THE 18 protocols signed by the Portuguese government with Microsoft executives last week in Lisbon may not be exclusive to the multibillion dollar IT company, founded by Bill Gates.
The protocols, signed by Prime Minister José Sócrates and Microsoft president Bill Gates, involve 18 high-tech projects aimed at kick-starting the country’s technologically-backward economy and improving competitiveness.
But, under Portuguese State resolutions signed and approved in 2002 by Technology Minister Mário Gago, rival systems such as those developed by Apple Macintosh could also be used. “Portugal favours a well organised and flexible information technology climate, where all systems can co-exist and whereby one or another system can be adopted depending on cost and software/hardware application suitability,” he said.
Microsoft’s Bill Gates was in Lisbon, participating in the two-day Government Leaders Forum (GLF) seminar on ‘Competitiveness and Information Technology in Europe’, under some of the tightest security seen in the capital since the MTV European Music Awards last autumn, the official visit of Bill Clinton in 2004 and Portugal’s Presidency of the European Union in 2000, when European government leaders besieged the city.
In a press conference at the Prime Minister’s residence at São Bento, Sócrates said that the partnership with Microsoft was possible because his PS government had laid out in its election manifesto “clear policies to boost investment in high technology and training”, adding that Microsoft and Portugal shared “similar visions for the future, where societies and economies are based on that which is critical to their development: greater investment in knowledge, technology and innovation”.
The vision of a technologically-advanced Portugal was first laid down in the famous Lisbon Accord in 2000, when EU leaders pledged to modernise the 25 Member States through information and cutting edge technology, to bring Europe in line with the standard of economic development enjoyed by the US and Japan, among other rapidly developing nations in the Far East.
The government’s so-called Technology Plan involving Microsoft promises to train one million Portuguese in information technology and computers by 2010. The various programmes signed include those aimed at secondary school pupils, further education college students, 50,000 members of the GNR, PJ and general police services, and employees in government departments and ministries. The world’s largest multinational computer programme company has pledged to supply the necessary software.
The 18 protocols will also create 500 work experience and training placements for thousands of graduates in 4,600 companies in Portugal, including Microsoft Portugal and its associated partners. The agreement also includes the creation of specialised technology courses in colleges and universities, with the promise of integrating graduates in technology-driven companies in Portugal.
The Portuguese State will not have to provide a penny of investment towards the projects, although the government is likely to offer Microsoft a number of important licences and tax break sweeteners in the country.
In addition, the 18 protocols cater for the creation of three Software Development Centres, with the collaboration of Microsoft, to be channelled towards small projects as well as opportunities for young Portuguese technology graduates to work directly for the multinational within the country in investigative areas.
There will also be co-operation between the Portuguese government and Microsoft on an ambitious project aimed at fighting cibercrime. Sócrates and Gates signed a protocol that would permit the Polícia Judiciária (PJ) to co-operate, over the next three years, with Microsoft EMEL, a national market leader company in technological innovation. This project would be particularly aimed at fighting internet crime and software piracy.
Around 1,000 movers and shakers in the Portuguese business, technology, science and financial world joined the Prime Minister, the President Elect Cavaco Silva, former Prime Minister and UN Refugee High Commissioner António Guterres and EU Commissioner José Manuel Durão Barroso to hear Bill Gates’ 30-minute key-note speech on ‘Driving Global Competitiveness through Local Innovation and the Challenges of Administrative Modernisation’ at Lisbon’s Hotel Ritz Four Seasons.
It is the third time that the GLF has been staged; the first was held in Rome and the second was held last year in Prague. The Forum was due to take place in Austria, but Sócrates succeeded in persuading the world’s richest man – following negotiations with Foreign Minister Diogo Freitas do Amaral – to come to Portugal.
Bill Gates outlined a clear vision on the potential of the IT market in Portugal. “The opportunity is here in Portugal,” he told the 1,000 delegates. He gave the example of the ready uptake in Portugal of the mobile phone and the sheer numbers of mobile SMS text messages sent by young people.
He went on to praise Portugal’s creation of a unique citizens’ card which “would simplify things a lot”. He said it was important that people working for the government should be directly involved in the technological process and that small countries like Portugal showed the “best capacity to break down barriers between sectors and various levels of government”.