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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The question of modernising democracy

(Above: George Kunnath, WFD’s Regional Director – Europe and Central Asia, signs agreement with the Verkhovna Rada in Ukraine to mark beginning of partnership with WFD in November 2015 )

George Kunnath, Regional Director – Europe and Central Asia

Having a democratic constitution does not mean you have a democracy. Having all the expected laws and rules does not mean you have a democracy.

More than ever we agree that a true democracy is about the culture and values that each of us as individuals live by. And this is why the advancement of democracy is progressive – it takes a long period of time for culture to become embedded.

The collapse of the Soviet Union and the breakup of Yugoslavia in the early nineties gave a great expectation that Eastern Europe would see democracy flourish. However, the Economist Democracy Index 2016, highlighted Eastern Europe as the worst performer in a world where democracy is regressing. Eastern Europe and the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) now have more nondemocratic countries than democratic ones, being home to 15 ‘hybrid’ or ‘authoritarian’ regimes and 13 ‘flawed democracies’.

While this assessment could be discouraging, it is worth noting that most Eastern European citizens, especially young people, want more democracy. They understand that what they have experienced was not democracy at its best, but in some cases a flawed democracy at its worst.

The rise of elites who have used influence, wealth and corruption to capture emerging democratic states has led to the feeling that democracy doesn’t belong to all, nor does it benefit all. When the elite or powerful ruling parties disregard the rule of law and undermine independent institutions this further erodes the foundations of a democratic society.

It should, however, be noted that a democratic system is individual to each country. The challenge has been less about having a democratic constitution and more about how we should work out the democratic principles enshrined on the paper. This gets even more complicated due to the hybrid nature of most political systems. Most countries in Eastern Europe and the Western Balkans run on semi-presidential systems which tend to produce strong leaders who exert considerable influence over parliament, to the detriment of effective oversight and accountability.

Much can be achieved if political parties, parliaments, civil society and citizens uphold the rule of law, the independence of democratic institutions and hold government to account. In so doing we can overcome the ethnic and economic divisions that populist politicians exploit.

Westminster Foundation for Democracy (WFD) was established in 1992 to support emerging democracies in Eastern Europe. That mandate grew to a global mandate, but is still very relevant to Eastern Europe today. WFD’s field presence in the Europe and Central Asia Region, has grown to nine countries. As we continue our work in a region that has seen setbacks and regression, we intend to focus on four key approaches:

Moving from personality to policy

Developing political parties that are policy-driven, not personality-driven. This is an important shift needed to create sustainable and long lasting membership based political parties. In Kosovo, we are offering a unique demand led approach to political party support.

Engagement and inclusion

Increasing the participation of women and youth only strengthens the democratic culture and enriches democracy. We intend to build on our successful ‘promoting women in politics’ programme in Bosnia and Herzegovina, to help parliaments and parties become more inclusive by sharing lessons across the region.

Oversight, accountability and respect for the rule of law

The volume of legislation being passed by parliaments in the region is amazing. Much of the legislation has to do with harmonisation with EU regulations. However, very little effort is given to oversight. A growing number of requests from parliaments relates to how they can conduct effective post-legislative scrutiny. 50% of our programmes in Europe and Central Asia now focus on financial oversight.

Modernising democracy

We have come to realise that certain practices within parliaments hamper the effectiveness of the institutions to deliver and to become inclusive and representative. We intend to support parliaments modernise by exposing them to simple transformative practices from other parliaments in the UK and Europe.

Democratic change is too large a programme for one organisation to deliver on. WFD will continue to value collaboration and partnerships as we move forward.

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How WFD helps fight corruption around the world

By working to increase the accountability of both parliaments and political parties, Westminster Foundation for Democracy is helping establish the conditions where corrupt politicians and officials find it hard to flourish.

Corruption, according to the Department for International Development, is “often a symptom of wider governance dynamics and is likely to thrive in conditions where accountability is weak”.

That makes WFD a part of the solution to the issues being grappled with in Prime Minister David Cameron’s Global Anti-Corruption Summit taking place this week. World leaders, business figures and civil society representatives are coming together to agree a package of practical steps to expose corruption, punish the perpetrators and drive out the culture of corruption. It’s by addressing the latter that WFD makes its contribution.

“Instead of being a source of the problem,” Chief Executive Anthony Smith says, “parliaments and political parties – both vital for a healthy, functioning democracy – can make the transition to being a source of momentum in tackling corruption, often with WFD’s support.”

Where there are parliaments and parliamentarians that want to make a difference, WFD shares practices from Britain and elsewhere which can work. Take Ukraine, where corruption often tops the list of public critiques facing the parliament. WFD, in partnership with GIZ, has helped launch a Financial and Economic Analysis Office with the Verkhovna Rada to ensure that MPs have better access to information and can make evidence-based decisions about public spending.

Parliaments and MPs face a reputational challenge of their own in countries around the world. The UK has learned a lot about the need for transparency and handling personal finances, as the 2009 expenses scandal showed. We also understand that in some countries, parties require payments for individuals to become candidates. In others, parliamentarians are often expected to support their constituents because public services are poor. We can work with reformers to help introduce better systems and tackle behaviours that shield corrupt behaviours. Our inductions for new MPs – like the induction we carried out in Kyrgyzstan last autumn – are examples of this.

WFD also helps build the ability and responsibility of parliaments and political parties to tackle these systemic issues effectively. In Iraq, we are encouraging cooperation between the Integrity Commissions based in Baghdad and Erbil.

Often this work involves brokering relationships. “Lack of skills in building good relationship with law enforcement agencies is preventing us from implementing our follow-up efforts appropriately,” Mr Bassim Jasim Hajwal, Director General of the National Integrity Commission in Iraq, says. “The Integrity Commission needs to strengthen our relationships with different organisations.” WFD offers assistance in this work.

Earlier this year Mr Hajwal and colleagues journeyed to Jakarta to learn about Indonesia’s reinvigorated anti-corruption efforts – an example of south-south learning facilitated by WFD. Later this month WFD will support the Indonesian Chapter of Global Organisation of Parliamentarians Against Corruption (GOPAC) to deliver a trial run of the best practice workbook they have developed to help parliaments tackle corruption. The regional event, organised with GOPAC, will allow parliamentarians from across South Asia, including Sri Lanka, Burma and Indonesia where WFD is developing country programmes, to test and refine the guidance.

More broadly, parliaments and political parties have an important role to play in championing an independent judiciary and enforcement of the rule of law. They perform a crucial task in supporting the main institutions that do anti-corruption work on the ground: the police forces, investigators, prosecutors and anti-corruption agencies. If there is evidence of state interference with independent probes, say, it is up to MPs and political parties to confront them.

Finally comes the responsibility of parliaments and political parties to listen to and honestly represent the views of citizens who overwhelmingly find corruption to be the source of many of their problems. In our programmes, we share with partners the importance of transparency – because even the best politicians working in a bad system will not be able to make a difference unless they can rely on public support. That only comes about if parliaments can provide an open understanding of the way in which the system is working.

Many of our programmes are taking positive steps in parliaments determined to respond to public opinion. Often public expectations can be met by setting up committees responsible for keeping an eye on where money is being spent. Our previous programme in Tunisia saw the establishment of a committee tasked with both financial scrutiny and anti-corruption work. Among its tasks was “recovery of the looted money, and the issues of managing the confiscated money and properties, as well as the auditing of public banks and public enterprises”. That set in stone MPs’ commitment to delivering more oversight and accountability to Tunisian citizens, which is taking place with WFD’s support.

‘No one can fight corruption alone’

WFD’s approach to programming aims to incorporate the very flexibility that is needed to develop effective approaches to combatting corruption. Context becomes essential when deciding how to combat corruption.

It’s clear that a one-size-fits-all approach will not end corrupt practice. As WFD’s University of Oxford post-doc Susan Dodsworth says: “Corruption is a product of the incentives people face. To eliminate corruption we need to change those incentives. We can only do this is if we understand the context that people are operating in, both at the micro and macro level.” That is why WFD’s country-specific context-analysis informs our programme design – and helps turn the UK’s goal of wiping out corruption around the world a reality.

Our aim is to deliver the multilateral approach called for by Senator Monsurat Sunmonu from Nigeria, who spoke passionately about how to eliminate corruption at our Westminster Community of Practice event back in March. Her key message was the need for a multilateral approach. “No one can fight corruption alone,” she said. “With technological advances and the development of a global economy the world has become a smaller place. No single country can legislate and succeed by itself.”

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Inducting new MPs in Kyrgyzstan: ‘I’m excited to use the knowledge I got’

It doesn’t matter which parliament you’ve been elected to – starting out as a new MP is always a disorienting experience. The induction training in Kyrgyzstan has helped a remarkably young intake get to grips with their important new roles.

Westminster Foundation for Democracy (WFD) is committed to helping Kyrgyzstan as it steadily develops its democracy. Our analysis of the state of multi-party politics, presented at a Bishkek event in September, showed that the evolution of the factions system remains a work in progress. After the election of the Sixth Convocation of the Parliament this autumn, there’s a real opportunity for some big steps forward.

A developing parliament, though, is all about the people inside it – and it’s clear the new arrivals are committed to making a difference. “For me as a pedagogue, and a person who always doubts and questions things, it is important to find the truth and act sincerely and correctly,” Evgeniya Strokova MP of the SDPK faction tells us. “So I’m looking forward to deliver good results of my work and feel excited about that.”

Above: Evgeniya Strokova MP of the SDPK faction

She and the other MPs who participated in the November 20-22 induction event removed themselves from their offices to a neutral venue where they could escape from the hustle and bustle of everyday politics. They received presentations and briefings on the functions and powers of Parliament, how Parliament interacts with the institutions of Government and how they, as new MPs, will fit in.

“The training is timely, because for new MPs it is important to perform in the Parliament in the right way,” the Bir Bol faction’s Lunara Mamytova MP tells us. Whatever their faction, all the new arrivals find themselves grappling with a very complex institution. Understanding the roles and functions of parliament, legislative processes, outreach work with the electorate, and mechanisms of cooperation with civil society: there’s certainly a lot for new MPs to get on with.

“Before being inducted it was really difficult for me as a new MP to understand the structure and work of the Parliament, regulations,” Aisulu Mamasheva MP of Ata Meken says. “We needed this training in order to perform well and I think we are prepared now to start to function as a qualified parliament.”

Above: Aisulu Mamasheva MP of Ata Meken faction

One experienced Kyrgyzstan politician, ProfessorZainidin Kurmanov, a former Speaker, says the 120-member Jogorku Kengesh is now at the stage of its development where experienced and dynamic specialists are essential. Induction trainings like this, he suggested, are becoming an established tradition. “We were developing quite fast over the last few years, and we need to keep that going,” he explains. “We cannot wait until people change and become mature. It would be great if the Sixth Convocation of the Parliament played an active role in changing people’s lives. If the parliament is proactive, there’s a chance for us to get out of the economic crisis and for the country to become more stable.”

Kyrgyzstan’s Jogorku Kengesh has changed a lot since it first met in 1991, but Prof. Kurmanov now believes the pace of change should be accelerated. “We need to move towards revolutionary changes, not evolutionary – we simply have no time for that and it would be even worse for us,” he adds. “The Parliament should lead the country towards positive changes and achieve our stated goals.”

WFD believes that supporting the secretariats of the factions, which face considerable challenges in fulfilling their roles and functions in a parliamentary system, is critical to this. Our analysis found there isn’t a strong link between a party’s manifesto and its behaviour in coalitions. Parliament continues to bear many hallmarks of a presidential majoritarian system as well as its Soviet legacy. The opposition in parliament, moreover, lacks the capacity it needs to provide really forceful scrutiny of the well-resourced majority coalition’s activities.

The new MPs at the induction event have a strong appetite for more assistance. “I would recommend you and other donor organisations facilitate meetings with factions and committees so that we can build up new dialogues and develop tools for effective work,” MP Emil Toktoshov of the Ata Meken faction, who says he “learned a lot” at the induction, urges. Aisulu Mamasheva, also of Ata Meken, adds: “Even more, I would rather ask you to conduct other trainings that could be interesting and useful for MPs. For example, it would be interesting for us to know how parliaments operate in other countries. I also understood that we need some instruments to evaluate and improve the effectiveness of factions’ work. We need to raise the capacity of secretariats. We are in the process of adaptation now, so we need such trainings, qualified staff in secretariats to become efficient as quick as we can.”

WFD’s programme in Kyrgyzstan aims to meet this demand. In the coming months and years, we will work with the secretariats of the factions to help boost their effectiveness. The new convocation offers exciting possibilities for WFD – and the new MPs who will be shaping it.

“I may have some confusions now,” Evgeniya Strokova adds, “because I’m a new person here, but I found the induction training extremely interesting. I’m very excited to use the knowledge I got, and I’ll definitely do so in my work as an MP.”

Above: MP Emil Toktoshov of the Ata Meken faction
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Sizing up Kyrgyzstan’s Supreme Council: ‘WFD’s analysis shows the real picture’

As Kyrgyzstan’s new Parliament settles into its work, Westminster Foundation for Democracy (WFD) has briefed new MPs on the state of the factions system – and the positive prospects for the years ahead.

“Kyrgyzstan,” says Akylbek Sarbagyshov, WFD’s Programme Manager in the country, “is an island of democracy in an authoritarian ocean.” Its Parliament has come a long way since the First Convocation met 20 years ago. The slow emergences of a genuine system of factions leapt forwards after the 2010 constitution, as our analysis – prepared by local experts Gulmira Mamatkerimov, Kurmanbek Turdaliev and Medet Tulegenov – outlines.  “For the first time in the history of independent Kyrgyzstan and the Kyrgyz parliamentary system, the Jogorku Kenesh (Supreme Council) became the subject of power,” it concludes. The fifth Parliament saw a functioning opposition that worked hard to hold the Government to account. “It can be said with confidence that not one of the previous convocations of Parliament has been put in conditions of such increased demands and expectations by society,” our analysis added, “as well as ongoing stringent monitoring by civil society organizations.”

Gulmira Mamatkerimova – one of the researchers

It was the fast-moving situation in Kyrgyzstan – there were four coalitions in the last parliament alone – which prompted WFD to conduct baseline research at the start of the Sixth Convocation. Our analysis was presented to Members of Parliament, the leaders and staff of the faction secretariats, INGOs and civil society organizations at the Park Hotel in Bishkek on 11 September. “We are the first ones to this kind of research,” Akylbek explains. “We did a thorough analysis of the fifth convocation of the parliament, and wanted to use this for an induction for the next one.” The research sought to establish the legal framework around how the Jogorku Kenesh operates – and what the reality of the situation is right now.

The analysis contained some challenging findings for the Kyrgyzstan Parliament. Factions still have little understanding of their roles and functions in a parliamentary system. There isn’t a strong link between a party’s manifesto and its behaviour in coalitions, and parliament continues to bear many hallmarks of a presidential majoritarian system. The opposition in parliament lacks the capacity it needs to provide really forceful scrutiny of the well-resourced majority coalition’s activities.

These findings were met with approval by those who heard them on 11 September. “I agree that the analysis shows the real picture on the factions and its secretariats,” Ulugbek Kochkorov MP said. “It’s important to develop and integrate mechanisms of cooperation between Parliament and civil society organisations.”

Member of the Parliament – Mr. Ulugbek Kochkorov

Having identified these challenges, WFD believes it can address the problem. In the 2010-15 parliament our work focused on improving committee hearings in the regions. “Now we are going to strengthen faction activities,” Akylbek says. “We are going to introduce their offices to the Westminster system.” By engaging with new MPs at the start of the parliament, it’s hoped they will be keen to accept our proposals. “We are on the same page together, right from the beginning.”

In the coming months and years, WFD will work with the secretariats of the factions to help boost their effectiveness. A focus on communications and public relations, the development of reporting mechanisms and work to better link up the electorate with the factions representing them will all feature in our activities. “Things may change with the new convocation if the secretariats have a strong capacity and can be more efficient,” Marat Tairov, head of the Ata Meken faction secretariat, said. “That is why they need induction training.”

Head of Ata Meken faction secretariat, Marat Tairov

Kyrgyzstan sums up what WFD does best: helping parties develop their capabilities in a parliamentary context. For Akylbek, who has long been a tireless advocate of the need for engagement in his country, praise for WFD’s work means a lot. “I didn’t give up, I wanted to demonstrate how important this is,” he says. “I am passionate about this.” Providing this kind of baseline research as a precursor to meaningful and targeted programme activities shows that WFD is “on the right path” and can achieve “small but real things” in helping improve the state of democracy. Akylbek says getting recognition is rather satisfying, too. “When I see MPs coming up to us and saying ‘this analysis is very important’, I feel really good.”

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