Speeches & Podcasts

Coordinated ICT and cyber capacity building in the Pacific

GFCE Annual Meeting, 24 November 2020,

Opening address by Hon. Simon Kofe, Minister of Justice, Communications and Foreign Affairs of Tuvalu and rotating chair of the Pacific Islands Forum.

Good evening,

I’m delighted and honoured to join you tonight or this evening for the Pacific cyber capacity building event organised by the GFCE.

I’m aware that I’m speaking to experts in this field. I do not profess to be an expert myself in ICT but I do have a very keen and special interest in ICT and that’s partly the reason I’ve taken on the portfolio since joining government last year.

Obviously, we see the potential of technology to transform nations and that is certainly an area that I’m very excited about.

Hon. Simon Kofe, Minister of Justice, Communications and Foreign Affairs of Tuvalu

Ladies and gentlemen,

This year we’ve experienced a raging and devastating pandemic that has unleashed a global health and economic crisis unprecedented in scope and magnitude. The COVID-19 pandemic has forced the world to adjust to a new normal. A new way of living, working and interacting with people. Given this and the lockdowns and border closures that have accompanied COVID-19, recent studies have found that the pandemic has accelerated the adoption of digital technologies by several years.

In Tuvalu for example, the government increased the total bandwidth available nationwide from 200 mbps to approximately 800 mbps during the beginning stages of the pandemic.

For those of you who don’t know Tuvalu has a population of 10,000 people so if you’re wondering that the mbps is quite small. And obviously the increase in bandwidth nationwide was in response to the growing demand from both the public and private sectors for improved connectivity to support the remote delivery and use of services.

More Pacific island nations are also in the process of drastically increasing access to internet connectivity through submarine cables that will enable them to achieve a digital economy and society.

However, the rapid expansion of access to the internet has also increased the risks of Pacific island nations becoming victims of cyberattacks and cybercrime.

Fortunately, the threat posed by cybercrime was recognised by our leaders during the PIF in late 2019 with leaders applying the security concerns through the Boe Declaration which is a pronouncement that looks to establish an expanded concept of security.

In the Pacific, we’ve seen how improved connectivity can have both a positive and negative effect on society. Social media platforms, for example, have been used to spread misinformation, hate speech and have exposed our people to cyber bulling and cybercrime.

In combatting misinformation, especially during COVID-19, the government of Tuvalu has increased its presence online to ensure that information is disseminated efficiently and widely to the public.

Additionally, Tuvalu is currently exploring the use of blockchain technology to make its government departments and centres of administration more secure, more accountable and paper-free.

Earlier this year, in February, the GFCE held its inaugural Pacific regional event in Melbourne. During the event donors, project implementers and Pacific partners discussed the common goal of identifying and addressing opportunities and challenges for cyber capacity building in the region.

I’m pleased to learn that 3-4 themes emerged from these discussions: coordination, contextualisation, and commitment.

I wish to echo here the sentiment expressed by the participants in Melbourne that initiatives for the Pacific must be designed with awareness of the local ecosystem, needs, and capabilities of Pacific island countries rather than driven by external KPIs or predetermined solutions.

I also note that the success and sustainability of any regional initiative will depend on the political will of our decision makers. And I’m pleased to offer my support in this regard both as a Minister in Tuvalu and as the current chair of the PIF.

In a region where the cost of technology can negatively impact the adoption of new cybersecurity mitigation services, it is important that the Pacific pool its resources reducing the costs of developing and maintaining technology and decreasing the duplication of capabilities across the region.

In June 2020, the Tuvalu government launched its national ICT policy draft which will guide the nation’s evolutionary journey towards a digital transformation of our economy. Among the policy objectives captured in our national ICT policy document is a comprehensive approach to cybersecurity.

The Tuvalu government is alert to the fact that globalisation and the pervasiveness of internet has given rise to new types of needs, rights and vulnerabilities. This is the result of massive investments on the part of Pacific governments in cooperation with our partners to connect up our people with high bandwidth internet services through various submarine cable systems.

Our journey to the submarine cable ecosystem has been challenging. We’re determined to get the project on track and complete by 2023. This is a major priority area for the government of Tuvalu.

We’re also aware that for secure electronic transactions to occur an environment of trust must be created and sustained through legal and regulatory practices. Cybercriminals around the world are constantly seeking loopholes through which to perform illegal illicit businesses. Any country that has inadequate cyber law is essentially offering a safe heaven for cyber criminals to act with impunity.

The Government of Tuvalu will endeavour to create and sustain a secure cyberlaw environment. The adoption of cloud-based solutions is also giving Pacific nations an opportunity to share and collaborate so as to reduce unnecessary duplication of ICT investments or repetition of procurement and development processes.

At the heart of this strategy is the idea that citizens, businesses and governments will rest assured knowing that information and data that they have stored in the cloud is secure and reliable. This can be achieved through the development of a secure and compliant cloud capability. This cloud capability will be adopted holistically throughout the government and will offer Tuvalu access to larger economies of scale and tools to fight cybersecurity challenges.

There is a need to improve government competencies across the Pacific in the use of cloud platforms and there must be security, integrity and availability for critical government systems across all cloud deployments and service models.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Allow me to conclude by sharing with you what I believe are the major challenges that I have observed in Tuvalu and indeed in other parts of the Pacific region as well. And to overcome these challenges we’re seeking input from this Forum for assistance with  leadership and capacity building.

Major challenges include: a lack of cybersecurity skills, a lack of community awareness of cybersecurity issues, inadequate regulatory capacity especially in the phase of convergence of networks and services, a culture that does not foster the adoption of internet security standards in certain sectors, a need to enact specific and effective legislative instruments and privacy security cybercrime ethical and moral conduct encryption digital signatures  copyrights intellectual property rights and fair trade practices.

And finally, a need to create capacity for research and study in ICT-related legal and regulatory issues.

Despite these challenges Tuvalu, has still made great strides in ICT and is currently a global player in the ICT world given its .tv domain name. And promises to make even greater strides in ICT given its small size and ability to quickly implement technologies. With these few remarks I’d like to once again thank the GFCE for inviting me to speak today and for organising this annual forum.

Thank you.

Question (moderator, Bart Hogeveen):

Do you feel as the department feel sufficiently empowered to have those conversations with donors, implementers private service providers so that solution are fit for local context and are (financially) sustainable?

Minister: I think this point was raised in Melbourne about contextualising these initiatives and really getting to know what the needs are on the ground. I think there are two sides to that.

On the one hand you want to have development partners that really understand the context and don’t come with predetermined positions or solution for the countries. To really listen to the countries.

And then on the other side, Pic have to step up as well, and to really take ownership of these things. Capacity building, when we talk about capacity building a lot, not just in ICT but across all the departments of government, I think for capacity building to really work it is a two-way thing

From Tuvalu’s side of things, there has to be a shift in attitude and the approach to how they receive these things. And that’s an area that I’m working as well with our ICT department that they really need to be on top of their game as well.

We have to see that the ICT sector is not something national, its our access to a global market and the sooner we change how that paradigm shifts within our own people the more effective we are in engaging partners and coming up with initiatives. I see that as a big challenge. I myself do not have the ICT background and expertise but I do spend a lot of time reading and trying to get my head around some of these concepts because it is so important to Tuvalu

I’ve faced challenges as well since coming onboard and I’ve been questioning some of the initiatives that are really driven by some of our partners. In fact, this has even led us to falling out with some of our partners but it’s something I feel very strongly about. Looking at the future, is it sustainable? Is it something that really brings benefits for people or is it just something that gets a burden to us? So those are some of the issue that we face all the time. I think from our end we just need to take real leadership. thank you!