Democracy and the role of impartial media

By Sue Inglish, Independent Governor

It is a great privilege to be asked to become an independent governor of the Westminster Foundation for Democracy. I have been a broadcast journalist for most of my career covering elections at home and abroad and my experience has shown me that wherever you are in the world, a thriving democracy needs free, independent and impartial media.

As a producer for Channel 4 News in 1986 I was in the Philippines covering an election which pitted the corrupt and violent regime of President Ferdinand Marcos against the widow of one of his political opponents.

Benigno Aquino was assassinated on the tarmac of Manila airport as he returned to his country from exile. Cory Aquino, a woman of tiny stature and huge courage, dressed in her trademark yellow, campaigned fearlessly and drew huge crowds at her rallies.

For the international media flocking to Manila it was a great story and the eyes of the world were on the Philippines. The local media too, particularly radio, played a key role in the election.

As we filmed voters at the polling stations on election day, reports came in from election observers around the country of intimidation and blatant electoral violations by Marcos’s supporters. Despite Mrs Aquino’s undoubted popularity, Marcos was declared the winner. It seemed that dictatorship had trumped democracy and the will of the people had been ignored. But thousands took to the streets in a display of People Power. With the world’s media broadcasting every move in the drama, the US government abandoned its support for the regime, Cory Aquino was sworn in as president and Marcos and his wife, Imelda fled the country. One of the most telling images was of the crowds flocking to the presidential palace, staring in amazement at Imelda Marcos’s collection of thousands of pairs of shoes, a testament to 20 years of greed and corruption.

“For a democracy to function properly, it needs a well-informed electorate”

I left the country with a certificate proclaiming me, along with hundreds of other foreign journalists, a “hero of the Philippine People’s Revolution”. The course of democracy there has not been easy in the intervening years but in 1986, there was no doubt that the Philippine people were the real heroes.

Twenty years later as head of the BBC’s political programmes, I was responsible for political, parliamentary and election coverage. The BBC’s role is to provide all its audiences on television, radio and online with impartial, accurate and comprehensive news and information.

Impartiality in all its news coverage, particularly political journalism, is at the heart of the BBC’s values. Viewers expect the BBC and other broadcasters to examine robustly the policies of the political parties helping them to understand the complex issues of our time. Audience research carried out during the current general election, shows that the BBC is still the most trusted source of news and information.

In 2010 during the UK General Election campaign, for the first time, the leaders of the three largest political parties agreed to take part in three live televised debates. The programmes were watched by a total of 22 million people and were particularly popular among younger viewers and people who usually do not watch traditional political output. Viewers said they were better informed about the key issues as a result.

For a democracy to function properly, it needs a well-informed electorate. In an era of social media and so-called fake news, now more than ever, people need trusted sources of news and information.

I am looking forward to bringing my experience as a journalist to the work of the Westminster Foundation for Democracy in strengthening democracies around the world.

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Ten ways WFD improved citizens’ lives in 2015/16

Democracy-strengthening programmes make a real difference to citizens’ lives.

Here are some examples of Westminster Foundation for Democracy’s results from the last 12 months.

Helping ecotourism in Jordan

alquds jordan training 2013Increasing the involvement of young people in politics is a key challenge in maintaining Jordan’s democratic progress.

Forest fires in Jordan’s beautiful wooded north-western region more than halved in 2015, thanks to an initiative led by a youth leader whose training was funded by WFD.

More here: Saving Ajloun’s forests – the ‘lungs of Jordan’

Suleiman Al-Qudah’s ‘My Forest’ initiative mobilised local citizens, faith groups and environmentalists to improve public knowledge about the disadvantages of deliberately setting fires in order to obtain firewood.

“If I hadn’t taken the training,” Suleiman says, “I wouldn’t have had the motivation or the ability to try and start an initiative dealing with the forest fires. I got to learn about my rights and duties. I was given a framework for my thoughts and identity.”

One beneficiary, a local campaigner called Roqaya Al-Orood, was inspired to begin an initiative cleaning up 6,000 square metres of damaged forest land and, subsequently, a separate project cleaning the east bank of the Jordan River.

Helping widows in Morocco

Morocco women - flickr - mhobl

Photo: mhobr

Unsustainable fuel subsidies in countries around the world increase carbon emissions and divert precious resources away from other social and economic investments. But Morocco bucked the trend and successfully dropped fuel subsidies in 2015.

This policy improvement was only possible because of the political consensus achieved through the work of the new Public Accounts Committee (PAC), established with WFD’s support, which made subsidies the subject of its first report.

“My government was not able to do it because they were fearful of unpopularity, but Morocco was able to make the change because the parliament provided a platform for discussion,” says Dr Berroho, an MP and PAC member.

Some of the money saved was diverted elsewhere – to a new fund providing financial support for widows whose children are still in school.

“The funds providing direct support to women widows in Morocco will certainly have a positive impact on those who did not have any financial support before,” says Khadija Rebbeh, National Coordinator of the Association Démocratique des Femmes du Maroc.

Campaigning for justice in Egypt

Egypt police - Flickr - James BuckPhoto: James Buck

Shaimaa al-Sabbagh, an activist belonging to Egypt’s Socialist Popular Alliance party, was shot dead during peaceful protests in Cairo on January 24th 2015.

The search for accountability and justice in the aftermath of her shocking death could have been frustrated had it not been for the efforts of the Arab Women’s Network for Parity and Solidarity (Tha’era), supported by the UK Labour Party’s WFD-funded programme.

Tha’era built on the relationships it had established in the wake of the 2011 Arab Spring to build solidarity behind its demand that the Egyptian President ensured a “transparent public investigation concerning her death”.

Its campaigning on Facebook, organising of demonstrations in member countries and lobbying of international organisations ultimately led to the successful prosecution of the responsible policeman.

A Tunisian member of the Network said: “The mobilisation of Tha’era members at the time of Shaimaa’s murder and their capacity to alert international public opinion was a beautiful example of regional solidarity.”

Helping schoolchildren in Iraq

iraqi schoolgirl - flickr - DVIDSHUB

Photo: Flickr

Like other legislatures in the region, the Iraqi Council of Representatives has recognised the need to improve its contribution to policy debates in the country. One way of doing that is to use civil society organisations to support policy development.

The think-tank Dar Al-Khebrah Organisation (DKO), established with WFD’s support, has provided the impetus needed to achieve a major wave of investment in Iraqi education.

Dr Ehsan of DKO had proposed raising the cash to pay for 10,000 new schools by amending the Stamp Fees Act to charge an additional 1,000 Iraqi dinars on all official government transactions.

After submitting his idea to the Ministry of Education, its minister instructed that the policy proposal be examined by an internal policy committee. This is now under consideration and it is hoped the measure will shortly be approved.

Once this takes place it will be debated by the Council of Representatives. Its Education Committee chair has already indicated he will fight for the bill until it is enacted into law.

Pursuing justice for torture victims in Georgia

IMG_2817Torture victims seeking justice in Georgia will be the ultimate beneficiaries of WFD’s work linking up civil society organisations with MPs in the Georgian Parliament.

Its Human Rights Committee is working more closely with civil society thanks to events organised by WFD which have helped both assess relevant legislation and revise the Parliament’s scrutiny of human rights issues.

More here: Meet the Georgian MPs determined to achieve change

“One of the main challenges our state faces and our organisation works on,” Vakhtang Kanashvili of the Centre on the Protection of Civil and Political Rights told us in December 2015, “is the conduct of the comprehensive investigation of facts concerning crimes of torture that occurred before 2012.”

The Centre is calling for a firmer criminal policy and amendments to the Criminal Procedure Code in order to comply with international standards.

“The next step must be the correct qualification of facts concerning crime of torture and the persons who perpetrated that crime must not be granted any kind of legal privilege, including plea bargaining,” Mr Kanashvili added.

More women candidates in Bosnia and Herzegovina

DSC_0097Bosnia and Herzegovina’s prescribed 40% quota for women’s representation in the government has not yet been achieved.

Ahead of local elections in October 2016 across Bosnia and Herzegovina, WFD is collaborating with the UK parties and working with local digital and social media to encourage more women candidates to stand.

More here: Bringing inclusive democracy to a divided society

Among the participants in local discussion events is Irma Baralija, a Professor in Mostar and member of Naša Stranka’s leadership.

“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,” she says.

Both Labour and the Conservative Party have contributed to this integrated programme, building on their longstanding sister-party relationships.

Building the capability of new Kyrgyz MPs

kyrg1November 2015 saw a group of new MPs beginning their work in Kyrgyzstan’s Jogorku Kenesh by attending induction sessions provided by WFD.

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

More here: Inducting new MPs in Kyrgyzstan

The new intake faces intense pressure to improve the Parliament’s performance, as there is a bar on any further constitutional amendments until 2020 – giving it a clear window of opportunity to establish a multiparty system.

Participants received presentations and briefings on the functions and powers of Parliament, how Parliament interacts with the institutions of Government and how they, as new MPs, can represent their constituents more effectively.

“If the parliament is proactive, there’s a chance for us to get out of the economic crisis and for the country to become more stable,” former Speaker Zainidin Kurmanov told MPs. WFD is helping make this possible.

Strengthening the Punjab Assembly

Punjab AssemblyPakistan’s decentralisation process is of critical importance to strengthening democracy in the country. To make this work, each of the Regional Assemblies needs to be able to operate in a professional way and build the confidence of their citizens.

That is why transforming the rules of procedure for the Provincial Assembly of Punjab (PAP) – the members of which represent 28 million citizens – was an enormous achievement for Ayesha Javed, a Member of the PAP.

“My dream has come true,” she says. “I started the process of reforming the rules alone in 2013 but continuous pushing and immense support from WFD has enabled me to get the Reforms Bill passed in 2016.”

Ms Javed received training from WFD which encouraged her to propose amendments to the changes.

The changes – including the adoption of an annual calendar which will allow MPAs to prepare for debates for the first time – will benefit all the Assembly’s MPAs, and therefore all its citizens.

Enforcing women’s rights in Uganda

women's parliamentUganda has passed the legislation it needs to end sexual harassment, domestic violence and other forms of gender inequality.

But implementation has not proved straightforward, prompting WFD to organise Uganda’s first ever Women’s Parliament of MPs, campaigners and local politicians.

More here: ‘This Parliament empowered me’

Participants shared inspiring stories of their experiences in protecting women. “I hope to share a lot with women about the different testimonies,” Betty Bwamika, an attendee from the Mpigi district, said. “It’s important that women can express themselves – you can fight for your rights.”

The Women’s Parliament is set to yield further results in the months to come as its work of citizen engagement reaches more people. For example, two women who attended the event have subsequently lobbied a multinational operating near their home village to pay for more primary school places.

Helping LGBTI citizens across Africa

africa lesbians

Photo: Flickr

The Africa Liberal Network, supported by WFD, has helped advance political representation for Africa’s LGBTI citizens since 2014.

The adoption of its Marrakesh Declaration on Human Rights by 44 member parties from 30 countries was a significant moment because it included clauses which recognized sexual orientation and commit to equal rights for all.

The ALN has promoted this view by providing support for election planning, political communication, branding, canvassing and working on the ground-up elements.

“In Botswana, for example, this was quite revolutionary in the sense that the liberal opposition now poses a serious challenge to the ruling party,” ALN programme coordinator Luke Akal says. “This is a first for Botswana and was in large part because of the work the ALN did with our parties and partners.”

More here: Africa Liberal Network party focus

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Demonstrating WFD’s results: Playing a long game

We’re not building a school or digging a well—the immediate beneficiaries are not children or the vulnerable. Yet parliamentary strengthening is a cornerstone of democracy. How do we communicate this to citizens?

By Alex Stevenson, WFD Head of Communications
Featured photo: Graham Veal
Parliamentary strengthening matters.
It’s a key aspect of good governance and a cornerstone of representative democracy. But communicating its importance and the results which flow from it to donors, stakeholders and even among ourselves is far from straightforward. In extremis, this problem can even undermine the validity of parliamentary strengthening.

In blunt terms, the work of organisations like Westminster Foundation for Democracy is not always thrilling, or even emotive. We’re not building a school or digging a well. The immediate beneficiaries are not children or the vulnerable, and very few of them will be living in poverty. A committee session about tweaking the rules of procedure is never going to be Hollywood box office stuff.Yet the parliamentarians whose working lives benefit from our support aren’t the people this kind of programming is ultimately seeking to help. Whether through improved policy, better accountability, more representative politics or enhanced citizen participation in public life, parliaments matter because they can help change citizens’ lives for the better.

It’s a shame that much of the public debate about parliaments’ role is either seen through a partisan perspective or described by constitutionalists whose terms of reference feel removed from everyday life. During my six years as a journalist writing from the House of Commons Press Gallery about the relationship between the UK’s executive and its parliament, I often made this mistake. As a communicator seeking to highlight why parliaments matter, a more productive approach focusing on the real beneficiaries seems to be essential.

That’s why, in the last few months, I’ve been thinking hard about a new way of showcasing WFD’s results—and, more generally, overcoming the obstacles to communicating the reasons for backing parliamentary strengthening. This is not ground-breaking work, but it does seek to return to first principles and ensure that WFD’s work is not unnecessarily marginalised.

Two obstacles, in particular, need to be tackled head-on. First is the question of what I call ‘citizen proximity’—how close a beneficiary actually is to being an ordinary person. The clerk of a parliamentary committee might make a good interviewee, but their work is framed narrowly and doesn’t speak much to the experiences of the average person in the street. An MP is marginally better, especially if they represent specific constituents. Consulting a civil society organisation, which can speak for a group of citizens and anticipate the changes any shift in policy might bring, is much more like it. Best of all is a citizen—someone whose life has actually been altered by a change that could only have happened because of parliamentary strengthening.

Finding such a citizen might seem rare or unusual—and this is the second obstacle. Achieving change like this takes a lot of time; parliamentary strengthening is patient, long-term work. On a day-to-day basis it involves building the capability of parliaments and political parties. Tracing the link between these activities and a citizen’s life is surely the principal challenge of demonstrating results in this sector.

The answer lies in policy changes resulting from WFD’s interventions. Take our support for the Coalition of Arab Women MPs combating domestic violence, for example. This is campaigning to abolish provisions in the MENA region’s penal codes which allow rapists to escape prosecution by marrying their victim. At the conclusion of a recent meeting of the coalition, the Speaker of the Lebanese Parliament declared his wish to see the topic debated. That is an excellent result; it shows an issue is being debated that might not otherwise have been. The use of a research centre’s products, or a parliamentary budget office’s analysis, or the election of a women candidate who had been supported by WFD, to take some of WFD’s other examples, would also fall under this category. Tracing the link between these activities and a citizen’s life is surely the principal challenge of demonstrating results in this sector.

By the time that some of these debates would actually result in a policy being changed, the programme which began the process could well have wrapped up. This is the next big landmark in the policy change process, which should be celebrated. In Kyrgyzstan in April 2015, WFD’s project completion report noted that a new law had been passed regulating veterinary vaccines. This was great news on its own terms, because the issue had been brought to the attention of MPs via regional committee hearings set up by WFD. We could have spoken to a farmers’ union or other representative body, perhaps, and heard how the change had the potential to make a big difference.

But passing a policy doesn’t automatically result in implementation. It takes even more time for this to happen. It’s only then that the link between a strengthened parliament and an individual’s life can be properly completed. In some instances the connection happens quickly: a Jordanian youth leader trained as part of a WFD programme in 2013 quickly led an initiative which reversed a local trend in forest fires, for example. (I travelled to the Jordan Valley in March to find a citizen beneficiary, Roqaya Al-Orood.) In other cases, especially when working with political parties, a decade seems like a reasonable amount of time to have to wait.

That, surely, is a major obstacle to finding and demonstrating results. A combination of journalistic tenacity and rigorous monitoring is needed to keep track of so many potential avenues of inquiry. It is certainly an area of improvement for WFD, which has achieved results in spades, and is now doing more to dig them out.

A new conversation

As part of WFD’s broader exploration of the barriers to parliamentary strengthening, I want to find out more about how other organisations approach this. Of course it is about more than just communications; effective monitoring and evaluation is essential if these comms-friendly case studies are to become logframe-friendly stories of change. But demonstrating results will always be a strategic messaging priority for parliamentary strengthening organisations.

This leads me to my questions for others working on communicating the value of parliamentary strengthening:

• What does best practice in this very niche area of work look like?

• Do others share my conviction that ‘being human’ is the best way to surmount the ostensibly dry subject matter?

• Do you agree that any case study needs to be as long-term in scope as is needed to connect a strengthened parliament with an improvement in a citizen’s life?

• How far should communicators go in finding citizens even before a policy change is achieved?

• Or are there other ways of demonstrating results not even covered in this article?

I hope this appeal for insight from others can help start a conversation about the right approaches to finding results in parliamentary strengthening. WFD and organisations like it have great stories to tell—but there is work to be done in finding and fleshing out those stories. If we share our approaches, perhaps we all might get a little better at it. And that would be something of a result in itself.

This article was published on openDemocracy as part of WFD’s research project How do parliaments shape democracy – and democracies shape parliaments?

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Helping Iraq’s Integrity Commissions tackle corruption

“We need to blend our efforts with others’ experiences to fight corruption in Iraq,” Mr Bassim Jasim Hajwal, Director General of the National Integrity Commission in Iraq, says.

As David Cameron tackles anti-corruption in a major summit on the issue in London, Westminster Foundation for Democracy’s programme in Iraq is making steady progress.

Mr Hajwal, an important figure in Iraq’s efforts to ensure good governance, is committed to enhancing his Commission’s capacity. He wants it to respond effectively to recent reforms by the Iraqi Government. Westminster Foundation for Democracy’s programme in Iraq is helping him achieve this by bringing together those engaged in similar work around the world. Working with the National and Regional Commissions to increase their skills by showing them the Indonesian experience in a recent study visit to Jakarta (pictured above), for example, is an important part of our programme.

This process is far from straightforward. The Integrity Commission wishes to work as an independent institution, but implementing its decisions is proving challenging. “Lack of skills in building good relationship with law enforcement agencies is preventing us from implementing our follow-up efforts appropriately,” Mr Hajawal adds. “The Integrity Commission needs to strengthen our relationships with different organisations.” Further to engagement with WFD programming, the Baghdad Commission will now prepare a report on what has been learned about the mechanisms of investigatory work, public prosecutors and law enforcement agencies in fighting corruption.

2 - Erbil - flickr - jason pitcherErbil, the capital of the Kurdistan region in Iraq, aims to shine a light on corruption issues. Photo: Jason Pitcher (Flickr)

It’s not just Mr Hajwal who will benefit from WFD’s work. WFD will continue to support him and his colleagues working on similar issues in the Kurdistan Region’s Integrity Commission programme. More broadly, better governance will help all the direct and indirect stockholders who are interested in fighting corruption: the parliament, audit institutions, judiciary system, etc. It is part of the UK Prime Minister’s “golden thread” of good governance whose importance will again be underlined in London. This week’s summit is set to unveil a package of measures which will seek to drive out the culture of corruption wherever it exists around the world.

In the longer term, once institutions with strong integrity take root in Iraq and elsewhere, individuals will benefit too. Reducing corruption through strengthening relevant institutions and integrity commissions will raise accountability and better oversight efforts on public finance, which will directly reflect on individuals’ situation and their shares in states’ incomes. This is what WFD aims to do in Iraq and our programming remains committed to supporting efforts to strengthen public accountability.

Achieving this builds Mr Hajawal’s hope that by combining skills and lessons from different experiences and similar contexts, Iraq’s Integrity Commissions can learn about the effective mechanisms that make such institutions strong and independent – and overcome the different challenges which inevitably emerge along the way. “I am ambitious that WFD can help the Integrity Commissions in Iraq,” Mr Hajawal says, “and build the Commission’s capacity.” It will not be easy. But this is work which, in both Baghdad and Erbil, is already underway.

4 - Conclsuion meeitng between both commisisonsThe Baghdad and Erbil Integrity Commissions’ leaders discuss the findings of their study visit to Indonesia with WFD

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Uganda is in transition – to a stronger democracy

After an election campaign unlike any of its predecessors, it’s clear Uganda is changing.

Its citizens want a more effective, inclusive governance – and organisations like Westminster Foundation for Democracy can help them achieve this.

Most observers expected that Yoweri Museveni would be returned to power to begin a fifth presidential term. Cynics might suggest this – and the accompanying controversies surrounding polling day and its aftermath – means nothing but business as usual. But as the campaign which preceded it showed, Uganda’s democracy is steadily developing.

For the first time, Uganda’s elections were dominated by three genuine contenders jostling for position. They were vying for support from young voters who are just as interested in what Uganda will look like in 2046 as they are in 2016. In a country where the average age is 15, and amid the rapid growth of internet usage, mobile phones and social media, the style of campaigning felt very different.

It’s clear that the Parliament will play an increasingly important role in connecting citizens with politicians. This really matters because democracy is as much about what happens between elections as it is on the days when votes are actually cast.

Parties united on gender rights

Take gender rights, an issue WFD is focused on strengthening in Uganda. The country has made great strides towards strengthening women’s rights in its first decade of multiparty politics. New laws passed in recent years targeting the UN’s Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) reflect the Government’s determination to improve the lives of Ugandan women.

The problem is that implementing CEDAW has proved challenging, particularly in the north and east. These were, after all, areas devastated by the Lord’s Resistance Army for nearly two decades. WFD believes we can help connect civil society organisations with local and national parliamentarians to accelerate the process of positive change in all parts of Uganda.

Our EU-funded programme is working to enhance civil engagement and political dialogue on the implementation of legislation supporting CEDAW, with the ultimate goal of reducing the levels of violence suffered by women and girls. Our 30-month programme, which started in May 2014, covers Kapchorwa and Bukwo districts in the east, and Gulu and Nwoya in the north. CSOs, local councils and Parliament are participating in activities which help them scrutinise CEDAW legislation more effectively.

Our combination of training events and workshops for CSOs, journalists, district council staff and parliamentary researchers are showing real progress. Our main partners, Gulu Women’s Economic Development and REACH, report that citizens are more aware of their rights because of our combined work. Better public discourse on human rights and democracy is essential, which is why we’re so pleased to have organised the first ever Women’s Parliament in Uganda in June 2015.

“This Parliament empowered me to speak up and defend my position as a leader,” Asio Rose Mary, a member of Malaba Town Council, said of the June 2015 event. “We are fighting problems at the grassroots.” Overturning deep-set cultural attitudes will not come easily, but local leaders like Asio believed they can be challenged and, ultimately, overturned. It’s at the local level where change will take place – but it’s in Kampala, at events like the Women’s Parliament, where the instigators of that change were being encouraged by WFD.

An opportunity for Uganda’s Parliament

Events like the Woman’s Parliament matter because they bring together politicians with civil society stakeholders. Party politics will always play a big role in these exchanges, but our focus is on supporting Uganda’s institutions achieve better outcomes for its citizens. In the five years which follow these elections, WFD has a lot more to contribute.

The great positive we’ve found in our current programme on gender inequality is that politicians of all parties are committed to tracking the implementation of existing laws and policies.

This presents a big opportunity for the Parliament, which can be strengthened as an institution by improving its post-legislative scrutiny function. Better accountability and oversight of broader human rights issues, the justice system and the sound management of public finances are obvious next steps.

Gender equality and women’s empowerment will remain a central focus of our operations in Uganda. But we hope that the positive changes adopted in this area can spread good governance across all areas of public policy, and trickle down to local government officials and civil society too. WFD can use its strong relationships with the Speaker, UWOPA and key international stakeholders to work to strengthen the newly-elected Parliament across all these areas.

WFD’s relationships

That means partnering with both national and international organisations like WFD which want to work in Uganda for the long-term. We’re committed to remaining in the country and continuing the work we’ve started after our current programme ends in December 2016.

Whether it’s strengthening local and national parliaments’ policy oversight, holding the government to account, strengthening representation, or encouraging more citizen participation in fostering change, our work contributes towards our overall vision: a Uganda where inclusive and effective democratic governance makes a real difference towards citizens’ lives across the country.

Our approach applies whoever emerges on top in these elections. What matters is that Uganda is changing – and WFD stands ready to work with Uganda’s politicians, civil society and citizens to help them shape their country’s future.

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Saving Ajloun’s forests – the ‘lungs of Jordan’

“Ever since I was a child I used to go to the forest near Ajloun,” says Roqaya Al-Orood, a resident of Jordan’s most wooded region. “We always went to the same picnic spot and we had many happy times.” North-western Ajloun is close to Syria and the West Bank – locals refer to Jordan being surrounded by a “ring of fire” that also encompasses Iraq and Aqaba – but Ajloun’s forests have always been peaceful. “Then, one day in June 2014, I arrived at my favourite spot to find the forest had been annihilated. All the trees had been burned down.” These trees were several centuries old and Roqaya was appalled at the destruction. “It was very, very hard for me.”

Forest fires are a perennial problem in the Ajloun area, but their frequency jumped dramatically in the years following 2006. High energy prices were prompting some locals to circumvent rules forbidding the use of living trees for fuel. Retrieving wood from dead trees is permitted, so it was obvious why, as energy costs spiralled, the number of deliberately started forest fires was also spiking.

“This couldn’t be solved from a security perspective,” says Fadi Huwarat, who as head of the Agriculture Department in Ajloun at the time was tasked with finding a way to stop the trend. Many of the initiatives put in place only sought to clean up the garbage dumped in the devastated areas. Even these did not impress Mr Huwarat’s department. “They were all words and no action,” he adds. But he felt he had one piece of information which he could work with: “We knew the people violating the forests were young, because they were able-bodied.”

Mr Huwarat was still pondering this when the biggest violation of all took place. In late 2013, 27,000 square metres of forest were destroyed in one huge fire. Those working in civil defence were under intense pressure; many of those responsible for violating the forest had learned to deliberately set several fires at once to ensure firefighters could not combat all of them.

Mount Carmel forest fire
Mount Carmel forest fire

It was clear the threat faced by Ajloun’s trees was reaching a new alarming level. “In Ajloun the forest is a symbol for the town and for nature,” Roqaya says. “Every time you plan a family trip, you immediately think of the forest. I love the forest in Ajloun and think about it with pride and love. Everyone who lives here has a deep-rooted relationship with the forest.”

The forest’s biodiversity and its status as a source of oxygen are important in environmental terms, but they matter because of their economic benefit too. Almost 20% of the population benefit directly from tourism, driven by the healthy air and pilgrimage sites attracting both Muslims and Christians. Officials believe if Ajloun’s potential is realised 50% of local residents could benefit. Yet as the woods near the famously scenic road into Ajloun began to be despoiled by blackened wood and widespread fly-tipping, all that seemed in danger.

Mount Carmel fire damage - flickr - Hanay

It was at this point, in September 2014, that a young man who had recently started working at the Princess Basma Youth Resources Centre approached Mr Huwarat with a proposal. Suleiman Al-Qudah – who grew up in a village near Ajloun – was among those selected for participation in a youth leaders’ training programme. The sessions, run by the Jerusalem Centre for Political Studies in 2013/4 and funded by Westminster Foundation for Democracy, aimed to increase citizen participation in the political process. Our goal in funding the training was to equip around 60 young Jordanians with the skills they need to make a real difference. Report-writing, editing, networking, policy drafting, interactive workshops and study visits to assess the Moroccan experience in this field were all included in the sessions.

“If I hadn’t taken the training,” Suleiman told us, “I wouldn’t have had the motivation or the ability to try and start an initiative dealing with the forest fires. I got to learn about my rights and duties. I was given a framework for my thoughts and identity.”

Suleiman wanted to come up with a proposal which could tackle the crisis faced by ‘the lungs of Jordan’. His first draft, says WFD’s Country Representative Ruba Fraihat, was very strong, but it was improved by the additional support she provided in helping him focus on its key stakeholders.

Just 27 years old at the time, Suleiman risked rejection on the grounds of his age. In Jordan, young people are usually expected to defer to their elders and challenging this approach risks encountering outright hostility. “Once when I was speaking at a symposium,” Suleiman remembers, “a tribal leader challenged me, saying; ‘who are you to say you know all the answers?’” The Arabic word for ‘old’ – kabeer – is the same as that used for ‘big’ or ‘important’. Suleiman’s message to young people in Jordan is that “you don’t need to be kabeer to be kabeer”. It was never guaranteed that Suleiman’s proposal, which sought to engage a wide range of stakeholders, would get the green light.

Fadi Huwarat; Suleiman Al-Qudah; Roqaya Al-Orood

In the event, it was exactly what Mr Huwarat needed. He had recognised that engaging with the young people responsible for many of the forest violations needed a youthful initiative. So ‘Rabaty’ – ‘My Forest’ – received approval in October 2014 and support. “The violations of the forest were giving me a pain in my heart,” Mr Huwarat says. “I chose ‘My Forest’ because the subject was very important; this was about reinvigorating the forests, not just cleaning them. It was innovative. And it engaged all parts of society, including a very important component of the community, women and young girls.”

The 45-day programme, which began in earnest in January 2015, saw the distribution of products, attendance at workshop events and a re-planting initiative. Suleiman’s was a comprehensive effort to reduce the number of forest fires. Both Christian priests and Muslim imams were engaged and spread the need for restraint. The programme saw academic groups highlight the environmental damage caused by the fires: citizen awareness about birds leaving the area, plant extinction and the shrinking forest’s falling oxygen production levels was raised. The programme’s supporters pushed for stronger punishments for forest violators, which led to a change in Article 43 of the region’s forestry by-laws.

“Ajloun represents a model of co-existence between Christians and Muslims,” Mr Huwarat adds. Suleiman, he says, helped strengthen those bonds. He did so in a “tactful way” which engaged the views of elders in the local communities the project was helping.

The programme achieved a tangible result. In the year before the programme, there were about 70 forest fires which were thought to have started deliberately. In the following 12 months, that number fell to about 30.

But there were many social benefits, too. In April 2015, Roqaya obtained permission to appropriate 6,000 square metres of land as an investment with her Loyalty Foundation. School students from all groups of society participated in her work. “The experience of ‘My Forest’ was the most important and effective so far,” she says. “I learned from Suleiman about the effectiveness of carrying out partnerships with local institutions and uniting the community as a whole. We had renovated and rehabilitated a whole new forest, with a new immigration system added for the seedlings too. When you are successful, you want to repeat it in other areas too.”

And that is exactly what Roqaya did. Drawing on the example of ‘My Forest’, she sought to repeat the process with a project cleaning the east bank of the Jordan River. The same principles of environmentalism and economic empowerment apply, she says; young women who have dropped out of school are additionally taught handiwork skills. “I was inspired by Suleiman’s approach of networking, courting strategic partnerships and gaining support of the local community,” she says. “I hope Suleiman can join me in my new experience.”

Suleiman’s focus is expanding beyond Ajloun. He has been involved in the foundation of a new Social Democratic Party which aims to field candidates in upcoming parliamentary elections. He is running a campaign to improve the prospects of people with disabilities, based on his growing experience. And he is working to ensure the achievements of ‘My Forest’ are sustainable by implementing a follow-up plan with the local authorities. Ongoing prevention measures are being carried out in cooperation with a local civil society initiative called ‘Ajloun Neighbours’.

“I could have started the ‘My Forest’ initiative without Westminster Foundation for Democracy,” Suleiman says, “but not with a successful outcome or successful results. I used to be a regular guy, but after I went through the programme my personality was polished. It turned me from being a humble voter into a decision-maker.”

He hopes to persuade other people his age that they, too, can make a difference. “We are a very patriarchal society – but we need civil society organisations to work together to raise awareness that young people, and women, are capable of managing and being decision-makers.”

Roqaya agrees. “Thank you to Westminster Foundation for Democracy,” she says, “for supporting young people like Suleiman and creating a circle of people who are hearing these ideas.” Roqaya believes they help “reinforce the whole community” and says “such values only strengthen one’s loyalty to one’s town.” She adds: “The sustainability of the forests equals the sustainability of the people.”

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Why should WFD care about devolution?

devolution - flickr - Ian Sane

By David Thirlby, WFD’s Senior Programme Manager for Asia

Devolution and democratisation often go hand-in-hand. In practice, though, the process of transferring power away from central government often produces disappointing results and is always a complex business. These difficulties make it all the more important that organisations like Westminster Foundation for Democracy offer their assistance.
Paradoxically, as the world has become more globalised, there have been further demands, and calls for, devolution. In discussing devolution the terminology itself can be confusing.  It is often associated with administrative decentralisation, de-concentration of power and federalism amongst others. For the purposes of this article, devolution refers to where the central government has passed on powers previously held to it to a sub-national unit. Devolution is often seen as a means to improve the provisions of public services, protect local rights, secure peace and reconciliation as well as consolidate multi-party democracy.

By their very nature authoritarian regimes tend to be unitary forms of government where power and decision-making are centralised. It is therefore not surprising that following periods of authoritarian rule, a democratisation process is often accompanied with devolution.  We saw this in Pakistan after Musharraf’s regime, where a return to parliamentary democracy at the national level was mirrored with provision of substantial powers to the constituent provinces, and recently, to elected government bodies. This logic applies elsewhere: post-Franco Spain’s 1978 constitution provided for strong autonomous regions whose power has extended as local democracy has been entrenched. However, it is difficult to determine how much power should be devolved before it brings into question the unity of the state itself. In the last couple of years, both in Spain and the UK, movements towards independence has called into question the nation state. Interestingly, neither are federal countries.

The principle of subsidiarity states that governments work best, so the logic goes, when they are close to citizens who benefit from better frontline services based on decisions which are more attuned to the local context.  When decisions are made closer to the people, people are also better able to oversee the execution of decisions thereby providing further pressure on accountability.  After Suharto’s New Order in Indonesia, basic services including the provision of health, primary and secondary education are the responsibility of the districts. However, when there are multiple layers of government, it can be difficult for the citizen to identify who is responsible for what – is it the local council/ municipality, region/ state or the national government?  Arguably, this is further complicated in supranational bodies such as the EU. A problem often witnessed is that although many central governments are keen to devolve powers, they are often unwilling or unable to provide the financial resources that go with them.

Protecting local rights is another key drive for devolution. In many cases these are often tied to issues concerning distribution of resources. In many resource-rich countries, local communities feel disempowered because they suffer disproportionately from the extraction of natural resources, which often are highly polluting. This was the case in the petroleum-rich Delta Region in Nigeria, which experienced especially severe conflict during Sani Abacha’s military regime.  Many countries, such as Peru, have regional governments that get a share of royalties from local developments which benefit local communities. However, often it is difficult to determine how the royalties of natural resources are shared, not just between the local region and the central government, but also between regions. This is especially the case in countries where human development index scoring is  low and money is scarce. The Democratic Republic of Congo’s vast natural resources are confined in a few states – such as Katanga– with the resource-poor states, such as Province Orientale, grumbling that the funds are not being fairly distributed. Likewise the 2010 constitution in Kenya created 52 counties with powers that sought to redress accusations that certain ethnic groups had not benefitted equally since independence. However, when resource allocation is tied to that of a region or ethnic group, it can lead to divisions. At independence in 1960 Nigeria consisted of three regions – tellingly now it consists of 36 states.

Most controversial is the role that devolution has played in conflict resolution and reconciliation. In the UK, the 1998 Good Friday Agreement provided for a system of power-sharing between both communities in Northern Ireland. In Indonesia, giving Aceh a degree of autonomy and allowing it to adopt a form of Sharia law were part of the main provisions that brought an end 30 years of conflict between the Free Aceh Movement (GAM) and the national government. Questions of devolution are a factor in countries like Burma and Sri Lanka that are in the process of resolving long-standing violent secessionist movements by minorities.

Why WFD can help

The UK has a good story to tell about devolution – made all the more valuable by being as much about its pitfalls and challenge as its successes. Our asymmetric approach means the three devolved assemblies each have their own unique focus. In Wales there are interesting lessons on how to cope with the language issue; in Northern Ireland devolution comes in the context of conflict resolution and power-sharing; and in Scotland we see an example of devolution attempting to win the confidence of a small nation while remaining in a much larger one.

Westminster Foundation for Democracy draws on all this experience and expertise – not just from the Commons, but all the devolved assemblies. And not just from their hugely knowledgeable and insightful staff, either, but also from Westminster’s political parties. Our approach utilises the strong sister-party relationships between the UK’s parties and their overseas counterparts to encourage the growth of multiparty democracies in the countries where we operate.

In countries either going through the process of devolution, or getting used to the new system, we should be ready to work with new representative bodies at the sub-national level. It is not about being an advocate for devolution in itself. What matters is that it is often the devolved units which receive powers over the areas like education or health which can make the biggest difference to fighting poverty. The challenge is in making the devolved institutions more effective at connecting them up with their citizens and helping them understand where the responsibilities lie.

Where next?

As we look to the future there is room for both optimism and concern. We can expect many of the newly devolved units to establish themselves more effectively.For example, Lagos in Nigeria or Jakarta in Indonesia have shown how effective sub-national systems can be at improving and delivering front line services that make a real difference to citizens’ lives.

However, clear dangers lie ahead too. Critics of devolution rightly point to the perils of having multiple layers which unnecessarily absorb state resources and detract from directing those resources to where they are needed. There is a risk of creating hollowed-out institutions which do not have the manpower, or even the political will, to be effective.

WFD, and parliamentary strengthening organisations like it, have a critical role to play, but we have to be careful not to approach this with our own preconceived ideas in mind. The complex relationships between the different tiers of representation are all context-specific. All our work has to be driven by our partner parliaments. It is only where there is political will for reform that we should seek to operate. When that exists – and it’s clear that assisting regional bodies will help improve people’s lives – we should always be ready to offer our support.

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EALA Speaker praises WFD’s ‘dedication and commitment’

EALA office

With WFD’s help, the East African Legislative Assembly (EALA) is using the region’s rapidly growing mobile and internet use to bring citizens closer to its work. More and more people are learning about its effectiveness and representation capabilities – and will continue to do so for many years.

This week saw the closure of WFD’s EALA programme after four years of engagement. Our work has contributed to the establishment of its Public Relations Office, the development of a Strategic Plan, increased engagement with civil society and, in the last six months, increased engagement with social media.

EALA Kidega

Speaker Kidega addresses the debrief event

“The Strategic Plan gave the Assembly a clear intent and direction,” EALA’s Speaker, the Rt. Hon Daniel Kidega, said before the debrief event in Arusha. “To take the Assembly to the people and reaching out was our biggest challenge – but that is what integration is about.” This engagement was illustrated by the recent Burundi crisis, which prompted an “amazing” engagement from civil society and the general public on social media.

That response reflects fast-moving changes across the region. Development across East Africa is gathering pace, while the opportunities for strengthening integration among the region’s five states are growing rapidly. EALA, which produces laws that affect the region’s 120 million citizens, plays an important role in this. Its task is to both foster regional cooperation and represent its citizens. In the coming years, EALA can tap into the opportunities offered by this rapid technological change. “Communicating what we are doing and gaining feedback is very important for accountability, oversight and representation,” Speaker Kidega added.

Flags of the East African Community nations fly outside the EALA building

It’s been the fast growth of social media and online platforms which has been the most recent focus of our support for EALA. Staff, EAC Youth Ambassadors, CSO representatives and Parliamentary Officers from partner states have received training in social media use and the Public Relations Office is in the process of developing a digital strategy. The internet offers a new way for citizens to engage with the Assembly and its work. WFD has facilitated this ongoing, developing relationship by producing educational YouTube videos targeted at primary and secondary school children, which will be broadcast on national television and utilised in schools across the partner states; developing new online platforms for engagement; and redesigning the EALA website, which was launched at the debrief event.

Majda El Bied, WFD’s Senior Programme Manager for Africa, addresses the debrief 

We’re now entering a period of hiatus in our activities with the Assembly as a result of this great progress but hope to return in the future. Following our programme’s completion in March 2016, the Public Relations Office will continue utilising the tools provided by WFD and the Strategic Plan runs until 2018.

The EALA offices – where WFD has been working since 2008

“The lessons WFD has learned on parliamentary communications and outreach work are valuable and can be applied to a range of other contexts,” Programme Officer for Africa Charlotte Egan said.

“WFD is proud of its work at EALA and we will maintain our valued relationships with its leadership in the years to come.”

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Moving Mozambique away from its violent past

A legislative sector approach can help move Mozambique away from its violent past

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

The legacy of the independence struggle and subsequent civil war in Mozambique still influences and shapes many aspects of its governance. The signing of the Rome General Peace Accord which ended the civil war in 1992 was supposed to bring an end to the war and start the process of healing the country. The 1990 constitution provided for a multi-party state and paved the way for the 1994 elections. The 2005 constitution went further, providing for the establishment of provincial assemblies. These, however, have limited powers over provinces’ administration, which is overseen by central government appointees. The main strength of the Provincial Assembly is its power to approve the Provincial Government’s programme and oversee its implementation.

According to the constitution, Provincial Assemblies should have been established within three years of the constitution’s adoption. Yet it was not until 2009 that Mozambique had its first elections for Provincial Assemblies. The ten new assemblies were underfunded, ill -equipped and their staff lacked training and skills to adequately support their members. Most of the assemblies still haven’t got a permanent home, but rent space from other government departments.

They also don’t have the technical skills to effectively scrutinise the Provincial Governments’ programmes and budgets. They lack the necessary support needed to conduct effective oversight. All Provincial Assembly members are part-time (except the Assembly President). Some tend to hold full-time jobs in the public sector – the very institution they are supposed to oversee.

The assemblies are also hampered by the vast geography of each province, compounded by poor transport infrastructure, which makes the task of oversight very difficult. However, it is important to recognise that provincial assemblies do hold a key to ensuring political representation in Mozambique. Their significance is only likely to increase as Mozambique goes down the route of decentralisation.

Since 2009, the relationship between the two main parties in Mozambique has continued to deteriorate. In 2013, Mozambique National Resistance (RENAMO) leader Alfonso Dhlakama revoked the 1992 Rome peace agreement and returned to the bush. Former president Armando Guebuza and Dhlakama negotiated a new peace agreement that would secure the 2014 elections when RENAMO succeeded in winning three provincial assemblies – but claimed victory in six.

They subsequently introduced a constitutional amendment which would have allowed for devolution of political powers to provinces. The proposed amendment would allow the winning party to appoint provincial governors. Having had the constitutional amendment defeated in Parliament, RENAMO threatened to take control in those provinces by force. The dominant Mozambique Liberation Front party (FRELIMO) responded to the threats by attempting to disarm RENAMO. The country has since seen an increase in armed conflict between the two parties.

Mozambique has had steady economic growth and is one of Africa’s fastest growing economies following the recent discovery of new natural resource deposits. The country still remains one of Africa’s poorest nations and can ill afford another protracted civil war. The population is also wary of further conflict after the last war. Citizens would like to see their leaders demonstrate greater political maturity in negotiating peaceful solutions.

In this tense political context, it is important for the donor community and democracy partners to bring the focus back to making the institutions of Mozambique’s democracy work effectively and responsively to the citizen’s needs. It equally importantly needs to demonstrate that the decentralised legislative structures at national, provincial and municipal levels can function and bring about equitable levels of development across the country.

For this to happen the donor community must consider working together to support a single legislative sector initiative to strengthen the provincial and national assembly. Mozambique’s neighbour South Africa is a great example of how a sectoral approach has helped to develop national and provincial legislatures. A sectoral approach also provides value for money and looks holistically at the long-term developmental needs of the growing legislative sector.

The Mozambican constitution also requires the President of the Assembly of the Republic to promote institutional relations between the Parliament and the Provincial Assemblies. The current President does this through the Speaker’s Conference, a meeting between the presidents of the provincial and national assemblies. This forum could be made more effective and play a much more important role in guiding the legislative sectors development.

Another plus for the sectoral approach has been the establishment of the parliamentary training centre, Centro de Estudos e Formação Parlamentar (CEFP), in 2013 with the support of WFD. The Centre’s new strategy is to encourage greater sharing of experience between the assemblies and support ongoing capacity building.

Finally, the donor community must explore ways to encourage the development of the institution of the opposition within assemblies. One cannot expect to develop mature opposition parties without supporting them with the research and skills needed to develop effective policies or to hold the government to account. Donors need to examine the current level of support provide to party factions in parliament and the provincial assemblies. Respecting the role that the opposition plays in an effective assembly is an important part of the culture of a mature democracy.

Armed conflict should never be an option in a democracy.


George Kunnath, Regional Director Europe and Africa visits the construction site of the new Maputo Provincial Assembly in Matola accompanied by the Assembly’s President, Joao Muringano Matola.

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Debate underway on trade-offs in parliamentary strengthening

Debate underway on trade-offs in parliamentary strengthening

After our opening guest week editing the front page of openDemocracy, Westminster Foundation for Democracy’s editorial partnership on how parliaments shape democracy (and how democracies shape parliaments) is now well and truly underway. We’re now focusing attention on the first of our four debate strands, tackling obstacles in parliamentary strengthening.

WFD’s efforts to understand more about what works, and how to be most effective with all our programmes, is underpinned by our research partnership with the University of Oxford. Its post-doc research fellow, Susan Dodsworth, penned a paper with Professor Nic Cheeseman on the issue. This was presented in central London at a WFD event earlier this month. Now Susan has written a blog for openDemocracy setting out her thoughts in more detail – and what questions she wants answering.

The main insight of her work so far, as she explains in her thought-provoking article, is that parliamentary strengthening programmes struggle to strike the right balance on two trade-offs: between issue-based and institutional approaches, and between narrow and inclusive approaches.

The key to shaping a programme is, of course, context analysis; but as Susan puts it, “context is a compass that doesn’t always point in the same direction”. She points to the age of the legislature and the nature/extent of social cleavages as useful pointers, before highlighting another awkward truth. Democracy promoters, she warns, often respond to what donors want, but “”successful legislative strengthening requires… a mixture of approaches”.

Susan’s article finishes with a list of questions – and we want all those active in the global parliamentary strengthening community to help us answer them. Please get in touch if you want to contribute an article in response to her views. Her queries are:

  • How can donors encourage democracy promoters to use best-practice without mandating a single ‘correct’ approach? How do we stop lessons learnt from becoming one-size-fits-all solutions? Where can democracy promoters get the evidence they need to demonstrate that their proposed approach is the best fit for a particular case?
  • Can accountability and innovation be reconciled? How can donors balance pressure to produce results with tolerance for failure when innovative programs don’t succeed? What should democracy promoters do differently to convince donors that risks are warranted?
  • Once they’ve identified an intervention that’s appropriate for the political context, how can democracy promoters persuade funders and beneficiaries to support it? To what extent should the choice of intervention be shaped by what other projects and programmes have been done in the past, or are being conducted now?

We’re looking forwards to seeing the debate on these issues taken forwards in the coming days. And we’re already had an initial response: thanks to Alina Rocha Menocal, a senior research fellow at the University of Birmingham, for her thoughtful comments.

Alina agrees on trade-offs, but is not so sure about the distinction between identity and ideological cleavages. She raises issues of her own, calling for more focus on the benefits of multi-party dialogue and the importance of understanding politics within parliaments – and the incentives that drive parliamentarians. Our ‘cost of politics’ research area seems relevant here. Alina also notes that parliamentary strengthening work is often remarkably similar wherever in the world it takes place. She wants to know if there are any “truly distinct” ways of working in specific countries – and so do we.

That’s why we’re looking forwards to seeing more responses in this area in the weeks to come. WFD has a track record in improving policy, increasing citizen participation, promoting accountability, and bettering representation. But that doesn’t mean we have a monopoly of knowledge on what works best. By exploring these issues in detail, we hope to strengthen both WFD’s programmes and the broader democracy and governance sector.

Email Graeme dot Ramshaw if you want to contribute to the debate.

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