Should The WIPO Director General Fly First Class? 11/09/2018 by William New, Intellectual Property Watch Leave a Comment Share this:Click to share on Twitter (Opens in new window)Click to share on LinkedIn (Opens in new window)Click to share on Facebook (Opens in new window)Click to email this to a friend (Opens in new window)Click to print (Opens in new window)There are often big issues at stake at the global center for international intellectual property policy in Geneva, but sometimes, the nearly 200 governments that direct the UN World Intellectual Property Organization have to ask themselves questions like, should the director general of WIPO get to fly around the world first-class? Turns out, the answers can vary, but for now, he can carry on. WIPO’s nut and bolts body, the Program and Budget Committee, is meeting from 10-14 September. Among the agenda items is a report from the WIPO secretariat on implementation of a series of recommendations of the United Nations Joint Inspection Unit (JIU), including to review the organisation’s policy on travel, including use of first-class flights. In its 2017 108-page report on UN air travel (JIU/REP/2017/3), titled, “Review of air travel policies in the United Nations system: achieving efficiency gains and cost savings and enhancing harmonization,” the JIU states that, “The use of first class costs, on average, 33 per cent more per trip compared with business class. With major improvements in the comfort levels offered by business class, the Inspector recommends that the respective legislative bodies consider eliminating first class travel in their organizations.” The report lists a variety of ways for organisations to save money on travel, such as buying tickets in advance. WIPO, it should be noted, has already done away with all first-class travel, except for the director general. And an overriding fact of this week’s PBC meeting is the extremely health financial condition of WIPO, which has tens of millions in surplus reserves from its fees for handling international patent and trademark filing. Actual costs of travel for WIPO were not immediately available. But the JIU 2017 report said WIPO’s expenditures on air travel from 2012-2015 was $78.8 million, which was far below the neighbouring World Health Organization (WHO) at $721.1 million (incidentally the highest of any agency surveyed at that time), but above another neighbour, the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), at $32.84 million. A third neighbour in Geneva, the International Labour Organization (ILO), stood at $118.17 million, while a fourth, the UN High Commission on Refugees (UNHCR) was at $223.26 million. But it might be noted that as a percent of the agency’s overall budget, WIPO’s air travel consumed some 5.58 percent, compared to 5.01 percent at WHO, 4.06 percent at ITU, 1.92 percent at UNHCR, and 4.50 percent at ILO, making WIPO the highest in the neighbourhood. Of the 24 UN agencies surveyed, WIPO was seventh highest in percent of overall budget spent on air travel. Of course, this may have changed in the ensuring years. On another comparison, in 2017 the JIU found that WIPO was among only seven “UN systems entities” allowing first-class air travel. It was not clear at press time whether WIPO places any conditions on the use of first-class but the JIU suggested WIPO limited it to home travel (item 38). The last JIU report on travel in 2004 found all agencies permitted first-class travel, so it noted a “positive change” in the 2017 report. As an aside, the JIU report also noted “considerable year-on-year fluctuations” at WIPO, reporting that “expenses rose by 12.5 per cent from 2012 to 2013 and subsequently fell by 18 per cent from 2013 to 2014,” with no explanation given. The first recommendation of the JIU on travel was: “The Legislative Bodies of the United Nations system organizations should request their executive heads, who have yet to do so, to establish by 2019 a consistent percentage cost threshold below which the most direct route may be selected in lieu of the most economic route, taking into account the time thresholds established in each organization’s travel policy for the selection of the most economic routes.” To this, the WIPO secretariat said in its note to the PBC that it was “accepted”, explaining, “As part of WIPO’s travel policy, the most direct economical route is to be selected for all official travel, without any threshold.” In recommendation 2 in its report, the JIU suggests: “The legislative bodies of all United Nations system organizations, if they have not already done so, should abolish first class travel for all categories of staff and non-staff by January 2019 and permit its use only when business class is not available.” This recommendation was also carried forward to the PBC by the WIPO secretariat, which marked it accepted and stated: “In accordance with WIPO’s policy on official travel, staff members do not travel first class. The Director General is the only high level official entitled to travel first class in the interest of the Organization.” In discussion, some member states asked why an exception to the recommended approach should be made for the director general. The United States proposed to remove recommendation 2 from the list of “accepted” recommendations (the “and 2” reference in the fourth bullet point of the decision paragraph below: The PBC approved this decision paragraph yesterday with the “and 2 reference” taken out, along with removal of the penultimate bullet point, which refers to a constitutional reform of WIPO involving elections, to be addressed in an upcoming article in IP-Watch. The WIPO secretariat took to the floor to defend the director general’s choice and explain the situation. The official said the WIPO Director General, Francis Gurry, travels a great deal in his job, in addition to his full responsibilities at headquarters. He gave an example of a recent trip some 10-12 hours’ flight away, where 3 hours after arriving, the DG had to go make a speech representing the organisation. In addition, it was pointed out that unlike most heads of international organisations, Gurry tends to travel alone without an “entourage”, which in itself is a significant cost savings to the organisation. Today after discussion, the PBC chair declared that there was no agreement among members on the second recommendation, so the secretariat’s suggestion that it is “accepted” was not approved. The result is that this does not change existing WIPO policy. Meaning the DG can still fly first class. Among those lining up to support the DG’s right to comfort were some who took the floor for the first time in the two days of the meeting, such as Belarus and Tunisia, along with Morocco, China, Iran, and Indonesia. The United States asked that the JIU be consulted on whether making an exception is in line with UN practice. Overall, the WIPO secretariat reported, 84 per cent of all the 291 JIU recommendations made since 2010, and relevant to WIPO, will have been implemented, with a further nine per cent closed (not relevant or not accepted), and six per cent accepted and in the process of being implemented, with only a final one per cent remaining under consideration. But when it comes to travel, as the JIU’s 2017 report states, “Effective and efficient utilization of resources for air travel across the United Nations system requires a change of culture — starting with executive heads and senior managers.” Share this:Click to share on Twitter (Opens in new window)Click to share on LinkedIn (Opens in new window)Click to share on Facebook (Opens in new window)Click to email this to a friend (Opens in new window)Click to print (Opens in new window) Related William New may be reached at email@example.com."Should The WIPO Director General Fly First Class?" by Intellectual Property Watch is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.