[governance] [bestbits] Civil society transparency

parminder parminder at itforchange.net
Mon Jun 8 13:38:31 EDT 2015

Dear Pranesh

Thanks for your engagement.

On Monday 08 June 2015 08:27 PM, Pranesh Prakash wrote:
> Dear Parminder,
> I am at this point unclear what the precised difference between your
> position and Ian's is, for I don't find myself disagreeing much with
> either of you (or Anriette or Roberto).

I will be very happy to find no difference . And if you are not able to
see the difference try taking forward different approaches to actual
action, and then perhaps then you will. I am looking for some actual
action, and not just theoretical discussion . And so if you think the
two approaches lead to same practical impact - of something that can
actually be done - say in the next 3 months, I am so very glad - lets
get going with it (But I suspect not even Ian thinks so - whereby there
indeed are differences here.)

So let me again say what I am saying - I am seeking a transparency
register with declaration of interests/ objectives/ funding sources
something on the lines of EU transparency register with some possible
contextualisation to civil society situation. Now this is a concrete
thing. EU transparency register is here
<http://ec.europa.eu/transparencyregister/public/homePage.do> and here
is a page showing information submitted by one civil society
organisation - similar info is submitted by business associations . 

 I fully understand that the EU transparency register fulfils a specific
purpose, and here the purpose and motivations may be a little different
and accordingly adjustments can be made. The basic question is - are we
ready to agree to put in a place a transparency initiative or not... If
yes, I understand that the least would be to make a voluntary statement
of interests, objectives and funding sources .. I have seen no civil
society transparency initiative which is less than this, although there
are many much more complex which kind are not being advocated here. So,
we either agree to one such kind, and agree to begin working for it so
that it can be in place in 3-4 months, or we do not. Sorry, maybe I am
just being an activist, and escaping nuance. But that is how I see it.

But of course, I am happy to hear about alternatives and how we can
proceed with them. I am not wedded to any one idea or format - but it is
my present understanding that any such initiative has to have minimum of
the 3 elements that I mentioned. That is the minimum that any CS
transparency initiative I know has.
> On "conflict of interest":
> This is not an idea from the corporate world.  It existed far before
> that, too.  A judge, for instance, has a conflict of interest if she
> is deciding a case that related to someone close to her.  A political
> figure may have a conflict of interest while making a decision that
> involves a relative.  "Conflict of interest" is an idea that belongs
> to the public sphere and the political sphere as well.  At any rate,
> this is splitting hairs.

Agree, lets avoid going into this hair-splitting. Although what I meant
was that 'conflict of interest statement' as a transparency measure
belongs to the corporate world; in public life much greater, pro active
and default 360 degree transparency is ideally insisted upon. We know
that in India in our right to information work - and how increasingly
various kinds of actual disclosures are asked for, not just a self
judged conflict of interest statement. I havent heard of anyone asking
for and making 'conflict of interest' statements in the government for
instance - simply becuase the need and demands of transparency are much
much greater and deeper. That is what I meant by saying that this idea
as an adequate transparency measure comes from and belongs to the
corporate world.  I dont know of any civil society transparency
initiative based on conflict of interest declaration  - which is owing
to good reasons which I would not go into right now.
> On the transparency register:
> I support the idea, but I have the following operational questions:
> 1. Will there be a body that vets the information provided?

That is not proposed in the idea I forwarded. I just proposed a register
where groups voluntary fill in information - and if they do not, or fill
inadequately, it for the public to see and make their impressions about
it. It is possible to periodically publish the list of those who have
made the declarations - and I understand that it puts pressure on any
civil society org / actor which is big enough, exercising influence and
power around but not making the basic declarations. It just works by
public opinion. So, no, no one would be vetting the information as far
as what I proposed goes.
>   If so, how will this be funded?
Since no vetting is involved, there is limited resource requirement, for
which we can try and raise funds.

> 2. Will this be somewhat like the ICANN's CoI form, but with
> additional questions since this is not just about CoI?

As mentioned, I do not find conflict of interest declaration at all
adequate - and that is not the tradition in civil society transparency
initiatives . Civil society engagement is broad spectrum in public
interest, and nominally everyone only receives funds to do public
interest, ..... I have discussed this in earlier posts too, CoI is not
an appropriate concept here - a basic statement of interests, objectives
and funding sources is.

> 3. Do you envisage there being any consequences of someone having been
> funded by a government or a corporation or a religious charity or a
> corporate-funded foundation, etc., on whether someone can be a CS
> representative?  If yes, what kinds of consequences do you envisage?

I see no consequences other than of public opinion, which all of
politically active civil society must incessantly subject ourselves to,
in a fully transparent manner, even if it sometimes hurts - which times
I would say would be the greatest character-building ones. However, if
say some feminists decide to make a hue and cry to see some candidate
for a civil society position being majorly funded by groups that are
against reproductive rights, and in fact corresponding language exists
in the objective statements of the org to which the candidate belong,
who am I to stop them from doing so. After all, transparency of
information means that such information would be politically employed by
some people in some circumstances - otherwise the whole thing is

> In essence, I understand the transparency motivations, but I'm very
> unclear what accountability mechanisms are envisaged to accompany it,
> if any.

It is only about transparency - no accountability measures are
envisaged. Becky earlier posted information (on the BB list) on some
initiatives that go much beyond, into accountability seeking, but that
is not my current proposal at all.
> (Also, while reading Jeremy's point about witch-hunts, keep what's
> happening with Ford Foundation in India in the back of your head.)

What is happening with Ford Foundation in India has nothing to do what
is being discussed here. As for as I know the Foundation promotes NGO
transparency ....

best, parminder
> Regards,
> Pranesh
> parminder <parminder at itforchange.net> [2015-06-007 11:19:58 +0530]:
>> Ian, thanks for taking this discussion forward.
>> Firstly, on the matter of to whom the required transparency measures
>> should be applicable. I have said this before, this is supposed to be
>> voluntary, and individuals merely getting into discussions on civil
>> society lists are not important in this regard. It is the civil society
>> organisations as well as individuals who get selected as civil society
>> reps in various forms, or otherwise play significant roles in civil
>> society and multistakeholder spaces, that we mainly focus on. The major
>> organisations involved in this area must be subject to basic
>> transparency requirements whether or not they take a civil society rep
>> position because they in any case very often play very important role in
>> policy processes. As you would have seen, unfortunately, a lot of strong
>> civil society action is currently taking place away from the key
>> coalitions that you mention.
>> (On the other hand, I dont see why any individual just coming into some
>> IG discussion on civil society lists would be taking any IG related
>> funding at all - I mean what would s/he take it for - for spending time
>> on these lists!? (That btw would be most interesting - but then we know
>> that some big governments have paid people intervening in the cyber -
>> public sphere as a new form of public propaganda.) So, I fail to
>> understand why is this discussion focussing on individuals merely
>> participating in the list discussions - they can simply ignore the
>> proposed voluntary register, or enter that they take no IG activities
>> related funding from anyone, as one would expect to be true for most of
>> them. But then well, if individuals do take clear IG related funding,
>> say, as travel grants, occasional writings. and so on, I would think it
>> is necessary to declare that - perhaps even morethan in case of
>> organisations, who, unlike individuals, mostly - though not always -
>> have other forms of additional NGO governance checks. But to repeat, my
>> proposal has a greater primary focus on involved organisations as
>> against individuals. )
>> Next, about what kind of transparency measures are appropriate.
>> 'Conflict of interest' is used more in corporate governance and we,
>> civil society people, would best stick to higher norms of public life
>> rather than go by corporate governance norms. The later are necessarily
>> limited and have a different nature. For instance, conflict of interest
>> will apply to someone who holds the shares of a company but then gets
>> involved in a governance decision that impacts the bottomline of that
>> company. Things really do not work like that in public life, where
>> transparency and accountability have a very different - much higher but
>> accordingly also diffuse  - meaning and implication. The 'public' part
>> of 'public life' is very important - and as civil society players we are
>> in public life, in fact in its rather powerful 'political life' part. In
>> stating a conflict of interest a person takes a private decision about
>> oneself and one's state of affair (of course, the decision can become
>> public in case of accusations, some future crisis, and so on).
>> Transparency of people in public life requires such judgements to made
>> /by the public/, and /at all times/. That is of essence. Sorry, that one
>> has to go into such basic canons of public life, which have a long
>> history and much better enunciations than I can attempt here.
>> It is or this reason that simple conflict of interest statement while it
>> may serve the limited scope of requirements of corporate governance,
>> does not satisfy the public requirements of public life, especially as
>> involving those actors who are involved in public governance, as IG
>> civil society certainly is.
>> To make this discussion more concrete; youd agree that we should get
>> into instituting a process only if it has any real meaning in terms of
>> practical implications. So I ask you, lets say that an organisation or
>> an individual were receiving funding from government of India or from
>> Google - and is involved in the typical IG related activities; please
>> provide me an instance of likely case in which that organisation/
>> individual will self declare a conflict of interest. I cant think of
>> many such possible instances - policy work is by its very nature diffuse
>> and almost everyone is, by the very nature of it being public policy,
>> impacted - some certainly more than the other, but private judgements of
>> such impact would hardly be useful. It is not that IGF or an IG
>> governance body is ever going to make a declaration specifically on govt
>> of India or google, in which kind of case perhaps one may jump to state
>> a funding conflict. In fact, one still may not, becuase typically any
>> org will accept funding only in the name of promoting public interest
>> and would not want to accept that pushing a public policy discussion or
>> process in one way or the other actually constitutes a 'conflict of
>> interest' - in that it would not want to admit that in accepting a
>> funding it had accepted taking on 'an interest'. That is a fundamental
>> difference in how a civil society org is constitutes, as against a
>> lobbying body. For all these reasons, conflict of interest is not a
>> concept suited for civil society transparency and accountability. Your
>> proposal for "require(ing) candidates to register any conflicts of
>> interest" would simply result in all candidates saying 'they have no
>> conflict of interest that they can recognise' and thus would serve no
>> purpose at all.
>> Lastly, while you keep on saying this is the most we can do ( 'conflict
>> of interest' declaration) you have not given any reason why transparency
>> standards often applied in other areas of civil society work should not
>> be applied in the IG space as well, and what exactly is wrong with a
>> basic voluntary register of transparency simply declaring 'interests,
>> objectives, and funding sources'. This even when I have been arguing
>> that it is even more important for IG civil society than in other civil
>> society areas, because the unique multistakeholder claim and approach in
>> this area puts civil society in more significant, even powerful, policy
>> positions than in other areas. Also, how basic documents on healthy
>> development of a multistakeholder approach like the UN report on IGF
>> improvements, NetMundial Statement, etc, all point to need for greater
>> transparency. I once again exhort you to read Luca Belli's this
>> excellent paper on multistakeholderism
>> <http://policyreview.info/articles/analysis/heterostakeholder-cooperation-sustainable-internet-policymaking>
>>    which argues why such basic transparency is essential to forwarding a
>> multistakeholder approach.
>> I cant see how IG civil society can keep pushing a multistakeholder
>> approach to policy making, and seek a greater role for itself in the
>> process, but then keep dragging its feet on accepting even basic
>> transparency norms. The world is watching of course, and will ask
>> questions. there is a cost to being in public life.
>> parminder
>> On Sunday 07 June 2015 03:32 AM, Ian Peter wrote:
>>> Hi Parminder,
>>> Following from the discussion, here is what I think is possible and
>>> realistic in this space.
>>> Firstly, I think the question of transparency and disclosure of
>>> conflicts of interest is important.
>>> However, I don’t think people need to declare interests to involve
>>> themselves in discussion here or in any of our open mailing lists, and
>>> the real concerns start to arise only when people are seeking office
>>> as civil society representatives.
>>> Here, most of the office bearing exists in the various coalitions –
>>> APC, Best Bits, JNC, NCSG, IGC. I would urge each of these groups,
>>> when holding elections, to require candidates to register any
>>> conflicts of interest. I know Best Bits is moving to elections for its
>>> Steering Committee again soon, perhaps it could formulate some sort of
>>> basic disclosure requirement for its purposes? And I guess JNC must be
>>> moving towards holding its first elections for SC replenishment soon?
>>> And IGC could easily add such a requirement for its candidates for co
>>> cordinator elections (presumably late this year).
>>> But these are requirements for individual groups, and the form of such
>>> is for each group to determine. I think however that such a
>>> requirement would be a good idea.
>>> As regards CSCG – our calls for candidates are for appointments to
>>> outside bodies, and I agree that some form of disclosure of any
>>> conflicts of interest would be a good idea. Currently it would appear
>>> that our next task would be MAG replenishment (and a small one at
>>> that), probably early next year. I will suggest to the members that we
>>> should require some sort of basic disclosure statement. But that of
>>> course is up to the members (APC, BB, JNC, NCSG, IGC) to determine.
>>> I’m not sure we can go much further. But if some work can be done on a
>>> simple model of a form of disclosure, that would be good.
>>> Ian Peter
>>> *From:* parminder <mailto:parminder at itforchange.net>
>>> *Sent:* Sunday, May 24, 2015 5:31 PM
>>> *To:* Ian Peter <mailto:ian.peter at ianpeter.com> ;
>>> governance at lists.igcaucus.org <mailto:governance at lists.igcaucus.org> ;
>>> BestBitsList <mailto:bestbits at lists.bestbits.net> ;
>>> mailto:forum at justnetcoalition.org ; A general information sharing
>>> space for the APC Community. <mailto:apc.forum at lists.apc.org>
>>> *Subject:* [governance] Civil society transparency
>>> Ian, and reps of civil society networks on the Civil Society
>>> Coordination Group (CSCG) ,
>>> I propose that CSCG sets up a civil society transparency project,
>>> somewhat on the lines of the EU Transparency Register, pl see
>>> http://ec.europa.eu/transparencyregister/public/homePage.do .
>>> It should in fact go beyond the EU initiative which is a general one
>>> for all lobbying groups, whereas we here are concerned with civil
>>> society which should set the highest example of transparency and
>>> accountability. The 'register' can have self filled information on
>>> objectives of an organisation, principles followed by it, if any, its
>>> funding, partners, and so on....
>>> This is at present just my proposal, but I hope one or more civil
>>> society networks in the IG space can own it and push it... CSCG would
>>> be well placed to run this project as a neutral space so that there is
>>> no accusation of bias that any such initiative is being employed for
>>> partisan purposes. In any case, a simple initiative for openness,
>>> transparency and accountability can hardly be partisan.
>>> The register can have optional higher level features whereby a group/
>>> org can declare its means of public accountability, whether and how
>>> its internal governance is done, how matters can be taken by with
>>> their oversight bodies, like board etc, and whether they have any
>>> means whereby they respond to public question on their work, etc.
>>> For such genuine cases where such transparency can harm an
>>> organisations work, or security, such organisations, and only such
>>> organisations, can be exempted employing a clear process and set of
>>> criteria.
>>> Remember, both the UN report on improvements to the IGF and the
>>> NetMundial Statement highlight the issue of transparency. I also
>>> recently read in these lists how we should make bridges with the
>>> OpenGov movement which is almost wholly about this one thing. Time we
>>> begin practising what we preach.
>>> I look forward to hear responses to this proposal..
>>> parminder
>>> ------------------------------------------------------------------------
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