What's good for one side isn't enough for the other
ICANN pushed back on both those issues. In documents supplied to the review panel, senior staff questioned UNECA's inclusion as a relevant authority. Following a series of telephone meetings between ICANN and InterConnect, whose details were not provided to the review, InterConnect's lead evaluator Mark McFadden reiterated in an email that its position was that criteria that included the AUC would also require accepting UNECA.
On the issue of the AUC endorsement, InterConnect recommended that it contact the AUC directly and explicitly ask if it supported either, both, or neither of the applications. ICANN also rejected that recommendation, and instead instructed InterConnect to request that the applicants themselves contact the AUC and ask for updated statements of support.
However, ICANN then reversed that decision when its board rejected the DotConnectAfrica bid on different grounds: advice from the Government Advisory Committee that DCA's bid should not proceed.
Soon after that rejection, ICANN's head of operations personally drafted a letter of support that was sent directly to the AUC and which ICANN subsequently accepted as evidence of sufficient governmental support for the ZACR bid.
We provided InterConnect with a detailed rundown of our understanding of its evaluation of the .africa applications, complete with a list of emails and dates and requests for information, and asked for a response.
InterConnect's McFadden told us:
Part of the contractual relationship between ICANN and InterConnect is a non-disclosure agreement that applies to the full period of ICANN's New gTLD Program. That non-disclosure agreement prevents InterConnect from publishing or providing the email and other resources you have requested.
In addition, InterConnect is not allowed to talk about, nor can it comment upon, individual applications that are being evaluated by the Geographic Names Panel. We do not discuss with third parties any topic related to an individual application under review. This policy has been in place for the Geographic Names Panel since the inception of the New gTLD Program.
The ICANN-drafted letter was based on a sample letter included as part of the applicant guidebook, but included additional and specific details that stemmed from the confidential conversations ICANN had held with its own evaluators.
ICANN emailed the letter to the AUC and InterConnect for review. The letter was signed by the AUC, with some changes, and sent back to ICANN's evaluators. At that point, ICANN staff intervened again, emailing InterConnect and asking it to fast-track approval of ZACR's bid within one day. InterConnect approved the application the next day.
Board rejection rejected
ICANN's sudden change in direction once the DotConnectAfrica application was rejected is now under scrutiny following the review panel's criticism of the ICANN board's actions.
The panel found that DotConnectAfrica "was never given any notice or an opportunity... to make its position known or defend its own interests," and that "both the actions and inactions of the Board with respect to the application of DCA Trust relating to the .AFRICA gTLD were not procedures designed to insure the fairness required... and are therefore inconsistent with the Articles of Incorporation and Bylaws of ICANN."
ICANN's Government Advisory Committee (GAC), of which the AUC is a voting member, issued its advice against DotConnectAfrica without any rationale, even though it has explicitly recognized the criteria it would need to meet to take such an action.
The independent review panel was unimpressed with ICANN's board for failing to question the GAC's blanket statement, and with subsets of the board for repeatedly rejecting DCA's requests for review – first the ICANN Board Governance Committee and then its New gTLD Program Committee (NGPC).
The review panel declined to comment on the veracity of the other allegations of complicity between ICANN staff and the AUC, but it did include a number of those details in its final report – all of which were subsequently removed by ICANN.