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Wednesday, September 12, 2007

OOXML: CSOs allege corrupt tendencies

INFORMATION and Communication Technologies (ICT)-based African Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) have alleged that corrupt tendencies influenced the voting of developing countries, at the recently ended exercise to ratify the Ecma Office Open Extensible Markup Language (OOXML) in Geneva, Switzerland, especially from developing economies.

XML is a World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) initiative that allows information and services to be encoded with meaningful structure and semantics, which computers and humans could understand. XML is great for information exchange, and could easily be extended to include user-specified and industry-specified tags.

It would be recalled that on Sunday, September 2, 2007, member countries of the International Standards Organisation (ISO) voted for the initial draft of OOXML seeking endorsement of the international body, including Nigeria, just as CSOs also alleged that the OOXML has over 200 flaws.

The proposal led in campaign by software giant, Microsoft Corporation alongside over 20 others, claimed that over 2000 partners representing 67 countries on six continents gave green lights for the ratification of OOXML by ISO.

However, at the voting proper, the required 66 per cent criteria was not met as the proponents got 53 per cent, while those against recorded about 26 per cent, even as 23.5 per cent abstained.

According to reports, ISO received a total of 87 votes, of which 70 was given either by the Secretariat country (USA), participating members (“P Member”) or observers (“O Member”) and at various stages of the voting only these 70 votes were taken into consideration.

Reacting to the voting pattern, some members of CSOs from Senegal, Cote d’Ivoire and Nigeria agreed that corrupt tendencies must have influenced the exercise, mostly from developing countries on the continent and beyond.

They argued that about 17 countries, which took part in the exercise were perceived to be relatively corrupted, according to the Corruption Perceptions Index 2006 (CPI index).

“… Mostly supported the OOXML, with approval given by 13, approval with comments 2, abstention 0, disapproval 2,” a senior member of African CSOs informed.

The 2006 CPI index was a research by Prof. J. Graf Lambsdorff of the University of Passau and commissioned by Transparency International.

CSOs further stated that of the most corrupted half (CPI index less than 3.95) 23 or 77 per cent voted for approval, approval or approval with comments) and 7 or 23 per cent for disapproval; 5 abstained.

They emphasised that of the least corrupted half in the CPI index, which is more than 3.95, that is, 13 or 54 per cent voted for approval of OOXML and 11 or 46 voted for disapproval, while 11 abstained.

Some of the critics with hindsight blamed the software giant of aggressive lobbying for a backlash of the voting at the draft OOXML, even as out of the 87 countries that participated, only 69 voted yes or no; 18 of those, or 26 per cent of the total, opposed the bid.

Under the voting rules, no more than 25 per cent of countries could oppose the bid.

The work to standardise Open XML is being carried out by a technical committee of Ecma International, which includes representatives from Apple, Barclays Capital, BP, British Library, Essilor, Intel, Microsoft, NextPage, Novell, Statoil, Toshiba and the United States Library of Congress, among others.

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