ENB:11:13 [Next] . [Previous] . [Contents]


PrepCom II has come and gone, but as delegates boarded planes to leave Nairobi, they could be heard grumbling a familiar refrain. It was the same as when they landed two weeks ago: "Where's the document?" Delays in document distribution before and at the outset of PrepCom II kept delegates in the dark about what they were being asked to consider. And, at the end of two weeks of work, they only had a partial, "non-negotiated" text to show for their labors. The general feeling by delegates during the closing days was one of unease as they noted that they will be going into PrepCom III with a central document that delegations will not have discussed as a group and for which they have no consensus. There was, however, general agreement that if the intersessional period is well spent, there is still opportunity to recapture lost time.

Despite failures to deliver any agreed text or, alas, even a single bracket, PrepCom II made three positive steps. Two of these, broadening participation and forming partnerships, will not only affect the Habitat II Conference, but have the potential to change other United Nations processes. The third, cobbling together an intersessional drafting process, may give delegates something solid they can begin negotiating at PrepCom III.

BROADENING PARTICIPATION: Over the last five years, there has been a growing shift in the way State and non-State actors interact at UN meetings. These incremental precedents are slowly being institutionalized into UN procedures with each passing conference, expanding the level of participation by different constituencies. The extensive discussions held during this meeting on the level and status at which NGOs, local authorities and private sectors will participate both in the negotiating processes and at the Istanbul Conference is a reflection of this change. Some delegates and participants at the meeting pointed out that in spite of government resistance, this is a positive development and that the vision needs to be kept alive. In fact, this Conference needs to provide the entry point into this new epoch, but it has to be done subtly to avoid any backlash.

Openness, transparency and democracy are buzzwords that have dominated the recent rhetoric of the United Nations. Still, negotiations often disappear into small, informal-informal drafting groups that leave non-participating delegations and others speculating about what is happening behind the scenes. The drafting group established to prepare the GPA demonstrated a departure from this practice. To start with, NGOs were allowed to have two representatives participate in the drafting group, a level of representation that has no precedent in the UN.

Second, although the drafting group had only 15 people, interested delegates and NGOs could sit in the meeting as observers, and even offer advice to those drafting the text.

Both NGOs and delegates hailed this as a positive development. As some delegations observed, it is essential to retain this approach, especially for the anticipated intersessional drafting meetings. The expanded participation can produce a document that is stronger, more representative and still leave governments with a true sense of ownership.

PARTNERSHIPS: Another achievement of the PrepCom was the decision that recognizes the important role of forming partnerships with various sectors, in particular the local authorities. In spite of fierce opposition from some delegations, the Secretariat fought to formally include NGOs, women's groups and local authorities in the official meeting in Istanbul on an equal level with governments. The summoning of Wally N'Dow from his office at UNCHS down to a Working Group session to appeal to the most resistant delegates at a critical point in the Rules of Procedure debate was an indication of the Secretariat's commitment to the matter.

Some Secretariat staff pointed out that this was the Conference's greatest achievement. In the twenty years since Vancouver, UNCHS has been operating through governments and has had no opportunity to work directly with the actors on the ground — the local authorities. As some delegates observed during the discussions, the opposition was based on national political interests since opening up the process to local elected officials would enable local politicians to work directly with UNCHS. Notwithstanding, participation of local authorities in the Conference on equal status with governments is only the beginning. True enablement will require commitment by governments. Thus, the issue of participation of local authorities needs to find a place in the obligations section of the eventual Statement of Principles and Global Plan of Action. In this respect, the "enablement" section of the Secretariat's draft GPA, which now has no place in the newly drafted GPA, has to find a way back into the document.

NGO observers and some delegates, however, cautioned that the expansion of partnership to include local authorities could effectively create tiers of access for non-State actors. They noted that efforts to extend participation should do just that, not classify or exclude other non-governmental actors. The solution to give special consideration to participation of local authorities may be appropriate to the goals of Habitat II, but the decision has larger implications for the UN's review of the relationship between State and non-State actors.

THE REDRAFTING PROCESS FOR THE GLOBAL PLAN OF ACTION: That delegates established an open-ended drafting group is an essential and positive step. Many delegates agree, however, that the PrepCom should be further along in its work toward a negotiated GPA.

Intersessional work by the drafting group may produce the complete text needed for PrepCom III, but the process itself sacrifices a measure of the openness and democracy that should surround the drafting. A negotiation process is a carefully orchestrated relay race that requires the smooth hand-off of the document from one to the next of the three runners in the race. Bureaucrats begin with a draft, they pass it on to diplomats to negotiate, who pass it on to politicians who have the power in the final stretch to remove those resistant brackets. As the Secretariat writes text for consideration by the delegates, it needs to take direction from the PrepCom and allow the document to be taken up by governments so that the delegates take ownership. In this way, States begin negotiating with each other, not with the Secretariat, over items to be included in the draft. Finally, delegates need to know what items can be negotiated and those that need to be bracketed and left to the politicians in the final dash to the closing ceremonies in Istanbul. The Habitat II PrepCom is still staggering toward the first hand-off when it should be in the middle of the second leg of the race.

The Secretariat's Draft Statement of Principles and Global Plan of Action is no longer the text being considered for negotiation. Governments decided early at PrepCom II to draft their own. Some delegations argued that in rejecting the document, they were rejecting the process used to draft the documents, not the enablement-oriented document itself.

At the beginning of PrepCom II, delegates chafed at receiving the two documents on the GPA late — the section on programmes was distributed only at the first meeting of the informal group of Working Group II — and at the process used to write them. The Secretariat based its work on instructions from the first PrepCom, then solicited input from a network of experts. But that process, combined with the last-minute distribution, gave some delegates the feeling that they had little opportunity for input into the initial draft of the GPA. They questioned the selection of the experts. They questioned the structure of the document. Regardless of the substance of the draft, some delegates said the process suggested the document was not their own. The EU and African Group proposals for revising the GPA structure changed the tone and direction of debate. Delegates had asserted themselves and begun to reshape the plan.

The revised structure included a new set of principles and commitments, and with it delegates significantly altered the thrust of the GPA. PrepCom II's version of the document does not render as strong support to enablement. Delegates said early on in Nairobi that they wanted to tighten the focus, downplay some of the broader social conditions and elevate specific human settlements issues. During debate, delegates supported parts of the enablement concept such as national and decentralized responsibility, but enablement's role as the foundation of the GPA has been muted. Instead, the more political and economic aspects are being emphasized. However, the document is still in a framework stage, without a dominant theme.

ORGANIZATIONAL MATTERS: Information dissemination and the lack of adequate facilities are two aspects that marred delegates' ability to operate efficiently at PrepCom II. Numerous delegations complained about the difficulty of obtaining information on activities associated with the PrepCom, including technical and financial assistance for developing countries or reporting guidelines and deadlines. During the meeting, information dissemination and document management, was a problem. Delegates were often asked to consider a document that was not yet available. In one instance, even the Chair did not have a copy of the document that was being considered by the Working Group. Delegates often did not know the organization of work from one day to the next, which prevented regional groups from considering upcoming matters, resulting in a breakdown in group discipline.

It was also apparent that there was a generalized lack of experience in conference management, both on the part of the Secretariat and the members of the Bureau. The intricate and often intractable United Nations procedures for committees are, in fact, a highly effective tool that when understood and used as a discipline within a negotiation, can accelerate the process. Yet, it is this same set of procedures that seemed beyond the ken of many of the participants, slowing their work and confusing the delegates. Working Group II negotiated a Conference Room Paper on principles for a week and some were surprised at the end that their work was only a "non-negotiated document." Furthermore, these non-negotiated texts were finally produced as "L" documents. The sessions was also riddled with numerous documents, some of which could easily have been combined. The numbering of the documents, in the end, was at worst confusing and at best cumbersome.

None of this was made any easier by holding of the 15th Session of the UN Commission on Human Settlements concurrently with the PrepCom. While this made economic sense, the PrepCom II delegates, who were given secondary consideration in servicing to the Commission, became frustrated by being allocated inadequate facilities. There was also confusion about which meeting was which and some delegates found themselves attending the wrong meetings. This Committee/Commission overlap also meant that countries with small delegations could not attend all meetings, which at one point totaled five concurrent sessions.

In addition, neither governments nor NGOs were given the communications and document preparations facilities that they have come to expect at other UN meetings. Apart from four computers set up in the delegates lounge — an uncomfortable setting to do any serious work — there were no rooms for either group with computers to facilitate preparation of documents for circulation, send e-mail or access the Internet. Delegates worked late in the night to enable the Secretariat to type out the documents they wanted circulated.

NGO INPUT: NGOs that came to PrepCom II were not able to provide the level of substantive input that has characterized and distinguished their involvement at previous meetings, specifically during the International Conference on Population and Development, the World Summit for Social Development and the negotiation of the Convention to Combat Desertification. Despite attempts by the Habitat International Coalition to organize a consultative process between sessions of the PrepCom, part of the problem was that they were not successful in broadening involvement beyond their members into the wider NGO community.

While having two NGO representatives included in the drafting group provided an excellent opportunity to make an impact, the representatives received little guidance or instruction from their colleagues. Many delegates and NGOs alike noted that if members of the Women's Caucus had attended this meeting, there would have been an organized support group providing textual alternatives to the NGOs in the drafting group.

As a result of the narrow involvement, there were many shelter groups and hardly any development and environmental groups in attendance to inject new thinking on socio-economic and environmental problems in urbanization into the predominantly government housing sector.

However, the intersessional drafting period provides an opportunity for the NGOs to come up with an effective agenda that should be reflected in the Statement of Principles and the Global Plan of Action when the drafting Committee meets. Given how far behind governments are in the drafting process, it is not too late for NGOs to organize themselves to have a significant impact on the document.

CONCLUSIONS: Only two weeks of negotiation now remain before Istanbul. The problems encountered and organizational matters raised at PrepCom II need attention, in particular during the intersessional period, to facilitate both PrepCom III and the Istanbul Conference. Timely distribution of the drafting group's intersessional revisions to the GPA is equally essential to the success of PrepCom III. Delegates must be able to respond to the intersessional drafting process if the document to be presented at PrepCom III is to have legitimacy and the Istanbul Conference is to succeed.

[Return to start of article]