Women MPs from Arab Countries review efforts to end gender violence

Representatives from 13 Arab countries, the Tunisian Ministry for Women, Family and Childhood, and the Coalition of Women MPs from Arab Countries Combating Violence Against Women gathered in Tunis for a two-day summit on 16 and 17 November.

The summit, supported by Westminster Foundation for Democracy (WFD), took stock of recent progress made in Tunisia and Lebanon and adopted a Tunis Declaration with legislative recommendations to help combat violence against women in the region.

Violence against women remains prevalent in the Arab world and globally, taking various forms in both the public and private sphere; as parliaments across the region are emboldened, it is necessary to develop legislative systems that secure women’s rights in principle and in practice.

Significant progress has been made so far and this conference convened in the context of real legislative achievements in the Arab region including the recent repeal of the rape marriage article 522 of the penal code of Lebanon and article 308 in Jordan, and the passage of the pioneering Tunisian Domestic Violence bill which recognises domestic violence for the first time and places a responsibility on the state to act in situations previously considered part of the private sphere. Where, according to the National Family Office of Tunisia, 43.6 percent of women between the ages of 18-24 have been victims of violence at least once in their lifetime, this law has the potential to have significant impact.

It is in this context of legislative change that this summit convened to explore and share experiences of implementation mechanisms across the spectrum of violence against women and to affirm commitment to an integrated system of adoption, implementation, and monitoring.

The summit was held in partnership with the Tunisian Ministry of Women and was opened by the Minister, Naziha el Obaidi, who said:

“Tunisia is a country of democracy, it is a nascent democracy but it is establishing legislative systems that preserve the rights of women, children, the elderly, and paves the way for a society where mutual respect prevails. We are proud to belong to this large crescent that is a cradle for civilisations. There is a common dream in the Arab countries to speak in a common language, endorse our responsibilities to our societies; there is a burden on us to act diligently and seriously in fulfilling the responsibilities to our societies, and to our women.”

Experts from across the region, Morocco, Jordan, Tunisia, Iraq and Lebanon, presented best practice on implementation with a focus on the provisions of women’s shelters, harassment in the workplace, and the specific forms of violence perpetrated against women with disabilities or women caring for those affected by disabilities.

As well as regional expertise, Sundari Anitha from Lincoln University shared the results of her research on domestic violence in the UK and in India, exploring the concepts of continuums of violence and intersectionality, introducing language and ideologies prevalent in the international community.

Although great strides are being made in legislative terms across the region, effectiveness of implementation remains to be seen and WFD’s Regional Director Dr Dina Melhem emphasised the need to commit resources to implementation and to post legislative scrutiny. Application can be hindered by many factors, including the ambiguity of the legal text, lack of coherence with other legal texts or other national laws and lack of human resources and other resources to implement however there needs to be a clear and unified understanding of the expected outcomes of the law to measure success.

In bringing together women representatives of 13 Arab countries, the meeting facilitated continued consultation on the draft Arab Convention to Combat Violence against Women; the Convention is the first of its kind to be ratified and reviewed by national parliaments during the drafting stage and attendees were encouraged to share their feedback.

The summit agreed a Tunis Declaration:

  • Our support for the adoption of the draft Arab Convention against Violence against Women and Girls and Domestic Violence
  • We look forward to the Tunisian presidency of the Committee on Women in the League of Arab States next year to upgrade this mechanism to become, in accordance with the proposal of Tunisia, a Council of Arab Women Ministers
  • We encourage States that have not yet adopted legislation and comprehensive frameworks to eliminate violence against women and girls and domestic violence to work towards the establishment of national systems in this field that are in conformity with international standards and are consistent with the contents of the draft Arab Convention
  • We have endeavored to adopt a broader definition of all forms of violence and discrimination and to avoid the narrow concept of the victim to ensure the protection of the rights of all victims,
  • Emphasizing the importance of ensuring special protection against violence for women with disabilities and tightening the sanctions against perpetrators,
  • We call for taking the necessary measures to eliminate cases of violence and sexual harassment in the workplace and to work towards the establishment of legislation in this framework, especially in the labor laws and penalties,
  • Emphasize the role of the judiciary in general and judges in particular to combat violence and to ensure the protection of women and work to develop jurisprudence bold and supportive to protect women and girls from violence and domestic violence,
  • Our emphasis on the need to allocate shelter centers for women and children victims of violence and domestic violence and to monitor the human and material resources necessary to safeguard the dignity of women and children,
  • Our belief in the need to spread the culture of women’s human rights among all the circles concerned with protecting them from violence and domestic violence and our emphasis on the role that national human rights institutions, educational and cultural institutions, media and social media can play in raising societal awareness and changing attitudes in order to ensure respect for women’s human rights and dignity.

Tunisia will assume the Presidency of the Arab League’s Women Committee in 2018 and will continue to be a key partner for the Coalition of Women MPs in their efforts to combat violence against women.

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A better deal: new law passed in Lebanon on oil and gas taxation

On 19 September 2017, the Parliament of Lebanon passed a new law with strong ring-fencing measures that will help get a better deal for the country from extractives.

With the recent discoveries of deep-sea gas fields, there are now real prospects of securing substantial revenues which can support better public services. But this will only be possible with the right legal framework and strong oversight from Parliament.

Westminster Foundation for Democracy (WFD) has supported the Lebanese parliamentary Public works, Energy, Water and Transport Committee for two years. Working closely with the committee chair, WFD brings international expertise and convenes meetings of MPs, officials and ministers. This has given the Committee some of the tools it needs to introduce new laws to improve transparency, stewardship and management of the extractives sector. The WFD programme has also supported the Parliament to raise its profile in oversight of the sector and highlight the vital role for Parliament at each stage.

In August 2016, WFD provided the Committee with an international comparative study on management and governance of the oil and gas sector. During meetings to discuss the study, the Committee adopted a recommendation to introduce a new oil and gas taxation bill.

A follow-up workshop with WFD in February 2017 provided an opportunity for Lebanese MPs to debate taxation of the oil and gas sector. This included contributions from Nick Butler, former Group Vice President for Strategy and Policy at BP and a former senior policy adviser to the UK Prime Minister. His recommendations focused on ‘ring-fencing’ to bring the Lebanese system into line with best practice worldwide. As he explained:

“Ring-fencing is a well-established part of energy taxation systems around the world. It allows the profits and the costs associated with each particular field development to be assessed and taxed separately.”

“If a major field is very profitable it can be taxed at the appropriate rate without all the profits being offset by expenditure elsewhere. It ensures companies cannot use losses on other activities – including onshore activities in energy or any other business – to offset their liabilities in respect of the offshore field.”

“Following the discovery of oil and gas in Lebanon, the country is expecting significant changes and lot of reforms are required.”

This resulted in the Committee deciding to amend the bill to strengthen original provisions on ring-fencing. Committee Chair Mohammed Kabbani MP, commented:

“Following the discovery of oil and gas in Lebanon, the country is expecting significant changes and lot of reforms are required. Certainly, the Parliament must play an important role in this process, the collaboration with WFD allowed for this to take place.

“Through the sharing of best practices and information, a comprehensive approach in the adoption of the Oil and Gas Taxation Law was followed, constructive engagement from relevant ministries was facilitated by the programme; the evidence provided on the ring-fencing generated an informed debate and decision. This support reinforced the oversight role of the Parliament and its centrality in shaping key polices.”

(Photo: Oil and Gas Taxation Bill discussed at a WFD workshop with members of the Public works, Energy, Water and Transport Committee.)

Along with ise securing a good deal for the Lebanese public purse, the parliamentary Committee is playing an important role – with WFD support – in transparency, good governance, management and oversight of the sector.

Support from the Foundation recently resulted in Parliament recommending Lebanon completes the process of joining the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI), a global standard for the good governance of oil, gas and mineral resources.

Committee member Joseph Maalouf MP has also recently lodged a new draft law on transparency of the Oil and Gas Sector. The Committee launched this initiative at a WFD workshop in November 2016, which brought together Lebanese MPs on the topic: “Oil and Gas- A legislative initiative to fight corruptio” .

On 19 October 2017, WFD will facilitate a workshop on parliamentary scrutiny of the Sovereign Wealth Fund Bill. This will aim at debating and designing a sound model of governance for the fund which will manage Lebanon’s assets.

(Main photo: Lebanon’s General Assembly meet to vote on the Oil and Gas Taxation Bill.)
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Democracy can help us end gender violence in the Arab world

By Wafa Bani Mustafa MP, Chair of the Coalition of Arab Women MPs to Combat Violence Against Women

Our girls and women who fall victim of violence, including domestic and sexual violence must deal not only with the life-changing consequences of abuse but also with legal systems, which, instead of providing prevention and protection to victims, help perpetrators.

For over three years, I have been working with the Westminster Foundation for Democracy as part of their support to the Coalition of Arab Women MPs to Combat Violence Against Women. The Coalition brings together legislators from thirteen countries and aims at ending the discrimination women in the region face in law with a focus on violence.

“When adopted, the Convention will be the first regional treaty to protect women from violence.”

As committed women lawmakers, we are determined to change legislation at both national and regional level. At national level, we have seen great success in Jordan, with the progress on the repeal of Article 308 of the Penal Code which meant perpetrators of rape within marriage escaped prosecution. Similar efforts were made through members of the coalition in Iraq and Lebanon. At regional level, where we can make the biggest difference, we achieved an important milestone in February, with the formal submission of the draft Convention to Combat Violence Against Women to Member States of the Arab League. When adopted, the Convention will be the first regional treaty to protect women from violence.

The landmark initiative, which benefitted from the support of WFD from the beginning, is unique in its kind and as we await approval, it is worth sharing with you its key features and the lessons we learnt to date:

International and regional treaties can advance standards.

During our preparatory phase, when WFD helped us study international charters and principles, it emerged how standards are particularly important when it comes to the protection of women and girls from violence. Existing efforts in other regions, like the Council of Europe’s Convention on Preventing and Combating Violence against Women and Domestic Violence, or the Inter-American Convention on the Prevention, Punishment and Eradication of Violence against Women, are prime examples of how regional efforts can help consolidate women’s rights.

The Convention was initiated by parliamentarians and is gaining support from Arab Parliaments.

At international level, this represents a new approach to the process of developing treaties or conventions, which usually originate at the executive level. Parliaments are often absent from the basic stages of treaty development, which can lead to difficulties in getting legislation ratified. It is important to involve MPs from the beginning of the process of drafting and debating to avoid such difficulties. I am particularly proud that our work on the Convention is part of this new generation of bottom-up cross-national parliamentary work.

Alliances were built with male MPs.

The Coalition adopted an inclusive approach for getting the Convention considered, by working with male colleagues and leaders as well as with the Arab Inter-parliamentary Union (AIPU) to gain the broadest possible support for the initiative, by demonstrating how without progress on equality it is harder if not impossible to achieve wider progress for all. The AIPU gave the Coalition permanent observer status at the AIPU, which was a testimony to our efforts and signalled commitment to support our cause.

The Convention meets international best practice.

The Convention has been written with the intention of becoming a source of international law for combating gender-based violence. There is an important pioneering role the League of Arab States can play in this field, especially in light of international interest to develop an international convention on gender based violence.

Gender Based Violence requires a comprehensive approach.

The Convention addresses all forms of violence against women and girls, including domestic violence. Importantly, the draft includes a commitment to ensure the articles are in force during times of peace, war or insecurity.

When the Convention is adopted, it will be a very important step that will contribute greatly in laying the foundations for further development in the Arab region and achieving security and peace by guaranteeing fundamental and humanitarian rights to all women.

We are thankful for the support WFD has afforded to our efforts to bring change for women and girls in the region. Democracy can help us end violence against women.

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Lebanon: Progress towards Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative

Lebanon is well on its way towards joining the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI), a major step towards ensuring that the profits from Lebanon’s oil and gas reserves contribute to the country’s economic development. Westminster Foundation for Democracy is working to support the Public Works and Energy Committee oversight role to make sure this becomes a reality.

The Lebanese Parliament is currently debating a draft petroleum transparency law. This reaffirms the commitment to join the EITI made by the Lebanese Council of Ministers in January 2017, and demonstrates the impact that the initiative is already having.

Since the discovery of 96 trillion cubic feet of gas and 865 million barrels of oil in the early 2000s, membership of the EITI has been on the agenda. The announcement that Lebanon will join the EITI has, therefore, renewed optimism that the emerging oil and gas sectors will be effectively overseen by the Parliament, and that citizens will benefit from the expected income.

In reaction to the announcement, Mohamad Kabbani, the Chair of the Public Works and Energy Committee, said “this is part of our campaign and efforts towards achieving transparency of the oil and gas sector in Lebanon. We worked hard to push the government to join this important initiative and the Committee has issued a specific recommendation on this.”

While Lebanon’s oil and gas extraction has not yet come on stream, the Public Works and Energy Committee recognised the importance of establishing a regulatory framework and mechanisms to deliver transparency in the sector before contracts with oil companies are signed. This will be crucial if Lebanon is to avoid the ‘resource curse’ phenomenon that has blighted many other oil-rich nations.

Since the discovery of 96 trillion cubic feet of gas and 86 million barrels of oil membership of EITI has been on the agenda.

To this end, WFD has been providing technical assistance to the Public Works and Energy Committee, to support its work on new legislation and overseeing Government energy policy. Building on this, the Committee is taking a leading a role in championing parliamentary oversight of the energy sector. Mr Kabbani explained, “We are also supporting the adoption of a bill entitled Transparency of Oil and Gas, so that we can ensure full transparency of this promising sector”.

In October 2016, Joseph Maalouf, MP and member of the committee, released a draft transparency bill, and in February 2017, WFD supported the Committee in reviewing a draft bill on oil and gas taxation. In the coming months, the Committee will be working with relevant ministries on drafting a proposal to establish a Sovereign Wealth Fund.

Through these activities, the Public Works and Energy Committee has continued to exert pressure on the Government to enforce a regulatory framework demanding responsible oil and gas exploration, ensuring that oil and gas companies adhere to international standards. After more than two years, the Committee had a break-through in autumn 2016, when the Government approved two decrees that had delayed the development of an offshore oil and gas sector since 2013.

Joining the EITI had been another issue that had faced blockages. Through supporting the initiative of the Public Works and Energy Committee to act as an effective forum for the discussion and promotion of energy policies and proposals, WFD has played an important role in assisting the Committee in its mission to push for EITI membership.

Looking forward, WFD will continue to assist the Public Works and Energy Committee in overseeing the adherence to EITI standards, playing a continuing role in oversight of the sector, and enforcing the legal framework on energy transparency once contracts are signed and the oil and gas come on stream.

(Top:photo: WFD organised workshop in Beirut with the Public Works and Energy Committee)
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Kurdistan Regional Government unveils inclusive anti-corruption strategy

Corruption is a significant and persistent challenge in Iraq. The Transparency International corruption perceptions index puts Iraq 166th out of 175 countries, indicating a huge need to improve public sector financial management and tackle corruption.

The security challenges that Iraq faces, including the threat of ISIS, have contributed to challenges to the nature and make-up of the state and made cooperation between the central and regional governments difficult. Westminster Foundation for Democracy (WFD) has enabled engagement between the Integrity Commission of the Kurdistan Region and the equivalent Federal Commission in Baghdad.  WFD support has been instrumental in enabling the development of an anti-corruption strategy for the Kurdistan Region that can improve public trust in government across the region.

Previous attempts to produce a plan to tackle corruption failed due to the lack of engagement and coordination of the key institutions. Under the sponsorship of WFD, Iraqi Kurdish institutions mandated to fight corruption, have worked together for more than 12 months in harmony and produced a draft anti-corruption strategy which is about to be launched.

Central to the strategy is a commitment to improve the transparency of public institutions, promote an anti-corruption culture and introduce active coordination mechanisms for tracking and investigating corruption within different institutions. The strategy recognises the need for greater compliance with international standards and to involve civil society in the monitoring process.

Former Minister in Jordan and anti-corruption expert, Dr. Muhyieddeen Touq supported WFD in the assessment of the draft Anti-Corruption Strategy for the Kurdistan Region during a workshop held in Amman. Dr Touq described the strategy as one of the most advanced in the region, noting that this is particularly impressive given that this draft represents the first of its kind in the Kurdistan region.

“The draft strategy of the Kurdistan region includes methods on how to develop an action plan for the implementation phase”. Dr. Touq said.

“Developing a strategy from the bottom up provides opportunities for the wider society to contribute and means the development of the strategy will certainly support the implementation phase.”

The draft strategy has broad support among institutions in the Kurdistan Region, with the strategy steering committee integrated by members from the Parliamentary Committees of Integrity and Finance, Council of Ministries, Supreme Audit Board, Public Prosecutor and Commission of Integrity. This approach, promoted by WFD, ensures high level buy-in which in turns helps to ensure the likelihood of successful implementation and decrease of corruption.

The draft strategy adheres to high international standards and best practice and has benefited from the sharing of experience from the UK, the Iraq Federal Government, Jordan, Indonesia, and Kosovo; the strategy was also peer-reviewed by an expert from Palestine.

In addition to expert input, the steering committee undertook a broad consultation of key stakeholders, reaching out not only to institutions mandated to deal with corruption but also to a range of CSOs, activists, practitioner groups, academics, and journalists for their views and feedback. In addition to surveys, the steering committee held three focus group discussions with civil society. This policy of inclusion was noted as having long-term benefits by Dr Touq who said that “developing a strategy from the bottom up provides opportunities for the wider society to contribute and means the development of the strategy will certainly support the implementation phase”.

As a result of this broad consultation, the draft strategy adopts a multi-sectoral approach to tackling corruption, including specifically attributing a role for the political sphere in fighting corruption.

(Photo: Dr. Muhyieddeen Touq sharing his experiences with the delegation from Iraq and Kurdistan region CoIs, Amman, Jordan- 11 Jan 2017)
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Why regional networks are important for women’s empowerment

(Above: Representatives from sister parties in Africa, the Middle East, and Western Balkans attend Women’s Political Participation Day in Parliament organised by the Labour Party International Office)

Political parties play a fundamental role in ensuring women are represented at all levels of decision-making.

A key area of the Labour Party’s Westminster Foundation for Democracy work is supporting and developing the skills set of social democratic women to play a more active role in party politics and public life.

The establishment of regional networks like the Women’s Academy for Africa, the Arab Women’s Network for Parity and Solidarity, Tha’era, and the CEE Gender Network for Eastern Europe and the Western Balkans have allowed the Labour Party to facilitate mentoring, learning and best practice exchanges between women activists operating in very different contexts but facing very similar challenges.

In a recent visit to the UK Houses of Parliament to engage with UK politicians and women activists from different regions ahead of International Women’s Day 2017, all three groups explained what it is like to be a woman activist in their region and what they get out of international support.

Fatemah Khafagy, a representative of Tha’era from Egypt felt regional networks “are the only way to change things for women.” Improving women’s rights in the Middle East “is not an easy job; there is a lot to be done and a long road to go down” Fatemah explained, “But there is no other way.”

Tha’era has received support from the Labour Party since its inception in 2013. In two years, it has formally trained 150 women through a bespoke training programme, and hundreds more informally through the space created by the network.

Fatemah added that they “benefit so much from exchanges with different countries in the region, especially the ones who are more advanced.” Referring to neighbouring countries like Tunisia and Morocco whose parliaments are already tackling discriminatory legislation, described as “crippling women from being active in public life” by Laila Amili, a member of Tha’era from Morocco.

(Above: Members of Tha’era visit the Fabian Society on a previous best practice exchange organised by the Labour Party’s International Office)

Traditional attitudes and culture, including the violence and economic discrimination women face, play a huge role in shaping all women’s political experience. The Regional Commissioner of the Southern Africa Women’s Academy for Africa, said “a change in mindset, attitudes and beliefs is needed. Women can do things – not just what society has told them to do.”

The Women’s Academy for Africa (WAFA), a network of eleven Labour, Socialist, and Social Democratic parties from nine countries, is promoting gender equality, empowerment and political advancement of women in Africa, with more established members supporting newer parties through trust-based relationships and ideological connection.

Fellow WAFA member and Deputy Secretary General, Daisy Bathusi, explained that the exposure regional networks and engagement with international partners, like the Labour Party’s International Office is crucial for women’s development. “Women are stronger by networking, by sharing experiences and learning” Daisy said. “It is not only an opportunity to share what is going on in Africa or our region, but to learn from others and what challenges they face. Together we can find better solutions” she added.

The importance of sharing and engaging with other women activists was echoed by Sonja Lokar from Slovenia, who has been engaged with the Labour Party’s work from 2002. “We can’t do it without the support” Sonja added, “it’s not only money; it’s know how, best experiences, relationships with other networks. Without this we are not capable of connecting, of being in real daily contact to learn from each other.”

Representatives from the Western Balkans placed an emphasis on the role political parties can play in transforming attitudes towards women. “For us the never-ending question is how to achieve gender equality within the party and then how to act outside the party externally” Dajana Bakic, a member of the SDP in Bosnia and Herzegovina explained.

“Without the support of the Labour Party/WFD, and some other international groups, our parties would never had made the progress which has been done” Sonja added, but more work is required to ensure gender mainstreaming happens.

The Labour Party remains committed to supporting women around the world become active members of political life, through their WFD programming. The mainstreaming of women’s voices in politics might not be there yet but with women from around the world working together for change through regional networks significant change is long overdue.

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The real value of regional programmes

Devin O’Shaughnessy, Director of Programmes

In some international development circles, the term “regional programme” carries with it a certain stigma.

“Expensive…too many international flights…no national impact…unsustainable” are just some of the criticisms lodged against regional programmes. Moreover, the tendency among most major donor agencies to devolve decision-making powers to embassy level leads to minimal demand for regional programmes, as what embassy wants to dilute their resources for the sake of other countries?

As a recipient of a global grant from FCO and DFID, WFD is in the privileged position to be able to design and deliver regional programmes that otherwise would be difficult to find funding for from the donor community. This has allowed us to deliver a series of unique programmes in the Western Balkans, Middle East and North Africa (MENA), and Africa that are driving significant political reforms in financial oversight, women’s rights, and parliamentary and political party effectiveness.

For over two decades, WFD has been facilitating exchanges between the UK and partner countries in order the share the best of the British experience in political party and parliamentary practice. In recent years, we came to realise that we could enhance our approach by supporting exchanges among our partners through regional programmes and not just between the UK and the rest of the world.

At first, our decision was based on the recognition that the UK’s systems and practices might not be as relevant to our beneficiaries as good practices from their own region, where history, language, political systems, and resources were often more similar than to the UK. However, over the years we have increasingly recognised that as relationships deepen among our partner parties and parliaments, a form of “positive peer pressure” begins to develop, whereby our partners compete to see who can make the most progress on its reform goals.

(Above: From top: Tha’era: Arab Women’s Network for Parity and Solidarity, Regional meeting on SDGs hosted with GOPAC in Asia, Network of Parliamentary Committees from the Western Balkans)

The UK’s Liberal Democrat Party, through its support to the Africa Liberal Network, was able to secure human rights commitments – including prohibiting discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation – among more than 40 political parties across the continent, a result that would have been impossible working only at the national level. The Labour Party’s Women’s Academy for Africa (WAFA), a network of eleven Labour, Socialist, and Social Democratic parties from nine countries, is promoting gender equality, empowerment and political advancement of women in Africa, with more established members supporting newer parties through trust-based relationships and ideological connection. The Conservative Party, Green Party, and Scottish National Party are increasingly investing in this model as well.

Meanwhile, regional parliamentary programmes in the Western Balkans and MENA are bringing together members of parliament (MPs) with mutual interests in financial oversight and combatting violence against women, respectively. In 2015 WFD collaborated with the Serbian Parliament – with technical expertise from the Scottish Parliament – to establish the country’s first parliamentary budget office (PBO), which WFD hoped would inspire other parliaments in the region to consider establishing similar bodies. Soon after, WFD began working with the Montenegrin Parliament to establish a PBO, and WFD is now in similar discussions with the Kosovo Parliament.

WFD has supported the Arab Women MP Coalition Against Violence since its founding in 2014, helping establish chapters across MENA to advocate at both regional and national levels to combat violence against women and girls. With the support of FCO’s Magna Carta Fund for Human Rights and Democracy, over 250 MPs from 11 Arab Parliaments have provided each other moral and technical support in developing national legislation, with notable improvements made in domestic legislation in Lebanon, and new draft laws on domestic violence in development in Tunisia, Iraq, and Morocco. The Coalition is also working closely with Arab Inter-Parliamentary Union (AIPU) to develop a regional convention on violence against women and girls; with WFD’s support, the Coalition was recently granted official observer status by the AIPU.

In short, we believe regional programmes can deliver results in ways that other programmes cannot, and that WFD and the UK parties will continue to explore the potential of regional programmes to catalyse widespread political and governance reform.

 

(Top: The Labour Party supports Tha’era: Arab Women’s Network for Parity and Solidarity through it’s WFD funded programme)
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WFD and Moroccan House of Councillors partner on Climate Change and SDGs

On 26 January 2017, Westminster Foundation for Democracy (WFD) signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with the House of Councillors of the Moroccan Parliament during a conference on climate change legislation.

The partnership agreement sets out a framework for cooperation between WFD and the House of Councillors of Morocco between 2017 and 2020. It outlines three key areas on which WFD will support the strengthening of parliament:

  • Building the capacity of the parliamentary research centre to ensure MPs have access to high quality briefings that enable them to hold the government to account
  • Providing training in public policy evaluation to strengthen the oversight role of parliament in line with the vision set out in the 2011 Constitution; and
  • Supporting parliament in fulfilling its roles in upholding human rights and delivering on the Sustainable Development Goals.
(Above: Karen Betts, UK Ambassador to Morocco, attends MOU signing between WFD and House of Councillors)

The event, organized by the Moroccan House of Councillors in partnership with WFD and LSE’s Grantham Research Institute on Climate and the Environment, focused on the national legislation needed to implement the international climate agreements reached in the United Nations Climate Conference ‘COP22’ held in Marrakech in 2016 and ‘COP21’ held in Paris in 2015.

MPs and experts debated the timetable for legislative action with reference to the Parliamentary Action Plan on Climate Change adopted by the 134th assembly of the Inter-parliamentary Union (IPU) held in Zambia in 2016 and discussed the requirements for parliaments to harmonize national legislation with the Paris Agreement, as agreed by parties during COP22.

Parliaments will need to pass new legislation or revise existing laws to meet commitments made in the number of areas relevant to climate change. These include mitigation, adaptation, financing, transfer of technology, transparency and accountability. To this end, the conference adopted a new “Parliamentary Action plan on Harmonization of National Legislation with the Paris Agreement” and launched a new “Parliamentary Research Unit on Climate Change”.

Looking forward, WFD will provide technical assistance to the Moroccan Parliament, supporting its on-going efforts to implement climate change legislation, and deliver on the Sustainable Development Goals.

(Above: Speaker Benchamach announces renewed partnership with WFD at press conference in Morocco)

Addressing the plenary session, Karen Betts, UK Ambassador to Morocco said: “through this partnership our two parliaments have become collaborators and friends. This modern pillar [strengthening the research capacity for the House of Councillors] is another building block for a strong relationship that exists between our two countries.”

WFD’s Regional Director for the Middle East and North Africa, Dina Melhem, added: “today’s MoU signature with the house of councillors builds on our long-standing cooperation and work since 2011. We launch a new chapter in our partnership today, focused on the key strategic priorities of the House of Councillors and its leadership.”

For more information about our work in the region, visit our Middle East and North Africa page and sign up to our regional newsletter. Follow WFD on Twitter for updates from all of our programmes.

(Main photo: Speaker Benchamach and WFD’s Regional Director for MENA sign MOU)
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Tunisian Parliament saves 70m Dinars from review of sugar subsidies

The Tunisian Committee responsible for oversight of public expenditure highlighted the unnecessary provision of sugar subsidies to industry as a result of one of its first enquiries. Members of the Committee used information supplied by the Tunisian Court of Audit to successfully argue for an end to sugar subsidies for corporations. The resulting policy change led to a saving of 70 million Dinars of public money. The Committee developed its approach based on the knowledge and experience of the UK Public Accounts Committee’s (PAC) , shared by the Westminster Foundation.

Hon Hassen Laamari MP, Chair of the Committee for Administrative Reform, Good Governance, Anti-Corruption and Oversight of Public Expenditure that led the enquiry, said, “Now, only sugar that goes to households is subsidised. This allowed the government to make savings of 70 million Dinars which can be used elsewhere to improve the quality of services”. The Westminster Foundation has worked with this Committee since it was established in 2015. Based on its requests, WFD has provided information about and shared experience of the UK’s PAC through a series of workshops and targeted visits to Westminster. One of the key factors in the success of the UK PAC is its relationship with the National Audit Office – equivalent of the Court of Audit, Tunisia’s Supreme Audit Institution. This was picked up by the Tunisian Committee early on and has enabled it to achieve this recent success.

Working together on financial scrutiny

“Before the revolution and the establishment of this committee there was no relationship at all between the Court of Audit and the parliament” MP Laamari explained during a recent visit to the UK Houses of Parliament. He referenced his predecessor Hon Sofiene Toubal’s experience with the Westminster Foundation for Democracy programme in Tunisia as critical in encouraging this new relationship between parliamentary institutions. Going on to refer to the UK visit by a delegation from the Committee in 2015 facilitated by WFD, MP Laamari said, “This new methodology of work came as a direct result of the last visit. [The delegation] learnt about the benefit of having a direct relationship between the supreme audit institution and the parliamentary committee charged with the oversight of public money. When [the delegation] came back to Tunisia they took the initiative to contact the Court of Audit and establish this working relationship”.

The Committee is currently working with the Court of Audit on five enquiries including the government subsidies on sugar for industry and individual households. The relationship with the Court of Audit and the auditors that work in the institution “is very important in reality, even more important than just reading the reports” Mr Laamari explained, “as when you meet with auditors you can ask them specific questions and they give you more knowledge about the topic”. He added, “The relationship with the Court of Audit allowed the Committee to get updated information [on the sugar subsidy policy], so that when members of the Committee interacted with the government during plenary sessions their questions and comments were evidence-based”. It was this improved relationship that revealed to the Committee the unfair approach that treated corporations in the same way as individuals when it came to the cost of sugar and led to 70 million dinars being released for other government projects.

Beyond sugar subsidies

The revision to the policy on sugar subsidies, that came into effect on 1 January 2017, will benefit Tunisian citizens through the redistribution of public money to other vital services. The Committee chair, MP Laamari, wants the work of the committee to be broader still. He explained how he felt the impact of the enquiries into organisations that use public money stretches beyond the current five enquiries. Media interest already generated by the Committee into publicly funded organisations, Mr Laamari hopes, will create a positive impact on the quality of management in those and other public organisations.

Greater scrutiny of public spending is a fundamental role for any parliament. WFD’s support to this Committee has enabled its current and former Members to understand the structures, relationships and knowledge used by the equivalent in the UK (the PAC), to successfully drive continual attention to value for money and good management of public money in the UK. The buy-in and commitment of current and former members of the Tunisian Committee and the whole People’s Representative Assembly is moving Tunisia closer to the type of inclusive and effective governance that will bring real benefits to the people of Tunisia. In the coming months WFD will provide on-going support to the Committee while it concludes its first five enquiries and pushes for further policy changes that benefit Tunisia as a whole.

(Photo: Members of the Tunisian Committee responsible for oversight of public expenditure visit the UK National Audit Office to find out how they work with the Public Accounts Committee.)
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What do parliaments & parties bring to the SDGs?

(Above: Effective gender budgeting would support women councillors in Gulu Uganda to deliver vital services for women in their communities)

WFD’s Director of Programmes Devin O’Shaughnessy reflects on how democratic institutions can influence implementation of the global goals. 

Parliaments and political parties have important roles to play in helping countries achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), in particular Goal 16: promoting peaceful and inclusive societies, providing access to justice, and building accountable and inclusive institutions.

Legislation, oversight and representation: The role of parliaments

From drafting legislation to conducting oversight, parliaments play a critical role when it comes to the successful implementation of the SDGs.

Around the world, legislation will need to be passed or amended to create new government programmes that address structural barriers to achieving equitable growth, protecting the environment, and improving health and education. Parliamentarians’ legislative skills and expertise in various sectoral areas must be bolstered, through investment in parliamentary libraries and research units and technical support to select committees.

Budgets will need to be scrutinised and passed that commit sufficient resources to meeting the development goals; this could mean less investment in the military and more on infrastructure and water management systems, for example. Effective use of gender and youth budgeting to make sure government investment is benefitting women and other vulnerable groups will also be key.

By enhancing the role of parliament in the oversight of a country’s efforts to achieve the SDGs, it can act as a check on the executive in its commitment to achieving the SDGs, whilst ensuring that each ministry is playing its role effectively by implementing programmes and making investments that tackle the whole range of issues covered by the goals.

Parliamentary Budget Offices (PBOs), like the ones WFD has helped establish in the Serbian, Ukrainian, and Montenegrin parliaments over last few years are a vital tool in producing the analysis and information needed to ensure implementation of the agenda stays on track. Improved research capacity will be essential to test whether governments are providing accurate data on social and economic indicators; key to measuring progress.

Parliament’s role as a representative body means it can facilitate input from a broad group of citizens. By holding hearings and engaging CSOs, the media, and citizens on the importance of the SDGs and the progress being made (or not made), parliaments can make sure people’s views are being represented in the policy process.

Public interest, delivery and an international approach: The role of parties

Political parties have a critical role to play in generating debate and public interest in the SDGs. The SDGs can serve as a useful pillar in party platforms and manifestos, focusing the attention of their supporters and voters on the importance of making progress on these goals, as well as providing direction to their senior officials when they are in power.

When in opposition, parties can look to the SDGs to hold to account the party or parties in power, pointing out any failures to make progress and offering alternative policy ideas and leadership to help achieve these goals.

On a global level, party internationals can mobilise their member parties to discuss the SDGs and take common stands on the importance of achieving the goals, and how they as a family of parties would go about achieving them through the application of their ideology and policies.

(Above: Workshop to update CPA Benchmarks on Democratic Legislatures in line with the SDGs)

With both parties and parliaments, we can help encourage the establishment of global and regional standards and mechanisms to help facilitate the achievement of the SDGs. For this, we will need to work with others to tackle implementation at different levels. Our efforts to update the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association (CPA) Benchmarks on Democratic Legislatures to take account of the SDGs – in close collaboration with the World Bank, Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU), UNDP, and others – will ensure progress against goal 16 is not ignored. Encouraging participants from three of our partner parliaments to take part in the International Parliamentary Project on Sustainability, Energy and Development, led by CPA (UK Branch), raises awareness of the range of issues addressed within the goals. Establishing or bolstering regional parliamentary networks that share information and best practices on how to encourage countries to meet their SDG targets will be crucial as well.

WFD firmly believes that the SDGs provide a real opportunity for parliaments and political parties to be actively involved in the new development agenda shaping citizens’ lives for the next decade and a half.

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