Archive for the ‘Session summaries’ Category

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]

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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.

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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]

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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.

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Excerpts from the panel discussion:

Keynote speakers

It’s not enough to have perfect institutions. Parliament is a delegation of power of people. Democracy is based on trust between those who have power and those who delegated their power. (Josep Dallerès Codina, Speaker of the General Council, Andorra)

How can we have a better relation with the citizens? How do we win back credibility? Through commitment first. we need to be 100% devoted to politics… In politics today, we need to be seen doing what we do. It is a matter of accountability and transparency. Our electorate has to be able to judge if we are being consistent in the political choices we are taking. When we vote for an issue, we need to be seen voting on this issue.  (Jorge Pizarro: President of the Senate, Chile)

The stronger the civil society is, the better politics are. We need the input from outside the parliament… Women represent women’s issues and concerns better. (Barbara Prammer: Speaker of the National Council, Austria)

On representation

Several groups need to be included in parliament: women and men with special needs, young men and women and, women and men from different origins.

 In many countries, special measures are being applied to increase women’s participation as temporary measures. This is working and it is worth more discussions and exchanges among parliamentarians.

On technology

People are debating on political issues thanks to new technologies without including the parliament. Parliaments are still using websites to communicate when people are using more interactive channels of communication using ICTs such as social networks.

On the role of parliament

People don’t know what role is played by parliaments while parliaments are vested with a great deal of power on decision making and oversight function of the Executive. The media and new technologies can contribute to democracy but they cannot replace people who can scrutinize the consistency and coherence of decision taken by parliamentarians.

What are parliaments for? Why do they exist? Of course, where parliaments act as rubber stamps for the executive, people have the right to ask themselves this question. In such cases, constitutional reforms are necessary to give more power and legitimacy to parliament.

We all know that political decisions are taken after long and painful negociations which resulted in a compromise. People need to know about the negociation process. This is what transparency is about.

Sometime you do everything you can and everything right but people still do not like you when you are touching delicate matters such as taxes, pension reform, or reserved seats for women.

As a parliamentarian, sometimes you have to take decisions that are for the good of the people but that are not popular among lobbies, some associations… What upsets people is the use of power for personal benefit and the lack of transparency.

What citizens want from parliamentarians is responses to their needs. Social stability, socio-economic rights, good coverage and quality of  education, healthcare facilities… The common point is that citizens want responsive, fair and timely decisions that can benefit all of them.

Peoples’ expectations from parliamentarians changes from one country to another. In some countries, citizens simply expect from parliamentarians to ensure that they have food and a dollar in their pocket.

In conclusion

How to win back peoples trust? The first ingredient is transparency. Transparency  in decision-making, information, budgeting and voting. Respect is another ingredient: respect for the word given, respect for the citizens and respect for common values. 

Do not promise what you cannot fulfil.

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Excerpts from the panel discussion:

There has been incredible progress towards implementing the MDGs.    More than I had expected when I was at the Millennium Summit.  Meeting the MDGs by 2015 is doable when governments act together and use aid wisely.   (Eveline Herfkens: Founder of the UN Millennium Campaign and Special Advisor to UNDP)

The effects of the various crises result in poor people developing coping strategies – dropping kids from schools, adjusting down standards of nutrition – all of which have long-term negative consequences. (Otavino Canuto, Vice-President for Poverty Reduction and Economic Management, World Bank)

MPs, parliament and governments are keen to follow people’s opinion, the attitudes of ordinary people is important.  It is true aid still comes with conditions, one also understands that donor countries must explain to their citizens what purpose their taxes serve. Therefore, it is also difficult to move away from project to general budget support because of less visible results. (Sauli Niinistö, Speaker of the National Assembly of Finland)

Rwanda has actively promoted equality between men and women in political life.  Women make up 56% of  the Rwandan Chamber of Deputies.  This was not a question of resources but of political will and a vision for development. (Rose Mukantabana: Speaker, Chamber of Deputies, Rwanda)

We should remember that meeting the MDGs is not only in obtaining help from the World Bank and others, it is much more up to countries themselves, at the national level to implement the MDGs.

At a recent meeting in West Africa, parliamentarians were in agreement that their role was not to negotiate with donors, this is the job of the executive.  However, parliaments have an oversight role in development aid received by national governments and need to receive information either from the executive or from donors on aid received.

40 to 45% of the aid for development is spent on international consultants, reports and studies. Donors should not impose this hiring of consultants.

MPs are not doing enough because of the problem of political patronage. We praise our governments rather than being critical of them.  This is an obstacle to meeting the MDGs in many countries.

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Opening the conference, the IPU President alluded to the time, ten years previously, when he had been President of the UN General Assembly at the time of the Millennium. The moment had been a pivotal one for parliaments seeking a voice in international affairs, and he had helped ensure that they were not forgotten in the Millennium Declaration. A similar impulse of democratic vigour was needed to rekindle faith in the fulfilment of the development goals which had sprung from the Millennium.

The UN Secretary-General then commented on how diverse the audience before him was. By that very diversity, parliaments were the voice of the people. He had, he said, witnessed at first hand the birth pains of democracy in the Republic of Korea, and the stability and prosperity that were its rewards. At a time of crisis and challenge, said Mr. Ban, let us deepen our strategic partnership.

The meeting went on to hear a report on how parliaments organise their work with the United Nations, presented by the Vice-President of Uruguay. Senate President Astori singled out good practices in different parliaments as examples of parliamentary involvement. The Speaker of the National Assembly of South Africa reported on parliaments working to meet the Millennium Development Goals. Speaker Sisulu referred to the crucial oversight function of parliaments in making the goals a reality. His report emphasised the need for parliaments to table national reports on the MDGs. It was for parliaments to ensure that commitments to the MDGs were reflected in national budgets.

The meeting then heard a presentation by Rose Mukantabana, Speaker of the Rwandan Chamber of Deputies, on global standards for democratic parliaments. Ms. Mukantabana said that parliaments should apply themselves to the task of drafting standards which they should apply to themselves. Only then would they be firmly placed to require more accountability of government at both the national and global levels. Only then would they be able to provide a sound foundation for democracy. This preliminary part of today’s meeting closed with an update on the IPU’s relations with the United Nations from its Vice-President, Geert Versnick of Belgium. The IPU, said Versnick acted as a catalyst in facilitating interaction with the world of the United Nations and helping to make sure that the views of the parliamentary community were heard at the United Nations. Substantive cooperation with the UN’s specialised agencies had been developing fast since permanent observer status had been awarded to the IPU in 2002. The present challenge was to develop a common strategy for ensuring more coherent support by parliaments to the work of the United Nations.

Reports on progress since the 2005 Speakers’ Conference:
Meeting the Millennium Development Goals [PDF]
Building global standards for democratic parliaments [PDF]
Strengthening the IPU and its relationship with the United Nations [PDF]

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