Monday, December 19, 2011

Disclosure Starts at Home

Earlier this year FIFA asked the University of Basel's Mark Pieth (above with Sepp Blatter) to write a paper that would (here in PDF):
... analyse the existing [FIFA] governance structure, to express an opinion on its standard and, if necessary, to make Recommendations for its amendment.

This is not an investigation into past behaviour. The focus is exclusively on the institutional arrangements, the organisational structures and procedures and their ability to deal with existing risks and challenges. Transparency and accountability are the key goals of governance.
The 29 page report failed to disclose that the University of Basel was paid by FIFA the rather eyebrow-raising amount of $128,000 and more than $5,000 per day to produce the slim product. The report discusses "conflict of interest" throughout and notes that:
[C]onflicts cannot be “forbidden”; conflicts are a reason to notify and disclose the situation, and to recuse oneself in substantial cases.
It is thus all the more surprising that nowhere in the report (or anywhere else I can see) can one find disclosure of the exceedingly large payment from FIFA to the University of Basel. It was left to a Swiss newspaper to share this information.

While FIFA can pay anyone they want to produce a report, the instant that Pieth was selected to chair the FIFA "Independent Governance Committee" the payment -- at a minimum -- creates the appearance of a conflict of interest. The failure to disclose in these circumstances compounds the issue and violates fundamental notions of conflict of interest employed in business, governments and non-governmental organizations.

Why do conflict of interest guidelines matter? Not just because some blogger will highlight the incongruities. Violations of basic conflict of interest practices can lead to lost credibility and legitimacy. Consider this sage advice given to the United Nations in a prominent report in 2005 (p. 188, here in PDF):
In order to safeguard against conflict of interest situations, a robust financial disclosure and conflicts of interest regime should include a requirement that all United Nations staff and consultants, including "$1 dollar a year consultants," disclose in writing to the Ethics Office any financial interest or business relationship of his or her own or of immediate family members that could represent a conflict with his or her responsibilities or that could reflect unfavorably upon the integrity of the Organization.
An author of the report?  Mark Pieth.


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