Have the growing worldwide calls for a qualified African to be appointed the next Secretary-General for the UN Convention on International Trade In Endangered Species of Fauna and Flora (CITES) been ignored? No one officially connected to the process has confirmed that it is high time for a well-qualified African to lead the organisation.
The outgoing CITES Secretary-General, John Scanlon has clearly avoided confirming his support for an African candidate to succeed him when he vacates his position as the Secretary-General in April this year.
“I have met many wonderful and talented people over the past eight years and there are well qualified potential candidates from across every continent,” said Scanlon in a conscious effort to evade addressing the question of whether there is a need to have a qualified African to succeed him. “The UN Secretary-General will make the final appointment following a merit-based selection process.”
In sharp contrast, Zimbabwe’s Minister of Environment Water and Climate Change Oppah Muchinguri Kashiri directly answered the question in a statement: “We fully support the proposal of appointing a Secretary General from Africa. Since the 3rd of March 1973 when this treaty was signed in Washington DC, Africa is yet to assume such a key role in the Secretariat.”
Minister Muchinguri Kashiri said that the appointment of an African CITES Secretary General would be an opportune moment for Africa’s voice to be heard.
“More importantly that voice would be loud as the CITES Secretary- General has considerable influence over the decisions that are adopted by the Conference of Parties (COPs),” she said. “An African Secretary-General would adequately understand and appreciate the sustainable conservation philosophy from a practical perspective, especially if one is coming from a region with viable wildlife populations. This would fit in very well with the coordination and advisory role of the Secretary-General in the Convention work.”
Meanwhile, Mr Scanlon said that the CITES Secretary-General position would be publicly advertised, and anyone “is free to apply.” Mr Scanlon said that in the event that he left office before the appointment of a substantive CITES this process would be managed by “the UNEP Executive Director who, following consultation with the Standing Committee Chair and myself, will make an announcement before my term ends.”
Elsewhere, Scanlon said that CITES was not losing credibility.
“In fact, both myself and the Secretariat have been praised by all Parties and by stakeholders coming from many different perspectives for the fair, balanced and neutral approach adopted by the Secretariat in dealing with highly contentious issues,” said Scanlon.
On the contrary, Mr Ron Thomson, the CEO of the South Africa-based pro-sustainable use NGO, The True Green Alliance said, “Praise is not a good judge of reality.”
“I am quite sure that Mr Scanlon and the CITES Secretariat have had many praises from all those people who can see that he follows their doctrinaire objectives,” said Mr Thomson. “But there are just as many people who denigrate CITES – and he doesn’t talk about them. If his ears were not filled up with so much animal rights propaganda he might just hear the dissenting voices, too.”
Also, contrary to Scanlon’s view that he was doing praise-worthy work, he is being accused of having deliberately dismissed a call to stop the scandalous vote-buying within the CITES decision-making framework made at the November 2017 CITES 69th Standing Committee Meeting (SC69). The Code of Responsibility for NGOs was suggested as a possible solution to help stop the vote-buying.
It was on the Agenda, but the SC refused to debate it as result of the comment from the Representative from Israel who said, “I sees no reason to fix something that isn’t broken.” Both the Chair and Scanlon were “dismissive” using legal arguments. They played the ostrich game. CITES talks a lot about corruption in a rather interesting way: briberies to customs officials, game wardens and park rangers is corruption; but briberies to senior officials and politicians is commitment to the environment. It is much easier to close one’s eyes on this type of corruption than tackle it.
Mr Godfrey Harris, Managing Director for the USA-based Ivory Education Institute and a political scientist who taught American and Comparative Government at two USA universities, said: “I He (Scanlon) was dismissive. He had no evidence of anything that the NGOs were doing that needed them to sign the Code of Responsibility or pledge to adhere to it. With that, the Chair moved on to the next item. The former CITES Secretary-General Eugene La Pointe was infuriated.”
Despite having removed the issue of CITES vote-buying from the November 2017 69TH CITES Standing Committee agenda as non-existent and not problematic, Mr Scanlon surprisingly admitted in an interview that he was aware of the vote-buying rumours in CITES.
“There have been various rumours circulating for many decades that some countries and some NGOs seek to influence how a Party votes through sponsoring delegates travel,“ said Scanlon. “These rumours are not limited to NGOs coming from any particular perspective. Such rumours have been directed at NGOs that support sustainable use as well as those that do not support sustainable use. As far as CITES is concerned, we have not during my tenure been presented with any evidence of vote buying by any country or NGO. If we were, we would provide it to our Parties.”
On the contrary, Zimbabwe’s Minister of Environment Oppah Muchinguri said that the Zimbabwean Government was aware of the ongoing vote-buying scandal within the CITES decision-making framework.
“Yes we are aware of the scandalous development within the CITES decision framework,” said Minister Muchinguri Kashiri. “As Zimbabwe we strongly think that CITES should be for parties with wildlife. Green movement (animal rights groups) should not be part of the decision making mechanism.”
Meanwhile, the South African Government represented by its Department of Environmental Affairs pointedly declined to comment on whether it supported the appointment of an African CITES Secretary-General. They also did not comment on whether or not they know about the ongoing vote-buying scandals within the CITES decision-making framework.
“Emmanuel, you can indicate that there was no comment,” said the Chief Director Communications for the South African Government’s Department of Environmental Affairs, Mr Albi Modise.
During CoP5 (Buenos Aires) the delegate from Papua New Guinea (Kwapena) bitterly complained on the behavior of an NGO, the Center for Environmental Education (CEE), that in several occasions, attempted to force him to vote CEE’s way because they had paid for his participation in the meeting. Mr. Kwapena reiterated his complain in writing to CITES, prompting an intervention from the General Accounting Office. The outcome of this intervention was never disseminated.
During the Standing Committee SC50 held in General, March 2004, the Chair (USA) reported on the result of his appeal to Parties and Observers to assist in the funding in the Sponsored Delegates Project (SDP) for CoP13 to be held in Bangkok, on October of the same year. There was a hilarious reaction from the participants when the Chair announced that an NGO, while responding to his appeal, mentioned that they could not contribute to the SDP as there was no guarantee that the delegate would vote in accordance with their principles and philosophy. The NGOs was later identified as the International Fund for Animal Welfare, IFAW.
Nevertheless, Mr Thomson of the South Africa-based True Green Alliance said that he has often sent complaint letters to the Minister for the South Africa Department of Environmental Affairs about the ongoing vote-buying scandal within the CITES decision-making framework. He said that he has been sending the CITES Secretariat numerous reports on cases of this scandalous activity since 1987 but has never received any response.
“After CoP6 (Ottawa – Canada – 1987) I sent a report to the CITES Secretary General of that time (Eugene Lapointe), outlining two cases of vote-buying that I had uncovered in Canada,” said Mr Thomson. “Both involved a well-known animal rights organisation paying a surprisingly large amount of money to two (different) African delegates in return for their pledge to vote the way their benefactor prescribed. The monies (in cash) covered the costs of their air-flights to and from the delegates’ countries of origin to Ottawa, Canada. It covered their accommodation costs, their food and beverages costs, and one delegate even said it also paid for the services of a lady of the night. One of them showed me a wad of money, in Canadian dollars that he had been given. Both these delegates were upbeat about the arrangements they had made and they were totally unconcerned about the crime they had committed. They seemed to be more committed to showing off the fact of their cleverness in agreeing to the transaction. I never got a response from CITES.”
After CoP7 (Lausanne -Switzerland – 1989) Mr Thomson said that he met the same two African delegates who advised him, quite openly and very happily, that they had transacted the same deal with the same NGO that had proved to be, for them, so lucrative in Canada. And they introduced Mr Thomson to a third delegate who had joined their vote-selling-crew. This, too, he reported in writing to the CITES Secretariat. Again he received no response.
Mr Thomson said that in 1992 he stayed with his good friend, John Gottshawk, in Arlington Virginia, USA. Mr Gottshawk had then recently retired as the Director of the US Fish and Wildlife Service.
“I discussed with Mr Gottshawk the vote-buying that I had uncovered in Canada (1987) and in Switzerland (1989),” said Mr Thomson. “He said that he was not surprised that my reports had got no response from the CITES Secretariat because, he said, nobody likes to admit that things are not always 100% kosher with their administrations. But they know about the vote-buying that was reported to the US Government Accounting (now Accountability) Office (GAO) who investigated the matter thoroughly. The GAO had to abandon their inquiries, however, because the vote-buying incidents had all taken place in foreign lands. Even though several of the NGOs concerned were American – the transactions had occurred with foreign nationals and on foreign soils all over the world. The whole issue, therefore, was outside the jurisdiction of the US-GAO. Mr Gottshawk later sent me a number of official reports from which I saw, quite clearly, that the vote buying at CITES was well known in American bureaucratic circles.“
It is against this background that calls for an African CITES Secretary-General continue to increase with the hope that she or he would be more sympathetic to sustainable use of wildlife.
By Emmanuel Koro
About the writer: Emmanuel Koro is a Johannesburg-based international award-winning environmental journalist who has written extensively on environment and development issues in Africa.
The Express News