The 3rd World Conference of Speakers of Parliament closed with the adoption of a declaration on the need to secure global democratic accountability. Over 130 Speakers of Parliament gave their assent to a text that affirmed how accountability and representation lie at the heart of democracy.

Full text of the Declaration adopted by the Conference [PDF]

For three days, the UN Assembly Hall has been much like a parliament.  A plenary debate, rich in political content, mixed with lots of discussions and networking in the corridors and in separate meeting rooms.

Those who attended the panel discussions came back with the impression of having sat in parliamentary committees: no speeches, lots of debate.

Meetings have started on time (almost unheard of at the UN) and been well attended throughout.  The closing session has almost as many participants as the beginning.

The morning today is hectic, to say the least, and busy with last minute negotiations.  Really, it is only by the time that we sit down to hear the rapporteur that I am fairly certain that the Speakers will adopt an outcome document.

I am conscious of the fact that the declaration is not perfect, says the rapporteur.  We have a divergence of opinions and this is of course quite natural.  We are, after all, political leaders.  This is maybe the best compromise we can forge at this stage, he concludes.

Maybe.  President Gurirab makes the point that all delegates clearly do not agree with everything that is said in the declaration.  Several Speakers from the European Union do not agree with everything said about the IPU in the fourth part of the declaration.  That  must mean that we will have to continue our dialogue to resolve our differences.  On that understanding, he invites the Speakers to adopt the declaration.

It is 12.36 pm; the declaration is adopted.

Throughout these days, we have heard the most extraordinary plurality of opinions.  It is going to take us quite a while to distil it all.

That will also mean – for this Secretary General – to learn the lessons of his first blogging experience!

Report presented by Josep Dallères Codina, Speaker of the General Council, Andorra

In old and new democracies alike, public trust is often low in parliaments, political parties and indeed the entire political system. Money is often at the heart of the problem. A lack of transparency in political funding casts doubt over the integrity of decision-making processes…

Ultimately, public trust may depend on respect for basic principles: respect for the other, and respect for the word that is given; total integrity and dedication to public service. Equally, the public will respect parliaments that are strong, that are seen to have influence over the legislative process and to exercise effective oversight of the executive and, in sum, to address the basics needs of the people in an efficient and timely manner.  In my opinion, it is not a vain statement to say that stronger parliaments lead to stronger democracies.

Report delivered by Erika Forster-Vannini, Speaker, Council of States, Switzerland

The women Speakers of parliament concluded their Sixth meeting held on 16 and 17 July in the Swiss Parliament by adopting the Bern Initiative for Global Parliamentary Action on Maternal and Child Health, an eight-point plan for action to:

  1. Advocate the development or strengthening of gender-equitable national health action plans addressing family planning, skilled care during delivery, and emergency care;
  2. Review and, where required, enact legislation ensuring that the national legislative framework is aligned with international treaties, does not discriminate against women and girls, ensures their effective access to care, protects women from all forms of gender-based violence and children from abuse, violence and neglect;
  3. Hold debates and dialogues in parliament on women’s and children’s health alongside the discussions on the budget;
  4. Commission reports on the impact the budget will have on the achievement of MDGs 4 and 5 and introduce gender-sensitive budgeting;
  5. Advocate fulfillment of international official development aid commitments and ensure that all official international aid is provided through the national budget adopted by parliament;
  6. Monitor the implementation of the budget from the perspective of MDGs 4 and 5;
  7. Undertake visits to facilities in the country and hold public hearings in parliament with the participation of women and children to assess the impact of health legislation, policies and budgets; and
  8. Promote women’s empowerment by all means.

I strongly encourage all of you to join me and all the women Speakers in taking action for women’s and children’s health and in implementing the Bern initiative in its 8 points of action.

Full text of the Bern Initiative for Global Parliamentary Action on Maternal and Child Health [PDF]

There is palpable progress on the MDGs – enough to justify a more upbeat mood than in the past.  The numbers do not tell the whole story. Case after case shows that the MDGs are perfectly doable if there is enough political will and if governments exercise true leadership. By increasing social investments by just a fraction of GDP, even some of the poorest countries were able to provide free primary education and other essential services. It is the job of parliamentarians to make sure that the right decisions are made and followed up on.

Aid is important to the success of the MDGs… [but] must be more effective.  There are still countless stories of waste and expensive overheads.  Excessive politicy conditionality remains an issue in many countries.  More aid should be in the form of budget support. Internal resources are more important [than aid and] good governance remains key to the success of the MDGs.  Corruption…continues to divert development funds away, undermining confidence in the institutions by both citizens and donors.  South-South cooperation can also help achieve the MDGs.  As more and more countries transition from developing to developed, they should share their experiences and practices with other developing countries in the region.

Of course, much of what I am raising reflects a hopeful analysis of the potential of ICTs for the work of Parliaments. We are still at a relatively early stage in their adoption, and a number of challenges must be overcome for ICTs to fully flourish as a tool for strengthening democracy. Investment in public ICT infrastructure, broadband Internet coverage, and skills training are essential if these new methods of political engagement are to support a more accessible Parliament for all citizens. In addition to overcoming the digital divide, we must also address the socio-economic barriers to democratic engagement, remembering that ICTs are not a panacea for the deeper issues of disenfranchisement and apathy that threaten the quality of democracy today.