Increasing openness of institutions in the Western Balkans

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

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

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

The Regional Openness Index – Towards national roadmaps for greater transparency

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

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

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

Implementing the Regional Roadmap

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

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

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

 

(Photo: Action SEE network presents country road maps to parliamentarians of the Western Balkan region.)
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Follow the money: how we helped establish a watchdog in Mozambique

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Moisés Mondlane, Technical Cabinet staff

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

(Top: Rt. Hon. Francis Maude, former Minister in the Cabinet Office (UK) and former co-chair of the OGP Steering Committee opens the conference with a key-note address on “envisioning a democratic renaissance”.)
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The question of modernising democracy

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

George Kunnath, Regional Director – Europe and Central Asia

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Moving from personality to policy

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

Engagement and inclusion

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

Oversight, accountability and respect for the rule of law

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

Modernising democracy

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

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

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Scrutinising Government spending in Serbia

(Above: Parliamentary Budget Office Researcher, Nenad Jeftovic, presents data on women’s employment and gender budgeting to MPs at a meeting of the Women’s Parliamentary Network)

Ensuring taxpayers money ends up where citizens think it should requires time.

Analysing the numbers, comparing levels of spend between departments and debating where you think the money should go is a lengthy process, but one that is essential for effective governance.

Westminster Foundation for Democracy is committed to supporting the National Assembly of the Republic of Serbia address this crucial problem through the Parliamentary Budget Office that was established in November 2016. A fundamental problem when it comes to adopting the budget in Serbia is the lack of time that MPs have to review and debate the budget proposal. The need for quick to digest information and analysis is at an all-time high with previous budgets being adopted in just seven days.

The 2016 European Commission Progress Report on Serbia’s accession to the EU indicates that “frequent use of urgent procedures, last-minute changes to the parliamentary agenda, limited support for independent regulatory bodies…undermines parliamentary effectiveness”. It is easy to understand how the European Commission comes to this conclusion given the Governments track record.

Despite OECD recommendations that government’s draft budget should be submitted to parliaments no less than three months prior to the start of the fiscal year, the Serbian Government submitted the 2017 budget proposal to the Parliament on 2 December and it was adopted on 10 December 2016.

(Above: PBO generated infographic capturing fiscal tendencies)

Serbian MPs had only 8 days to analyse a 1,200-page document and accompanying opinions from the Serbian Fiscal Council.

Even for the most developed parliaments in the world, which have support from research and analytical experts, this would present a significant challenge. This is why the analysis provided by the Parliamentary Budget Office to MPs was so important. Providing timely analysis, in a digestible manner contributed to a more informed debate in the parliament, whilst helping MPs to better understand what it means for the citizens they represent.

Within 36 hours from receipt of the proposed budget, the PBO prepared the analysis with information on key government policies. It also developed a comparison between the 2016 and 2017 budgets, highlighting the biggest funding variances across various ministries, agencies and programmes. Such a summary was not available to MPs in previous debates and was first delivered to the Committee on Budget, Finance and Control of Spending of Public Funds in time for their session on 4 December.

It was evident from the interaction with MPs that the provided analytical support was much valued. Aleksandra Tomic Chair of the Committee on Finance, Budget and Control of Public Funds, stated upon receiving the analysis, “Thank you for the great effort to do this important work in time for [our] committee session”.

(Above: Example infographic created by the PBO on salaries in Serbia in 2016)

During the week the budget proposal was debated, the PBO provided over 20 supporting documents and analysis to MPs. On 4 December, the budget analysis was sent to all 250 MPs prior to the plenary debate that took place later that day, as well as published on the PBO website. The researchers received 15 requests from MPs in response to the analysis and provided answers to MPs during the debate. Since the analysis provided is solely based on facts and figures, MPs were able to use them to formulate their own political opinions on the budget proposal. The PBO also prepared infographics on revenue and expenditures in the budget proposal, public debt analysis and analysis of key fiscal indicators to make the information more digestible in a short time-frame.

Gorana Gajic, an independent MP and deputy member of the Committee on Finance, Budget and Control of Public Funds also stated “You have presented the budget proposal to us better than the finance minister. I don’t have to chase for information and data presented in the papers. Now I know I can turn to the PBO for information”.

While the long-term benefits to citizens in Serbia cannot yet be fully quantified, it is evident that if the PBO did not exist, both MPs and the public would be left with less information on the proposed budget and where their money is being spent.  Deputy Speaker in the NARS,  Veroljub Arsic, explained “through this project the NARS will not only support the oversight of public spending, but will also communicate with users of budgetary funds about the plans for their execution.”

Aleksandra Tomic, Chair of the Committee on Finance, Budget and Control of Public Funds added at the press conference marking the establishment of the PBO “I would like to thank WFD for implementing such a project. It is refreshing for the new committee members to work with PBO experts which are not politically biased.”

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Supporting political party reform in Kosovo

(Above: Citizens’ in Kosovo take to the street to protest)

Blerim Vela, WFD’s Country Representative for Kosovo on how our new programme will support reform to political parties.

Political parties’ image in Kosovo have been tainted. Citizens’ hold a deep level of mistrust in the institutions that should represent their interests, because constructive dialogue between political parties, citizens and civil society is not happening. By not tackling public perceptions about transparency and clientelist operations within parties, internal reforms are struggling. Westminster Foundation for Democracy’s new programme is set to address these inherent challenges with the party system in Kosovo.

Political parties are the most corrupt institutions in Kosovo, a special edition of the Public Pulse on Corruption from UNDP Kosovo revealed. The report found that the increase in dissatisfaction with political parties reflects the political turmoil witnessed since summer 2015, which is related to the decrease in satisfaction with the general political direction in Kosovo. Citizens believe that corruption is more prevalent in political parties because of the perception that political parties in Kosovo are not driven by clear ideology, are not democratic, and are detached from the public.

Corruption and monopolies were proclaimed to be the main forms of political patronage and clientelism in a recent study by a local think tank too. Mutually dependent relationships between economic and political arenas were designated as the way to accumulate and maintain political power and economic wealth it argued. The study attributes this characteristic to the concentration of political power to a relatively small group of people, the lack of effective rule of law and mechanisms of accountability. The quest for stability before development has created a perception among some international actors that clientelist networks are tolerated in Kosovo. Another contributing factor to informality and political patronage is the relatively large portion of the population in Kosovo living below the poverty threshold, which drives membership to political parties. People are often encouraged by self-interested reasons like employment in public institutions, or benefits from contracts offered through public funds to get active in political parties.

By supporting political system change in Kosovo, WFD will tackle these key challenges. Parties can open their structures to new members and address the needs of vulnerable groups such as women, persons with disabilities and the unemployed, as well as implementing merit-based promotions in their own ranks. Additionally, parties can ensure that their policy positions are a result of inclusive and transparent deliberation process and not from back-door discussions between small groups of people.

(Above: Kosovo parliament)

WFD’s approach brings together elements of multi-party work with support to individual political parties. We seek to address issues which exist within the legal and legislative framework in which the political system operates whilst engaging a wider representation of society. Our support to multi-party democracy in Kosovo contributes more broadly to the promotion of good governance across the Western Balkans.

As part of the multiparty support WFD will provide assistance to targeted parties. By tackling a broad range of issues which are common to political parties and the political system in Kosovo, the support hopes to unite parties on key issues including party finance, internal party governance, supporting Women in political parties, EU accession promoting a code of ethics and the decriminalisation of politics and communications.

When it comes to supporting individual parties, WFD will work to identify gaps in capacity and provide individual support based on demand to drive the needed reforms. This tailored approach will encourage the political parties to design interventions that help them move towards pre-established standards, while ensuring local ownership and buy-in.

From exposure to international best practice through engagement of local, regional or international experts on particular themes to the engagement of sister-parties, regional and international party networks for particular projects WFD will encourage suggestions from the parties themselves on areas they identify for reform. This could include self-implemented training and engagements of party membership and structures; retreats and strategy development by party bodies; as well as equipping party offices and other operational units and strategy implementation.

To facilitate sharing of knowledge the programme will produce research papers on key issues, provide comparative examples and technical assistance in drafting legislative amendments to political party frameworks through engagement with parties, parliament, and relevant government institutions.

By engaging key stakeholders from civil society, academia, international experts and the Kosovo political parties, WFD will review and highlight issues of the legal and regulatory framework that are relevant as these “rules of the game” define the overall political system, addressing gaps will ensure that parties are further encouraged towards European standard.

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From Georgia to Westminster: The reform of human rights committees

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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.”

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WFD and National Assembly of the Republic of Serbia launch new Parliamentary Budget Office

Serbian MPs’ ability to scrutinise public spending will be boosted from today by the launch of a Parliamentary Budget Office (PBO).

The new body is the result of a longstanding collaboration between the National Assembly of the Republic of Serbia (NARS) and the Westminster Foundation for Democracy (WFD) on parliamentary strengthening work across the Western Balkans region.

Today marks the start of the PBO’s development as an Office providing analysis for MPs on Serbia’s economy, the Government’s Budget’s proposals, and other legislation which deals with fiscal issues. After an initial capacity-building period working together with partners from the Scottish Parliament, responsibility for the PBO will be transferred from WFD to the NARS.

Deputy Speaker of the NARS and Chairman of the Committee for Finance, State Budget and Control of Public Spending, Mr Veroljub Arsic, said:

“Starting today, the National Assembly and the Committee for Finance, State Budget and Control of Public Spending have another tool in conducting financial scrutiny – the Parliamentary budget office. The National Assembly has 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.”

The Rt Hon Tricia Marwick MSP, Presiding Officer of the Scottish Parliament, said:

“The robust scrutiny of public finances is a key function of any parliament and it is a measure of the success of our Financial Scrutiny Unit that it is being used as a model by the National Assembly of Serbia. I am pleased to see this positive outcome from the Scottish Parliament’s work with the National Assembly and I hope that our two Parliaments will continue to cooperate in the years to come.”

WFD has worked closely with the Serbian Parliament in the past, first through a two-year programme in 2011-13 and then through the Network of Parliamentary Committees which has strengthened cooperation across the Western Balkans.

Now WFD’s staff will be based in the Serbian Parliament itself as they seek to achieve the establishment of the PBO, develop a more robust system of financial oversight, and increase capacity of the NARS’s staff and committees.

“This Office will provide MPs with practical assistance which will directly help their scrutiny of financial matters,” WFD Chief Executive Anthony Smith said.

“Its development is a great example of what we can achieve by working in partnership with parliaments and sharing democratic experience from across the UK.”
Notes to editors

1. The PBO will initially employ 5 researchers.

2. WFD has signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the Serbian Parliament which ensures the PBO will become an integral part of the NARS over the course of WFD’s 2.5-year programme.

3. Ms Gojkovic used a visit to Westminster in November 2014 to announce plans for the PBO following meetings with the House of Lords’ Lord Speaker and the Scottish Parliament’s Presiding Officer.
www.wfd.org/wfd-news/latest/news.aspx?p=109768

4. The establishment of a PBO builds on previous work that WFD has done with the Network of Parliamentary Committees (NPC) which is comprised of 25 parliamentary committees on economy, finance and European integration from across the Western Balkans.

5. The Financial Scrutiny Unit (FSU) is part of the Scottish Parliament’s Information Centre and provides independent analysis and support to Scottish Parliament committees and individual Members on budgetary trends and issues, including independent costings of specific spending proposals, as well as research on all areas of the economy and public finances as they affect the Scottish Government and the Scottish Parliament. Scrutiny of Scottish Government spending is a core part of the role of Members of the Scottish Parliament (MSPs). Its remit covers:

• supporting MSPs in undertaking effective budget scrutiny;
• producing financial costings and analysis; and
• providing economic information and analysis.

The FSU produces briefings on a range of areas such as the economy, finance, local government, and the business environment (see: Scottish Parliament website).

6. The Westminster Foundation for Democracy (WFD) helps strengthen parliaments and political parties in developing countries and countries in transition to democracy. Its programmes aim to build policy capacity so that public policy processes are open, consultative and evidence-based, strengthen accountability so that parliaments and political parties hold other government institutions and actors to account and are accountable themselves to their constituents and stakeholders, improve representation so that parliaments and political parties represent their constituencies effectively and are representative of the interests and needs of their citizens as a whole, and increase citizen participation so that citizens, particularly women, youth and other marginalised groups, have greater access to and a more active role in parliamentary and political processes.

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