IWC Takes Baby $teps Towards Reform, Hopes it Doesn’t Trip
Today’s plenary centered around the seemingly innocuous and boring heading of “Financial and Administrative matters”. Under consideration was UK’s resolution, “On Improving the Effectiveness of Operations within the International Whaling Commission”. You may be thinking, “That ought to be a snap; who wouldn’t want to improve the organization’s effectiveness?”
But you would be wrong.
Issues of money – collecting it, paying it, transferring it, owing it, and using it to buy votes (oops… I said it again) – all are very sensitive issues for the Commission. UK Commissioner Richard Pullen stated that the UK-proposed reforms related to conducting business at IWC were very modest – the bare minimum, actually – and ones we would expect to see practiced among other international organizations. He went on to state that the fact that proposals to reform the IWC generated such great attention among the delegation “says a lot about this organization.”
The first item up for discussion and debate was a revisit of the proposal requiring payments of IWC fees and dues arrears to be made exclusively by bank transfer – not cash, not check, not credit card – not even a banker’s draft. (What’s the difference? With a bank transfer, each party must be identified by the bank. It is difficult to send or get money anonymously, so it’s harder to pull off a scam with a bank wire transfer. In addition, payments are more certain – banks only send money if the sender has available funds, and it is difficult for the sender to pull the money back. In contrast, a banker’s draft is a type of check where the payment is guaranteed to be available by issuing bank (essentially, a certified check).
How offensive! What utter cheek!
As if on cue, Commissioner Daven Joseph (St. Kitts and Nevis) implied that the proposal was ‘discriminatory’. Argentina, Germany, Sweden, Columbia, Brazil, New Zealand, Poland, Monaco, and Chile immediately lent their support for the proposal, reminding the Commission that the credibility of the organization was at stake.
Commissioner Tomas Heidar (Iceland) was next in line with an objection, not only insisting that there be ‘exceptions’ to the requirement of bank transfers for payment of IWC fees, but that paying arrears might also be difficult for some IWC member nations. Huh? The total amount of back dues owed by defaulted nations is in excess of $400,000. Is Iceland suggesting that defaulted nations should continue the privilege of attending IWC and expect their voting rights to remain intact?
In keeping with predictable principles of ‘mob mentality’, St. Kitts and Nevis rushed in with the following statement with all the subtlety of a jackhammer: “If we’re moving towards consensus, we will have to refrain from the pointed accusations that the UK is making! He is making a pointed accusation that with regards to developing countries, their votes are being bought. Refrain from these insinuations! St. Kitts will not be able to support this resolution.”
As if on cue, Joji Morishita (Japan) then coolly deflected the Commission’s attention away from his ill-behaved Caribbean lapdog, which had just peed on his distinguished colleague’s leg. Veering the discussion in a different direction, he expressed concern about listing delegates’ contact information and email on the IWC public website. This practice had, regrettably, resulted in Morishita being the target of continuous attempts by ‘cyber-hackers’ to ruin his life.
In response, Commissioner Joanne Massiah (Antigua and Barbuda) wished to register the same complaint (damn whale-loving hackers!) and insisted on playing ‘language cha-cha’, substituting ‘environmental’ for ‘marine resources’ and ‘conservation’ for ‘resource management’ in the UK proposal. Not to be left out in the Icelandic cold, Heidar associated himself with the comments made by Japan and Antigua and Barbuda – so cozy!
Commissioner Il-Jeong Jeong (Korea) chimed in to agree that there should be exceptions to the requirement of payment by bank transfer – what if hackers infiltrate his bank account? Hey, it could happen! Heidar concurs, as does Massiah who, suddenly very offended by the idea that anyone should question her integrity, proposes to add that payment by banker’s draft should be sufficient, since it “guarantees that funds are available”. To imply that there may not be available funds in her account is insulting. Apparently, the distinguished Commissioner from Antigua and Barbuda has missed the point entirely, which is to ensure a legitimate and legal source of funds, not simply that ‘sufficient funds are available’. Wait… no, she has not missed this point. In her ‘real’ job, Massiah is a Senator and Minister of Legal Affairs; she is very sharp.
…she’s just not, shall we say, entirely beyond reproach.
No matter, she can always rely on like-minded commissioners like Justin Rennie (Grenada) and Jarden Kephas (Nauru), who practically trip over themselves in a rush to associate with her comments.
By now, the situation is heating up – factions are digging in, voices are raised, and Daven Joseph becomes untethered from reality. He’s from a developing country, as he so often reminds us, where absolutely anything might happen to foil his honest attempt to conduct a bank transfer. Not just hackers, but last minute finance ministers and even…natural disasters! His colleagues who enjoy vigorous economies just don’t understand his situation.
Really? Did he just say what I think he just said?… yup.
Finally, Commissioner Ana Alban (Ecuador) weighs in with a much-needed reality check by pointing out that both St. Kitts and Nevis and Antigua and Barbuda enjoy economies that are thriving, relative to that of Ecuador, and yet… they have never experienced difficulties in paying their IWC fees using a public account and bank transfer. Mexico concurs with Ecuador’s comments.
Having had quite enough nonsense and IWC filibustering, Commissioner Pullen (UK) draws a proverbial line in the sand by stating, “This is non-negotiable for us, for our co-sponsors, and for many contracting governments in this room. It seems that we cannot reach consensus with regard to this point.”
What?…no consensus? That would require calling for a vote – the first such occurrence since 2008.
In a high-stakes game of high-stakes ‘chicken’, St. Kitts and Nevis cannot seem to help himself and states that he, too, finds the proposal for payment by bank transfer to be unacceptable – the IWC equivalent of ‘double-dog-dare.’
By this time, it’s 2:00 p.m. – everybody’s cranked out, tired, hungry, and frustrated. Iceland calls for a “three hour working lunch”, during which commissioners could negotiate a mutually palatable proposal. UK counters with one hour, maximum.
Typical of IWC adherence to time, 60 minutes turned into 90, and Chair Herman Oosthuizen (South Africa) announced that the commissioners could not resolve their differences during that time, and were subsequently to meet in a Closed Commissioners Session in an attempt to reach consensus.
Four hours later…
… the commissioners returned, and the proposal was passed by consensus, narrowly escaping what may have been the most important vote in IWC history since the establishment of the Moratorium in 1982.
Upon the Chair’s announcement of passage, the commissioners applauded their efforts and one in particular indulged in a moment of public self-aggrandizement. Seemingly unable to prevent himself from speaking and keeping his comments to an inner monologue, Daven Joseph noted, “I would like to congratulate myself for a very difficult compromise.”
Such humility from the distinguished commissioner from St. Kitts and Nevis.
And so, beginning in 2012, it will become increasingly difficult to veil the source of funds used by delegates and commissioners of IWC member nations to pay annual fees and arrears – one small –but extremely important step in restoring the integrity of the International Whaling Commission, increasing transparency and accountability of operations, and addressing allegations of corruption.
The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. – Lao Tzu
And what did the U.S. have to say on this most modest of efforts to disassociate the IWC from its stigma of corruption? Commissioner Monica Medina states, “We are glad that this organization has a diversity of nations; we support the resolution on its efforts in this regard. We strongly support this effort to bring the IWC’s payment system into the 21st Century, but there may be some issues associated with bank transfers and we should be patient and understanding of those for whom this is a problem.”
Transparent and accountable payment seems only to be an obstacle for those nations on Japan’s payroll. That is the problem.