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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Development Effectiveness and the Sustainable Development Goals

(Above: Delegates attended the conference from across Asia, as well as North Africa – Myanmar, Sri Lanka, Malaysia, Thailand, Nepal, Laos, Timor Leste, Indonesia and Morocco were represented)

From alleviating extreme poverty to reducing the impact of climate change for future generations, the sustainable development goals (SDGs) – agreed by world leaders last September – comprise a broad and challenging set of commitments for all states.

Steps must now be taken to ensure that the goals are implemented by 2030.

But what role can parliamentarians play?

Westminster Foundation for Democracy (WFD) supported the Islamic Development Bank (IDB) and the Global Organisation of Parliamentarians Against Corruption’s (GOPAC) regional conference in Jakarta on 30 and 31 August 2016.

Hosted by the Indonesian House of Representatives, the conference brought together parliamentarians from countries across Asia and North Africa to discuss the oversight role they can play to ensure successful implementation of the SDG framework.

(Above: The first panel session provided an overview of the 2030 agenda for development)

The conference had the dual purpose of raising awareness of the targets within the SDGs and also encouraging discussion on best practice for monitoring the progress made towards achieving the goals. It introduced a handbook developed by the IDB in partnership with GOPAC for parliamentarians on the oversight of development funds.

Parliamentarians from across the region expressed a desire to learn more about what the SDGs actually are and the steps they can take to tackle them. Parliamentarians noted this area was usually tackled by the executive, leaving parliament with a limited role in achieving successful implementation.

Encouraging south-south exchanges on implementation is crucial to the success of the goals. The first day of the conference saw representatives from different regions share their experience with sustainable development. MPs from Morocco spoke about the implementation of a new healthcare system that made services more accessible for the under-privileged. Representatives from Indonesia explained how a new taskforce had been introduced to tackle the SDGs, including the introduction of approximately 30 bills currently being passed by parliament. A delegate from Laos welcomed the help from WFD and GOPAC on this issue, noting that the best way to achieve the SDGs was through creating links between countries with different capacities and levels of technical support.

(Above: Moroccan delegation included representatives from both Houses and parliamentary staff )

Post Legislative Scrutiny and achieving sustainable development

Whilst passing legislation is often the first step towards reform and such efforts should be commended, it is not the only step to ensure real improvement to the lives of citizens.

It is not uncommon that the process of implementation of legislation is overlooked. In several countries, it is a hazardous phenomenon that laws are voted but not applied, that secondary legislation is not adopted or that there is no information on the actual state of implementation and effects of the law. All of which could have a fundamental impact on achieving the sustainable development goals by 2030.

WFD is well-placed to facilitate best practice exchanges with countries in Asia because of our expanding presence in the region. With the wealth of British experience on post-legislative scrutiny, WFD can draw not only on the Westminster example of departmental and parliamentary scrutiny but also on the different experience of the Scottish Parliament’s scrutiny through regular committee work. Our global presence means we can also provide insights into different systems and help individual parliaments as they seek to identify the model which best suits them.

(Above: Dina Melhem, WFD’s Regional Director for Asia and MENA)

Dina Melhem, WFD’s Regional Director for Asia and MENA, outlined WFD’s experience with post legislative scrutiny and its development of an assessment tool for parliaments. This will provide a comparative methodology for ensuring successful monitoring and evaluation of legislation.

WFD’s assessment tool and the handbook developed by GOPAC and UNDP will be extremely helpful in the years to 2030 to ensure parliaments play a key role in implementing legislation that achieves the sustainable development goals. Participants welcomed the introduction of the handbook and the development of the assessment tool, noting that regional examples would be extremely useful.

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Interview: Mr Rachid Talbi El-Alami

(Above: WFD’s Head of Communications, Alex Stevenson interviews Mr Rachid Talbi El-Alami, President of the Moroccan House of Representatives)

Under Mr Rachid Talbi El-Alami, President of the House of Representatives, the Moroccan Parliament has made great progress in turning the promise of 2011’s constitution into reality.

“Today the Parliament is a power – it was not before,” he says. Westminster Foundation for Democracy has been privileged to support Mr El-Alami in this work. Ahead of the EU Twinning launch event on Monday 13 June 2016, the Speaker granted an interview with WFD’s Head of Communications, Alex Stevenson, to discuss the progress made – and the challenges still to come.

“People ask why Morocco was not as affected by the Arab Spring,” Mr El-Alami says. “The simple reason is that we have institutions.” But these were not “modern, professional, effective”. The new constitution offered the opportunity to change this. It is, the Speaker says, “an ongoing process, and a positive process”.

Under Morocco’s new separation of powers, the Parliament has been established alongside the executive and the judiciary system. Embedding such a significant change, however, is not straightforward. In total, 25 organic laws were required to complete the constitution. “We are at the beginning of the process, because it is not easy to change quickly,” the Speaker explains. Take the judiciary system: after four years of negotiation, including two in the parliament, the process of debating the details of the changes continues. But the Parliament, Government and the Palace have worked together to ensure the process has proceeded smoothly and effectively.

There are many elements to this work. Giving the public’s representatives the opportunity to initiate legislation; finding ways to build all of Morocco’s languages and dialects into the Parliament’s work; and developing a new approach to the budget and to financial scrutiny are all important in shaping the Parliament’s new role. “We have learned a lot from Westminster Foundation for Democracy that helped us,” Mr El-Alami kindly adds. “The Parliament is a place for responsible, positive, constructive debate. As I told my friends, the MPs who are sometimes not aware of the progress we are making: this is the first time in history we have voted more than 350 laws in one small period.”

(Above: WFD Governor, Sir Jeffrey Donaldson, delivers speech on behalf of UK Speaker John Bercow at launch of EU Twinning programme)

It is an amazing achievement, especially because it comes alongside efforts to develop fresh approaches to the Parliament’s new expanded responsibilities for holding the Moroccan Government to account. Mr El-Alami has made public policy evaluation a personal priority. “It should be based on figures. It should be rational. It should respond to [citizens’] demands.” The new procedures which underpin this work are not yet complete. Again, though, the Speaker’s commitment to completing the job in the best possible way is clear. “I prefer to be late and make something professional, rather than hurry it.”

Another theme of Mr El-Alami’s approach is his determination to raise the professional standards of the Parliament. “To achieve these reforms, we need a stronger administration,” he says. New information and communication technologies have been introduced, enabling the digitisation of the parliamentary archives. Civil society and the press are now able to connect with the Parliament’s work more readily. And MPs now receive information “as quick as possible” to enable them to decide their position before votes. “All this we have done without any problem,” the Speaker says. This new system has not been exported from any other country, but rather built to “fit the Moroccan context, the Moroccan culture,” balancing the country’s conservative and progressive elements. Striking the right balance is not easy, but the Speaker is confident his approach is the right one. “I believe that Moroccans want the change and we are making this change.”

Throughout our conversation, Mr El-Alami’s conviction about the need to connect the Parliament with ordinary citizens is very clear. His approach, it seems, is as much about serving the interests of the Moroccan people as it is about establishing the technical processes of accountability. “Yes, the Moroccan people feel that we do not take care of them,” he says. “We have to change this image, this perception.” A better-functioning Parliament can achieve greater credibility, the Speaker believes. “We have to produce information instead of giving them the opportunity to go to rumours… and the information should be produced institutionally and professionally.”

The pressure for parliaments to respond quickly in the digital age is a common theme encountered by parliaments around the world. “We are not going to face it alone – we should do it with our friends,” the Speaker says. “For that reason, we believe that the most helpful is Westminster Foundation for Democracy.” This is about how Morocco and Britain – together with France and the other partners of the new EU Twinning partnership – can be “strong” and “credible”. For this reason, he explains, “we have worked with the Westminster Foundation for Democracy, and it’s a lot to thank you for – we have learned a lot.” The Ninth Committee, “copied from the British Parliament” and the work of its Public Accounts Committee, is an example of this; another is the evaluation of public policies. “The parliaments should not waste a lot of time to understand something we can provide quickly,” the Speaker adds. “The process, the timing, the connections, the challenges, the future – this is why we work with Westminster Foundation.”

(Above: WFD’s Regional Director for MENA and Asia, Dina Melhem signs MOU with Mr El-Alami, President of the House of Representatives in March 2016)

This sense of urgency is very striking – and reflects Mr El-Alami’s awareness that while constitutional issues are important, it is the real issues of everyday life which are most pressing. “Why are we accelerating the reforms and want to achieve them in this mandate, and finish with that?” he asks. “Because the real challenge is not the institution inside the Moroccan political system… the most important challenge is terrorism. The development of the Moroccan country – poverty alleviation – water – climate change – these are real challenges that the Parliament, the Government and other institutions should face.”

Yes, the Parliament now has new powers as granted by the 2011 constitution. But Mr El-Alami is not just interested in completing the process of establishing these for their own sake. He is doing so in order to achieve his overall vision of a Parliament which can use its new powers to help improve Moroccan citizens’ lives. Since 2011 the Parliament has become, in his words, the “central process of democracy”.

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Moroccan widows to benefit from Parliament’s achievement

“Socio-economic vulnerability is always lurking for Moroccan widows and their children – they are precarious and they are vulnerable. We have to support these women,” says Sayeeda Idrissi, Vice-President of the Association Démocratique des Femmes du Maroc (ADFM). Thanks to the work of MPs on Morocco’s Public Accounts Committee (PAC), funds are now available to offer assistance.

Until recently the money spent on widows had been subsidising fuel costs – a policy which many in Morocco felt had not helped the most needy. The problem faced by politicians was that slashing the subsidies would result in deep unpopularity. But the subsidies were swallowing up 20% of public spending and contributing to an alarming public spending deficit.

In 2015 the dramatic fall in oil prices offered an opportunity to change the policy, after multiple previous unsuccessful attempts at reform. Even the price fall, though, was not enough to shift the terms of the debate in most MENA countries. Yet Morocco succeeded in removing them altogether. What made it different?

parliament Morocco - flickr - axel“We largely helped in achieving the change,” says Dr Berroho, a member of the budget committee which   Westminster Foundation for Democracy (WFD) has worked closely with. “Morocco was able to make the change because the parliament provided a platform for discussion. Citizens understood this would improve their lives and the reform became possible, thanks to the parliamentary debate.”

WFD is delighted to have helped pave the way for Parliament’s growing profile. Supporting, in clearly specified ways, the Speaker in his reform agenda for the House of Representatives, WFD shared British expertise on financial scrutiny and helped win consensus for the introduction of a PAC. Its first report shone a light on the fuel subsidy issue, which led to the successful policy change and opened up public money to be spent elsewhere. Politicians on all sides of the political debate in Morocco agree that vulnerable widows are a priority.

“Sometimes heirs will not share the inheritance, and in the worst cases they lose their jobs and end up living in poverty,” Mrs Idrissi added. “They are not responsible for their state of living but without assistance their children risk becoming delinquent.” Under the Government scheme launched in September 2015, widows with schoolchildren are now eligible to receive monthly payments of up to 1,050 Dirhams (£75.72) – equivalent to nearly 50% of the Moroccan national minimum wage. “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, ADFM’s National Coordinator. Implementation remains a challenge, however. “The issue is that as the government implements this law, it should facilitate procedures to get the funds,” she adds. “It’s very complicated to help women benefit from the funds. The government should also provide statistics of the women who have benefited.”

Moroccan Government Begins Providing Stipends to Needy Widows

It’s not just widows who will benefit from this change once it is fully implemented. Other new areas of public spending which have resulted from the ending of fuel subsidies include investment, roads, increase monthly students’ scholarships and increase of funds allocated to scientific research . More broadly, the PAC’s work will help improve the quality of public spending across all areas of government. The committee’s second report, for example, investigates spending on tens of thousands of associations which had not previously received any scrutiny.

Support for the Public Accounts Committee forms part of WFD’s wider work with the Moroccan Parliament, including the implementation of the strategic plan, the development of public policy evaluation and the work of the Equality Committee in the House of Representatives. We are also set to assist the House of Councillors’ Research Centre and the House of Councillors’ reform agenda. Doing so will help the Parliament meet citizens’ expectations following the 2011 constitution, which granted it significant new powers of oversight. Our work directly ties in with WFD’s broader goals of improving policy, strengthening accountability, boosting representation of marginalised groups and fostering citizen participation in the countries where we operate

As Dr Berroho adds: “The new constitution calls for good governance and scrutiny of public funds in cooperation with quality auditing. It is all part of the new system we are trying to achieve.”

Featured image: Flickr
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Morocco Parliament celebrates EU Twinning launch

(Above: WFD CEO, Anthony Smith and Governor, Sir Jeffrey Donaldson meet President of House of Representatives, Mr El-Alami at EU Twinning launch)

The EU Twinning project launched in Rabat on 13 June is a historic partnership in which the Westminster Foundation for Democracy is delighted to be participating.

WFD and its French counterpart, the Ecole Nationale D’Administration, will coordinate the sharing of best practice over the next two years between the Assemblée Nationale, the House of Commons and the Moroccan House of Representatives in a constant process of mutual exchange and dialogue.

As Mr Rachid Talbi Alami, the President of the House of Representatives, said at Monday’s launch event: “Promotion of democracy, rule of law and freedom is the root… to progress.”

The project will also receive support from the German Bundestag, Belgian House of Representatives and the Greek Vouli.

The Assemble Nationale’s President, Claude Bartolone, addressing El-Alami, said the collaboration “showed your intention to build a vigorous democratic life”.

Mr El-Alami and the leadership of the Parliament in Rabat have worked tirelessly towards their vision of a distinctively Moroccan Parliament.

Citizens’ expectations are high following the constitutional reforms of 2011, which handed the Parliament significant new prerogatives – including the initiation of legislation and strengthened government accountability to the House of Representatives.

This is why Mr El-Alami spoke of the ideal of “legislative institutions that embody the will of the people” – a challenge faced by all parliaments and one which it is hoped the EU Twinning project will strive to help Morocco achieve.

(Above: WFD’s Regional Director for MENA and Asia, Dina Melhem, signs MOU with Speaker from Morocco’s House of Representatives, Mr. El-Alami  in March 2016)

As Deputy Speaker Dr Rachadi explained at the launch event – which was attended by WFD’s Chief Executive, Anthony Smith – the two-year EU Twinning project will turn these principles into practice by pursuing activities in five key areas.

Quality legislative drafting and consultations; oversight of government and public policy evaluation; enhancing the participation of women in parliamentary work; parliamentary diplomacy; strengthened administration; and new information and communication technologies will all be developed by the project.

As Mr Bartolone put it: “There will be a lot of work to do and we are all delighted by the task. There is no feeling of strain when you are working with friends.” Indeed, the Morocco Parliament are widely viewed as excellent partners and the relationship of WFD’s office with its leadership is regarded as an example to others around the world.

Dr Rachadi said the EU Twinning project would benefit from the support provided by Westminster Foundation for Democracy in the coming period, after WFD signed a five-year partnership agreement with the Moroccan Parliament earlier this year.

“I’d like to thank Mrs Fatiha Ait Oulaid [WFD’s Country Representative in Morocco] as well as Mr Speaker [John Bercow] and his office for all their efforts in ensuring the success of this project,” he added.

Sir Jeffrey Donaldson, a WFD governor and representative of the House of Commons, delivered a message from Mr Bercow at the launch event.

“The most recent chapter in the relationship between our parliaments is perhaps the most encouraging in our long history,” Mr Bercow said in his message.

“In both our countries, and in countries around the world, we need to respond to the threats and the opportunities that new technologies, new public expectations, and new conflicts bring.

(Above: Sir Jeffrey Donaldson M.P. delivers speech on behalf of UK Speaker John Bercow)

“I am therefore delighted that the House of Commons, in support of our friends in the Assemblée Nationale of France, has been able to participate in this programme with the House of Representatives, and that we are able to share our experiences and learn from each other as we each work to represent our citizens, scrutinise our governments, and adopt responsible legislation.”

Sir Jeffrey said he wholeheartedly agreed with Mr Bercow’s sentiments, adding: “It’s clear from today’s launch that the strong relationship between the House of Commons and the Moroccan Parliament is only going to be deepened in the months and years ahead.”

The EU Twinning project’s methodologies underline this. The overall project approach is to institute a genuine partnership by making sure that implemented activities respond in a sustainable manner to the Moroccan Parliament’s needs.

This is not about the transposition of tools, techniques and methods, but instead about a consultative and participatory approach.

As Rupert Joy, EU Ambassador to Morocco, put it: “The experience of democracy in Europe is very diverse – each parliament has accumulated its own traditions. I hope the Moroccan Parliament can build on its first 50 years to build its own identity and to be inspired by the best practices of the EU.”

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Financial scrutiny explored in North Africa

One of the thematic areas of parliamentary strengthening Westminster Foundation for Democracy has developed in recent years is financial scrutiny – the topic of an event which took place in Tunis in March 2016.

The March 12-13th event brought together MPs and officials from three North African countries: Tunisia and Morocco, whose parliaments receive support in this area from WFD, and Mauretania.

The technical discussions explored in detail the fundamental principles which underlie scrutinising public spending, including both ex-ante budget oversight and ex-post financial oversight.

Margaret Hodge, the former Chair of the UK’s Public Accounts Committee, offered her insights into what makes financial scrutiny work effective.

Attendees also benefited from the experience and expertise of Jeremy Purvis, the peer and former Member of the Scottish Parliament, also contributed by providing input about financial scrutiny in a devolved context. Lord Purvis has presented and facilitated discussions on this topic in Tunisia before. Dominique Boily, an academic from the Canadian School of Public Administration, also contributed to the session.

Two MPs from the Moroccan Parliament spoke about their work. WFD has supported the development of a Public Accounts Committee in Morocco – the first of its kind in the Arab world.

Tunisian MPs and around 20 staff interested in the legislative process also attended. WFD’s programme in the country focuses on strengthening the committee responsible for the oversight of financial expenditure.

The conference concluded with a declaration of ten recommendations. These were lodged with the Speaker of the Tunisian Parliament and have subsequently been accepted in Tunisia – an excellent outcome from a successful event.

A parliament’s ability to scrutinise where citizen’s money is going is a step in the right direction for oversight and transparency, something WFD is ready and able to promote in parliaments around the world.

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