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)
Continue Reading

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”.)
Continue Reading

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)
Continue Reading

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.

Continue Reading

The Cost of Politics in Ukraine: Interview with Prof. Andriy Meleshevych

(Above: Photo: Valdemar Fishmen)

Money plays a central role in the political system; from selection costs to financing an election campaign, potential members of parliament often require great personal wealth to secure a seat at the decision-making table. Last July, WFD launched a series of research into the cost of politics in Europe and Africa.

Andriy Meleshevych, Professor at the National University of Kyiv-Mohyla Academy and author of the Cost of Politics research paper on Ukraine explains why this research is important.

Andriy, can you explain the key findings that emerged from the research on the Cost of Politics in Ukraine?

Political party finance is a controversial area in any country. In Ukraine, in the past no money was allocated in to the national budget for the purpose of public finance of political parties. Basically, nobody cared except several NGOs.

Currently we have budget money allocated to successful political parties; those represented in the parliament as a result of parliamentary elections. It is not much but it is still the first step. In fact, the first trench of money was transferred to some political parties recently. The Government also set up an enforcement mechanism; the National Agency of Corruption Prevention, which checks declarations submitted by political parties on their income and expenses. The most important thing in Ukraine is that not only the legislative framework has been adopted but the mechanism of its enforcement has been set up and the money was allocated in the national budget for this purpose.

Why do you think addressing this issue is so important for citizens’?

Nobody wants to live in a country that is corrupted, everyone would like to have some predictability, some rule of law in their country. It is much more convenient, calmer and comfortable to live in a country where you know what might happen to you tomorrow.

So, how does the cost of politics research fit into anti-corruption efforts more broadly?

Public finance of election campaigns and political parties is an extremely important issue. It is at the heart of the issue of power in a society: who holds this power, who has access to this power, in what ways such an access is guaranteed and provided, is it fair access or is it corrupted access. I think there are many faces of corruption, but political corruption especially in the top echelons of power determines the whole fabric of society.

You mentioned that new measures aimed at reducing corruption have been introduced – How did parliament react? Was there a lot of opposition?

The most recent elections to the Ukrainian Parliament took place two years ago and resulted in a significant refurbishment, or using political science terms; a major realignment of political forces in Ukraine. The political will of the majority of Ukrainian members of parliament to move closer to European institutions is one essential motivation and the other crucially important element is the role of civil society. All the major changes that I have described to you we have civil society to thank for. The Government without civil society pressure would be much slower.

Where there any surprises revealed by the research?

Yes, the amount of money involved in the electoral campaigns in Ukraine. I did not expect that they would cost so much. I expected it in the UK or the US but the amounts that aspiring politicians in Ukraine were paying for campaigns was comparable with the wealthiest European countries.

And what about the impact on sitting MPs – What costs do they face?

The Revolution of Dignity was a watershed in a way as before that members of parliament [saw being in parliament as] business. You get to the parliament, you invest money in your electoral campaign, you get access to the national budget. Then you lobby your interests, you introduce bills that somebody pays you to introduce and you make sure the bill is accepted, then you get rewarded by business: this is how Ukrainian politics worked.

After the Revolution of Dignity, the situation changed significantly. Salaries for members of the Ukrainian Parliament decreased to about 300 dollars per month, which is also ridiculous. How are you going to perform your duties if you are only making 300 dollars per month and the cost of living in Kyiv is pretty high? Currently it is getting to normal. They increased salaries to a realistic figure so people who came from civil society can survive in parliament. The civil society representatives who are currently members of parliament or joined public service didn’t come from business and they heavily rely on the money that they make as their salary.

And it’s very important to get the views of ordinary citizens represented in the parliament. It seems like there is a lot of progress being made – are you hopeful for the future?

I am hopeful because I see significant changes but what is very important is that society does not get disillusioned. We currently have very high levels of expectation in Ukraine. If society does not get disillusioned, then it can push the Government to do what civil society wants them to do in the interest of a democratic Ukraine. If these very useful anti-corruption laws are not implemented – and Ukraine is very skilled at not implementing good laws – then it will lead to instability, disillusionment in democratic changes, and perhaps even the loss of national sovereignty.

Continue Reading

FEAO: Following the money

(Above: Victor Maziarchuk, the FEAO Chief Economist, live on VRU TV Channel talking about the draft Budget 2017.)

In a country battling against corruption and facing conflict in the south-east, Ukrainians are relying on their Verkhovna Rada (VRU) to conduct robust and effective financial scrutiny. “In these times of economic hardship, it is equally essential to know the amount of public spending by the Government and the efficiency of that spending,” says Victor Maziarchuk, Chief Economist of the Financial and Economic Analysis Office (FEAO).

With support from Westminster Foundation for Democracy and the Government of Germany through GIZ, the FEAO was established to support the oversight function of the parliament. It provides the VRU with financial analysis that is so urgently required to hold the government to account for the austerity measures being implemented.

Although only set up earlier this year, it has already made some startling findings. Having analysed the Ministry of the Interior’s budget, Mr Maziarchuk says, the Office found that “eight per cent of funds allocated to the Ministry were spent for purposes other than designated for this institution”.

To avoid diverting public funds in 2017, the FEAO is currently supporting the 2017 budgetary process by providing neutral expertise and assistance to committee members and staff from the VRU Budgetary Committee and nine other committees in conducting budget scrutiny. Once the budget bill is passed, the Office will continue to monitor and analyse public expenditure.

The expertise provided by the Office also supports individual MPs in conducting their oversight work. This underpins a meaningful dialogue between Parliament and the Government in regard to accurate forecasting and the appropriate use of public funds.

“Cooperation with the FEAO helps me to better understand the budget and, as an MP, to take informed and qualified decisions on effective allocation of public funds,” says Victor Kryvenko, Deputy Chair of the VRU Budgetary Committee. “I am using the 2016 Budget Diary prepared by the Office to study the 2017 budget bill that is being considered by Parliament. The Diary also helps me in assessing the Government’s initiatives to be funded from the state budget next year”.

It is not just members and staff who benefit from the FEAO; civil society activists and journalists grappling with financial issues take advantage of the analysis too. Through miscellaneous communication activities the Office has been actively engaged with interpreting the draft budget 2017, contributing to greater awareness-raising, public discussion and transparency of the budget process in Ukraine.

“As a journalist writing on economic matters, I used to lack timely, objective and complete information regarding the state budget,” says Channel 5 reporter Olha Kalynovska. “This made it difficult for me to prepare high-quality, professional media stories on this topic. Thanks to the FEAO’s materials, I have come to understand the budget document better, and the entire budgetary process has become more open and transparent. I’m glad that the Office often uses the platform of live broadcasting offered by our TV channel to promote such openness and transparency”.

The parliament’s ability to scrutinise where citizen’s money is going is crucial for delivering oversight and transparency of public spending. The Governments focus on on-going fighting in the south-east, EU accession and dealing with the economic crisis, means support for financial scrutiny is of great importance.

“The FEAO programme is committed to ensure that the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine is a capable, accountable and responsive institution with regard to financial oversight and scrutiny, providing useful perspectives on economic sustainability, development and growth,” says WFD’s Country Representative Halyna Shevchuk. Although a number of macroeconomic reforms have helped stabilise the economy, more challenging restructuring lies ahead.

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

Ukrainian politicians ‘buddy’ with British MPs

(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)

Westminster Foundation for Democracy helps share understanding about British politics overseas, but it is not the only source of information for MPs working in other parliaments.

“I’m a big fan of Yes, Minister,” Yuri Levchenko, a Ukrainian MP visiting the Houses of Parliament, said earlier this week. “This visit is a great opportunity to see how it really works on the inside.”

The antics of fictional politician Jim Hacker and Sir Humphrey, the unruffled civil servant who carefully guides him through his time in power, are “satirical”, as Mr Levchenko pointed out. But the British MPs present at the Ukraine All-Party Parliamentary Group where Mr Levchenko was speaking freely accepted the programme contains more than a grain of truth. For British MPs, APPG Chair Sir Gerald Howarth joked, Yes, Minister is an “instruction manual”. WFD prefers to offer visiting MPs insight into British parliamentary practise through more formal methods – including the ‘buddy’ scheme linking British parliamentarians with Ukrainian MPs taking place this week.

This approach reflects WFD’s commitment to exploring new ways of innovative programming. Mr Levchenko, whose party has five MPs in the Verkhovna Rada, has been partnered with Jeffrey Donaldson, a WFD board member and Democratic Unionist Party MP. Huntingdon MP Jonathan Djanogly was accompanied by Natalya Katser-Buchkovska, a member of the Rada’s Sustainable Development Committee; this week she attended sessions of the Commons’ Energy and Climate Change Committee. Sergei Alieksieiev is shadowing Philip Davies, the Shipley MP, who has taken Mr Alieksieiev to Bradford Crown Court. “I am very grateful for the chance to exchange experiences,” Mr Alieksieiev told the all-party group meeting. “I would like to stress that there is not so much populism in the British parliament; all the decisions are made professionally.”

Such a remark could not be made without attracting self-deprecating comments from the British MPs present. They were full of praise for the Ukrainian MPs, applauding their resolve in dealing with a political and security crisis. “We want to help them get where they want to be,” Mr Donaldson said. Mr Howarth spoke of the Budapest Memorandum and Britain’s “responsibility to support Ukraine at this difficult time”. Stephen Pound, a Labour MP, described Ukraine’s significance in terms of both its size and its symbolism. “It’s important we realise there is a great future of collaboration with Ukraine as a European nation,” he said. “It is an extremely and increasingly important country.”

The British political commitment to Ukraine is reflected in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office’s three priorities for the country, as described by Jason Rheinberg. These are returning Ukraine to its sovereign borders; helping Ukraine reform; and strengthening its democratic institutions, “an extremely important part of that road ahead”. WFD seeks to contribute to this. Our programme, in collaboration with GIZ, has established a Financial and Economic Analysis Office which can help strengthen the Rada’s financial scrutiny work. “I would like to thank WFD for helping us,” Natalya Katser-Buchkovska said. “There are a lot of laws which need economic analysis, and now we have a chance to receive really high quality expertise. This is really valuable for us.”

Improved financial scrutiny can help expand the Rada’s role in anti-corruption, an important part of the present government’s reform efforts – and a point of political contention reflected in the comments of the Ukrainian MPs present. Their debates on this issue and others will continue in the Rada. As they do so, the FEAO and WFD stand ready to support their work.

“We’ve found a group of members of the Rada who are extremely motivated but working in difficult circumstances,” Anthony Smith, WFD Chief Executive, told the group. WFD aims to work with the Rada’s staff “as they seek to refocus their support to MPs for many years to come… We want to be there for the long-term.” Just as WFD has helped individual MPs develop relationships with their British counterparts, so we aim to harness British expertise to help strengthen the Rada.

As Mr Howarth put it: “The new members of the Rada are very well motivated, it’s been most encouraging for us. The future of Ukraine rests on some of those who are here today, and your colleagues in Kyiv.”

Continue Reading

Four presidents, one challenge: The fight against corruption in 2016

By George Kunnath, WFD’s Regional Director for Africa and Europe

Many viewed the dismissal of Tanzania’s anti-corruption chief last month as a sign that new president John Magufuli is determined to make progress in tackling the plague of institutionalised corruption. He’s not alone: Mozambique, Nigeria and Ukraine also have new leaders prepared to confront this enormous challenge head-on. But Filipe Nyusi, Muhammadu Buhari, Petro Poroshenko and Magufuli face a tougher battle than they might care to admit – and should look to strengthen their parliaments if they want to accelerate progress.

I’ve travelled to all these countries in recent months and have seen first-hand how much the stakes have been raised. Expectations are high because rising levels of corruption within the state have been matched, in recent years, by a new mood of anticipation that something will change.

These four leaders have arrived at this point of reckoning because of a number of factors. Firstly, their population is far more educated and connected through social media than ever before. While corruption was widespread in the past, it was easier for those in power to hide the extent of the problem. Nowadays freedom of information legislation, freer press, social media, the internet and television have brought the realities of the scale of the problem into the average citizen’s home.

Secondly, their societies have become more integrated into the global community. Their citizens travel abroad and return home wondering why their country’s leaders can’t be held to higher levels of transparency and accountability. People are using terms like ‘global standards’ and ‘European values’. They are also able to do more analytical comparisons. Their citizens and civil society organisations are asking why a neighbouring country can build better roads at half the cost as their government’s latest road projects. They’re less trusting of the answers being provided by their governments.

Societies that once applauded the corrupt as smart and resourceful businessmen are now looking for new leaders and role models with values of integrity and accountability. Civil society continues to demand that people holding public office declare their personal assets. How politicians respond to the declaration process is becoming an indicator of personal integrity.

Thirdly, the mono-economies which flourished under oil, gas or natural resource revenues have come crashing down with the drop in global oil prices. It was easy to overlook the cost of corruption when there was significant wealth to pave over the losses; with the oil price halved, governments have to use every dollar wisely. Nigeria has just introduced zero-based budgeting which will force every department to cost and justify every expenditure. This exercise should save the state millions in wasteful excesses. After hearing that some audit queries have remained unanswered for years, the president ordered all ministries to respond to queries within 24 hours.

Fourthly, presidents whose administrations were seen as highly corrupt have been replaced. In Tanzania the ruling CDM retained power yet again, but their reputation was so badly damaged that the party fought their campaign by promoting their presidential candidate and his name above the party brand. Most people will watch the new president to determine if he has the power to reform the party or whether the party elite will be allowed to continue their old practices. So far the signs are positive and the average Tanzanian is optimistic. Magufuli is seen as someone who is closer to the people and is likely to withstand the influences of the handful of wealth elite that control large portions of the economy.

With all this momentum behind pressures for change, surely there’s a case for optimism?

It’s true there are reasons to be cheerful – but we shouldn’t forget that breaking from the past is going to be hard for all of these leaders.

In many of these countries the laws necessary to fight corruption are either outdated or non-existent. But they are essential to prevent the loopholes by which criminal activity continues. In Ukraine, Poroshenko recently signed a new law on party funding, hoping to break the link between the oligarchs and political parties by introducing state support to parties. This is a significant development to reduce the influence that the oligarchs have over elected officials.

For the last 12 years Nigeria has been trying to pass an Audit Law that would provide the legal framework for the Auditor General to publish his work quickly and effectively. There are expectations that the new parliament will finally pass this law, which has already made it through its first reading in the House of Representatives. The indication is that there is political will to see the bill become an act.

Having the laws on the statute book may not change much, as the bad cultures which need changing are often deeply embedded. Laws are often wilfully ignored with impunity. Unless these new leaders swiftly develop precedents and make clear statements about their expectations, the old culture will resurface preventing any chance for long-term reform.

Often it’s a people problem. In many cases the previous presidents ensured their supporters were placed in positions of influence to protect the interests of the outgoing government. Replacing these figures can be complex, as they are able to undermine the new government.

Having the desire to make the change but lacking a decent alternative will be a challenge, too. In Mozambique low skill levels within the administration remain an obstacle to driving through reforms. Ill-equipped ministerial officials are left to negotiate with experts from global corporations rushing to exploit Mozambique’s resources. The parliament should scrutinise these complex deals, but it too lacks expertise.

Parliamentarians also have a choice to make in these countries. They must decide to consciously reposition themselves on the side of the people and support institutional reforms. Parliaments have to lead from the front, demonstrating a higher level of transparency and openness in their affairs. If the integrity of the leaders who create the laws is in question, how likely is it that the people will respect these laws?

One way that parliaments can lead is by establishing transparency and openness committees like the one established in the Kosovan Parliament. This committee consists of members, parliamentary staff, civil society, media and government officials who are looking at the challenges of making the parliament more open and determining positive steps that can be taken.

It goes without saying that we wish Presidents Nyusi, Buhari, Poroshenko and Magufuli all the best as they forge their presidential legacy. Their decisions – including the extent to which they empower their parliaments to do this work for them – will determine how they are assessed in the history books, however.

These four leaders, elected on a promise to tackle corruption, all realise their legacies will be determined by how they tackle the problem. They have pledged to combat those who divert state resources away from development into the hands of a few elites, and will be judged on their results. Let’s see how they do in 2016.

Continue Reading