ICANN Ombudsman says “no current conflict of interest on .africa” instead rambled much on Intemperate communications on bidders

“It is likely that this complaint has led to increased awareness of the possibilities of conflict of interest, which the Board will carefully consider in terms of the existing policy about conflict, when the issue arises. I consider this should continue to be a matter for consideration in gTLD decision making by the Board.”

Wrote the ICANN Ombudsman in his report to a what I call a relief statement to DotConnectAfrica, in stating the requirements of the COI to be taken seriously by the ICANN Board.  However, instead of digging deep into the issue of COI, much of his report took opportunity to ramble on communications conduct of the respective .africa applicants.

Given the COI issues of the two ICANN’s Board Directors reported by DotConnectAfrica were subject of much exposure and heavy debate on various email list, understandably, any negative perceptions about ICANN’s integrity has become the organization’s achilles hills.

In a recent email forum, DotConnectAfrica was quoted as saying the matter is still unsettled for us.  At a minimum, the two Board directors should rescue themselves from any future .africa discussions and decisions and their statement of interests should reflect all noted associations.

In this developing story of the never ending tales of .africa, DotConnectAfrica who is fighting to get the rights to run a new gTLD under the .africa string received its initial response from the office of the  ICANN Ombudsman Chris LaHatte posted on 9th December 2012 under the case number 12-00241 titled “In a matter of a Complaint by Sophia Bekele for DotAfrica”.

I am not sure why it was personalized to a person’s name, however, this comes as a direct response to a letter that had been submitted by DotConnectAfrica Trust who has applied for .africa gTLD, regarding two allegedly conflicted ICANN board members Mike Silber who is Director and treasurer of ccTLD .za domain name authority and member of the Management Committee and treasurer of Internet Service provider Association (ISPA) South Africa and Chris Disspain the Director and CEO of .au Domain Administration Limited, the .au ccTLD manager; .au has sponsorship agreement with ICANN under which .au pays ICANN a yearly amount based on the amount of names under management.

DotConenctAfrica had written two letters posted on their website implicating the two officials on 18th July 2012 and after what seemed like a delay DCA sent a subsequent 3rd letter to complain about the presence of the two individuals in ICANN whereas they were members of firms directly or indirectly related to Uniforum a competitor  that also applied to establish the .africa registry. The third letter read in part DCA is quite outraged that COI issues have been raised regarding some ICANN Board members, and such ICANN Board members continue to remain rather active in new gTLD program discussions and decisions. We seriously believe that conflicted Board Members should not be allowed to participate in meetings of the New gTLD Program Committee.”

On Mr Silber DCA in the letter stated that  “ Mr. Mike Silber was a former director of UniForum SA, the administrator of the domain registry.” And “ we are indeed troubled by the fact that Mr. Mike Silber would use his presence on the ICANN Board of Directors to act deliberately as to pose an unwarranted risk to DCA’s application whilst trying to take decisions that would have a favorable outcome for the competing application submitted by UniForum.”

And on Chris Disspain DCA reported in their first letter that Disspain  is a current member of the ICANN Board of Directors from Australia. He is also the Chief Executive Officer of .au Domain Administration (auDA), which together with ARI Registry Services Ltd. (formerly Aus Registry International) are part of AusRegistry Group. Quoting ARI’s website said “In 2010, ARI Registry Services (ARI) was selected by the .za Domain Name Authority (ZADNA) to provide consulting services to assist ZADNA with their .za Central Registry project. “  Armed with these revelations DCA feels that In a nutshell, we really believe that Chris Disspain might use his ICANN Board position to favour ARI Registry Services’ clients such as UniForum in any decision regarding .AFRICA.

On his analysis the Ombudsman said  This is a matter where I clearly have jurisdiction. If there is a conflict of interest then this would result in unfairness, which under Bylaw V, is a matter that I can investigate.”  He went further to conclude that “I consider that no disqualifying conflict of interest, or indeed any conflict of interest at all, ….It is likely this complaint has led to increased awareness of the possibilities of conflict of interest, which the Board will carefully consider in terms of the existing policy about conflict, when the issue arises. I consider this should continue to be a matter for consideration in gTLD decision making by the Board.”

In an exchange with DCA on a recent AfriICANN email list Silber was told:  

The fact is that you are a Board Member of the ZADNA, an organization that has openly endorsed UniForum ZA Central Registry as an applicant for the .Africa gTLD.   As a Board Member of ZADNA, you are also a party to that endorsement of UniForum, and you still expect to be believed that you are a man of integrity who is not conflicted over .  and even continued to say…

Everyone knows what your voting record is on the ICANN new gTLD Program. You had abstained from voting, so the record actually shows that you did not approve it in June 2011 at Singapore because you thought it was not ready.
According to information available from this site  “the ICANN Board decision to approve the program on 20th June 2012 was also criticized by abstaining ICANN director Mike Silber, who said it was not ready yet and subject to “ego-drive deadlines”.

So one then would wonder what is the interest of Silber to now want to serve on a committee that decides on New gTLDs?

The Ombudsman’s verdict came as a result of the present situations noting theconsiderable importance if proved but concluded saying “The discussion and debate continues to be fairly vigorous, but I would suggest to the competing parties for .africa that they should pay attention to the ICANN rules about respectful communication.”  I believe he is sending a message to both camps, perhaps more so if ICANN’s name is associated!

Today on the same story Murphy of DomainIncite blogged to interpret the ICANN Ombudsman saying “As Uniforum has said little, and DCA a lot, I can also assume that the blog posts being referred to are DCA’s.”    However last week in his blog related to .africa  where the debate has recently and evidently dominated by the UNIFORUM Camp, Murphy blasted the AfriICANN email list saying it has no code of conduct.

Unlike most ICANN mailing lists, which operate under a code of acceptable behavior, it has a fairly rough-and-tumble tone to it.  Bekele and DCA are sometimes mocked by name “. 

I read that blog post to mean UNIFORUM and so will the Ombudsman!

An interesting read is also DomainIncite coverage on ICANN to hire Conflict of Interest Experts 

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