PPI GA 2014 - It's all about the money

This years PPI conference, with a few exceptions, was all about the money.  With membership fees on the agenda again and hours of work and agreements between the PPI and other members parties earlier in the year, you might have thought that the organisation would be ready and eager to show it is capable of running its financial and administrative affairs.   

At the very least you might have thought it would want to report some of the positive progress that was made earlier in the year.  Unfortunately it didn't, or probably more accurately, it couldn't.   

If anything it's the deathly silence on the issues, and upbeat generalisation from PPI boad members on its own administration and finance that people will take away from the assembly.  From a purely personal perspective, what little trust I had has been eroded further.  But lets look at why:

Firstly we should look at our work with the PPI.   

We summarised our work at the request of Muriel Rovira Esteva from the Pirates of Catalonia  - we had emailed out summaries of what had been done interested parties a few months ago, but Muriel wanted something that drew it all together. That report is available here, but I'll go over the main points.

After the vote on our membership of PPI in July 2013 we went to the PPI board via Gregory Engels and Thomas Gaul to see what support we could offer and how we could deal with the issues we had found on during the debate.

Our International team attended PPI board meetings and made sure we discussed the issues our members had identified. We worked on and got agreements on what PPI would aim to do and we helped with IT, finance. structural issues and processes. In all we invested hours of time on practical work, as well as on talking through the problems. 

On PPI finances we passed on financial documents, including departmental budgets and an  annual return and we ran PPI through the processes we used to get there.  Processes that it was agreed PPI would modify and implement.

There was a host of work done to look at PPI structures, although that was marred by PPI being somewhat opaque, a difference between what the board and others saw as the current situation and a serious lack of progress even getting hold of documents.  That's before we looked at the problems with PPIs existing bank, PPI HQ's compliance and a host of other things.. We thought we'd cut our losses and focus on getting what we needed fixed.

Secondly the finance report  

Now you might have expected a finance report to be presented by a treasurer, or indeed an alternative board member acting for the basent treasurer.  Instead we had a hastily prepared summary with more omissions than information.   

The report was presented by Thomas Gaul, who the UK and others had worked with as part of their efforts earlier in the year. Yet surprisingly given the time Thomas had given to that work, it didn't cover any of the items PPI had agreed to with PPI to take things forward.  Nor did the report include a summary of the identified problems.   

In fact the report indicated that Thomas felt that PPI could move forward..  I'd probably say that the report distorted the issues, or at least omitted enough of them to make it hard for PPI members to walk away with a proper understanding of where things stand.

There was a question posed by the Catalonian delegation regarding the banking which was put off.. I'm not sure that the answers to that were satisfactory at all.

Thirdly the lay auditors report.

To say that the Lay Auditors report was hastily distributed and presented is an understatement.  It's dated the 13th of April, wasn't available in advance and I wonder when it was prepared, but lets set that aside.  From my perspective, the report is outrageous.   

In its recommendations it fails to take on-board many of the issues we worked to identify with PPI nor any of the agreements the PPI board made with the UK.  It doesn't even reference the work between the UK and PPI.   

Whats worse is that the lay auditors seem to not have taken a lot of care with the 'audit' part of their remit, quite possibly because they couldn't.  There are no financial documents, no transactions, no accountability.  All that we saw was a set of fairly general recommendations, an oblique reference to the 2012 board and treasurer (who had been denied access to the finances!).  In fact as far as we can tell it was put together without anyone who had been formally responsible for finance being talked to.  There are some serious questions there.

How the lay auditors came to their conclusions is frankly unclear.  It seems possible that they accepted whaterver they were told by the board uncritically and didn't look any further at the actual situation.  Obviously I'm hoping to get in touch with those auditors to see if they have an explanation for UK members!

Now, this all feels a bit boring and administrative.  Hell, it is boring, but it's important that organisations like the PPI and Pirate Parties everywhere are open about how they work and how they are funded.  In the UK we make an effort to keep everyone informed, whether they are our members, or the general public.  After all, with the expenses scandals and threat of big money politics, its important to be open if you want any trust at all.  

In 2013 and 2014 the PPI failed in that regard.   

A rather important point was made at the assembly in Paris: It was that the PPI is representing Pirate Party's world wide.  Granted it hasn't done a huge amount of that, but that is what it seems to have wanted to do for a long time. Yet for all of 2013 and 2012 it really wasn't in a fit state to , but where it did, we don't know what was being said in our name. I'm still pretty concerned that the PPI could be seen as representing the UK party, it simply doesn't seem to operate in a way that is compatible with our principles.

So where do we go from here?

Membership fees apparently.  The delegation agreed for the first time since its inception to raise the membership fee from Zero. Initially PPI wanted a fee structure that would bring in around £16,000, it ended up with an agreement that will see it gathering far less than £1600 across all the members.  
As with everything PPI, the fee structure seems excessively complex, it utilises the Human Development Index and various multipliers and reductions based on the amount of party  members as well as the type and numbers of elected officials.

Now as you might expect, there was a lot of discussion about the fees. At the end of the day it seems that the argument from one delegate on the need for the organisation to have money to be able to manage it hit the mark.  Of course I'd disagree, the PPI can't show how it intends to spend or receive it money. It hasn't even come to any decision on how to record it, but PPI members seemed happy enough with the amended proposals.

We'll pay our share of course, but it's a shame our argument didn't win the day. Our delegate at the conference, Gefion Thuermer presented it well at the podium and we had had some positive comments when lobbying for it earlier in the week, indeed Cristian Bulumac from the Romanian Pirate Party and several others raised motions that echoed the UK's position.

However it wasn't to be, the approach Instead is a general thrust to simply exempt as many of the small parties as possible and reduce the fee levels.  

So whats next for the UK with the PPI?

I won't claim that even from the UK side we managed to do everything we wanted - we've had to prioritise elections, our conference and a number of other national priorities (not to mention people being on holiday on both sides and at least one car crash..). But at the same time PPI could have done far, far more if it had wanted to, and it should have wanted to. We'll see where that goes with the new treasury.

I've already conveyed our support to the new board member likely to be responsible for finance, we extended the same offer of support regarding our own finance team and oversight committee. I also reiterated our offer of helping PPI set up its accounting and banking.  After all, at present PPI remains a liability to the UK and all its member parties without these things being fixed.

I'll also be taking the time to brief our own UK NEC and board about the disappointing way PPI handled its financial issues at the assembly as well as passing on the auditors report.   

We need progress, hopefully between the new personalities on the board and that all member parties now have a financial interest we'll see some. It may take some time to rebuild the trust that has been lost this weekend and over the lat two years, but with a little effort, and a lot of work it might just work. 

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