53 Rue de l’Amiral Mouchez
Mr. Kofi Annan, Secretary-General of the United Nations
Mr. Youri F. Yarov, Executive-Secretary of CIS
Dr. Jacques Diouf, Director-General, FAO
Mr. Carlos Magarinos, Director-General, UNIDO
Mr. Mike Moore, Director-General, WTO
Mr. Juan Somavia, Director-General, ILO
Mr. James D. Wolfensohn, President, World Bank
Paris, November 23, 1999
Dear MM. Secretary-General and Executive-Secretary,
Dear MM. Directors General and President,
Referring to my letter of June 23, 1999, I would like to forward you the last letter received, discuss with you the different points of view expressed, and mention briefly my motivations.
Mr. Massimo D’Alema’s collaborator has sent me on July 20 a very kind and encouraging letter, and you understand that it concerns you as much as it does concern me. Since most of the organizations and countries that received the proposal have now responded, it might be the appropriate time to analyze the different comments. I apologize for being a little long but I wanted to mention everyone.
First I would like to start with the letter of UNESCO which I received first. I want to say that I am grateful to Mr. Chu for writing the letter (and also to his colleagues Mr. Carrizo, …, his manager Mr. Nascimento and the Director-General of Unesco). I believe UNESCO played exactly its role. We presented them an ‘interesting and innovative idea’ (European experts comment) that they thought was meaningful, so as the International Organization in charge of promoting among other education and science, they supported the idea. They did not take any engagement, but why should they have, without knowing the other organization points of view.
Mr. Duppenthaler, statistician at WHO, was kind enough to write us a short message just before we submitted the proposal to express the possible interest of WHO for the project and to introduce me to his colleague at the European regional office in Copenhagen.
Mr. Léger from WTO wished us luck for the project and asked kindly Mr. Tislenkof from his directorate to give us more information about their statistical work on the phone and also to comment our work plan. Mr. Tislenkof remarks were very precise and very useful. He also commented the work plan (proposal) sent to the infoDev program of the WorldBank.
From the FAO, we did not receive just one letter of interest, but two letters, one from Mr. Kabat Director of Statistics and one from Mr. Vertucci of the Information Technology Division. They both understood very rapidly the proposal, its meaning, and the problems associated with it. Mr. Kabat gave us pertinent suggestions and Mr. Vertucci offered to participate in the project.
Like Mr. Kabat mentioned it in his letter, the project does not only concern the Statistics Divisions of the different organizations, but almost all the divisions, and we also have to be aware that not every country has yet the appropriate hardware and software (infrastructure) to implement fully such a system.
Mr. Ivanov’s letter is also very important. Not just because the CIS plays a central role in the former Soviet Union, but also because he raised an important issue, the financing of the project. The research part could have probably been easily financed but what happens after. The idea of the project is to create a system, which is independent from country and international organization information systems. You know that countries and large organizations are a little bit like ‘people’, they like to be independent as much as they possibly can. So, building a system that is independent from everyone is great, but the problem is who should pay for it? Or, how do we split up the costs?
For a building of ten similar apartments owned by ten different people, you split the common cost in ten and every one pays one tenth. It is easy. But when you have two hundred countries and more than 12 large organizations that have different ways and rules for financing themselves and also different responsibilities to various kind of people, the problem is more complex. So the question of Mr. Ivanov is very pertinent.
Mr. Bremer who answered our proposal for UNIDO was leaving the organization but his comments were very encouraging. He also introduced me to his colleagues and manager, MM. Weeks, Yamada, and Robyn, who always answered my questions, phone calls and emails kindly.
ILO sent us a very short but particularly encouraging letter. You all know how prestigious is ILO, and the important work it is doing on labor related issue, so the nice comment of Mr. Mehran was in some way ‘amplified’.
You cannot just evaluate a project by reading only the positive comments written about it or study pertinent questions raised, you also have to try to understand the negative comments and see how pertinent they really are. The letter of the WorldBank is in that sense very important, because it is really the only negative comment we received on the project. Some of their remarks are very true, ‘ the production of good raw data (in developing countries) … requires, first, more qualified local staff and improved computer facilities’.
But when you think of developing a system that would work for all the countries and all international organizations, you cannot just look at what developing countries can or cannot do at the present time. A system like this one is not developed and implemented around the world in 2 or 3 years. It will take time to implement it in industrialized countries, so it leaves sometimes for developing countries to get ready.
And when the time comes, they will have a useful system to transfer their statistics, they also will be able to use the ‘data model and definition’ we implemented. To introduce this system will take longer in some countries than others, of course, but it is still important to associate as many as possible because it concerns every one, and it is also important to hope (and to do everything so) that every country will be able to use it soon.
I received several letters from the IMF, as you know, they are already involved in projects (SDDS, GDDS) which encourage countries to organize their financial and economical data. They have a vertical approach and the approach of this project is more a horizontal approach. The two projects are not incompatible, I believe in fact that they complete each other. The last letter from Mr. Mauprivez answering the letter I sent to Mr. Camdessus shows their interest for the solution we proposed, I believe.
Mr. Nezu from OECD sent us a very kind letter in April this year, as you know the OECD plays a important role in the process of collecting and analyzing statistical data. They study all sorts of data from health, environment, …, to economical data. One of the divisions in Mr. Nezu’s directorate is also involved in legal issue related to the Internet and the information society. Their interest is essential. I had been in contact with Mr. Kincannon earlier. He had told me on the phone that he thought the strategy we proposed was a logical strategy.
Apart from the letters of International Organizations, we received several letters from National Institute of Statistics, some of them, which were very kind. Mr. Dinculescu from Romania was among the first to show his interest in the proposal. He even took the time to give some technical comments. It was very encouraging to receive his letter and to know that someone with his responsibility had perfectly understood what we were trying to do and was kind enough to write it. Mr. Katona from Hungary, then Mr. Sourinov from the Russian Federation, Mr. Calder from England, Mrs. Prigly from Canada, Mr. Kazuhiko Matsuo from Japan were also very kind to show their interest for the project.
Mr. Hahlen, from the German National Statistic Institute, mentioned that he thought that the project would be very useful for the international statistical community, but that to his knowledge, ‘a quite similar project has been carried out within the frame of the UN Statistical Commission’. His comment was surprising because, if ‘a quite similar project’ had been going on, the other organizations would have been informed. In reading your letters and the comments of the European experts it seemed it was not the case.
The originality of the idea comes from the fact that everyone should participate in this project. The ‘scientific’ argumentation is that ‘if we use the network (Internet) as primary technology of our information systems, we can create a system for all organizations’, and therefore lower the costs (development and maintenance cots) tremendously. The common classification and codification allow us also to have the multi-delivery functionality, which is useful, since several organizations are using the same data. It also have a long term impact on countries IS.
I would like to tell our German friends that I was very much inspired by the work of two great natives of Germany: Karl Friedrich Gauss, a well known mathematician in the statistics community, and Julius Reuter, the founder of the news agency which carries his name, Reuters. As you may know, Gauss is sometimes referred to as being one of the two fathers of the telegraph (the Internet ancestor), Samuel Morse being the other one. Gauss actually did the theoretical work (related to sending electric signals by wire), while Morse, who invented the code named after him, engineered and built the first telegraph in the US around 1840.
Gauss and Reuter knew each other and eventually became friends. Julius Reuter was a student in Gauss’s class in the 1830’s, he may even have been his unpaid assistant according to some historian. As a student in mathematics and computer science in a small town of Louisiana called Natchitoches, I happened to find in the reserved room of the University Library a unique collection of documents and letters on Karl Friedrich Gauss. This is when my interest for this man started.
Later when I worked at Reuters and read about the life of Julius Reuter, I learned about the relation between this two unusual men, and understood why Reuter had a such good understanding of how the world would evoluate and how the telegraph would change the exchange of information. We will all agree, I think, that the contribution of these two men in their field of work and their influence on other people interested in this domain are significant.
I would like to conclude this part by saying that, of course, countries should be associated to this project, but the main work (at least at first) will be done by the experts in international organizations. So the comments from National Institute of Statistics are encouraging, but at the same time it seems that they want to leave the initiative of the project to international organizations.
I am thankful to everyone mentioned in this letter for their comments, suggestions, and interest, and to all the other to whom I talked to on the phone or exchange email with, and who were kind enough to answer my questions. No one can doubt now that the proposal is the result of the work or cooperation of many persons in international and national organizations.
At the beginning of my research in 93 and 94, I sent letters to more than 50 different countries to obtain information on the public health and pharmaceutical industry sectors. I always received an answer, and most of the time I received very detailed information, articles, magazines and even detailed statistics. I cannot mention them all here but I remember particularly the answers from India, Japan, Canada, Australia,… I would also like to thank these people for their help.
My first motivation to work on this project was to find a job. Then because of the many difficulties I encountered, it has also become an intellectual fight against discrimination, particularly after the European Commission put the project in the second place on the reserved list, and in some way blame (the coordinator) me for this result.
If someone, who proposes a project that we know is good for everyone on earth and who obtains letters of interest from more than 15 large international and national organizations as well as from politicians like Mr. D’Alema, does not eventually get a job to work on his project, idea or at least on related issues, then who, else among the 15 millions unemployed people in Europe (much more in the world) or among the 1,3 billion people who live under 1 $ a day (or the 3 billion that live under 2 $ a day), will ever have a chance to get a job with dignity, meaning as the result of his own work, idea and interest in the ‘community’s challenges’?
This leads me to talk about the idea of ‘conscience of the world’ introduced by Mr. Annan in his speech at the French National Assembly for the 50’s anniversary of the Declaration of Human Right last year. In my last letter I mentioned my difficulty to obtain justice even though I had a judgment in my favor, it is because there cannot be any ‘justice’ without ‘conscience’. Mr. Wolfensohn phrases it differently, ‘What use the lawbook if the ‘judges’ are corrupt, if the poorest and most vulnerable expect only brutality from the police?’.
I believe International Organizations should be the ‘conscience of the world’ like Mr. Annan said. This is, I believe, what they were meant to be, and this is definitely what we missed during the first half of this ending century. They may not have achieved this goal yet, but when we read your speeches or interviews, we really have the impression that it is what you would like them to be. It seems that you try to talk to the conscience of political leaders or people around the world as much as you try to talk to their intellect.
It was also my objective with this project, to talk to your conscience as much as to your intellect. Of course, I do not have your experience and ability for that, but I don’t think you question my sincerity. The fact that I received so many letters of interest shows that there are reasons to hope without any doubt. But I have done everything I could alone and would like now to continue my work in one of your teams. I have seen several jobs opening on the Internet site of the UN and the FAO (see attached list), my experience could be used in several of them, I believe.
For more than 2 and 1/2 years I live in a 14 M² room with no kitchen, and for many years I am the victim of all sorts of prejudices (discrimination, humiliation, …), the project proposal (idea), my professional experience, the letters of interest and my judgement are everything I have. I know from experience that what Mr. Wolfensohn says, ‘Corruption is a core poverty issue, robbing from the poor the little they have’, is true.
Will you show that International Organizations want to be ‘the conscience of the world’ and hire me? I can start (or continue) working immediately.
Attachment: Summary of the project proposal, motivations, letters of interest.
List of jobs opening.