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.

Continue Reading

Lobbying for change: WFD’s support to human rights CSOs in Macedonia

(Above: WFD’s opening public event held in Skopje, Macedonia)

“By deconstructing the myth that marriages under 18 years old are part of the Roma tradition, we want to ensure the realisation of children’s rights and encourage institutions to follow the trend, as well as provide legal protection to the families in risk,” says Nesime Salioska, the Executive Director at ROMA S.O.S, one of the 12 civil society organisations Westminster Foundation for Democracy (WFD) is working with in Macedonia.

From patients with rare diseases to the issue of child marriage amongst the Roma community, WFD’s programme in Macedonia is set to support a wide range of civil society organisations tackling different human rights issues. WFD will support the CSOs by building their capacity to engage with decision-makers in Macedonia, encouraging a dialogue on human rights based on research and evidence.

Conducting research – how to engage decision-makers

The programme, which brings together 12 civil society organisations in Macedonia, delivered its first training explaining the best way for the CSOs to conduct effective research and present it to parliament through a policy paper.

“We now have the knowledge, skills and support provided by the mentors to conduct this research, discover the challenges and best practices, and prioritise accordingly,” says Anja Bosilkova, Vice President from Wilson Macedonia, a support group for patients suffering from the rare disease. Her organisation is advocating for the government to introduce changes to existing legislation on health care, insurance, medicines and medical devices.

“Then we will be able to propose adequate solutions to the most pressing issues first, such as having proper diagnostic procedures available for early diagnosis.” Anja says that WFD’s first training in May 2016 helped her approach the challenge in an effective way. She explains: “As patients, we know our problems, but in order to find out the major issues for most of the patients, and translate it into policy paper, we need support to go through this process.”

Nesime Salioska believes her CSO has benefited because the training’s focus on evidence and research “could change negative perceptions and attitudes toward this issue in Roma communities”. She adds: “We gained capacity and knowledge which will enable us to bring evidence and raise the interest of different stakeholders to join our efforts.” This enables her and her colleagues to explain, using evidence, why Roma communities should be protected through legislation.

(Above: Anja Bosilkova-Antovska, representing Wilson Macedonia at the WFD opening public event)

Elena Nakova is a lawyer who volunteers at Free Software Macedonia, another CSO benefiting from WFD’s support. Its campaign aims to improve the privacy of citizens’ personal data following the abuses of voter list information during the political crisis. She said she felt the training was helpful in outlining the stages a CSO should work through when presenting information to parliament. “The training held at the School of Journalism and Public Relations helped us define certain aspects, such as the stakeholders and the need to make interviews with them in addition to the desk research in order to obtain valid information,” she said.

Legislative change – protecting citizens’ human rights

But, how does improving the ability of CSOs to conduct research help improve citizens’ human rights in Macedonia? Legislative change is the ultimate goal of WFD’s support.

For Elena Nakova of Free Software Macedonia that means they “want to see real change and work hard so that Macedonian citizens obtain better protection of their personal data.” She continues: “The problems that occurred during the political crisis and the handling of the voter list drew our attention and we knew that an urgent reform to the Law on personal identification numbers is needed. We were already familiar with the Croatian model and we made draft provisions that should be included in the new Law.” This is a significant change which, if achieved, would protect Macedonian’s citizen’s privacy and personal data.

(Above: Elena Nakova, representing Free Software Macedonia)

Anja from Wilson Macedonia is also focused on changing the law because she believes “long-term solutions are a necessity for a proper, institutionalised approach to the treatment of rare diseases in Macedonia. Recognising rare disease patients as a separate group with specific health needs and introducing the necessary legislative changes in health protection will make a real difference to the lives of this marginalized group. This is what we aim to do,” she said.

The importance of legislative change also applies to ROMA S.O.S. “The issue is related to children who are not mature enough to make decisions independently, so the state is the one that through legal regulations and acts of the institutions should protect them within the frames of established norms for the rights of the children and their best interests,” Nesime Salioska says.

ROMA SOS hope to overcome this issue “by undertaking mainstream activities that contribute to the improvement of Roma’s comprehensive integration in the context of human rights and to the concept of equality for citizens, no matter the status or belonging to which group”.

By providing training around the key principles of evidence, advocacy and access, WFD is set to support Macedonian CSOs to deliver change to citizens’ lives through their improved lobbying of parliament. It’s not just these three CSOs which will benefit, either: this programme supports 12 CSOs covering a range of issues from discrimination in higher education to sanctions against hate speech.

WFD’s ambition is for these CSOs to be standard-bearers for a new way of engaging with parliament; successful results for these initiatives will encourage others to adopt the same practices. That can only make Macedonia’s democracy stronger. Doing so will help the effectiveness of the parliament in its efforts to achieve better policy on human rights issues. It will also improve representation of the marginalised groups of citizens set to benefit – both important ingredients in making Macedonia’s governance more inclusive and effective.

(Below: Daniela Cvetanoska , representing ROMA S.O.S, also participated in the WFD training)
Continue Reading

WFD congratulates Georgian Parliament’s Human Rights Committee

Westminster Foundation for Democracy has offered its congratulations to the Georgian Parliament’s Human Rights Committee after MPs adopted recommended rules of procedure without amendment.

Mrs Eka Beselia, Chair of the HRC, received praise from George Kunnath, WFD’s Regional Director for Europe, following the passage of the relevant legislation earlier in June.

The changes mean the Parliament of Georgia will in future conduct hearings on a range of issues covering:

– recommendations produced by UN human rights committee relating to Georgia;

– judgements made by the European Court of Human Rights; and

– recommendations provided as part of the UN’s Universal Periodic Review process.

“This is a major step which strengthens the Parliament of Georgia’s ability to scrutinise the Government’s implementation of its Human Rights Action Plan,” George Kunnath said.

 

WFD, in partnership with the University of Oxford, has developed an assessment tool for human rights committees to improve their effectiveness and help them comply with international standards and best practice.

Its outcomes in Macedonia, Serbia, Tunisia, Uganda and Ukraine, as well as Georgia, were summed up in a paper presented in the UK Parliament on July 6th.

Mrs Beselia, who spoke at the launch event, told the Westminster audience that the “institutional absence” of the scrutiny of human rights had been replaced by her committee’s work being viewed “as a normal and ordinary process”.

The successful reforms follow six months of engagement between MPs on the Committee and civil society organisations in Georgia.

More: ‘You can’t ignore human rights’

Continue Reading

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. 

Continue Reading

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.”

Continue Reading

Blog: Democracy strengthening after the EU referendum

WFD’s CEO Anthony Smith blogs about his initial thoughts on the EU referendum – and what it means for the UK’s contribution to democracy strengthening. 

The past week has been an emotional, as well as a political, rollercoaster across the UK, including inside WFD.  On both sides of the debate there has been surprise, concern, anger, and optimism at some point since the voting started on Thursday. There has been an outpouring of perceptive analysis about the result, much of it very relevant to the challenges that WFD tries to help our partners to address, including how important it is for political leaders to listen to all parts of society, and how to manage political campaigns responsibly.

WFD’s Governors have played an active part in that public debate, and our staff – EU nationals included – have held intensive private debates.  One week on, we are focused on the future, and we are clear that WFD’s role in sharing Britain’s democratic experience will be more important than ever, in all parts of the world.  The global challenges to stability and security have not changed and the support that WFD can provide will remain relevant.  Our work to strengthen democratic practice has always been based on national or sub-national legislatures and political parties and on the diversity of the UK’s systems, with four nations, four parliaments and a capacity to adapt and respond to political, economic and social change that is possibly unmatched in the world.

It is too early to know what the detailed implications of Britain’s exit from the EU will be on our EU funding but the fact is that in any case we will continue to work closely with our European partners.  We share with them a vision and a determination to invest in democracy and to share the lessons, good and bad, that we have learned together over centuries.  This is a time for WFD to support an enhanced British contribution to democracy strengthening and we intend to rise to that challenge over the months and years to come.

Photo: Abi Begum

Continue Reading

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 
Continue Reading

A Parliamentary Budget Office for Serbia

“The system of public finance, particularly since the beginning of the global economic crisis, has once again become the centre of attention,” says Veroljub Arsic, Chairperson of the National Assembly of Serbia’s Committee for Finance, State Budget and Control of Public Spending. “Even though we have institutions like the state audit institution that controls the legality of spending, it is not enough.”

Mr Arsic, who is also the Serbian Parliament’s Deputy Speaker, is well aware of the need of parliaments across the Western Balkans region to integrate oversight of public spending and revenue-raising. His committee is receiving help in its work thanks to the establishment of a Parliamentary Budget Office in Serbia – the only country in the region to have such an office after Greece. The establishment of the PBO is supported through a three-year project of the Westminster Foundation for Democracy, with assistance from the Scottish Parliament in implementing the project.

(Above: Staff from the Parliamentary Budget Office visit the Macedonian Parliamentary Research Institute)

The PBO, which is staffed by four researchers, is expected to provide much-needed research support to the committees, with the goal to assist them in overseeing the government’s fiscal and economic policies. “The will to control public fundraising as well as spending those funds is getting bigger,” Mr Arsic explains. But until now MPs have found it hard to conduct the scrutiny which is increasingly expected by voters. “We have great expectations from this Office, because it should secure help and support for MPs during the budget process, especially the process of reporting and finalising the budget.”

It’s not just Mr Arsic and his committee which is expected to benefit from improved financial scrutiny. The programme aims to replicate the expected success of the PBO in Serbia across the region. Mr Arsic has already presented the newly-established body to 40 parliamentarians from the region, as part of the parliamentary conference organised by WFD-hosted Network of Parliamentary Committees on Economy Finance and European integration. The conference passed a recommendation that parliaments in the Western Balkans should look to establish similar offices.

(Above: Serbian MPs meet with staff from the Financial Economic Analysis Office in Ukraine to share best practice on establishing a Parliamentary Budget Office)

All eyes are now on Serbia with regards to financial oversight. MPs from the region will be looking to see what the benefits of such an office are for the MPs and for the citizens. Financial scrutiny matters because each year parliament allocates billions of euros to implement policies and programmers which affect the lives of citizens. It matters because it ensures that there is a clear link between setting the budget and the operational plans of the governments. It assesses the value for money provided by government services and it investigates matters of public interest. It addresses financial issues raised by constitutes or community groups. Financial scrutiny in parliament matters because at the end of the day it provides a challenge from the MPs on how resources are utilized by the government and what is the value of their impact.

The establishment of the PBO office in Serbia contributes to the development of democratic culture and practices and overall good governance. The PBO will contribute to the extent to which parliament holds government institutions to account and to their constituents.

It is these principles of effective oversight which Mr Arsic now hopes can be replicated across the region. “Our parliament will always have an open door for regional cooperation,” he says. “I have no doubt the office will be a success and we can share that success with our friends and neighbors.”

Continue Reading

BiH: Bringing inclusive democracy to a divided city

“My aim is to transfer knowledge to students and to inspire them to think freely and critically,” says Irma Baralija, a Professor in Mostar and member of Naša Stranka’s leadership: a young, educated woman, politically active and willing to make change happen in her local community.

Educating students in political science is always difficult in societies where inclusive democracy is still in development. Politics is primarily viewed through a male prism, seen by the dominance of men in elected offices. “We are very ambitious and have set a lot of short- and long-term goals for our party,” Irma says. “At the moment our priority is to make sure that Mostar actually holds local elections in October. We are using all political means of pressure available, because without elections it is absurd to speak about democracy and democratic processes.”

Her hometown, Mostar, in the south of Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH), is a symbol for the country’s divisions. It has not had local elections since 2008. A lack of political will prevented elections in 2012 and now, four years later, the city’s government has only a ‘technical mandate’. In BiH as a whole, the prescribed 40% quota for women’s representation in the government has not yet been achieved. Barriers prevent women from participating on an equal basis with their male counterparts. This is the difficult reality in cities that are more homogenous than Mostar. Women like Irma Baralija who want to be politically active face a difficult task as a result.

Irma is one of a number of women who have decided to assume direct responsibility for delivering results. She sees “working on motivating and increasing the number of women in politics” as one of the goals of her own political engagement. “In that sense, every step forward is significant and certainly has an impact on how I engage in the political life in the future,” she says.

irma speaksAlongside her job in an international school in Mostar and her engagement in local politics, Irma was also a speaker at an event WFD organised at the University of Mostar on what it means to be a woman politician in BiH today. Irma’s story is one of true commitment to working for positive change in BiH. She completed her doctorate in Spain, where she lived during that time, and had the opportunity to continue to teach there. Yet, realising the importance of contributing to the development of her own homeland, Irma returned and immediately got engaged in the community in various ways.

It’s not just Irma who is benefiting from WFD’s work. Our integrated programme, which works with both local representative bodies and political parties, is helping students through a series of university discussions which educate women on what it means to be a politician in BiH through personal experience. Interest from local women who want to make a difference is the motivating factor in making the idea of equality a reality. It sends a clear message that the goal of getting more women in politics should continue with a greater focus on the younger generation.

Stories like Irma’s should be an inspiration to women in BiH – especially at a time when young people are increasingly seeking prosperity abroad, instead of trying to make a change in their own country. WFD engagement with women politicians like Irma Baralija offers her an opportunity to showcase her experience and share it with a wider audience. This contributes first and foremost to changing the perception of students who attended the university discussion. But it also contributes to a broader group of students as well, through chats and reports afterwards. Active discussion with over a dozen female and male students who asked questions and made comments shows their interest in the topic is already there. Facilitating public discourse around this issue is very likely going to have an effect on their further engagement and interest for politics. This is especially true for the women in attendance, as the programme is trying to counter the negative trend of women leaving political activism following their university studies.

irma speaks 2Students mostly asked about female representation within the political parties and how this is achieved – whether through direct bodies such as woman’s groups or informal associations of those who advocate for gender equality within the parties. Direct answers from women who have experienced this process provides valuable information on how to achieve gender equality while being an active member of a political party.

“The representation of women in politics is very low, especially at the local level where I am engaged and where it is most directly connected to the citizens of our communities,” Irma adds. “Despite much investment, the situation has not yet improved; this is particularly true in the Herzegovina-Neretva Canton. I believe that lectures, meetings and open discussions with young female students, like the one WFD organised at the University in Mostar, can motivate some of those students to get politically engaged in the future. The same should happen at Mostar’s Bosniak University on the other side of the river.”

Irma Baralija is adamant on one fact: Mostar, in order to function properly within BiH, does not need any more “ethnocracy”, which has been the main modus operandi of the local government. Instead, it needs more inclusive democracy – and WFD’s programme is helping her and others achieve just that.

Continue Reading

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.”

Continue Reading