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IGF: Dark clouds over Bali

27.07.2013 | News

Less than three months before next IGF meeting in Bali, Indonesian government does not want to host the UN summit. Rumors were immediately spread on internet. To cut short, Markus Kummer, IGF and MAG (Multi-stakeholder Advisory Group)’ Chairman, makes a point.

Dear all,

It is great to see so much enthusiasm around the IGF! We all agree that the IGF needs a more solid financial base - but the current model should be maintained insofar as the funding should go to the central operation and not to the host countries! Patrick made some good points, especially as regards cluster funding. This really ought to be pursued further.

Having said that, I feel that it is necessary to take a step back and to look at some of the basic facts. First of all, the UN has not received any official confirmation that Indonesia is withdrawing its offer to host the 2013 IGF. The UN has accepted the offer, but it has not yet issued an invitation to the event. The Under-Secretary-General of the UN is the convenor of the meeting, on behalf of the Secretary-General, in accordance with the Tunis Agenda. Only he would be able to cancel the event. However, cancelling is not an option.

Currently, the UN in New York is in touch with the Indonesian authorities at various levels to find out whether they are willing to honour their commitment to host the 2013 IGF.

I made the point at yesterday’s MAG call that bailing out the Indonesian organizing committee would create a moral hazard. Nick picked up this point - it would indeed be a dangerous precedent that in the end might weaken the IGF instead of strengthening it.

Hosting an IGF meeting is a considerable effort, both in terms of workload as well as in terms of funding. We do not have the figure of how much each host country has spent in the past, but estimates vary between USD 2-3 Millions. This should be no surprise to the Indonesian hosts as the IGF Secretariat had explained to them the obligations of a host country as early as in 2010.

It seems that the organizing committee was not able to deliver. The question now is who should bail them out - the Indonesian Government or the international community? The missing USD 1 Million is peanuts for a major economy such as Indonesia - if the Government is not willing to come up with that kind of money then it is clear that there is no political support to host the meeting. Again, as Nick pointed out, shifting a UN meeting back to HQ or to another venue would not be a first - this has happened before and it never was the end of the world. I fully understand that there would be a considerable amount of discomfort related to changing travel arrangements and maybe loosing money on cheap non refundable tickets. However, good news is that we have serious expressions of interest from other potential host countries.

The budget transparency has been with us for some time. This is a complex issue and we should avoid mixing apples with pears. There is on the one hand the Trust Fund that finances the Secretariat and, on the other hand, the budget of the host country. Both budgets are part of proprietary agreements between the UN and the donor or the host country, respectively. They can only be disclosed if all Parties to the Agreement agree to do so.

The UN may be bureaucratic, but whatever UN staff do is based on rules and regulations set forth by UN Member States. There is simply no point in discussing whether these rules are too cumbersome or not. Hosting a UN event away from Headquarters follows rules based on Resolutions adopted by the UN General Assembly - that is the UN’s highest legislative authority. These rules are not negotiable.

The basic principle is that the extra costs arising from hosting a meeting away from UN Headquarters need to be funded by the Host Country. These costs include funding transport and per diem for UN staff, such as interpreters, security personnel, secretariat and other technical staff. For staff that need to be replaced at HQ (e.g. security personnel, interpreters) it also includes so-called replacement costs (that is to pay for the people who replace those who went to the conference). It is obvious that these costs vary greatly from venue to venue. Nairobi, for instance, is a UN HQ which brings down the cost, as no security personnel or interpreters need to be flown in. Indonesia will invariably more expensive, as most UN staff would need to be flown in. The Host Country has the option of transferring all the funds directly to the UN or assuming some of the costs directly, such as paying for flight tickets and hotel rooms. The UN asks the host country to provide transport from airport to hotels and hotels to venue. It is up to the host country to decide how generous it wants to be with providing free meals and other extras - but that is not a requirement.

The standard Host Country Agreement provides the legal framework for the meeting. It puts the UN flag over the meeting and guarantees diplomatic immunity to all participants for any word spoken or written in the context of the meeting. For understandable reasons, this fundamental right is not negotiable. The IGF, with its open door policy, has expanded this notion of diplomatic immunity well beyond the boundaries of what is usually accepted by UN conferences. Any participant with "proven expertise and experience" is accepted without an onerous accreditation process, as it is normally the case for ECOSOC accreditation and other UN conferences. This is a huge accomplishment in terms of furthering multistakeholder cooperation under the UN flag. Putting up with UN rules and regulations is a prize worth paying for this!

To cut a long story short: let’s stay calm and see whether Indonesia is ready to abide by some of these basic principles and willing to fund the IGF. If they can explain with a reasonable and reasoned budget where the shortfalls are, then we can see whether there is any need for the international community to chip in - but, as I said earlier to some of you: we are not there yet! I do hope that in the end we will go to Bali - but at the same time we should keep all the options open and be ready to shift to another venue.

Best regards Markus

See IGF website

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