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South Africa Files Official Appeal Re OOXML - OOXML in Limbo Now - Updated
Friday, May 23 2008 @ 01:05 PM EDT

Andy Updegrove has the news that South Africa has filed an official appeal, protesting the approval of OOXML, and the action means that OOXML is now in limbo until the appeal is decided. I wonder if this is why Microsoft suddenly decided to support ODF, to avoid being shut out completely pending the appeal. Might other national bodies be considering doing the same thing? Stay tuned.

Updegrove:
SABS, the National Body member of ISO/IEC JTC1 for South Africa, has filed a formal appeal with both ISO and IEC, challenging the Fast Track adoption of OOXML. With the filing of this formal appeal, DIS 29500 is now formally in limbo (i.e., cannot become an approved standard) until the appeal has been addressed.

The cited basis for South Africa's appeal is found in the following text of Clause 11.1.2 of the applicable Directives:

A P Member of JTC1 or an SC may appeal against any action or inaction, on the part of JTC 1 or an SC when the P member considers that in such action or inaction:
- questions of principle are involved;
- the contents of a draft may be detrimental to the reputation of IEC or ISO; or
- the point giving rise to objection was not known to JTC 1 or SC during earlier discussions.

The identical three page letters, signed by Mr. M. Kuscus, Chief Executive Officer of SABS, include other concerns not directly based upon the language of the Directives, as follows:

In addition, South Africa wishes to register its deep concern over the increasing tendency of international organizations to use the JTC 1 processes to circumvent the consensus-building process that is the cornerstone to the success and international acceptance of ISO and IEC standards. The ability of large multi-national organizations to influence many national bodies, with the resultant block-voting over-riding legitimate issues raised by other countries, is also of concern.

The letter goes on to say that not only is a matter of principle involved, they believe the reputation of ISO is at stake, and then it responds to calls to revise the ISO Directives, saying that while that might be needed, the issue here is that the existing directives weren't followed:

We believe that there is an important question of principle involved and that the reputation of ISO/IEC is indeed at stake. There has been specuulation about the need to revise the directives around fast track processing. While such revision might indeed be necessary, we cannot accept the outcome of a process in which the existing directives have not, in our opinion, been applied.

The letter then goes into specifics. Here's one that reverberates in my heart and memory:

2. Clause 13.8 states that "At the ballot resolution group meeting, decisions should be reached preferably by consensus. If a vote is unavoidable the vote of the NBs will be taken according to normal JTC 1 procedures."

Since only 67 of the 1027 responses by Ecma were discussed, the process used to 'approve' the remaining responses by voting were questionable and did nothing to promote consensus, but simple 'approved' Ecma's attempt to improve the quality of the standard. This was especially disconcerting to the large number of experts from various countries who spent many hours in ad hoc meetings during the period of the BRM to develop consensus on some of the Ecma responses that contained errors or other issues of contention. The decision to ignore such important proposals for improving the standard and to resort to blanket voting on all issues not resolved during the discussions (more than three quarters of the responses were never tabled during the BRM) was procedurally flawed. Effectively, this required the national bodies to write a blank cheque approving the proposals of the authors of the proposed standard, which is inappropriate for any standard, never mind one that has generated considerable controversy.

Amen. The letter goes on to challenge Alex Brown's interpretation of the directives:

There has been some dispute over what "normal" procedures should be in such a case. The general directive for meetings is as follows:

Clause 9.14 "In a meeting, except as otherwise specified in these directives, questions are decided by a majority of the votes cast at the meeting by P members expressing either approval or disapproval." However, since many of the countries represented were not P members of JTC 1, the actual voting during the BRM was conducting according to clause 9.5 Combined Voting Procedure that states "The voting procedure which uses simultaneous voting (one vote per country) by the P-members for JTC 1 and by all ISO member bodies and IEC national committees on a letter ballot is called the combined voting procedure. This procedure shall be used on FDISs, DISs, FDAMs, DAMs and FDISPs." The decision to use this interpretation was incorrect since the voting during the BRM was not a letter ballot. While we are aware that the Convenor, in consultation with representative from ITTF and the IEC representative decided otherwise, we challenge this interpretation and therefore the result of the voting that was based upon that interpretation.

I agree with the letter on this point, and I wrote about it at the time as being odd. The letter also notes that there is no final draft even now, let alone within the one-month time period as required, and it concludes:

In conclusion, South Africa challenges the validity of the final vote that we contend was based upon inadequate information resulting from poorly conducted BRM. Moreover, we challenge the validity of a process that, from beginning to end, required all parties involved to analyze far too much information in far too little time, involved a BRM that did not remotely provide enough time to perform the appointed purpose of that procedure, and for which an arbitrary time limitation was imposed to discuss and resolve a significant number of substantial responses, despite the Directives for not requiring any such limitation as to duration.

It is our opinion that the process followed during all stages of this fast track has harmed the reputations of both ISO and the IEC and brought the processes enshrined in the Directives into disrepute, and that this negative publicity has, in turn, also harmed the reputations of all member bodies of ISO and the IEC.

You can find links to all the Directives on Groklaw's permanent ODF/OOXML page, under the ISO heading. Here's the one referenced here [PDF]. And you can read the two letters on OpenMalaysia Blog. If you scroll down, you can read it as plain text also. The second entity South Africa sent its letter to is the IEC, the International Electrotechnical Commission. That body co-sponsors JTC1. Steve Pepper, the hero of the Standards Norway protest, has information on how other national bodies can help:

I would also like to take this opportunity to urge other national body members of JTC1 to declare their support for this appeal. Let’s make it impossible for ISO and IEC to simply wave it aside.

One issue that does concern me is whether we can expect fair consideration of the appeal on the part of ISO Technical Management Board (TMB): One of its members is the very same Norwegian bureaucrat (the “Little One“) who arrogantly ignored the opinion of the overwhelming majority of Norwegian technical experts and changed Norway’s vote from No to Yes. This person is clearly not impartial and should not be allowed to participate in the TMB’s discussion of the appeal.

South Africa’s action confirms that the battle is not yet lost. Here in Norway we are working hard to get the Norwegian vote changed back to No and we think we might succeed. If we do, only two more votes will have to be changed in order for the final outcome to be a rejection of OOXML. I urge those of you in countries that voted Yes or Abstain to investigate any irregularities and try to get the vote changed. Of course, we have no guarantee that JTC1 will accept revised votes. Such a thing has never happened before (to my knowledge), but then there are many things in this process that have happened for the first time - not least the passage of a 6,000 page document through the Fast-Track process.

But even if JTC1 cannot be forced to accept revised votes, we can achieve a moral victory that will make it easier for those trying to resist having OOXML thrust upon them as a standard for national e-Government.

So. OOXML is not currently an official standard? I think that is what this means. It will take months, at least, I believe, to resolve this. So, to me the ODF support announcement by Microsoft yesterday suddenly makes sense. I wrote a bit about the appeal process here, if you want to review it. In the immortal words of Yogi Berra, it ain't over till it's over.

[ Update:Here's a very strange reaction, or nonreaction, from ISO:

According to ISO spokesman Roger Frost, "Because the period for receipt of appeals remains open until the end of May, ISO will communicate on the next steps in early June, when it knows whether any other national bodies are appealing."

They have one appeal already. I believe that should make it possible for them to communicate now as to what the next steps are for this appeal.

Besides if you look to the directives, you find this:

11.2.2 Upon receipt, the JTC 1 Secretariat shall advise all its P-members of the appeal, and take immediate action, by correspondence or at a meeting, to consider and decide on the appeal, consulting the Secretaries-General in the process.

So, not that anyone at JTC pays attention to directives that I can see, but has that happened? What about the "immediate action" part? I know. They don't care what the directives say, and Alex Brown now says, in a comment on his blog, that a "special working group" is rewriting them anyhow. I don't know why they bother. No one pays any attention when they get in the way. End update.]

Here's the letter, with different headers for ISO and IEC, obviously:

*******************************

Dear Sir

Appeal from the South African national body regarding the outcome of the fast-track processing of DIS 29500 Office open XML

The national body of South Africa (SABS), as a P member of JTC 1, hereby submits an appeal against the outcome of the fast track processing of DIS 29500 Office open XML. This is based on the procedures followed before and during the ballot resolution meeting (BRM) held from 25 to 29 February 2008 to discuss the comments submitted on the fast-tracked DIS 29500 and the proposed responses from Ecma.

In addition, South Africa wishes to register its deep concern over the increasing tendency of international organizations to use the JTC 1 processes to circumvent the consensus-building process that is the cornerstone to the success and international acceptance of ISO and IEC standards. The ability of large multi-national organizations to influence many national bodies, with the resultant block-voting over-riding legitimate issues raised by other countries, is also of concern.

This appeal is made in accordance with Clause 11.1.2: "A P member of JTC 1 or an SC may appeal against any action, or inaction, on the part of JTC 1 or an SC when the P member considers that in such action or inaction:

  • questions of principle are involved;
  • the contents of a draft may be detrimental to the reputation of IEC or ISO; or
  • the point giving rise to objection was not known to JTC 1 or SC during earlier discussions."
We believe that there is an important question of principle involved and that the reputation of ISO/IEC is indeed at stake. There has been speculation about the need to revise the directives around fast track processing. While such revision might indeed be necessary, we cannot accept the outcome of a process which the existing directives have not, in our opinion, been applied.

Reasons for appeal

We are of the opinion that in the following instances the ISO/IEC JTC 1 Directives, Edition 5 have not been followed.

1. Clause 13.4, second paragraph states "During the 30-day review period, a NB may identify to the JTC 1 Secretariat any perceived contradiction with other standards or approved projects of JTC 1, ISO or IEC.

If such a contradiction is alleged, the matter shall be addressed by the ITTF and JTC 1 Secretariat in accordance with Section 13.2 before ballot voting can commence. If no contradiction is alleged, the 5 month fast-track ballot voting commences immediately following the 30-day period. If a contradiction is alleged, the JTC 1 Secretariat and ITTF shall make the best effort to resolve the matter in no more than a three month period, consulting with the proposer of the fast-track document, the NB(s) raising the claim of contradiction and others, as they deem necessary. A meeting of these parties, open to all NBs, may be convened by the JTC 1 Secretariat, if required."

Whereas various NBs raised contradictions in this period, there is no evidence that "A meeting of these parties, open to all NBs" was held and that the result were made available to the other participating NBs. We understand that after Ecma was afforded a chance to address the NB comments submitted regarding contradictions, the JTC 1 Chairman, Secretariat and ITT F staff decided that convening a meeting to discuss contradictions would not be productive and that the best way to proceed would be to issue the draft for ballot without delay. The other NBs were not informed about the alleged contradictions but only informed, in the HOD meeting immediately prior to the BRM, that any issues of contradictions raised during the BRM would be ruled out of order by the BRM Chairman. Given this instruction, and given the fact that despite such instruction, a number of NBs continued to raise contradictions both in their written comments and during the BRM, it is clear that the JTC 1 Chairman, Secretariat and ITTF should have seen that a meeting of parties, as envisaged in the Directives, was indeed a necessity.

2. Clause 13.8 states that "At the ballot resolution group meeting, decisions should be reached preferably by consensus. If a vote is unavoidable the vote of the NBs will be taken according to normal JTC 1 procedures."

Since only 67 of the 1027 responses by Ecma were discussed, the process used to 'approve' the remaining responses by voting were questionable and did nothing to promote consensus, but simple 'approved' Ecma's attempt to improve the quality of the standard. This was especially disconcerting to the large number of experts from various countries who spent many hours in ad hoc meetings during the period of the BRM to develop consensus on some of the Ecma responses that contained errors or other issues of contention. The decision to ignore such important proposals for improving the standard and to resort to blanket voting on all issues not resolved during the discussions (more than three quarters of the responses were never tabled during the BRM) was procedurally flawed. Effectively, this required the national bodies to write a blank cheque approving the proposals of the authors of the proposed standard, which is inappropriate for any standard, never mind one that has generated considerable controversy.

There has been some dispute over what "normal" procedures should be in such a case. The general directive for meetings is as follows:

Clause 9.14 "In a meeting, except as otherwise specified in these directives, questions are decided by a majority of the votes cast at the meeting by P members expressing either approval or disapproval." However, since many of the countries represented were not P members of JTC 1, the actual voting during the BRM was conducting according to clause 9.5 Combined Voting Procedure that states "The voting procedure which uses simultaneous voting (one vote per country) by the P-members for JTC 1 and by all ISO member bodies and IEC national committees on a letter ballot is called the combined voting procedure. This procedure shall be used on FDISs,

DISs, FDAMs, DAMs and FDISPs." The decision to use this interpretation was incorrect since the voting during the BRM was not a letter ballot. While we are aware that the Convenor, in consultation with representative from ITTF and the IEC representative decided otherwise, we challenge this interpretation and therefore the result of the voting that was based upon that interpretation.

3. Clause 13.12, last bullet point: "In not more than one month after the ballot resolution group meeting the SC Secretariat shall distribute the final report of the meeting and final DIS text in case of acceptance." Up to date of writing, neither the final report of the BRM meeting or the revised FDIS text has been circulated by the SC Secretariat. The only communication to NBs (other than press releases) has been 34N1015, which was the result of the revised voting during the 30-day period subsequent to the BRM. There is no indication when the final DIS text might be expected, but has not been distributed within the one month period prescribed.

Given the magnitude of the specification and the number of identified edits required it was clear that this directive could not have been met. This is the clearest possible indication that DIS 29500 as submitted by Ecma and as modified by the BRM is not ready for fast track processing. It was not incumbent on the participants of the BRM to modify this clearly stated requirement.

Conclusion

In conclusion, South Africa challenges the validity of the final vote that we contend was based upon inadequate information resulting from poorly conducted BRM. Moreover, we challenge the validity of a process that, from beginning to end, required all parties involved to analyze far too much information in far too little time, involved a BRM that did not remotely provide enough time to perform the appointed purpose of that procedure, and for which an arbitrary time limitation was imposed to discuss and resolve a significant number of substantial responses, despite the Directives for not requiring any such limitation as to duration.

It is our opinion that the process followed during all stages of this fast track has harmed the reputations of both ISO and the IEC and brought the processes enshrined in the Directives into disrepute, and that this negative publicity has, in turn, also harmed the reputations of all member bodies of ISO and the IEC.

Yours faithfully

___[signature]_____

Mr M Kuscus
CHIEF EXECUTIVE OFFICER
South African Bureau of Standards (SABS)

cc
ISO TMB Secretary (Mr Mike Smith)
ISO SMB Secretary (Mr Jack Sheldon)
ISO/IEC JTC 1 Chairperson (Mr Scott Jameson [email redacted])
ISO/IEC JTC 1 Secretariat (Ms Lisa Rajchel [email redacted])


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