14 February 2005. The first day of civil society activities in preparation is over. It was spent at civil society bureau and orientation meetings. Already we are seeing the beginnings of what could be another round of civil society in-fighting.
The Civil Society Bureau meeting went off fairly smoothly, with some good proposals to reform the Bureau and its operations. The afternoon orientation sessions, chaired by CONGO, were mostly productive. The main session was an informational panel with Ambassador Karklins of Latvia, the chair of the Preparatory Committee; Charles Geiger, head of the WSIS executive secretariat; Moncef Achour, civil society liaison of the secretariat; and Markus Kummar, secretariat of the Working Group on Internet Governance. Rik Panganiban presented on behalf of the Content and Themes Group.
One of the key issues at this Prepcom will be the draft texts prepared by the Group of Friends of the Chair, including a declaration of principles and action sections. How governments receive the texts prepared by the Group of Friends of the Chair will be interesting to see, since they basically rejected a similar initiative by the former Chair Adama Sammassekou in the WSIS Phase I.
Another key issue will be ICT Financing, with the Task Force on Financing Mechanisms delivering their final report to the Plenary. Also the Working Group on Internet Governance is meeting this week, and will give an interim report to the Prepcom.
Finally, a central issue will be the organization of the actual Tunis Summit. There are concerns about if the same openness and energy that exemplified the first Summit will translate over to Tunis.
Already we are seeing some opening cracks in the consensus, with some Tunisian NGOs questioning the democratic nature of caucuses that choose to have closed meetings. It's an important question, and one that the Working Methods Working Group was founded to help address.
In my own view, a working group or caucus is well within its rights to restrict some of its meetings to its own members, and to create criteria for membership based on the mission and focus of the caucus. If there is a caucus focused on pro-choice issues, they can chose not to allow a pro-life Vatican representative to attend.
Others feel that all caucus meetings should be open, at least to observers. I am not so convinced that this is necessary. As long as groups are clear about their mandate, operations, and process, I don't see why they can't function as they see fit. Perhaps we could say that all caucuses must have one open meeting at every Prepcom at least.
These civil society process issues are going to be central in our debates. Other issues are the reform of the civil society bureau, the future of multistakeholderism, the organization of the civil society plenary, and preparations for the summit.