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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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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.

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Whereas more people than ever live in democracies, more people than ever are deeply disappointed by the problem-solving ability of democracy and politics. The gap between voters and their representatives is much smaller these days than a few decades ago, which is due to the media in particular. Yet, many of our citizens are turning away from politics and the democratic decision-making process because they consider government and parliament the domain of an elite they themselves do not belong to or do not want to belong to.  The third paradox is the reaction…of people who call for larger and stronger authorities every time something goes wrong in society…

We need new answers to such questions as what the role of government should be in times of global crisis, what citizens may expect from their governments and how citizens can influence government policy in our democracies…”Business as usual” is the worst possible reponse.  National and international thinking about economic growth will have to change.. We should focus on quality of growth rather quantity…At parliamentary level we require a different attitude with respect to accountability and responsiveness towards our citizens and parliament’s oversight duty.

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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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Democratic accountability should be an antidote for the world crisis, for it promotes the construction of a more liberated society, where the human being is the epicenter of our attention and where all of us are called upon to reverse the crisis of values before the superiority of the economic and financial power.

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The time for paying lip service to the need for global democratic accountability is past.  Parliaments can no longer be mere chambers of debate and time worn speeches without bringing about change. We can not call for this change from the sidelines, but must take up the challenge and become activists for change within our parliaments. We do this not for ourselves, but for the people we serve and to whom we, as their freely elected representatives, owe a world where human dignity and human security are paramount.

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