Developing a disability policy in Georgia

Dr Michael Wardlow, Chief Commissioner at the Equality Commission in Northern Ireland, reflects on his time in Georgia as part of Westminster Foundation for Democracy’s Multi-Party Office work with the DUP. 

Last week, I was privileged to be part of a small delegation to Georgia, funded by WFD, to take part in a workshop on the development of a disabilities policy for the Georgian government. This is the second time I have been a guest of that most beautiful place, where hospitality to the foreigner is not simply aspirational but is received as something very practical.

From beginning to end, Paula Bradley (DUP Member of the Legislative Assembly for Belfast North) Thomas Hogg (DUP local councilor for Belfast North) and myself were treated as friends and colleagues and not “experts” from somewhere parachuted in for a few days. For this, we are extremely thankful as we came as “outsiders” but left as good friends and allies.

There is an old Georgian proverb that translates roughly as “The right balance depends on the weigher”. In other words, how we value people depends on our view of the world.

However we treat our fellow human beings, it remains a fact that those living on the margins of society, the people who are disabled by physical conditions or social attitudes, tend to have to struggle to be treated equally. This situation has no geographical limitations.

Numbers of those affected by such conditions are notoriously difficult to obtain in any jurisdiction so it is not surprising that although only 3% of Georgian citizens hold “disabled status”, it has been estimated that about one in eleven Georgians are actually living with a disabling condition (GeoStat Census, 2014).

During the workshop we heard a presentation from GeoWel, of their recent survey detailing the situation relating to disability in Georgia. It was an extremely challenging experience to be given this insight into the daily lives of many Georgian citizens, those “differently abled”, who face huge challenges simply to access services or employment.

The survey highlighted five areas of concern, including status and statistics, perceptions and stigma, children, physical infrastructure and education and support for those living with disabilities. I could equally apply all five to the place I call home.

Georgia operates on a medical model of disability, an approach that tends to allow “hidden disabilities”, such as Down’s syndrome or Autism, to be overlooked, unless they are linked to a physical or mental health condition.

Over the two days, it became clear that all the delegates believed that this basis of assessment needs to be changed to a human rights centred, social model. It was also self-evident that there is a passionate conviction to make real change in Georgia for those living with disabling conditions, a view held equally by Government, public sector colleagues and NGOs. Such a shared vision, in my view, is unusual and is to be commended and supported.

Those of us who came from Northern Ireland were given ample time to present reflections on our own experiences of addressing disability, including Paula on the role of the legislature in creating policy, Thomas on the role of local authorities and myself – examining the need to ensure that equality and human rights principles underpin any disability legislation.

WFD played an essential role supporting the Georgian partners in taking this initiative forward and it was clear that their ongoing non-directional approach was both appropriate as well as beneficial to those involved. There was a clear desire to continue and indeed extend the partnership beyond this project.

So, we left with memories of passionate people, who together want to make real change to the lives of almost 400,000 Georgians who face daily challenges. We all believe that we are more than the sum total of our parts and experiences and that it is in coming together and standing alongside those on society’s margins that we best demonstrate our shared humanity.

 

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Active transparency and trust in parliament

By WFD Director of Research Graeme Ramshaw

The WFD Research Programme has been investigating citizens’ trust in parliament both in partnership with the UK House of Commons and through its work on the Western Balkans Regional Openness Index with ActionSEE. We found that the picture is neither as rosy nor as gloomy as others contend.

In September 2017, the Open Government Partnership (OGP) published a reported entitled “Trust: The Fight to Win It Back” reflecting the international community’s growing concern about the disconnect between citizens and their governments. The report’s content is rich, and I won’t attempt to summarise it here, but the underlying premise for many of the authors was the prominence of transparency in the quest for improved citizen trust. Now, I’m not about to argue on the side of less transparency, but I think that in the context of the institutions with which WFD works the reality is more complex.

First, there is an issue with presenting trust as a principal objective for parliaments and political parties. Parties are partisan entities and by their very nature will only be trusted by those who align with the party’s platform. Trying to gain the trust of more of the citizenry may dilute the important function that parties serve in aggregating specific interests. This is distinct, of course, from individual politicians being trustworthy, and there is ample evidence that citizens can hold diverging opinions on the integrity of their specific MP versus the institutions to which he or she belongs (Costa et al., 2012; Davis, 2009).

Parliaments find garnering trust equally difficult. They are designed as fora of debate, making partisan ‘bickering’ a feature rather than anomaly of their function. In an era of growing political polarisation, this makes trust an increasingly rare commodity. Indeed, evidence from the World Values Survey suggests that parliamentary trust generally hovers around 40% in established democracies, with very little movement either way. Interestingly, trust in parliaments in authoritarian regimes is significantly higher, also bringing into question the validity of trust as an indicator for democratic legislatures.

On the extent to which transparency leads to trust, there also remains no clear consensus. Recent evidence finds that in several countries, the more citizens know about the workings of parliament as an institution, the less they trust it or are satisfied by it (Hansard Society, 2017). This has led some scholars to openly question the link between transparency and trust: “Not only have MPs never worked so hard, but also transparency has never been so high and there has never been so much information or access to parliament. What is more, decline in trust in parliament depends more on variables external to parliament than on what parliament actually does. However, as collective, visible and accountable institutions, parliaments are destined to be unloved” (Leston-Bandeira, 2012, p. 525).

While trust in political institutions is likely to remain elusive, we can encourage greater engagement and satisfaction of citizens through transparency efforts. But the quality of that transparency matters. Passive transparency, the publication of data, proceedings, and other documentation without description or explanation, is insufficient, and in worst cases, can be manipulated by those seeking to undermine trust in democratic institutions—a point acknowledged in the OGP report.

What is needed instead is active transparency where parliaments and political parties are not only open about their activities but actively communicate the rationale, purpose, and outcome of these activities. Parliamentary communications remains a nascent field at present, but its development is necessary to ensure that open data initiatives progress beyond merely presenting material to creating genuine citizen access. WFD through our partnership with OGP and others looks forward to supporting this transition and the emergence of truly open parliaments and political parties.

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Increasing openness of institutions in the Western Balkans

On 16 November, Westminster Foundation for Democracy (WFD) launched a Regional Road Map on Good Governance for the Western Balkans to support democratic institutions in Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo, Macedonia, Montenegro and Serbia become more transparent and accountable.

Since 2015, according to polling by the Policy Association for an Open Society, public trust in national institutions in the Western Balkans has declined. Improving the accountability of institutions, including the executive, legislative, judiciary and local branches of government through better access to information can help reverse this trend. This is fundamental for democracy to succeed in the region.

Operating as part of a consortium in partnership with ActionSEE (Accountability, Technology and Institutional Openness Network in South-eastern Europe), WFD shares parliamentary best practice on transparency and openness to support the development of tools that will help legislators implement the roadmap.

The Regional Openness Index – Towards national roadmaps for greater transparency

Between July and December 2016, the ActionSEE consortium developed a Regional Openness Index to measure how transparent governments in the Western Balkans are and how easy it is for citizens to access information. Assessments, based on international standards, were conducted to identify systematic problems related to transparency in the six partner countries. Criteria included:

  • How easy it is to access information through official websites
  • The quality of legal frameworks related to transparency initiatives
  • Existing procedures for the routine publication of information of public interest

Following assessment, individual country road maps with recommendations actions were produced. These are addressed to the executive, legislative, judiciary and local branches of government in each country.

Implementing the Regional Roadmap

 The Regional Road Map brings together each individual country action plan and provides high-level recommendations. These include adopting a national policy of openness at the executive level, the routine publication of parliamentary voting records, updated court websites and more timely release of local authority information. Taken together, these steps have the potential to transform the perception of how transparent and efficient Western Balkans institutions are.

Working at regional level, the Foundation aims at accelerating the transition to greater accountability. Over the next three years, the Regional Openness Index will be updated on annually to help citizens and institutions track progress towards transparency in the region. Updated country and regional road maps with action plans for institutions will be developed based on the revised scoring.

The Foundation has been working at regional level in the Western Balkans since 2012, primarily by supporting the Network of Parliamentary Committees on Economy, Finance and European Integration of Western Balkans (NPC). Through the NPC, WFD helped establish the region’s first ever Parliamentary Budget Office in Serbia in 2015, which was quickly followed by a counterpart in Montenegro the following year.

 

(Photo: Action SEE network presents country road maps to parliamentarians of the Western Balkan region.)
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WFD and UK Government support reform of Macedonia’s parliament

On 15 September, Westminster Foundation for Democracy (WFD) and the UK Embassy to Macedonia launched an enhanced partnership with the Assembly of the Republic of Macedonia.

The partnership will support an agenda of reforms to ensure parliament fulfills its role of representing the people and holding the executive to account following a time when public confidence in democratic institutions was low.

The Freedom House overall democracy score in Macedonia has been steadily deteriorating since 2011. In spring 2017 only 5% of Macedonian’s felt that the political situation was peaceful and stable in response to prolonged  crisis and violence in the parliamentary building. However, according to a new International  Republican Institute survey in August the percentage increased to 44%, following the formation of a new government.

While recognising this increase in optimism, the Assembly has decided to undertake internal reforms to regain and retain public confidence.

WFD has been present in Macedonia continuously since 2008, working with the parliament and civil society organisations. The Foundation currently works to strengthen engagement between civil society, state agencies and decision-makers to improve public policy and enhance transparency.

The new programme, funded by the UK Government, and implemented by WFD will support reform initiatives led by the offices of the Speaker and Secretary-General, including:

1. Assisting in developing budget, strategic planning and human resources capacity.
2. Enhancing financial oversight through detailed assessments and implementation of recommendations.
3. Improving the culture of openness and transparency through improved internal and external communications.

Working closely with parliamentary groups, staff and the media, the programme will produce recommendations, strategies and plans to improve the performance of the Macedonian parliament as the central institution of democracy in the country.

Better planning, monitoring and communications will help  build citizens’ trust and, in the long term, improve the quality of democratic governance.

Launching the new partnership, President of the Assembly, Mr. Talat Xhaferi, said:

“With this Memorandum of Understanding, we renew and continue the cooperation with the UK and the Westminster Foundation for Democracy. The signing of this Memorandum demonstrates commitment to democracy and the rule of law, and above everything, strengthening of the function, the role and the responsibility of the Assembly as a legislative body which is directly elected by the citizens.”

Charles Edmund Garrett, UK Ambassador to Macedonia, said:

“The UK will continue to support Macedonia in its reforms for democracy and rule of law. As long as you see NATO and EU accession as strategic goals for enhancement of your stability, security and progress, we will support you in this regard. Our countries share the same interest in theses aspects.”

The Ambassador also noted that the timing of the programme launch could not be better as it coincided with the International Day for Democracy.

Attending the launch, Anthony Smith, WFD Chief Executive, added:

“In every country, democracy needs to be built every day, that democracy needs to be refreshed every day, and that democracy needs to be re-energised every day.  For that, we need strong, inclusive and open institutions of democracy – parliaments, judiciary, audit authorities. We also need active and engaged civil society, and an open and free media. Democracy is everyone’s responsibility”.

 (Photo: Charles Edmund Garrett, UK Ambassador to Macedonia, Talat Xhaferi, President of the Assembly of Macedonia and Anthony Smith, WFD Chief Executive sign memorandum of understanding.)
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What does power asymmetry mean for decentralisation?

Graeme Ramshaw, Director of Research and Evaluation

An organic milk factory in the rural heartland of Ukraine may seem an unusual place to contemplate the impact of power asymmetries. However, on the way to a workshop on the local experience of decentralisation, I witnessed a sense of physical exclusion that was connected to a feeling of political disempowerment among participants.

This location provided the perfect opportunity to reflect on the forms of power asymmetry identified in the 2017 World Development Report: exclusion, capture and clientelism.

We were greeted by the local mayor, newly elected following the process of community amalgamation that was the subject of our visit. He was clearly proud of his town but also acutely aware of its limitations and challenges. There were ambitions among the local council to use decentralisation as a means of reducing the impact of exclusion, but this would not be a simple endeavour. Early evidence from surveys in Ukraine suggest that initial reforms are improving service delivery and increasing citizen trust in local government. Yet, despite this progress, the process of decentralisation remains incomplete, with key legislation stalled in the national parliament.

The main stumbling block for decentralisation in Ukraine is clearly the conflict in the east. The process has now become linked with the implementation of the Minsk II Agreement, meaning that action in any direction is bound to alienate either the Russians or significant sections of the Ukrainian public who don’t wish to see any concessions made to the separatist regions. Below these context-specific headlines, however, the political manoeuvrings around the rollout of existing decentralisation legislation are all too familiar and illustrate two further elements of power asymmetry explored by the WDR17: capture and clientelism.

There is a temptation among development actors to perceive decentralisation as principally a technical exercise, to be addressed through the provision of capacity-building. Ukraine’s experience suggests another approach is needed. While there is undoubtedly a need for expertise in local structures to manage the new financial and service provision responsibilities, the main obstacles to the institutionalisation of decentralised governance are largely political. Different sides of the debate believe that the other is trying to capture the decentralisation process. Proponents of decentralisation see the government’s plan to appoint ‘prefects’ as local executives as a power grab by the central state, designed to undermine local power. By contrast, critics of decentralisation argue that local elites will or have already captured the existing financial decentralisation process and are undermining efforts to reduce inequality and exclusion. Reconciling these competing visions will require political, as well as technical, support.

But this is complicated by the kinds of clientelism highlighted in the WDR17. At the local level, Ukrainian politics is dominated by prominent individuals who shop around for a political party with which to campaign, based on likelihood of victory not ideology. As such, the relationship for constituents operates at a personal rather than party institutional level, facilitating the formation of patron-client linkages. Many of these emerging leaders are likely to play a prominent role in the 2019 elections. At the national level, politics is immensely expensive, not only excluding vast swathes of the population but also distorting the incentives of politicians once in office. A WFD report on the cost of politics in Ukraine found that while the situation was improving from its nadir in 2012, there is still a long way to go. In the past, the Ukrainian legislature has passed a modest number of relatively well thought-out laws that were supposed to prevent the spread of political corruption in the country. Unfortunately, many of them were never implemented.

This is a common theme in Ukraine. The parliamentary culture is very legalistic, with even minor changes to process or policy requiring legislative action. WFD’s recent work providing research and evidence to the parliamentary committee on local self-government is likely to result in a flurry of bills; the extent to which they will be implemented in is less clear.

So what about decentralisation in Ukraine in the coming years? The mood on the ground is mixed. Local and international actors are pleased with the progress made on fiscal decentralisation and the community amalgamation process that has begun. There are concerns, however, that even these gains are under threat as the 2019 elections approach. As long as the outstanding constitutional amendments remain stalled, the sustainability of Ukraine’s reforms seems tenuous. Those looking to move the process forward will need to operate within the tight confines of international diplomacy dictated by the Minsk II Agreement. But they will also have to consider the power asymmetries that operate beneath this top-level, whose influence is likely to play a far greater role in determining whether even the existing decentralisation reforms will last.

 

(Photo: embroidery festival and organic milk factory in a local community outside of Kyiv, Ukraine)
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Follow the money: how we helped establish a watchdog in Mozambique

Democracy can help contrast corruption and enable fair distribution of resource by making information about government accounts available to the public. This is why we are working with the parliament of Mozambique to help them monitor spending.

The country is developing very rapidly by tapping into a wealth of natural resources such as gas. Revenues must be accounted for and used wisely to improve the lives of Mozambicans.

WFD is uniquely placed to deliver high quality technical support in this field:

  • Our work to help establish parliamentary budget offices in the Western Balkans is one of our greatest achievements to date and encouraged other countries to adopt similar initiatives.
  • We partnered with the Scrutiny Unit in the Westminster Parliament and the Financial Scrutiny Unit in the Scottish Parliament to share UK experience providing technical analysis.

The importance of setting up a body to monitor public money in Mozambique was identified in various evaluations, especially following the International Monetary Fund debt scandal that emerged in 2013.

Initially, the office will focus on providing technical analysis of the Budget as well as studies on national economy issues including public debt.
At the centre of our approach is encouraging learning between similar institutions that WFD helped establish over recent years.

Practices and expertise from countries such as the UK are not all immediately replicable and, for new watchdogs to succeed, a change in culture is necessary. This requires time and support from other institutions nationally and internationally.

“Many parliaments in the world have this technical support mechanism and this leads to positive parliamentary performance in the oversight of public finances, so I think that Mozambique is not an island and has to be part of the world.”

Moisés Mondlane, Technical Cabinet staff

In April, we brought together the Serbian Parliamentary Budget Office and the technical unit responsible for economic analysis in the legislative assembly of Mozambique for a workshop in Maputo.

Comparing notes with Serbian colleagues was something the Mozambican experts found very useful. Abdala Luís, a local trainee with the technical unit commented: “Our colleague from Serbia has shown us the main ways to produce quality analyses that will impress in a positive way our MPs and make us a credible unit. We learned that infographics are the best products to show our MPs; they do not have much text, instead focusing on graphics and some description that is appropriate for MPs’ use, as Members do not have time to read much.”

No matter where in the world you are working on financial analysis, similar challenges emerge. As Nenad Jevtovic from the Serbian parliament explains: “A common problem is how to attract the attention of MPs”. Crunching numbers submitted to parliament for approval in a timely manner is also very important to the success of newly established budget offices.

Serbian researchers helped their peers by suggesting a possible way forward: “It is very important to work step-by-step. In the first five months [of the programme], the Technical Cabinet should develop basic reports and infographics on budgetary analysis. After five months trainees will start to prepare detailed analysis on fiscal and economic issues,” Mr Jevtovic explained.

“Our goal is to provide technical support to the Committees to effectively carry out the public financial oversight of the Executive,” commented Mr. Atanásio Chacanane, Director of the Technical Cabinet. “The Technical Cabinet will provide better service to Members and its impact will benefit Mozambican society,” he continued.

Moisés Mondlane, staff of the Technical Cabinet added: ‘This unit will help MPs make sure that allocated resources are being used properly. Many parliaments in the world have this technical support mechanism and this leads to positive parliamentary performance in the oversight of public finances, so I think that Mozambique is not an island and has to be part of the world.’

The WFD Mozambique mission, which helped establish a Parliamentary Study Centre in 2011, is now focusing on support for Mozambican parliamentary staff to help legislators follow the money and in this way, help all ordinary Mozambicans benefit from economic growth.

(Photo: Nenad Jevtovic, a researcher from WFD supported Parliamentary Budget Office in Serbia, shares his experience providing analysis to MPs with counterparts in Mozambique.)
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Building citizens trust through openness and engagement

May 2017 saw the arrival in Kyiv of over 300 people from 52 countries interested in parliamentary openness. The Global Legislative Openness Conference was a two-day event, hosted by the Ukrainian Parliament and organised by the Legislative Openness Working Group of the Open Government Partnership and the Open Parliament Initiative in Ukraine. WFD participated through its senior staff from the UK, Sri Lanka and Serbia, and by supporting the presence of parliamentary delegations from Uganda, Kenya, Montenegro, Jordan, Morocco and Ghana.

The conference opened with an inspiring key-note address on “envisioning a democratic renaissance”, by Rt. Hon. Francis Maude, former Minister in the Cabinet Office (UK) and former co-chair of the OGP Steering Committee.

The first panel discussion on “parliaments, trust and openness” discussed recent studies which are questioning a direct link between parliamentary openness and public trust in parliament. As greater openness of the institution will also reveal the deeply diverging views among politicians and expose corruption risks, it was concluded that greater openness only contributes to increasing public trust in parliament if it is accompanied by greater accountability of political leaders and parliamentarians, and broader possibilities for the public to engage in the parliamentary activities including by providing views and proposals related to legislative and oversight initiatives of parliament.

(Above: The plenary hall in the Ukraine Rada – a unique and history-marked setting to discuss openness)

The session on Parliaments and OGP discussed the best practices in compiling an Open Parliament Action Plan, highlighting the case of Georgia. The Georgian Parliament is currently finalising its second Action Plan on openness, based on close cooperation between parliament and CSOs. It is a good example of putting in to practice the Open Government Partnership’s new legislative engagement policy, which outlines how parliaments can develop and implement legislative openness plans and commitments.

One of the highlights of the conference was the session on Technology, Disinformation and Fake News. Digital innovations and social media provide not only avenues for citizens to engage with their governments. They also provide a public platform for disinformation campaigns. The speakers at this session gave concrete and scary examples of recent campaigns of disinformation and the impact on political decision making. The Governance Director of NDI launched an urgent appeal for parliamentarians to inform themselves on the issue and pressure their governments to act.

A large part of the conference took place in the plenary hall of Ukraine’s Rada, which provided a unique and history-marked setting for discussions on openness. It thus had some significance when the former President of the European Parliament and former politician from Ireland Pat Cox gave a keynote address at the Rada, highlighting the democratic transition in Ukraine and welcoming new anti-corruption legislation. He quoted one of the EU’s founding fathers, Jean Monnet, who said: “nothing is possible without people; nothing lasts without institutions”, thus calling for a stronger role of parliaments in the governance of democratic states.

(Above: WFD sponsored the participation of parliamentary delegations from Uganda, Kenya, Montenegro, Jordan, Morocco and Ghana to participate in the Global Legislative Openness Conference)

The founder of “Code for Pakistan” gave an in-depth presentation on how digital innovation can streamline government service delivery and citizens’ responsiveness. The director of “mySociety” (UK), of the Information Development System of the Italian Senate and of the Moldova Open Government Institute each presented new tools for parliaments on open data.

WFD’s input to the Global Legislative Openness Conference took shape during the session on open budgets, where the WFD Senior Governance Adviser shared the work of the Western Balkans Network of Parliamentary Committees on oversight of international funds (Instrument of Pre-Accession) and on the involvement of CSOs in the budget process in Georgia. He highlighted the preliminary findings of the new research by six CSOs from the Western Balkans and WFD in designing the Regional Openness Index for the Western Balkans.

The conference delivered a rare opportunity to share and benefit from common experience, to find out of fresh trends in legislative transparency, and to learn more about the best ICT tools for public participation. Open and transparent parliaments can contribute immensely to effective democratic governance and at WFD we will look at how best to incorporate the emerging themes into our future parliamentary programmes.

 

(Top: Rt. Hon. Francis Maude, former Minister in the Cabinet Office (UK) and former co-chair of the OGP Steering Committee opens the conference with a key-note address on “envisioning a democratic renaissance”.)
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UK MP’s constituency work inspires Ukrainian MPs to engage with public

“It  was extremely interesting and useful to learn more about how British MPs work in their constituencies”, says Yuri Levchenko, Member of Parliament in Ukraine’s Verkhovna Rada (VRU) reflecting on his experience in the Westminster Foundation for Democracy exchange programme.

By bringing together Ukrainian MPs with their UK counterparts, the programme aimed to motivate new MPs in Ukraine to move away from the poor practices of the old Parliament. “One of my priority goals as a politician is to increase the general public’s trust towards Ukrainian politicians”, Mr Levchenko added.

Partnering with the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Ukraine (Westminster) and the UK-Ukraine Friendship Group, the programme engaged a group of 5 Ukrainian MPs from different political groups. Ukrainian MPs were twinned with a cross-party group of Westminster MPs and witnessed parliamentary life in Westminster as well as the work of UK MPs in their constituencies. Policies relevant to the Ukrainian MPs political interest were also explored as part of the visit.

“As a member of the Budget Committee, I was particularly impressed by the level of legislative oversight in select committees”, Mr Levchenko reports. “All these matters are dealt with differently in the Verkhovna Rada. I believe the standards of Westminster are far more preferable”, stresses Yurii.

The innovative approach mixing institutional access and peer-to-peer support allows for on-going discussion and mentoring between the members of parliament. Initial feedback from the MPs involved points to successful outcomes. The WFD programme has, in the words of Ukrainian MP Nataliya Katser-Buchowska, “established a solid platform for further dialogue between parliamentarians in our respective countries”. It allows an “in-depth understanding on how discussions within the British parliamentary committees are conducted”, she added.

Viktor Halasiuk, head of the VRU Committee for Industrial Policy and Entrepreneurship, reported that observing “the unique combination of stable traditions and rapid development and adaptiveness” was a useful model that he will take back to Ukraine. The Committee’s legislative and oversight operations have now been enhanced through increased outsourcing of research support and tighter oversight mechanisms that Mr Halasiuk was exposed to in the UK. This can been seen through the Committee’s work on draft legislation for small and medium-sized business and the regulation for processing timber.

The success of the pilot program in Ukraine has allowed expansion of the buddying-style scheme in other countries, to which WFD brings the British experience through parliamentary support programmes. Over time, we hope this will encourage behavioural change among a wide range of parliamentary and related participants. Strengthened parliamentary capacity is essential for achieving effective governance changes globally.

(Photo: l to r: Jeffrey Donaldson MP; Sergei Alieksieiev MP; Yuri Levchenko MP; Philip Davies MP; HE Natalia Galibarenko, Ambassador of Ukraine to the UK; Sir Gerald Howarth, Chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Ukraine; Natalya Katser-Buchkovska MP; Jonathan Djanogly MP)
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Access to politics: Cost as a barrier

Encouraging broader political participation has been a cornerstone of international democracy support since its early days.

This has involved working to reduce barriers to entry to politics often based on gender, age, ethnicity, and other contextual factors. Over the past decade, however, an emergent barrier that has received less attention is the cost of politics.

The more expensive a political system is, the less accessible it becomes, and therefore the less representative and accountable. And the global evidence suggests that the costs for individuals moving from private life to public office are increasing, sometimes substantially. This means those with limited access to resources, such as the poor and many women and youth, cannot participate in the political process.

Moreover, in a country where the cost of politics is high, candidates pay large amounts of money in exchange for their constituents’ support and, in many cases, incur great amounts of debt to cover their expenses. Once in office, many will be tempted to take advantage of their access to state resources to pay their debts and, eventually, to finance their reelection – thus spiraling a vicious cycle of corruption.

To address the problem of the increasing cost of politics, countries need to examine their political systems and bring about the necessary changes through cross-party consensus. This is unlikely to happen unless stakeholders find means to break the pattern of incentives for candidates to spend vast amounts of money to get elected and maintain their seats once in office.

Given the detrimental consequences a high cost of politics can have on the democratic development of a country, WFD wants to contribute to addressing this problem through a three-staged approach:

  1. Conducting robust research on the drivers of the increasing cost of politics and encouraging dialogue among relevant stakeholders to discuss findings and conclusions
  2. Supporting multiple cross-party working groups to agree on what changes can be made in the political system to create greater affordability, transparency and accountability
  3. Providing flexible support to political parties, parliaments and executive bodies in the implementation of reforms necessary to address the causes of the increasing cost of politics
(Photo: Campaigning for President Magufuli’s 2015 win in Tanzania)

WFD is currently working on the first stage of this long-term strategy. After doing background studies in 2016 on the cost of politics in Ghana, Nigeria, Uganda, Kyrgyzstan, Macedonia, and Ukraine, WFD is now conducting a six-month long primary research study on the cost of politics in Ghana.

WFD is implementing this project with funding from DFID’s Strengthening Action Against Corruption (STAAC) Initiative and with the assistance of the Ghana Center for Democratic Development (CDD). The study seeks to understand how the incentives and constraints that shape the behavior of constituents, political parties, candidates, and sitting MPs in Ghana before, during and after election periods can help explain the increase in the cost of politics in the country and inform strategies to develop a more affordable and accountable political system.

The research study will include survey questionnaires with 300 parliamentary candidates, both successful and unsuccessful, as well as key-informant interviews with political party representatives, traditional chiefs, and members of civil society. By interviewing a wide array of stakeholders, WFD seeks to gain a comprehensive understanding of the dynamics of Ghana’s political system.

The study will be completed by July 2017. Its findings and conclusions will inform a national dialogue conference that will bring together stakeholders to discuss the implications of the increasing cost of politics to the development of Ghanaian democracy and to seek a consensus on how to change the pattern of incentives that is currently driving up costs.

This research study is the first comprehensive in-depth assessment of the cost of participating in politics conducted in Ghana. WFD hopes to replicate it in other countries and eventually draw conclusions that can improve the donor’s community understanding of political incentives and inform future programming on democracy strengthening.

More information on our Cost of Politics research is available here

(Top photo: A women casts her vote in the Ghanaian Presidential elections in December 2016)
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Kyrgyzstan: Launching KLAP to support Local Self-Governance

(Above: Local councillors work together on a group task at a WFD organised induction for new councillors in Naryn City Council, Kyrgyzstan)

Local self-government systems are intended to bring power and decision-making closer to citizens and communities. As in many other post-Soviet countries, the Kyrgyz systems of local self-government have existed since independence in various forms.

Westminster Foundation for Democracy’s new Kyrgyzstan Local Accountability Programme (KLAP) aims to support local councils to overcome governance issues. KLAP supports three local city councils in the Kyrgyz Republic: Batken, Naryn and Balychy.

The programme provides a comprehensive approach working with officers, councillors and communities in these localities to increase capacities to deliver good governance and local services. In addition to the provision of direct support to the pilot cities, our programme engages the Union of Local Self-Government as the national body representing local councils across the country in the capital, Bishkek, to enhance the voice of local government with national level institutions. The approach was designed by WFD in close cooperation with UK local government experts, working together with the Local Government Association of England and Wales (LGA).

Traditionally, WFD programmes in Europe and Central Asia have focused on providing support to governance institutions at national level, and not without good reason. Following the fall of the Berlin Wall, national parliaments took a central role in the governance of their respective countries for the first time. Over the course of the last quarter century, national parliaments and other central government institutions have become the focus of political life yet there are other features of government which should not be ignored, like decentralisation and devolution. Following the tight central control of communist regimes, the challenges of taking decision making and political power closer to communities is not a small one.

Fully launched in January 2017, KLAP has initially provide support to the staff of councils in pilot cities to deliver induction trainings and orientation to their newly elected councillors, following elections which took place in December. This seeks to overcome one of the central issues identified during our assessments, that councillors have limited knowledge of their roles and responsibilities when coming to office. The format of support followed a formula pioneered by WFD in Georgia, following their parliamentary election in October 2016. Rather than the traditional formula of an induction designed and implemented directly by a donor agency, we work with councils so they have the resources and capacities to deliver an effective induction themselves.

For the first time, in February 2017, each of the three councils implemented inductions for their new councillors – constituting 65-70% of council membership with people coming from a variety of backgrounds. Having never been involved in local government before, the inductions providing sessions around the role of the councillor, how the council operates, and engaging with local societies, among others, were implemented by council staff, in each of the three cities. One of the key areas of training has been to increase the new councillor’s familiarity with the local budget process, how it operates and their role in that process. Passing the councils new budget, alongside electing executive mayors, is one of the first items on the agenda.

Throughout the induction process, WFD has engaged representatives of the Union of Local Self-Government as well as State Agency on Self-government Affairs, as two bodies charged with the provision of support to local councils and regional development.

Going forward, KLAP will continue to deliver tailormade capacity building support to the three city councils. It will provide opportunities for councillors to engage with their peers, discuss issues of mutual interest and exchange ideas and good practices. It will support councillors to enhance their direct engagement with local communities and align service delivery with real needs and desires. Working with the LGA, the programme will see the role of the Union of Local Self-Government enhance to represent local government to state-level institutions. KLAP will be implemented initially until 2019 and has potential to expand its beneficiaries.

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