Key Committee Debates Changes In WIPO Performance, Spending

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The powerful World Intellectual Property Organization Program and Budget Committee is meeting this week for three days of discussions on a new strategic plan, the status of its audit function in the aftermath of past financial mismanagement, the financing of new projects related to the Development Agenda, and new policies on WIPO financial reserves, languages and investments.

The Program and Budget Committee (PBC) is meeting from 1-3 September. Documents for the meeting are available here. The PBC meets annually to discuss the organisation’s finances, though the actual budget of the organisation is drawn up on a biennial basis. This year, WIPO is in the middle of the 2010/2011 biennial budget. The meeting precedes the annual WIPO General Assemblies, to be held from 20-29 September.

The mid-term status of the biennial budget does not mean that there are no critical questions at this year’s PBC. An outstanding question is how WIPO will distribute remaining finances, as increasing numbers of its programmes have a view towards IP in a context of a changing and diversifying world that demands a more nuanced approach.

A tension that has been arising at WIPO over the past year is that developed countries have expressed concern that WIPO is over-emphasising development, while at the same time that developing countries see too little spending and substantive focus on development. WIPO is in the ongoing process of implementing a 45-recommendation Development Agenda approved by its member governments in 2007.

For the three-day PBC meeting there is a significant number of documents. Some of the critical documents are analysed below.

Medium Term Strategic Plan

WIPO’s Medium Term Strategic Plan is important as it in many senses reflects the director general’s vision of where the organisation is going to go under his leadership, in tandem with member states. A latest draft for the review of the PBC, available here [pdf], notes that the forward to the plan is a “perspective from the director general” rather than a negotiated position by member states. This is seemingly to reflect concerns by some member states that the language was representative of the viewpoint of the secretariat rather than a negotiated consensus from the members.

This final draft is the third version of the strategic plan. Earlier drafts were released in May, and again in July after a consultation with member states. Previous Intellectual Property Watch analysis of these documents is available here (IPW, WIPO, 16 August 2010).

WIPO Accountability, Performance

Since 2007, at the direction of its member states, WIPO has been undergoing intensive steps to improve its internal performance and accountability. An internal audit analysis of these efforts takes a charitable tone, citing substantive changes in the past two years, though it found numerous areas to watch carefully and had a few recommendations aimed at tightening up the approaches already in play. The focus of WIPO’s efforts is on performance measures, data and reporting.

There are several types of audit mechanism at WIPO, internal and external. The WIPO Audit Committee, created in 2006 and currently made up of representatives of nine member states, took a swipe at WIPO for late and difficult-to-navigate documents, among other things. The committee praised some efforts but also cited poor quality analysis in the case of the program performance report for 2008-2009, and other shortcomings and made recommendations for improvement. Consideration also is being given to bolstering protections for staff, such as whistle-blowers or other activities that could lead to recrimination.

WIPO’s voluntary separation program, in which it is offering attractive payouts to some staff to leave, has resulted in 99 approved requests and 87 separations. Of these, 55 have been set aside for the “regularization” of employees who have been on repeated short-term contracts.

WIPO also is engaged in the important selection of external auditors for the coming biennial periods, with an extensive document on the effort.

Development Agenda Implementation

The 2009 General Assemblies asked WIPO to review the budget process used for projects under the Committee on Development and Intellectual Property (CDIP), which manages the implementation of the Development Agenda. The CDIP approves these projects in April and November, when it meets, but this process is slightly out of step with WIPO’s programming and budgetary processes and thus not fully integrated.

The PBC is being asked to consider two proposals: an interim solution for 2011 and a fully integrated solution for the 2012/2013 biennium. The interim solution is that funding for new projects approved in November 2010 will be drawn from resources within the current budget, with “re-prioritization of activities” as necessary. The full solution would be to ensure that projects to be proposed include resource requirements per biennium. Proposals will be made by the director general via the PBC to the WIPO General Assemblies.

New WIPO Policies on Languages, Investments, Reserves

Languages have been a critical issue of several WIPO member states in the last several years. The working documents of many WIPO governing bodies and working groups are in French and English only, and for most WIPO committees the working languages are French, English and Spanish. Arabic, Chinese and Russian are also considered official languages of WIPO, and are used at some meetings, such as the PBC and the CDIP. The PBC documentation recommends a new policy that working documents for committees be translated into all six languages, and proposes several solutions for “rationalising” document volume to cut translation costs and allow for sooner implementation of the language policy.

These rationalisation measures include: limiting the length and/or number of working documents, excluding certain “exceptionally voluminous” support studies or surveys from the translation requirement and providing instead a translated 10 page summary, and introducing summary records rather than verbatim minutes.

WIPO’s reserve funds are the surplus income above what WIPO budgets for programming. There are also “working capital funds” intended to provide financing in the case of liquidity problems in the organisations. A policy on reserves was proposed and approved in 2000, the PBC document says. But in light of the global financial crisis, WIPO has provided several new principles for the use of the reserves which it is asking the PBC to endorse. These include that proposals to use the reserves should be for “extraordinary, one-time expenditures” rather than operational activities, but that they can include financing for projects outside the biennial financial period.

There is also a proposed policy to diversify investments in order to compensate for WIPO’s income volatility, which is greater than most UN agencies as it relies on the sale of services rather than pledged donations.

New WIPO Building Rises to Completion

The construction of a large, new office building connected to WIPO headquarters on the Place des Nations in Geneva appears more or less on schedule for completion, with 80 percent of “surface area” on track for 8 October, and the remaining 20 percent for 5 November. The cost of the new building will be some $160 million Swiss francs (slightly less in US dollars), according to the PBC documents. Keeping in mind that WIPO experienced some scandal in the past over possible mismanagement related to building contracts, this process is being carefully scrutinised by auditors and others.

Meanwhile, work continues on WIPO construction projects, according to the PBC documents. Director General Gurry has made a theme since taking office in October 2008 of providing more services to clients and member governments, and WIPO is moving ahead with plans for the construction of a grand conference hall costing tens of millions of Swiss francs. Somehow driving home the need for the hall, this year’s General Assemblies will be held across the street from WIPO at the Geneva International Conference Centre. In past years, overcrowding has been a problem mainly at the annual meeting, as most regular meetings at WIPO experience no problem fitting in the existing, rather 1970s-ish, plenary hall.

Kaitlin Mara may be reached at kmara@ip-watch.ch.

William New may be reached at wnew@ip-watch.ch.

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