Closing thoughts on the failed Working Group on Enhanced Cooperation

This is a letter from civil society delegate Parminder Jeet-Singh following the final and unsuccessful meeting of the Commission on Science and Technology for Development (CSTD) Working Group on Enhanced Cooperation (WGEC), which yesterday failed to reach a conclusion on recommendations for implementation of the enhanced cooperation mandate in the Tunis Agenda. The letter is published here with his permission.

Dear All

As the two years of WGEC end (4 for me, continuing from the last WGEC), one departs with a lot of learning, growth and good memoires. Thank you all for being a part of it. I wish to say farewell to all, till we meet again!

On the work side: after a night’s sleep over it, this is what I feel about the WGEC’s work.

There were promising exciting moments in the last hours. If these could have come earlier it might just have been possible for us to have made some progress. But then, unfortunately, they did not. In the end, my summative assessment is as follows. It would have been nice to have had a report, but it is more truthful that there isnt one. That is the true reflection of the state of affairs. And while we have responsibilities to ourselves and to the group of nice-ness and collegiality, there is a much higher responsibility of telling the undiluted truth to the global public.

And the truth is that on the matter of how public governance of the global Internet and the digital phenomenon should be undertaken in the UN, we today are even more apart then we were even at the WSIS. A good proof of it comes from examining what was the central piece of the excitement of the last hours yesterday (an excitement, I admit, I shared in the room at that time.). At Tunis, the global community could agree that (1) the current mechanisms of global public governance of the Internet were inadequate ( Tunis Agenda, para 60), and (2) urgent further work is needed that “could envisage creation of a suitable framework or mechanisms…” ( para 61). Seventeen years after WSIS, when the Internet/ digital has transformed the world beyond what anyone could have imagined in Tunis, and there are unthinkably monumental governance needs and challenges, a weak formulation that we can continue to consider “the possibility of new [institutional approaches]” was offered as the “big” (and the only) carrot. That too only in the last few hours.

And then is was quickly withdrawn, seemingly in exchange of putting, in a portion of the report that mentioned “the key issues discussed” (and of course non agreed ), a para or two each of the two key divergent positions on the need for new institutional development. This would just have been a factual statement of what actually got presented and discussed, but not agreed. While I myself shared in the excited possibility of us getting some agreement somehow, it is evident that this was much less that what the Tunis Agenda already mentions. Although it is admittedly better that what has ever got into the texts since then, which was why some of us were ready to take it, until the offer got withdrawn. This is where the negotiations collapsed, as time was in any case not on our side.

A “no report” therefore conveys the fact of the matter more truthfully to our constituents that a report that, apologies the for dismissive tone, but, honestly, largely said things to the effect that “people in the world should be more honest and friendly”. Would such a report have represented progress? Not in my view. It would more likely have been a smoke screen of seeming progress on the subject, for some unnecessary months or years, which would have only retarded urgent consideration of this most important global public policy imperative, which is required right now. We are already late in fact.

So rather than rue that we could not agree to some weak and largely meaningless report regarding how global public governance of the Internet (and the digital phenomenon) should be done, let us be satisfied that we put in our best efforts to converge, and then honestly we let the world know that there does not yet exist the political will to develop appropriate global mechanisms of public governance of the Internet. Even in tragedy, honestly serves better that superfluous make-believes that could elevate one’s spirits temporarily. The public interest is served best by stating the actual fact, and we did that by the act of “no report”.

I much thank Amb Benedicto for his exceptionally patient, inclusive and capable handling of a very difficult discussion. Special kudos for the secretariat for providing high quality professional help that never slipped, which let our work go on so smoothly.

And a warm thanks and goodbye to all members.

Best regards

parminder

 

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