Avoiding conflicts of interest…

Back in October FIA President Jean Todt appeared at a “Stakeholder Consultation” of the United Nations, to be quizzed by road safety organisations about his role as Special Envoy to the UN Secretary -General for Road Safety. This came about because these bodies were worried about apparent clashes of interest between his role as the FIA President and as a Special Envoy to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. These are perfectly reasonable questions and it is odd that no-one in the FIA has raised similar questions.

Because there was not sufficient time to answer all the questions, Todt was asked to provide written answers to further questions and, in the finest tradition of slow-moving big organisations, the answers to those questions were finally delivered to the road safety NGOs last week, three months after the meeting took place.
These answers are now public information and they provide some interesting insights into how the appointment was made.

Asked whether the role of Special Envoy was governed by United Nations rules and regulations, Todt revealed that he was “appointed by the Secretary-General on a $1 per annum contract”. This means that legally he is a member of the UN staff and thus subject to UN staff rules and regulations and the UN’s financial disclosure programme.

Asked about “the inherent conflict of interest” in representing the interests of motoring organizations and motor car users and those of pedestrians, cyclists and other vulnerable users of public transport systems, Todt said that he will “maintain a distinction that separates his role as Special Envoy from his role as President of FIA” with the use of “an extra-budgetary secretariat”. He also said that he saw his role as all-encompassing and said that “he is not bound to agree or conform with the views expressed by individual FIA member clubs, especially where this might conflict with interests of other road safety stakeholders”. Be that as it may, as FIA President is the foremost spokesman of the federation and his utterances should reflect the views of the majority, whether he agrees with them or not.

Asked about how he will avoid campaigning for his FIA re-election when travelling, he said that this was not the business of the UN and that “any travel or activities undertaken in his capacity as FIA President are matters for the FIA”. He said that he has not yet decided whether or not to stand for re-election in 2017.

Asked whether it was appropriate for the UN Special Envoy to use FIA paraphernalia and branding when traveling on UN business, he said that he would carry out his role and responsibilities according to “the highest ethical standards of the United Nations” and said that “it is incumbent on the Special Envoy to clarify in which capacity he is addressing an event or undertaking a mission in order to make a clear distinction” between his roles.

A key question that also came up was with regard to how Todt would deal with the sponsors in Formula 1, specifically alcohol and car companies. Todt said that the FIA’s role in motor sport “is as a regulator and governing body for global championships. The commercial interests of the Commercial Rights Holder of Formula 1 are completely separated from the FIA’s regulatory power”. He did say that the FIA enters into “selected partnership arrangements with some private stakeholders under the banner of its Action for Road Safety campaign” but added that this does not include any alcohol companies.

There are interesting subtleties in these last answers as it is very clear that the FIA is currently dependent for its funding on the Formula One group – and has been for many years.

At the FIA General Assembly in December Todt made much of the financial success of the FIA during his presidency, but did not explain that this was substantially the result of an agreement he had made with the Formula One group that increased the federation’s revenues significantly and resulted in the FIA buying a one percent shareholding in the Formula One group. Clearly this shareholding has no real influence over “the commercial interests” but it is an interesting argument as to whether there is really a complete separation of roles. This is a question that may come up again if the European Union Competition Directorate start looking at the structure of F1 in the future, as may soon happen.

It should also be pointed out that the FIA is engaged in some very ambitious moves to increase its commercial involvement in (and revenue from) its other championships, but as the NGOs asked specifically about F1 this question did not need to be addressed.

However, when all is said and done, combining the roles of FIA President and Special Envoy to the UN Secretary-General is rather more complex a business than is really necessary and tiptoeing through the minefield of potential problems cannot be the most efficient way to do business and there is always the chance that there will be a head-on collision between the two jobs. One can argue that it would probably be wiser if the FIA President did one role or the other, rather than trying to do both.

16 thoughts on “Avoiding conflicts of interest…

  1. Another good analysis Joe. I agree wholeheartedly with your argument and am glad you are keeping going on this, but wondered if yours is a lone voice or if there are others so openly concerned about Todt’s reduction of focus on his elected role?

  2. Asked whether it was appropriate for the UN Special Envoy to use FIA paraphernalia and branding when traveling on UN business, he said that he would carry out his role and responsibilities according to “the highest ethical standards of the United Nations”…
    One, nay, many, may consider the “highest ethical standards of the UN” to be pretty low.

  3. “Be that as it may, as FIA President is the foremost spokesman of the federation and his utterances should reflect the views of the majority, whether he agrees with them or not.”

    I’m never sure how true this is or isn’t. Sometimes I’m not sure that democratically elected leaders should be representative of their people’s wishes on every issue, especially the short term reactions. Perhaps it becomes a question of working out whether an elected president should lead or should be a spokesman.

    As for Todt… I still don’t really get what his plan really is.

    1. He was not democratically elected. He was elected through the FIA system which is very heavily weighted in favour of the incumbent, making it impossible for any other candidate to win. He had used his FIA travels during the previous year to pre-arrange support from many country/regional members, leaving a minority to vote for a competitor candidate. I understand the rules have now been changed but to what extent I am unsure.

      1. You realize that in democracies incumbents are always heavily favored? For example, in the US, more than 90% of congressional incumbents are reelected (despite congress having had extremely low approval ratings for pretty much ever now).

        1. Well to me in the UK the US political system is a mystery. It appears to be solely about who has the biggest campaign budget. So very much like F1!

  4. Ok, so Todt is “employed” the UN for this role and feels he can act indepentantly of the FIA membership. So, that means when he travels somewhere he will surely “sit out” his FIA salary, benefits etc while doing so, right?

    Otherwise he would be doing his other role clear injustice and should deserve to be reprimanded by the FIA.

    The answers quite clearly show to me how much hyporicy there is in his role and want to combine two roles that really cannot be reasonable combined in one person

  5. “One can argue that it would probably be wiser if the FIA President did one role or the other, rather than trying to do both.”

    One could also argue it might have been nice if could have tried to do the one job he had before acquiring this additional sinecure.

  6. Personally i dont see an investigation by the E.U. the power of the U.N. and the FIA can easily skirt any queries from probably anyone.

  7. DearJoe, all
    I have just spent, oh, a good 30 min scanning both the FIA ‘Mobility’ (specifically Region 2, which includes Australia) & UN Road Safety websites.
    In both cases, it looks very impressive- as websites are wont to do. The FIA website has a goodly serving of buzzwords, unsurprisingly. Having said that, if someone asked me what the FIA is doing for road safety, my answer would be somewhere between not very much’ and ‘I don’t really know’.
    As an Australian road user, who predominantly received information via the Internet, the only reason I know about the FIA & UN road safety initiatives is through your blog, Joe. This despite daily perusal of news websites, such as ABC, Huffington Post, Guardian, as well as several Motorsport websites, plus hard copy monthly car mags. Nice to know that we are halfway through the International Decade of Road Safety or whatever it is called. It will be of so much comfort when I am stuck behind a b double on an undulating two lane B road with 2 designated overtaking lanes in 90km.
    As to what M. Todt actually DOES, in either role- absolutely no idea.
    Cheers
    MarkR

  8. Totally agree with your analysis Joe. Given the efficiency and the effectiveness of the UN Organization I can hardly believe that any conflict of interest (or lack of it) will let the “Special Envoy” have a significant impact or what and ho we drive, and road safety.

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