Sunday, 30 September 2007

The WIPO Development Agenda: Why WIPO leadership matters in Implementation

On Friday, 28th September 2007 the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) General Assembly finally adopted a development agenda for WIPO. The Assembly adopted a set of 45 proposals under six clusters, namely: technical assistance and capacity building; norm-setting, flexibilities and public domain; technology transfer, ICTs and access to knowledge; assessment, evaluation and impact studies; institutional matters including mandate and governance; and other issues such as a development approach to enforcement of intellectual property (IP). A committee on Development and Intellectual Property (CDIP) will be responsible for developing a work programme for implementation of these recommendations and for monitoring, assessing and reporting on implementation as well as coordinating with relevant WIPO Committees for these purposes.

There is no doubt that the adoption of the development agenda was one of the most important issues on the agenda of the 2007 WIPO General Assembly and the Members of the Group of Friends of Development rightly pointed this out (See, for example, the IP-Watch story by William New at But there is also no denying that the development agenda and all other issues on the agenda of the General Assembly and other Assemblies of WIPO were overshadowed by the wrangles regarding whether the Director General of WIPO, Kamil Idris should step down for falsification of his age on various official documents including on visa applications (the latter being a criminal offense in many countries and a reason to be permanently barred from entering a country).

The two camps

While there are many interests and shades of opinion, this wrangle has been portrayed as pitting two sets of members states. The African Group, with the implicit or explicit support of many other developing countries (Mr. Idris’ “brothers”) and the United States and the European Communities (EC) with the support of the Swiss, Japan and many other developed countries (whom Dr. Idris has variously called racists or people with an agenda against the organization and his person). Dr. Idris is a cornered man. The rather vitriolic note issued in the name of the WIPO Secretariat at the start of the General Assembly on Monday, 24th September and the rejoinder by the President of the UN Joint Inspection Unit (JIU) on 25th September as well as the e-mail from the internal auditor who unearthed the age scandal speak volumes.

Apart from Member States, the debate has also obviously divided the WIPO Secretariat especially at senior management levels with those seen to be in Idris’ camp and those seen as supporting the United States and its friends or sitting on the fence.

Leadership and the Implementation of the Development Agenda: The connection

The position of Idris remains uncertain. But whether he steps down or not, the chasms that have been opened by this debacle are likely to haunt WIPO for some time to come. This is where the connection to the Development Agenda implementation comes in.

The full implementation of the Development Agenda will mean significant reform in WIPO. Coupled with the implementation of the results of the Desk-to-Desk review and the new budgeting and audit structure it means that WIPO is in the midst of its biggest reform since its founding some 37 years ago. It does no need a management expert to tell us that for an organization to navigate such major reform requires leadership from the top. Such reform cannot happen with an embattled Director General and a divided Secretariat and it cannot happen with a sharply polarized membership. Luckily, the Development Agenda had moved from a polarising issue among the membership to a shared reform platform . If the leadership question is not handled properly, it risks derailing the development agenda and returning us to 2004. For this reason, the Group of Friends of Development and other developing country as well as the development-friendly civil society groups and NGOs have the highest stake in ensuring the proper and speedy conclusion to the leadership question at WIPO.

The Silence Option

The supporters of the Development Agenda have three options on how to engage on the question of the position of Idris. One option is to take the attitude that this is not our problem; our agenda has been approved so we keep quiet on that question. The silence among civil society groups, in particular, suggest that most have taken this position. However, as I have already pointed out, WIPO leadership has everything to do with the Development Agenda. The Agenda was partly aimed at checking bad leadership at the organisation and its implementation requires prudent, corruption-free leadership at WIPO. Those who genuinely believe in the reform of WIPO based on the Development Agenda cannot therefore choose the silence option. Imagine the hue and cry that would have come from governance focused civil society and others if this debacle had related to Pascal Lamy of WTO, for example. Or think back to the Wolfowitz saga at the World Bank.

The silence approach harms rather than promotes opportunities and respect for developing countries in international organisations.

The “Brother” Option

Does the United States, the EC and others who are asking Idris to honorably step down have an agenda? You bet they do. They have made that very clear, anyway. Is that wrong? If you do not like their agenda one of your best defenses is never ever give them a reason or excuse to come after you. Kamil Idris gave them a reason and in light of that their motivations cease to be the primary issue. It is whether illegal and/or unethical behavior took place or not. Wolfowitz also claimed that there were people out to finish him for ulterior motives. I come from a country which in the last two decades has invariably been ranked as highly corrupt. For this reason, I know that every corrupt person uses the same excuse when they are caught.

In this context, the second option the pro-development groups have is to defend Idris directly or indirectly based on the argument that this issue has been brought up to divert attention from important issues such as the Development Agenda. This is also not a prudent option. One cannot put beyond some in the WIPO Secretariat to seize on the Development Agenda as a shield for Idris by arguing that this issue is diverting attention from the Agenda or that it is only him who can implement the Development Agenda. It should not be lost on the advocates of the Development Agenda that in the early days of the development agenda, when Idris and a number of senior WIPO officials were openly hostile to the proposal; a time when calls were made to Ambassadors and developing country capitals to reign in some delegates who were “pursuing their own agenda”, arguments were made to suggest that the development agenda would simply divert resources and attention from the real technical assistance needs especially of Africa. The transcripts of the meetings which are freely available on WIPO’s website confirm this.

The Development Friendly Option

By taking clear positions and focusing on the facts and ultimately ensuring the punishment of Wolfowitz, developing countries and civil society organisations made the World Bank a better place and a stronger institution. The truth is that much of the chorus from these groups was driven by the desire to get back at Wolfowitz for his anti-corruption crusade in their countries and to paint him as a hypocrite. But the motivations of the critics was not the issue on which the final decision turned. By sorting out the problem, the Bank was allowed to focus on its real job and the Secretariat and staff spared enormous agony. That is the development friendly option.

At WIPO, development friendly groups and developing countries must fully engage in the discussion about the behavior of Idris and seek to solve this matter speedily, based on facts. If the WIPO Secretariat wants to issue official documents such as the Brief note distributed to the General Assembly, then the report at issue should also be openly available. If in the end it means Kamil Idris stepping aside because he broke the rules and has become incapable of leading the organisation, then the cause of the Development Agenda will have been served. Only confident, corruption and scandal-free leadership at WIPO will lead to the proper and full implementation of the WIPO Development Agenda.

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