Ombudsman asks DCA to simmer down after .africa conflict of interest complaint

Kevin Murphy, December 10, 2012, 13:29:03 (UTC), Domain Policy

ICANN’s Ombudsman dismissed a complaint from DotConnectAfrica about alleged conflicts of interest on ICANN’s board of directors, but scolded DCA for its “intemperate” blog posts.

DCA complained in October that two members of the board — Mike Silber and Chris Disspain — have conflicts of interest in relation to the contested .africa gTLD.

DCA has applied for .africa without notable government support, whereas South African registry Uniforum has applied with formal backing from most African governments.

According to DCA’s complaint, as described by Ombudsman Chris LaHatte in a new blog post, Disspain and Silber somehow have conflicts of interest related to this contention set.

Silber is treasurer of ZADNA, the South African domain name authority, which oversees .za policy and ergo Uniforum’s ccTLD business, which is arguably a close connection to the .africa applicant.

Disspain is CEO of auDA, which oversees policy for Australia’s .au ccTLD and therefore has a relationship with AusRegistry, a major back-end provider for new gTLD applicants.

It’s not at all obvious what the alleged conflict of interest related to .africa is in Disspain’s case.

When LaHatte asked DCA executive director Sophia Bekele to explain the precise nature of the conflicts, he did not receive any information beyond identification of these two employment connections, both of which are already fully disclosed by ICANN.

Both men are members of the board’s New gTLD Program Committee, which wields the board’s power over the new gTLD program and is designed to comprise only non-conflicted directors.

LaHatte blogged that he was unable to find any discussion of .africa in any board or committee meeting minutes — because ICANN has not discussed any individual gTLD applications yet — and was therefore unable to find any unfair treatment of DCA.

Dealing with unfair treatment is of course the Ombudsman’s job. LaHatte concluded:

I consider that no disqualifying conflict of interest, or indeed any conflict of interest at all, is present in the actions of both Chris Disspain and Mike Silber. 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.

But the Ombudsman also, it seems, had some concerns about the nature of DCA’s lobbying campaign over the last several months, which has been as vitriolic has it has been scattershot.

As previously noted, some of its allegations against its .africa rival have been baffling.

LaHatte clearly picked up on the tone of the debate also, blogging:

There has been considerable amount of discussion on blogs, Twitter and other sites and in comments on the ICANN website in relation to the new .africa gTLDs applications. Regrettably much of the discussion has been intemperate.

An aspect of this application has been the unfortunate tone of much of the debate on various websites blogs and other places. During the course of this investigation I discussed this with Sophia Bekele (at the Toronto meeting) and suggested that perhaps a less aggressive approach would be appropriate. She readily agreed to this.

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.

As Uniforum has said little, and DCA a lot, I can also assume that the blog posts being referred to are DCA’s.

The company has for several months regularly posted often incomprehensible allegations on its blog, usually in multicolored text with liberal use of italics and bold.

Bekele was also last week rumbled using a fake identity on a mailing list to support DCA’s position.

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Comments (2)

  1. Martin says:

    “Silber is treasurer of ZADNA, the South African domain name authority, which oversees .za policy and ergo Uniforum’s ccTLD business, which is arguably a close connection to the .africa applicant.” – Murphy

    As ZADNA director, he also endorsed UNIFORUM .africa, should he not then recuse himself? why would the Ombudsman say there is no COI.
    I think the Ombudsman should have focused more on investigating the COI instead of rambling on DCA’s campaign language which appears to be out of the scope of his work or mandate.

    BTW, he clearly meant the intemperate was for both sides.

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