By Chantal Peyer
26 November 2004. The WSIS Task Force on Financing Mechanisms (TFFM) held an open meeting in conjunction with the Group of the Friends of the Chair meeting in Geneva last week. Chantal Peyer was there and reports about a disappointing discussion, but also about a possible strategy for civil society. (ed.)
About 100 persons were present at this meeting, mainly from the governmental delegations and mission in Geneva. There were also representatives of some international organisations (IO) and about 10 representatives of civil society.
The meeting was chaired by the UNDP coordinator of the TFFM, Mr Nishimoto (who has been working for the Asian Development Bank for several years and now works at UNDP). Mr Utsumi (ITU secretary-general) and Charles Geiger (head of the WSIS executive secretariat) were also there.
Introduction: The Facts on TFFM
Mr Nishimoto made a short introduction on the working process and the actual situation of the TFFM. Among others he raised the following points:
- The TFFM has very little time to do its works and regrets not to have been able to organize more face to face meetings like the one taking place today.
- The TFFM was launched on the 4th of October in New-York.
- The scope of its work is mainly to analyze and assess the effectiveness of existing financial mechanisms.
- The TFFM has based its work on empirical and theoretical research that already existed on the national levels, within the international organizations and financial institutions, private sector and civil society. It aims to be an expert report and not to give political recommendations
Among the different questions raised and points discussed, five took some importance:
1. Civil Society participation
Several civil society representatives (R. Bloem, J.L Fullsack; F. Muguet and C. Peyer) raised the issue of lacking transparency of the TFFM, as well as the lack of civil society representation. They asked for a member of the civil society working group on finance to be invited to the last meeting that will take place in New-York at the end of November.
The Francophonie representative intervened to support this demand and said that his organisation could fund the trip and participation of a civil society member. But the official answer remained very vague. They promised to consider the question and said they would be interested to get a written contribution in any case.
2. Delays and Timeframe for Consultations
Many interventions asked when the report will be available for consultation.
The answer was that theoretically, the report is discussed on the 29th of November in New-York at the TFFM meeting. Then a first draft will be distributed by mid-December. It is not clear yet whether this draft will be available to all actors or only to selected people. A final version should be ready by the end of December.
3. Just findings or recommendations?
Several governmental representatives (Spain, Estonia, Brazil, and Finland) were asking for the results or conclusions of the report: Will there be any recommendations? Will there be any conclusion taking positions or giving suggestions on how existing mechanisms can be made more effective? These and other governments are expecting a report with clear and precise conclusions, recommendations on which they will be able to base political discussions and take decision during PrepComs 2 and 3 and the Summit.
The answer was that the report will put emphasis on "key findings" and concluding remarks, but not on recommendations as such.
4. Confusion about "Digital Solidarity Fund"
A big part of the discussion was spent on the recently founded DSF, showing a lot of confusion and lack of information among the participants. The discussion focussed on the question of whether the DSF which was already created in Geneva is the one which is mentioned in the WSIS Plan of Action (§27) or not. That means whether the TFFM has the mandate to study and evaluate the project of the already created fund or whether it has to look at the feasibility, utility, aim of a yet-to-be-created fund, which would be hosted by an international organisation and would be agreed upon by all the member states of the UN.
Mr. Nishimoto said that in the TFFM's view, they have to study the case of the already existing fund - as one of the existing financial mechanisms.
Many governments (India, Cuba, and Tunisia) and interestingly also Mr. Utsumi defended another point of view. They emphasised that the existing DSF initiative in Geneva is based on collaboration of local authorities, will be able to collect only limited amounts of funds and is not an international ("mondial") fund. Quoting the text of the WSIS action plan (§27), these governments repeatedly asked that the TTFM evaluates the possibility to establish an international fund.
5. Scope of the work of the TFFM: broad or narrow?
One of the most interesting points of the discussion was around the scope of the work of the TFFM. Is its mandate only "to analyze and assess the effectiveness of existing financial mechanisms" - as was expressed by Mr. Nishimoto - or also to look at "innovative financing mechanisms and at the possibility to create a digital solidarity fund" - as many governments asked? The delegate from Greece summarized this question in a very nice way by asking "whether this will be just one more UN-Report or whether there will be also an innovative look on the question of financing, development and ICT".
The interventions showed that there are very different expectations among the governments and actors on this question. Opinions could be divided into two categories:
a) Those who think that the TFFM has to do an assessment and evaluation of existing mechanisms. This group includes mainly EU countries, among them the Netherlands, Finland, and France. The French delegate noted that the position of the EU has always been that an assessment of the existing financial mechanisms has to be done first. But he also admitted that if that is the scope of work of the TFFM, then the question of when and where to study new mechanisms remains and will have to be solved.
b) Those who think that the mandate of the TFFM is also to look at new and innovative financing mechanisms. Among those countries were India, El Salvador, and Cuba. Often, they asked that the TFFM also takes into account the possibility to create and international digital solidarity fund.
Interesting was an intervention by India: "Given the historical process of the negotiations and given that there is a consensus that information and communication is a public good, India is disappointed that the TFFM looks at its mandate in such a narrow way. India asks that the public good aspect be more emphasised. That also means looking at new financing mechanisms."
A way out of the narrow debate?
Behind this debate, one can feel the same tensions that have been present during the first phase of the WSIS. The EU, but also the USA, Japan and Switzerland were reluctant to reiterate the aim of 0.7 per cent of the national budget for official development assistance (ODA) (although this had been an international consensus for more than 20 years). Fundamentally, the EU and many donor countries do not want to be asked for more money or to take more engagements for ODA. To limit the study to the "existing mechanisms" is a way of keeping the debate within this framework.
Though the discussion and the work of the TFFM is quite limited and will probably stay like this, there are two doors open at the moment:
First, even France (and speaking on behalf of the EU) said that the study of new financial mechanisms will have to take place at some point. Civil society should make sure this is not forgotten. To first evaluate the existing mechanisms makes sense if the second step - to study innovative possibilities- is still done afterwards, and the debate is not postponed for too long.
Second, the notion of information and communication as a public good is now used regularly by governmental delegations. To have this is the TFFM report and then to reach a wide consensus on this during the political debates is fundamental. Civil society should work on that. If this notion is accepted, then many possibilities of studies and further reflections are open, even on global taxes.
The author: Chantal Peyer works for "Pain pour le prochain - Bread for All" in Lausanne / Switzerland and is active in the Swiss WSIS NGO coalition Communica-ch.