PrepCom2: Debate on financial mechanisms
  Strong criticism by Southern governments
  Geneva (18 February 2005). The second day of PrepCom2 saw the beginning of the line-by-line negotiations on the draft Tunis declaration - in WSIS speak: the Operational Part of the Political Chapeau. The delegates discussed the section on financial mechanisms, which had previously been severely criticised by civil society representatives for its exclusive focus on market mechanisms and its lack of a development agenda. The "big bang" was avoided during today's session, but governments from the Global South made very clear that they regarded the document as insufficient.

The section under debate was extracted by the so-called "Group of the Friends of the Chair" (GFC) around the President of Prepcom, Ambassador Karklins, from the recent report of the Task Force on Financing Mechanisms. This extract currently represents articles 12 to 25 of the Operational Part (a document similar to the Geneva Plan of Action). The debate of the next few days may largely confirm the work done by the Task Force and the GFC, or it may question or even overturn the findings and the approach chosen.

Prior to the PrepCom, civil society representatives had launched harsh criticism against both the Task Force report and its implementation in the draft Tunis document. It was said that it blindly follows a path of privatization and market expansion, ignores alternative approaches for financing public goods and community initiatives, and refuses to consider the Digital Solidarity Fund which was initiated at the Geneva summit. At the beginning of today's negotiations, representatives of the CRIS (Communication Rights in the Information Society) campaign, the Community Media Working Group and the Gender Caucus reiterated these concerns.

Criticism from the government side was coached in diplomatic terms, but a large number of interventions from the Global South did not leave any doubt that many delegations regard the draft as seriously flawed. Senegal, supported by Mali and Cuba, demanded that a consideration of the Digital Solidarity Fund - which had been conspicuously been left out of the Task Force report - should be reinstated in the Tunis document. Brazil and Argentina supported notions of "digital solidarity" in other articles of the document.

The South African delegation was most out-spoken in their criticism of the market focus of the text. They opposed the almost exclusive emphasis on private sector initiatives and noted that not enough thought was given to development needs. This criticism not only targeted the section on perspectives and future proposals, but also challenged the articles supposedly describing the status quo. Algeria rejected the analysis in the Task Force report that the vast majority of financing was provided by the private sector. Argentina added that, over the long term, it has in fact been the public sector which has provided the greatest investment. Other delegations, such as those from Botswana and Colombia, supported this view.

India spoke for many Southern delegations when it summarized that business cannot alone provide a solution for the problem of the digital divide, but that there is important role for public policy and public finance. El Salvador was quite alone in supporting the US delegation and the business sector in calling for more rather than less market orientation. Most other speakers were very keen on what they saw as "balancing" the focus on liberalization and on opening markets.

The discussion on specific areas of funding only started in the late afternoon and will be continued next week. However several interesting proposals included a demand by South Africa to strengthen community communications.

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