Washington DC — AFRICAN and Asian members of the Kimberley Process Certification Scheme yesterday shot down a controversial proposal to place the grouping under the control of Western think tanks with strong military links. On a day of swift drama at the State Department, the venue of the KPCS inter-sessional meeting, a proposal by the United States to redefine conflict diamonds was also strongly rejected by African and Asian members.
The KPCS, formed in 2003 to prevent the use of rough diamonds to fund rebel movements, has no full-time secretariat.
At a plenary session in Kinshasa, DRC, in November last year, the diamond watchdog adopted a resolution to push for the establishment of a full-time office.
Mines and Mining Development Minister Obert Mpofu announced that Zimbabwe will table a proposal to host the envisaged secretariat.
"We will tell them that Zimbabwe is willing to host the secretariat," he said at a dinner hosted for his delegation by Zimbabwe's Ambassador to the US, Dr Machivenyika Mapuranga.
"Yes, why not? We're the biggest diamond producer."
In heated discussions that were closed to the Press, the US and its allies tabled a proposal to outsource KPCS secretariat services to three organisations whose selection was queried by African and Asian members.
The Swiss-based Geneva Centre for Democratic Control of the Armed Forces, one of the shortlisted entities, formally offered to run the KPCS secretariat on an annual budget of US$311 500.
Norway-based International Law and Policy Institute, jointly with the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative, tabled a US$463 345 budget.
The third organisation, Washington-based Foley Hoag Corporate Social Responsibility Practice, offered to run the envisaged KPCS secretariat on an annual budget of US$677 000.
Member countries of the diamond watchdog asked tough questions as to how the US chose the three organisations.
They challenged the US to abide by the same rules of transparency and consultation that it demands of other countries.
Attorney-General Mr Johannes Tomana, who is part of the Zimbabwean delegation, was cautiously optimistic, saying it was imperative to remain vigilant.
"I would like to thank the Zimbabwean team for working tirelessly to ensure that we make progress," he said.
"But we must remain alive to the fact that although we have waded past the deeper part of the river, we must not rest on our laurels, we must remain vigilant."
Sources said there were dramatic scenes during discussions by the Working Group on Reform when the US and its allies moved a motion to outsource the proposed new secretariat to the shortlisted thinktanks whose links with Western-militaries and governments are in the public record.
"The African and Asian members of the KPCS immediately objected and shot down the motion," said an African delegate who refused to be named.
"There is no way the KPCS can outsource its secretariat to such organisations whose values do not tally with ours."
Zimbabwe's position on the matter was that although the nation supported the idea of establishing a secretariat, it strongly opposed attempts to outsource such an important task to Western organisations whose values and motives were questionable.
On the proposal by the US, Canada and their allies to push for the redefinition of conflict diamonds, the Westerners again hit a brick wall as the idea was rejected by African and Asian members during closed-door discussions by the Working Group on Reform.
The members argued that the KPCS must respect the outcome of a recent questionnaire which explored the question of whether the definition of conflict diamonds must be broadened to encompass "human rights" issues.
More than 75 percent of the members shot down the proposal through the questionnaire.
"During the Working Group on Reform, attempts by the US to go into the merits or de-merits of changing the definition of conflict diamonds was totally resisted," said an African delegate who spoke on the sidelines of the inter-sessional meeting.
"The whole motion was shot down on account of its defective methodology. If the recent survey clearly showed that more than 75 percent of the members were against redefinition, on what basis was the US trying to force the matter through?"
Discussions by the Working Group on Monitoring went smoothly, even though delegates spent more than 90 minutes out of three hours talking about Zimbabwe, which was item seven on the agenda.
Mr Marc van Bockstael, the KPCS monitor of Zimbabwe whose last visit to the country ended on May 26, presented his report to the working group.
The report was well-received and all the negativity that has been witnessed in the past was absent this time around, sources said.
Today, the inter-sessional meeting continues with wider discussions focusing on issues emanating from yesterday's group sessions.