“It could be the end of multistakeholderism”

The gem above, heard over lunch at IGF Egypt, illustrates the apparently tenuous ground upon which some feel the institution now stands.  But to understand why there was so much concern one needs to sort out the issues at play.

First, there is the issue of who will conduct the formal review of the IGF. The review will be the basis for any decision to continue the forum under the aegis of the UN and in what format (including any outputs).  Second, there is the issue of where financial support for the forum will come from going forward.  That these issues are being tussled over within the UN bureaucracy importantly illustrates the soft power that the IGF has accumulated within Internet governance.

A delegate from a government friendly to the IGF implied in conversations with us that Under Secretary Sha Zukang had “outmaneuvered” everyone by proposing to move the review of the IGF to the UN’s General Assembly (GA) rather than having the Commission on Science and Technology for Development (CSTD) within the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) conduct it. The CSTD is the only venue where non-state actors would have any direct input to the review. As the GA is purely governmental it is viewed as dangerous to the multistakeholder character of the IGF.  Some are suggesting the next step would be to mobilize friendly countries to intervene in New York to push the CSTD path.

The funding issue is less clear.  To date, the IGF has been funded by contributions from the private sector (both organizations and individuals) and a handful of governments friendly to the multistakeholder concept. Clearly control of funding can impact the direction an institution takes.  An IGF beholden to the UN budget (and therefore the General Assembly) would be a distinct move away from an environment where governments, the private sector and civil society ostensibly influence the IGF as peers.

The UN budget is already being discussed in New York, and a draft resolution, sponsored by the G-77, is before the UN GA Second Committee and includes this operative paragraph:

14. Requests the Secretary-General to consider providing from the regular budget the necessary support to ensure the sustainability of the core activities and operations of the secretariat of the Internet Governance Forum, in order to carry out its programme of activities in accordance with its mandate;

But, in addition the resolution contains the following:

15.     Requests the Commission on Science and Technology for Development, during its thirteenth session, which will take place in May 2010, to organize a discussion with the Heads of the relevant United Nations entities involved in the implementation of the World Summit on the Information Society outcomes, with view to preparing a review by the Commission of the five-year progress made towards implementation of those outcomes, including modalities of implementation and follow-up, and encourages all relevant United Nations agencies, including the regional commission and action-line facilitators, to contribute to this effort;

16.     Requests the Secretary-General to submit to the General Assembly at its sixty-fifth session, through the Economic and Social Council, a report on the review of the five-year progress made towards implementation of the World Summit on the Information Society outcomes.

So it seems (since the WSIS outcomes include the IGF) that the review should fall under the purview of the CSTD and ECOSOC (which is in New York next summer).  However, the draft resolution is being negotiated next week and it is not clear what will be the result.  

We suspect, however that paras. 15-16 are likely to go through, which should be welcome news to civil society.  As drafted, para 14 doesn't require the SG to provide funding, only consider providing it, and if so it would have to be from the approved UN budget.  How much the GA would contribute to the Secretariat’s budget is unspecified.  We’ve heard that budgeting funds would likely require cutting another UN program which apparently is a virtually impossible task within the UN.  So all the worries about the end of multistakeholderism and governmental oversight might be overstated, and perhaps just talk to ensure continued support for the IGF.  But we’ll keep an eye on it as it develops.

2 comments

  1. Anonymous

    Brenden, why do you think CSTD organizing “a discussion with the Heads of the relevant United Nations entities…with view to preparing a review” should be welcome news to civil society? Wouldn't a review involving non-state actors (which are not mentioned by G77) be more appropriate, given the interests of the parties that would be involved etc?

  2. Anonymous

    Just a brief comment. In general, the CSTD (and ECOSOC) have more flexibility for the formal involvement of accredited non-state actors than does the General Assembly (GA). The GA is a state-centric body that does not allow for much (if any) non-state involvement. The sense is that there will be more opportunities for civil society involvement in IGF review processes via the CSTD than there would be if it were restricted to the GA (even though the CSTD reports would probably have to go to the GA eventually).