Tynwald offers helping hand to Sierra Leone’s Parliament

(Musa L A Foullah, Editor of Debate, and Patience C Brown-Dawson, Stenographer from the Parliament of Sierra Leone meet with officials from the Isle of Man)

“Hansard is behind, out-of-date, and only a historical record when it is finally produced,” say Musa L A Foullah, Editor of Debate, and Patience C Brown-Dawson, Stenographer from the Parliament of Sierra Leone following their participation in a two-week secondment to the Isle of Man’s Parliament (Tynwald).

The backlog that has developed in the Parliament of Sierra Leone means the official record (‘Hansard’) is only prepared after several months have passed – an area Ellen Callister, Head of Hansard at the Isle of Man’s Parliament (Tynwald) was keen to support.

“The more up-to-date Hansard becomes, the more people will become interested in the Parliament,” Sierra Leone’s Hansard officials hope. “It may even become a problem to cope with such growing demand!”

Having an official record of what’s been said in a Parliament is fundamental to any democracy. This is why parliaments maintain written records of their proceedings so they can be accessed by citizens, civil society and – of course – politicians.

“At the present time very few people are interested in reading Hansard,” Mr Foullah and Miss Brown-Dawson explain. “Typical users are university students, lobby groups and NGOs, looking especially at the controversial issues.

“To find out what is happening currently in the Parliament, people rely mainly on the media – PR and the national broadcaster on radio and TV – to tell the public about the main decisions made.”

As Westminster Foundation for Democracy prepared a broader programme in Sierra Leone supporting the new parliament after elections due in early 2018, it identified an opportunity to help address the limited usage of Hansard.

Thanks to the willingness of Ellen Callister and her colleagues to engage with their Sierra Leone counterparts, Mr Foullah and Miss Brown-Dawson could discuss ideas about what might help clear the backlog – caused by a lack of good-quality equipment and limited knowledge of best practice.

The fortnight of hands-on, practical training will be followed by a visit from an Isle of Man Hansard representative, alongside a representative from the Chamber & Information Service, who are eager to evaluate progress and to share further best practice regarding research and outreach with the Parliament of Sierra Leone. Learning from smaller parliaments and the devolved assemblies across the UK can be very valuable, and this exchange proved no exception.

Helping the team work better will, as Mr Foullah and Miss Brown-Dawson put it, “enable staff to feel less isolated and dispirited at having to do such a huge amount of work on their own”.

But it’s not just the Parliament of Sierra Leone’s Hansard team which will benefit.

(Above: Freetown, Sierra Leone)

“The biggest difference if the Hansard service is improved will be to the civil servants and to the general public,” they say. “This will cause people to do things right, effectively and on time.”

“A well-functioning Hansard will enable MPs and the public to access Hansard on time and make quick reference to past debates and follow up where needed.

“If Hansard is more quickly produced and up to date, it is more relevant and there will be greater demand and reliance on it as the official record.

“As a consequence, it will enable more effective lobbying of MPs and Government Ministers.”

In the wake of the Ebola epidemic and in the lead-up to elections in early 2018, Sierra Leone needs its Parliament to be operating at full effectiveness. WFD intends to assist with this by stepping up its engagement in Freetown through a long-term parliamentary and integrated programme to support the Parliament.

It’s an institution which will play a crucial role in Ebola recovery and will require continued and reliable support from the international community if it is to perform its essential legislative and oversight functions.

The Parliament’s most pressing issues, Mr Foullah and Miss Brown-Dawson, say, are for it to improve financial scrutiny and more broadly its oversight of Government departments; and for the implementation of both Committee recommendations and laws passed by Parliament. WFD’s work will address this need by providing support on administrative capacity-building; financial oversight and internal financial management; providing the Parliament with research capacity; and strengthening the protection of human rights, as well as parliamentary engagement with civil society organisations.

Meanwhile, follow-up planned for later this year will ensure the changes discussed on the two-week secondment at Tynwald become a reality. Mr Foullah and Miss Brown-Dawson have already started putting their experience from the Isle of Man into practice. In October, five parliamentary sessions took place in the Parliament of Sierra Leone and all five have been transcribed with four published on the website.

As with all of WFD’s trainings, the discussion on the Isle of Man was very much a two-way process. The same approach will apply for all of WFD’s future work with Sierra Leone’s parliamentarians and parliamentary staff.

“We in Tynwald have learned a great deal about Sierra Leone as a country, about their Parliament and many style points on how to assist in drafting their Hansard reports,” Ellen says.

“We found the experience extremely interesting and rewarding, and recognise the many sustainable and positive outcomes from our joint project. We are looking forward to continuing to work with Musa, Patience and the rest of the team in Freetown and wish them every success.

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What do parliaments & parties bring to the SDGs?

(Above: Effective gender budgeting would support women councillors in Gulu Uganda to deliver vital services for women in their communities)

WFD’s Director of Programmes Devin O’Shaughnessy reflects on how democratic institutions can influence implementation of the global goals. 

Parliaments and political parties have important roles to play in helping countries achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), in particular Goal 16: promoting peaceful and inclusive societies, providing access to justice, and building accountable and inclusive institutions.

Legislation, oversight and representation: The role of parliaments

From drafting legislation to conducting oversight, parliaments play a critical role when it comes to the successful implementation of the SDGs.

Around the world, legislation will need to be passed or amended to create new government programmes that address structural barriers to achieving equitable growth, protecting the environment, and improving health and education. Parliamentarians’ legislative skills and expertise in various sectoral areas must be bolstered, through investment in parliamentary libraries and research units and technical support to select committees.

Budgets will need to be scrutinised and passed that commit sufficient resources to meeting the development goals; this could mean less investment in the military and more on infrastructure and water management systems, for example. Effective use of gender and youth budgeting to make sure government investment is benefitting women and other vulnerable groups will also be key.

By enhancing the role of parliament in the oversight of a country’s efforts to achieve the SDGs, it can act as a check on the executive in its commitment to achieving the SDGs, whilst ensuring that each ministry is playing its role effectively by implementing programmes and making investments that tackle the whole range of issues covered by the goals.

Parliamentary Budget Offices (PBOs), like the ones WFD has helped establish in the Serbian, Ukrainian, and Montenegrin parliaments over last few years are a vital tool in producing the analysis and information needed to ensure implementation of the agenda stays on track. Improved research capacity will be essential to test whether governments are providing accurate data on social and economic indicators; key to measuring progress.

Parliament’s role as a representative body means it can facilitate input from a broad group of citizens. By holding hearings and engaging CSOs, the media, and citizens on the importance of the SDGs and the progress being made (or not made), parliaments can make sure people’s views are being represented in the policy process.

Public interest, delivery and an international approach: The role of parties

Political parties have a critical role to play in generating debate and public interest in the SDGs. The SDGs can serve as a useful pillar in party platforms and manifestos, focusing the attention of their supporters and voters on the importance of making progress on these goals, as well as providing direction to their senior officials when they are in power.

When in opposition, parties can look to the SDGs to hold to account the party or parties in power, pointing out any failures to make progress and offering alternative policy ideas and leadership to help achieve these goals.

On a global level, party internationals can mobilise their member parties to discuss the SDGs and take common stands on the importance of achieving the goals, and how they as a family of parties would go about achieving them through the application of their ideology and policies.

(Above: Workshop to update CPA Benchmarks on Democratic Legislatures in line with the SDGs)

With both parties and parliaments, we can help encourage the establishment of global and regional standards and mechanisms to help facilitate the achievement of the SDGs. For this, we will need to work with others to tackle implementation at different levels. Our efforts to update the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association (CPA) Benchmarks on Democratic Legislatures to take account of the SDGs – in close collaboration with the World Bank, Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU), UNDP, and others – will ensure progress against goal 16 is not ignored. Encouraging participants from three of our partner parliaments to take part in the International Parliamentary Project on Sustainability, Energy and Development, led by CPA (UK Branch), raises awareness of the range of issues addressed within the goals. Establishing or bolstering regional parliamentary networks that share information and best practices on how to encourage countries to meet their SDG targets will be crucial as well.

WFD firmly believes that the SDGs provide a real opportunity for parliaments and political parties to be actively involved in the new development agenda shaping citizens’ lives for the next decade and a half.

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On the ground with Botswana Movement for Democracy

By Harriet Shone, Liberal Democrats Head of International Office

“It’s clear from what people have said to me that they have had enough of being let down by the government. They want change. I am fighting to make sure we have better schools, smaller class sizes, a strong economy where everyone has a job, and a transparent government that people can trust.”

These words were shared by MP and opposition leader Ndaba Gaolathe across thousands of households in Botswana. They remain his commitment to the people of his constituency. Ndaba is now actively working to improve the lives of every Batswana.

In reaching this point, the Africa Liberal Network in collaboration with WFD initially focused on three primary areas of support for the ALN’s sister party, the Botswana Movement for Democracy (BMD). These included campaign support in a local by-election, a best practice workshop on political communication, and finally in the run-up to 2014 national elections, research and voter outreach. Doing so directly contributes to WFD’s four outcome areas: the ALN’s support has helped strengthen the policies developed by the BMD and its ability to both represent and reach out to Botswana’s citizens, improving their engagement and participation in the political process.

To the shock of many Batswanas and the campaign team, the much celebrated and admired BMD leader Gomolemo Motswaledi passed away in a car accident just a short while before Election Day in the country. This tragedy was a major blow to the BMD, ALN and all involved in the campaign. Still, the ALN was determined that more could be done to grow liberal democracy in Botswana. The belief was that this would be the best way of commemorating the late BMD leader.

With a firm understanding in sharing successes amongst our members in Africa and abroad, the ALN facilitated the involvement of the Democratic Alliance (South Africa) and the UK Liberal Democrats Head of Strategic Seat Operations, Victoria Marsom. This led to a peer-to-peer mentoring programme of the BMD and its coalition partners in the Umbrella for Democratic Change (UDC).

BMD2Towards the end of the project, Victoria worked closely with the leadership of the UDC, guiding their assessment of key constituencies and the setting of targets.

“Polling day was approaching. I spoke with Ndaba Gaolathe who had taken over as BMD Leader and Deputy Leader of the UDC.

“I arrived in Gaborone six days before the election. It was a hectic week! The handwritten blue letter from Ndaba was delivered across the constituency by the volunteers in around five hours and it really energised the team and motivated voters who’d never received anything like it before.

“On Facebook, Ndaba already had a successful personal page and a campaign page which had thousands of likes. I livened it up with calls to action such as asking supporters to change their profile photo after they had voted for him, filling local Facebook feeds with his image.

“The phone bank on election day also had a huge impact – I bought seven cheap handsets and some credit, wrote simple scripts (which were translated in to Setswana) and organised the data from the months of door to door campaigning. Nine callers took it in turns to call identified supporters, and we spoke to around 7,000 people during election day.”

The success of this project speaks for itself. The UDC now holds 17 seats in Botswana’s parliament, an increase of eight seats since the previous elections. The message of delivering change resonated with voters. Identifying key issues and themes was an exceptionally important part of the campaign, with voters now benefiting from the BMD and UDC’s work in improving sanitation, education and a cleaner, more transparent government.

Ultimately it will be Batswanas who benefit from these policies and having a party which works hard to reflect their views. Westminster Foundation for Democracy funds programmes which support political parties because doing so builds their ability to make better policy, strengthen accountability and improve citizen engagement and participation – particularly among marginalised groups like women and youth. That is exactly what the BMD has achieved with the support of Victoria and the ALN.

The BMD along with its broader UDC coalition have championed key issues to campaign on, such as access to clean water and reliable electricity. They have continued campaigning and won by-elections including a parliamentary defence and gained local council seats. They provide Botswana with a hope for a different kind of politics, and that there can be an alternative future in a country which has never changed government since independence.

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CEDAW: Ugandan journalists give ‘voice to the voiceless’

Of all the stories she covered reporting on gender issues in Uganda, journalist Abalo Ireme Otto says the one which upset her most involved an eviction. “A woman was thrown out of the house by her husband,” she says. “Her children witnessed the scuffle.”

The press in Uganda frequently come across distressing stories like this. Another journalist recalls: “A woman was raped and she went to the police to report it. But instead a policeman kept her as a wife for some time.” These shocking incidents underline the importance of seeking change.

Reducing violence against women and girls will involve a long-running campaign. But it is one the Ugandan government is committed to, having passed a raft of legislation in 2010 bringing the country into line with the UN’s Convention for the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW). The challenge now is implementation. In particular one issue keeps appearing again and again, reflected by a case study described by journalist Emmy Ojave: “A woman who was denied access to land, together with her children, after her husband’s death.”

Tackling discrimination against women

Land rights for widows are protected by law under CEDAW, but this does not automatically result in justice for bereaved women. In economies heavily dependent on agriculture, land rights are extremely important. So when married women are separated from their spouses, either by divorce or by death, their in-laws often seize control of her possessions and property. In Uganda – as across much of East Africa – these discriminatory practices often clashes with the law.

In order to tackle this and the other issues covered by CEDAW, Westminster Foundation for Democracy supported the Ugandan Parliamentary Press Association (UPPA) in its training of journalists in December 2014. “It shall help to sensitize the masses on their rights to gender equality,” as journalist Komakech Geoffrey described the training’s purpose. WFD’s goal has been to improve reporting on CEDAW in a bid to improve understanding of the new laws which enforce it.

Woman Cooking in Uganda - Mark JordahlJournalists spread awareness

Since then many of the journalists have updated WFD about the difference their subsequent reporting has made. “After the training I was able to trace down a survivor of gender-based violence and exposed her plight to the world,” Julius Ocungi says. “The response to her was overwhelming, because she was beloved. She was exposed to humanitarian organisations who helped in treating the citizen.”

Emmy Ojave has a similar example .”I advocated for the rights of a widow who was denied access to her late husband’s land,” she explains. “I wrote about the role of women in bringing about change. They mediated and the woman with children was given a plot of land for cultivation and construction.”

These journalists have contributed to raising awareness about CEDAW and in the process helped establish women’s rights. All those updating WFD say they have much more to offer, too. “I expect to accord more women and young girls the chances of having justice served to them,” Julius Ocongi says. “I feel revamped to do more to help our women out there,” Abalo Ireme Otto adds.

‘A voice for the voiceless’

For these journalists, trained by UPPA with WFD’s support, their work can make a real difference to citizens’ lives. Their role is to be a “voice of the voiceless”, as Komakech Geoffrey puts it. Wilfred Ronny Okot is more specific. His role, he says, is “to inform, educate and empower the public on their roles, responsibilities, contributions and rights”. For Abalo Ireme Otto, her mission is simple: “To stand for the truth in the fight against women discrimination.”

WFD’s 30-month programme supporting CEDAW is approaching its closure, but we aim to offer further support to the Ugandan Parliament in the years to come. In the meantime our work with Ugandan journalists has changed reporting on these issues – and even shaped the views of the reporters themselves. One anonymous journalist confessed to having changed attitudes because of the training. “Culture had a serious effect on my way of reporting,” he admitted, “since some cultural practices promoted discrimination against women. But now it won’t affect me.”

Featured images: Flickr
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Shaping democracy: Update from WFD’s openDemocracy debate

In February 2016 Westminster Foundation for Democracy launched our editorial partnership with openDemocracy with the goal of seeking to encourage a discussion about democracy assistance.

From torture in Georgia to corruption in Mongolia, a range of issues have arisen from the debate since our last update in June. Here’s a quick overview of the direction the debate has taken…

Mari Valdur, previously of SOAS and currently on the Doctoral Programme in Anthropology at the University of Helsinki, shines a light on some of the realities for citizens living in transitioning democracies. With the spotlight on Mongolia, the role of corruption and how this shapes citizens’ perceptions on what democracy can bring was analysed.

“While people say it’s very nice to have democracy, the reality is that [our] salaries are among the lowest in the world. The government provides very minimal services to citizens.”

WFD is proud of the support we have given to the Georgian Human Rights and Civil Integration Committee, tasked with reporting on the torture violations exposed in Georgian prisons by civil society and international NGOs. Mairi Mackay, Senior Editor at openDemocracy, met with Eka Beselia, Chair of the Committee and former public defender, to discuss the systematic torture taking place in Georgia’s prison system before 2012.

“After that, [the] repression [started]. I remember when I met the prisoners, they had always been tortured. We defenders could not help [them], because this happened everywhere, it was a systematic programme.”

In the most recent piece, Bram Dijkstra, policy analyst at the Open Society European Policy Institute, introduces the idea of election observation and the weight international organisations hold in pushing for compliance with international standards.

“Foreign donors must pay attention to the rapid release of the rule of law – and the EU should lead them. The EU, together with its member states, is Zambia’s biggest donor of foreign aid, a major trade partner, and maintains regular political dialogue with Zambian authorities.”

If you want to respond to any of these articles, get in touch by emailing mairi dot mackay @ opendemocracy.org.

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Young people need democracy – and democracy needs young people

(Above: Social media training with Youth Ambassadors from the East African Legislative Assembly)

Well-functioning democracies can help young people tackle the biggest problems they face – and Westminster Foundation for Democracy is working to help them do so.

But across all kinds of democracies, the disconnect between young people and those that represent them seems to be growing.

Just look at the recent EU referendum vote in Britain. Despite being a decision which would impact on young people’s future for decades to come, fewer people aged between 18 and 24 turned out to vote than did those aged over 65.

Across the Atlantic, both the Democrat and Republican parties have seen popular anti-establishment candidates driven in part by dissatisfied young voters.

And in the Middle East and Africa, young people out of work are demanding to know why youth unemployment is not being tackled – and increasingly using social media to make their dissatisfaction heard.

Young people need effective and inclusive governance because policies in areas like education, climate change, healthcare and job security will have a fundamental impact on their futures. The young face huge debts, inadequate services and a planet whose natural resources are quickly running out. Engaging in politics is key to ensuring that what they care about is addressed.

At the heart of much of WFD’s programming is an effort to involve young people. Their representation and involvement in the political process lies at the core of an effective democracy.

So this International Youth Day we wanted to highlight some of the ways we’re supporting young people’s engagement in politics. Here are five examples which show what WFD does for young people around the world.

(Above: Africa Liberal Network at London Youth Academy 2016)

Political party youth networks

Youth engagement features prominently across the work of all the political parties whose programmes are supported by WFD.

From the Labour Party support to young social democrats in Moldova to the Conservative Party development of the International Young Democrat Union, long-term efforts are being made to train the next generation of political activists.

Supporting and developing the skills of young people to play an active and effective role in party politics, decisions, and representation at local, national and international levels is fundamental to political party youth networks.

Take the Liberal Democrats support to the Democratic Alliance’s Young Leaders Programme in South Africa. This year they want to build on their previous success, by cultivating a new generation of emotionally intelligent and politically astute leaders within the Democratic Alliance and contributing to South Africa’s political future.

Children’s rights are human rights

Young people can be excellent advocates for change. When given the right encouragement, they can be shown how to engage with parliament and be real champions for progress on human rights.

Civil society organisations supported by WFD’s Macedonia programme are seeking legislative change on a range of issues which affect young people. They’re seeking better child marriage laws and legislation outlawing discrimination in educational institutions.

By showing young people how to achieve change by getting involved in changing legislation that impacts on them, WFD is raising awareness amongst young people in Macedonia about their rights.

An active civil society which can lobby parliament effectively to achieve changes in legislation will also show young people it’s possible to get involved in politics outside of political parties.

(Above: Ben Jones participating in the EU election observation in Guinea)

Training the next generation of election observers

Ensuring elections take place without corruption or manipulation is a fundamental part of any democracy.

WFD wants its cohort of observers to be truly representative of all parts of society, which is why we’re so committed to encouraging young people to be involved in this process.

It was great to see the level of participation from young people at WFD’s training, held in January 2016, on election observation methodology.

Ben Jones , one of WFD’s youngest election observers has participated in missions from Gabon to Serbia, and found the training in January extremely useful. He now wants to share the principles he learnt at the training with the election observation organisation he works with, AEGEE, who are committed to empowering young Europeans to make a direct personal contribution to democracy as election observers.

Advocating for Iraqi children’s future

Westminster Foundation for Democracy’s support for Dar Al- Khebra Organisation (DKO), a think-tank based in Baghdad, has led to numerous policy proposals being put forwards which had the promise of helping young people, from legislative ideas protecting orphans to proposals to improve the country’s national curriculum.

One promising policy change now submitted for consideration within the Iraqi Education Ministry is a legislative amendment which would finance a major push to improve Iraq’s schools infrastructure.

This potential change in policy has not yet occurred – yet by influencing the Council of Representatives and the executive, the WFD-supported DKO is helping improve representation of young people’s interests.

Our new programming in the country works to support the country’s Anti-Corruption Commissions, which will also help its representative institutions better represent the interests of Iraq’s youth.

Engaging Youth Ambassadors with the East Africa Legislative Assembly

Understanding how young people communicate is key to getting them more involved in politics – especially in the context of rapid growth in social media.

The commitment of the East Africa Legislative Assembly to reach out to citizens, especially the young, has led it to seek to modernise its approach to communications with WFD’s support.

Our programme trained EALA Youth Ambassadors on the importance of social media and how this can be used for three-way interaction between civil society organisations, citizens and the Assembly.

Videos and a new website accompanied the training in a bid to increase knowledge amongst young people about what the Legislative Assembly could do for them.

Young people bring an enthusiasm for innovation and change where communications technology is concerned. This should inspire politicians to connect through the channels that are the most effective.

This is exactly what has happened at the East African Legislative Assembly. It’s the kind of change which WFD, committing to improving the representation and engagement of young people around the world, is delighted to have helped bring about.

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The Cost of Politics: From selection to election

(Above: Rushanara Ali, MP and Vice-Chair of WFD’s Board of Governors, moderates the first panel of the day with the authors of the case studies in Macedonia (Gordan Georgiev) and Nigeria (Adebowale Olorunmola).)

On Monday July 18th WFD launched new research into the cost of parliamentary politics, exploring six case studies assessing the situation in Macedonia, Ukraine, Kyrgyzstan, Ghana, Uganda and Nigeria.

“How do we make politics more affordable?” was the central question being asked by George Kunnath, WFD’s Regional Director for Africa and Europe, at our conference exploring the increasing cost of politics.

Take Ghana. As George explained, “people have done the numbers and realised it is not worthwhile for them to get into politics” – especially when an MP is compelled to spend £750 a month supporting funerals in their communities. These associated costs mean political life is intrinsically linked to corrupt practice, whether through securing re-election through the exploitation of state resources or the increased power that comes with the role.

Our new research project explores the whole cycle faced by candidates – from getting nominated to fighting the campaign and maintaining a parliamentary seat – and what associated costs individuals face at each stage of this journey.

Getting nominated – how to get on the ballot?

Gordan Georgiev, former MP in Macedonia and author of the research into the cost of politics case study, explained the crucial role that political parties play in the selection process for candidates.

“Getting on the ballot has certain costs,” he explained. “Some are typical, some are pretty innovative and some are surprising” – like the 30,000-80,000 euro cost to change your party membership, or the ability to buy 100,000 votes for ten million euros. This climate, Gordan argued, is responsible for the lowest levels of trust in politicians across Europe to date.

Adebowale Olorunmola, author of the Nigerian case study, said trust is also an issue in Nigeria. He pointed to the “gulf between the parties and people” that currently exists. It’s a gulf created in part by the huge costs associated with selection, but also by the motivations of current politicians who “get into political office to serve personal interests, leaving well-intentioned citizens, with ideas to move society forward, without access”. In Nigeria, to simply get on the ballot paper you must pay an initial 25 million naira fee (approximately £64,000).

(Above, left to right: Lisa Klein, formerly of UK Electoral Commission, Jamie Hitchen, Africa Research Insitute and WFD’s Director of Research Graeme Ramshaw)

Fighting the campaign

With the initial costs of getting on the ballot being so high, it’s equally – if not more – damaging that the expected levels of spending associated with running a campaign are also excessive.

Campaigning costs in Britain remain relatively low. “The UK is quite blessed to have an affordable political system,” George Kunnath explained in the opening address. Elsewhere, however, running a campaign can be so costly that it creates a barrier to access, as our second panel of the day found.

Jamie Hitchin, from the Africa Research Institute, drew on the recent Ugandan elections as an example, where “money trumps ideology” as the success factor for political parties. One hundred and seventy-five million US dollars were spent in Uganda by all parties in the run-up to the most recent presidential elections. This, Jamie added, was almost double the health budget in Uganda for 2015/16.

These high costs associated with running for office undeniably shape citizens’ perceptions of their representatives and what is expected of them – generating money for election, not improving public services for all.

Jamie added that the cost of politics and associated corruption is driven not just by politicians giving out money, but also by “citizens who are expecting to be given money” during a campaign. Changing this attitude is key to changing the associated cost of politics and making it more accessible.
The costs of sitting in Parliament

The challenge of raising the funds to run a successful campaign places huge pressure on elected representatives to recover some of their expenses when in office, either financially or through their patronage and privileges.

The cultural context and perceptions of the role of an MP emerged as a recurrent theme throughout the day. Emma Crew, Professorial Research Associate at SOAS, argued that the relationship between politicians and constituents is key to decreasing the cost of politics and making it more accessible. “By deepening democracy beyond parliament and strengthening civil society, including the capacity for research and scrutiny,” Emma suggested, will be vital to changing attitudes on what the role of a sitting politician is.

This anthropological approach was supported by Kojo Asante, Senior Research Fellow, Centre for Democratic Development in Ghana, who acknowledged that “if you don’t understand why people carry on doing what they are doing” then change will be difficult to achieve.

He pointed to Ghana’s “interesting cultural sanctions”. MPs are expected to pay for office space, textbooks and funerals. If they do not, they risk forfeiting the community’s support when it comes to re-election. This shifts the focus, Kojo said, from governing and providing adequate services for constituents to “always preparing for the next election”.

(Above: Emma Crewe, Professorial Research Associate at SOAS, delivers a presentation about the anthropological elements that contribute to the cost of politics.)

Steps towards reform?

Attitudes, cultural practice and expectation clearly play such a fundamental role in shaping citizens’ expectations of parliaments – so addressing them, particularly within broader global anti-corruption reform efforts, should not be ignored.

Enforcement and regulation of party finance was a key theme throughout the day, but as Peter Wardle, former CEO of the UK Electoral Commission explained, this is not always enough. “You introduce rules, and people find a way to get around them,” he said, referring to his experience of introducing party finance legislation in the UK. “You can have the best rules in the world, the UK rules look good – but if you can’t enforce them they do not work.”

This is where parliaments can come in to help fight corruption at any level. “Parliaments are part of the solution rather than part of the problem,” Phil Mason, Senior Anti-Corruption Adviser at the Department for International Development, said. Something as simple as effective note-taking, like the UK’s Hansard, can go a long way to explaining “what those functions [of parliament] are, of educating people about the roles and functions of MPs and parliaments”.

Stephen Twigg, MP and Chair of the International Development Committee concluded that political parties – a major part of WFD’s work – are part of the solution too. “They can help get a range of people in to politics,” demonstrating how important WFD’s work with parliaments and political parties is in addressing corruption.

Following the UK anti-corruption summit in May, Britain is taking the lead on the global stage in addressing this issue. Now, thanks to this research project, the UK has opened up another avenue to explore change.

 

The six country case studies and synthesis report are available here. 

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From Georgia to Westminster: The reform of human rights committees

(Above, Left-right: Nicole Piché (Coordinator All-Party Parliamentary Group on Human Rights), Eka Beselia (Chair of the Human Rights and Civil Integration Committee in Georgia),  Anthony Smith (CEO, WFD), Les Allamby (Chief Commissioner of the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission))

“Parliaments share a responsibility to protect and realise human rights,” notes WFD’s new research paper sizing up parliamentary performance on this critical issue. As Georgia’s positive experience shows, effective oversight of human rights can make a big difference.

The findings of the report were the subject of the fourth meeting of the Westminster Community of Practice in the Houses of Parliament this week.

Ms Eka Beselia, Chair of the Human Rights and Civil Integration Committee in Georgia, kicked off the discussion by explaining how WFD’s programme supporting the Committee to engage with civil society had benefited from the assessment.

She spoke of the absence of “institutional experience” within the Georgian Parliament to tackle human rights abuses when she started in her role as Chair in 2012. But now, she said, people see the work of the committee “as a normal and ordinary process”.

The paper, ‘Strengthening Parliamentary Capacity for the Protection and Realisation of Human Rights’, presented the findings of assessments into the effectiveness of parliamentary human rights committees in Macedonia, Serbia, Tunisia, Uganda and Ukraine, as well as Georgia.

The research is based on the outcomes of an ‘assessment tool’ developed by WFD, in partnership with the Parliaments, Rule of Law and Human Rights project at the University of Oxford.

Reform was “very difficult”, Ms Beselia added, “but if you want to change reality, it is possible.” The Georgian Parliament’s acceptance of the recommendations from the Georgian Human Rights Committee based on the WFD assessment tool demonstrates this.

However, this success does not detract from the difficulty of seeking initial reform on a sensitive and decisive subject. This was something which Les Allamby, Chief Commissioner of the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission and Nicole Piché, the coordinator and legal adviser for the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Human Rights in Westminster, both had experience of.

Les recalled the “long and slow, but nonetheless important, journey with bumps in the road” that Northern Ireland embarked on following the end of conflict there. He spoke passionately about engaging parliaments on human rights work. Rather than dictating views on human rights, he urged the importance of starting “where people are, and gently persuade them over to international standards.”

This approach was supported by Nicole, who outlined how the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Human Rights participates in “frank but respectful exchanges” with representatives from countries with poor human rights records. Giving “credit where credit is due” is essential, Nicole believes, especially when considering the “long road, with obstacles that can be frustrating, unpopular and time-consuming” that developing countries have to embark on.

Both praised Eka Beselia and her colleagues for their work on the Georgian Human Rights Committee, agreeing that political will was vital when seeking any reform to the parliamentary response to protecting human rights.

Ms Beselia explained how the political will in Georgia changed after the 2012 elections. The systematic problems with key institutions like the judiciary, police and penitentiary in Georgia led to “society wanting to change human rights standards.” Nicole Piché added that “entrenched vested interests are hard to change” without political will and the support of citizens.

Engaging citizens in the work parliaments do on human rights can be challenging. However, Les Allamby suggested that placing an emphasis on economic and social rights, can help put civil and political rights on the agenda. He emphasised the need to find out “what resonates with people’s lives, and start there.”

And this applies in Northern Ireland as much as it does in Georgia or Uganda, demonstrating what WFD has to offer transitioning and developing countries the most. “The UK,” as Anthony Smith concluded, “has a real diversity and richness of experience working on human rights which is good to share and learn from.”

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Cost of politics Q&A: How do we make political systems affordable?

Ahead of 18 July’s #CostOfPolitics conference, WFD’s Europe and Africa Regional Director George Kunnath has been explaining his approach to this emerging problem – and explaining how we’ll explore it next month.

When and where did you first identify the cost of politics as an important issue that needed more attention?

The first time I started to think about this was several years back in Ukraine, when it became very obvious to me that the majority either came from wealth or was linked to wealth. It was just impossible for an average person to ever make their way into the Ukrainian Parliament, which was affecting its legitimacy. By 2009 the Verkhovna Rada was seen as a place where wealthy people bought positions so as to acquire immunity. The disruption of Maidan reflected this frustration. I slowly began to realise that when the cost of buying your way into politics begins to exclude or marginalise the majority of citizens, it becomes counterproductive to democracy and affected the parliamentary culture within a country.

This issue isn’t just confined to Ukraine, though. You must have realised quickly the cost of politics had similar effects elsewhere.

The countries where this really spoke to me next were Uganda, Ghana and Nigeria. The context is different in each, but the impact of the rising cost of politics on the incentives which drive MPs was becoming increasingly clear in all of them. What we were starting to see was the linkage between the cost of politics and the behaviour of MPs. As the cost of politics increases, the behaviour of the MPs changes as they seek to recoup their initial investment.

How can you prove this is the case, though?

WFD has commissioned six case studies examining the situation in the four countries mentioned so far, plus Georgia and Kyrgyzstan. We’re seeking to establish the reality – whether there’s any degree of evidence which underpins what so far has just been a hunch. We’re aware that our case studies don’t provide the depth of research one would want as definitive proof. But maybe they are a step towards a discussion and debate which could prompt much more in-depth research. These case studies give us an idea of what the drivers of the costs are and the sources of funding. They will help frame the direction of subsequent in-depth studies.

How will we discuss these issues in the Cost of Politics conference on 18 July?

What we’ve decided to do is structure the conference around three key areas that are emerging from the case studies.

One of them deals with political parties’ internal governance – how parties are using things like primaries as a means to fleece their members in order to build up war chests. In some instances the primaries are becoming as expensive as the election.

Party financing is a big issue. It needs to be discussed, and openly. It matters to WFD because future programming cannot happen without understanding what’s happening with the parties.

The second area of focus is around the rising costs of campaigning and access to the media during election campaigns. This is an area where innovation can help. Some of the lessons from the UK, which holds elections at a fraction of the price of countries like the US, could be pertinent here.

The third area will focus on the ‘fourth role of an MP’. What is becoming evident is that there is a growing demand, especially in third-world countries, for MPs to provide welfare assistance to their communities paying for funerals, weddings, school fees etc. Normally in the developed world, the state provides welfare support. In the developing world people have tried to find mechanisms such as constituency development funds to try and alleviate the burden this places on MPs but with this has come a range of accountability challenges. We need to discuss this openly, recognise it, and think how best parliaments can work with MPs to address citizens’ often unrealistic expectations. In some cases, MPs do not want to visit their constituencies because they know they will struggle to meet their supporters’ expectations.

Once we have explored these three areas, we will hold a discussion about how the UK can respond to these challenges, and what best practice can be shared.

Tickets are still available, of course.

But they’re running out, so you’d better get yours booked quick.

What’s different about this approach? Isn’t political financing an issue which has already received a lot of attention?

Much political finance work is focused on the electoral process. Our approach to cost of politics is different in the sense that we’re looking at the impact of finances from the perspective of an individual’s entry into public life. The costs associated with this throughout his or her term in office is what matters, not just the costs at elections time.

It’s about applying the logic of an investment approach to a political career. Politicians spend so much to gain a position held for five years; they either end that period with a net gain or net loss. If it’s a net gain, a political career becomes attractive; in some cases if the perception is that politics is rewarding it could lead to increased competition for the wrong reasons. If this is a net loss, many people will be discouraged from entering politics. Our methodology is to ask not just those who have succeeded in this, but also those who have failed to win elections too. We are asking those who are leaving parliament and not returning to contribute. These veterans, of course, have less to lose in being open and honest about the costs of their political career.

Why should organisations committed to democracy-strengthening care about the cost of politics?

I’m a strong believer in conducting effective political economy analysis, because we need to understand the politics around the work that we do. Because our work is political, it is most successful when there is political will – a factor commonly driven by incentives. What we’re learning is that a lot of these incentives are set well in advance and the cost of politics plays an important role in determining the incentives.

This sounds very relevant to the current focus on tackling corruption following the UK Prime Minister’s London Summit on the issue in May 2016.

Often people talk about the link between political finance, the cost of politics and corruption. But we need to avoid an approach that this is about fighting corruption. Instead this is all about developing political systems that are affordable. By making political systems affordable, the need for corrupt practices is reduced. The spirit of our work and the spirit of our conference on July 18th is to try and help countries develop affordable political systems which mean that anyone can enter politics. I do believe most people enter politics for noble reasons, but the reality of the environment forces them down the path of corruption.

What can Westminster Foundation for Democracy offer to assist in this work?

We are uniquely placed to work with political parties and parliaments to openly and transparently help bring around change.

The factors driving corruption are set well in advance, right there at the beginning with the cost of politics.

If you don’t address this issue, when politicians do come to power they will find ways around the system. That’s the reality. So what we want to do is motivate donors, politicians and everyone else to invest in the harder problem of dealing with the root causes. We want to encourage donors to invest in innovative, sensitive and politically smart projects which can help address these issues. Yes, these are complex and very sensitive issues, but it will be worth it.

Finally, you were in Prague in April for the launch of the Political Financing Community of Practice. What were your impressions?

I think IFES did a great job in convening the community of practice. WFD hopes to host the next meeting of the community following the cost of politics conference. What we need to recognise is that the issues of political financing are many and partners have to work together to have a positive impact. The community of practice is a great way to share knowledge and experiences. We also need to recognise that each country is different and would require a different approach but if we understand each other’s strengths we could all work together to find solutions.

 

 

Photo: Thomas: Coins 
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Uganda is in transition – to a stronger democracy

After an election campaign unlike any of its predecessors, it’s clear Uganda is changing.

Its citizens want a more effective, inclusive governance – and organisations like Westminster Foundation for Democracy can help them achieve this.

Most observers expected that Yoweri Museveni would be returned to power to begin a fifth presidential term. Cynics might suggest this – and the accompanying controversies surrounding polling day and its aftermath – means nothing but business as usual. But as the campaign which preceded it showed, Uganda’s democracy is steadily developing.

For the first time, Uganda’s elections were dominated by three genuine contenders jostling for position. They were vying for support from young voters who are just as interested in what Uganda will look like in 2046 as they are in 2016. In a country where the average age is 15, and amid the rapid growth of internet usage, mobile phones and social media, the style of campaigning felt very different.

It’s clear that the Parliament will play an increasingly important role in connecting citizens with politicians. This really matters because democracy is as much about what happens between elections as it is on the days when votes are actually cast.

Parties united on gender rights

Take gender rights, an issue WFD is focused on strengthening in Uganda. The country has made great strides towards strengthening women’s rights in its first decade of multiparty politics. New laws passed in recent years targeting the UN’s Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) reflect the Government’s determination to improve the lives of Ugandan women.

The problem is that implementing CEDAW has proved challenging, particularly in the north and east. These were, after all, areas devastated by the Lord’s Resistance Army for nearly two decades. WFD believes we can help connect civil society organisations with local and national parliamentarians to accelerate the process of positive change in all parts of Uganda.

Our EU-funded programme is working to enhance civil engagement and political dialogue on the implementation of legislation supporting CEDAW, with the ultimate goal of reducing the levels of violence suffered by women and girls. Our 30-month programme, which started in May 2014, covers Kapchorwa and Bukwo districts in the east, and Gulu and Nwoya in the north. CSOs, local councils and Parliament are participating in activities which help them scrutinise CEDAW legislation more effectively.

Our combination of training events and workshops for CSOs, journalists, district council staff and parliamentary researchers are showing real progress. Our main partners, Gulu Women’s Economic Development and REACH, report that citizens are more aware of their rights because of our combined work. Better public discourse on human rights and democracy is essential, which is why we’re so pleased to have organised the first ever Women’s Parliament in Uganda in June 2015.

“This Parliament empowered me to speak up and defend my position as a leader,” Asio Rose Mary, a member of Malaba Town Council, said of the June 2015 event. “We are fighting problems at the grassroots.” Overturning deep-set cultural attitudes will not come easily, but local leaders like Asio believed they can be challenged and, ultimately, overturned. It’s at the local level where change will take place – but it’s in Kampala, at events like the Women’s Parliament, where the instigators of that change were being encouraged by WFD.

An opportunity for Uganda’s Parliament

Events like the Woman’s Parliament matter because they bring together politicians with civil society stakeholders. Party politics will always play a big role in these exchanges, but our focus is on supporting Uganda’s institutions achieve better outcomes for its citizens. In the five years which follow these elections, WFD has a lot more to contribute.

The great positive we’ve found in our current programme on gender inequality is that politicians of all parties are committed to tracking the implementation of existing laws and policies.

This presents a big opportunity for the Parliament, which can be strengthened as an institution by improving its post-legislative scrutiny function. Better accountability and oversight of broader human rights issues, the justice system and the sound management of public finances are obvious next steps.

Gender equality and women’s empowerment will remain a central focus of our operations in Uganda. But we hope that the positive changes adopted in this area can spread good governance across all areas of public policy, and trickle down to local government officials and civil society too. WFD can use its strong relationships with the Speaker, UWOPA and key international stakeholders to work to strengthen the newly-elected Parliament across all these areas.

WFD’s relationships

That means partnering with both national and international organisations like WFD which want to work in Uganda for the long-term. We’re committed to remaining in the country and continuing the work we’ve started after our current programme ends in December 2016.

Whether it’s strengthening local and national parliaments’ policy oversight, holding the government to account, strengthening representation, or encouraging more citizen participation in fostering change, our work contributes towards our overall vision: a Uganda where inclusive and effective democratic governance makes a real difference towards citizens’ lives across the country.

Our approach applies whoever emerges on top in these elections. What matters is that Uganda is changing – and WFD stands ready to work with Uganda’s politicians, civil society and citizens to help them shape their country’s future.

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