Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Internet Governance: Stakeholders divided over financing method

The global Internet community is facing a hard time deciding the modalities of funding the Internet Governance Forum (IGF) and the entire United Nations activities.

Stakeholders under the aegis of the Civil Society Internet Governance Caucus were at the weekend undecided over how the proposed multi-stakeholders could be financed to avoid undue influence on the forum and the entire UN processes at large.

While some lauded the idea of ‘multi-stakeholder financing for multi-stakeholder forum’ it was received with mixed feelings.

According to some members of the caucus, the inability to have a good structure for the proposed multi-stakeholders forum as encouraged by the outcome of the second phase of the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) and the first session of IGF meeting in Athens last year.

Those who classified themselves as moral advocates among the caucus informed that the absence of this structure means simply that those who fund IGF will push their agenda because they have the wherewithal, “so that others who want their agenda pushed should step up their contributions.”

Those opposing this idea had argued that it would lead the Civil Society groups and the generality of the public to no where, because its not based on public interest.

One of the key contributors on the issue, Mr. Bertrand de La Chapelle opined that the viability of this initiative could only succeed if implemented with appropriate rules of transparency.

Some of the key questions raised at the online session, as gathered by Champion Infotel include “What is the appropriate financing structure for the IGF in order to guarantee regularity of resources and independence from lobbies and pressure groups?

For another veritable voice in the caucus, Parminder Jeet Singh of IT for Change, Bangalore, the mere thinking of multi-stakeholder financing is a very bad idea, “And, an even worse principle.”

He expressed fear that most stakeholders lack the knowledge of what multi-stakeholders is all about, especially pertaining to the Internet Governance Forum, stressing that it is a principle that will take the Internet community to no where and without any good outcome.

He elaborated by saying that for most stakeholders and civil society activists, who usually lack the funding, cannot go to their government, because the government does not share in their agenda.

“For me and many in public interest advocacy it is an important principle, and I can’t let such formulations pass by,” he said, adding that it could be fine for the private sectors to finance public functions and bodies where there is a plurality, like a foundation funding a university programme or non-governmental organisation (NGO).

“It is also fine to extend part financing, under certain conditions, to core public bodies which are monopolistic such as states, UN bodies to name a few, in their constituency and mandate, but then the proportion of private funding needs to be adequately low for any one interest group as well as in total proportion to public funds.

This, he pointed out, should be governed with strict rules of propriety, saying that many in the civil society (CS) and outside the typical Internet Governance cum Information Society (IG/IS) groups who are sometimes suspicious of the term multi-stakeholder feel so because they know such bodies can easily show tendencies to move towards ‘privatised governance’.

Yet for others, they are not under the illusion that the answers to these questions are easy to come by or determine, but expressed optimism these are crucial to determine “if we’re to build a just society.”

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