countries can invest in education and long term economic development programmes. Many of the countries in the Caribbean have little or no growth and nearly half of their Government budget is being spent on interest and capital to foreign lenders.”
He continued; “The joint IMF-World Bank African HIPC (Heavily Indebted Poor Countries) debt relief initiative needs to be rolled out in eight Caribbean states immediately. This would result in a number of Caribbean states removing a debt burden it cannot manage. To date in Africa, US$75 billion of debt has been relieved. A similar programme needs to be urgently implemented across eight Caribbean countries.”
The Private Sector Forum culminated in the successful rejuvenation of commitments and enhancements of partnerships between national and regional SIDS private sector stakeholders, Governments and international agencies. The UN Conference on Small Island Developing States runs until September 4th 2014.