How Shaimaa al-Sabbagh’s tragic murder united women of Tha’era

(Above: Members of Tha’era participate in best practice exchange with UK Labour Party)

“I felt if the sun would never shine again,” a member of Tha’era, the Arab Women’s Network for Parity and Solidarity, says, recalling her emotions when she heard that Shaimaa al-Sabbagh had been shot dead by a police officer in Cairo in January 2015. “I cried and felt that all is lost… Shaimaa was a dear friend and I felt that all the work she did would go down the drain. It was one of the darkest days of my life.” Out of this tragedy came a search for justice – and the realisation that international networks of the kind supported by the Labour Party through its Westminster Foundation for Democracy work really can make a difference.

Shaimaa, a member of Tha’era and Egypt’s Socialist People’s Alliance Party, was 31 years old when she died. At the time her son Bilal was five years old. Marking the anniversary of the Tahrir Square events of 2011, Shaimaa and colleagues were marching peacefully to lay roses at a memorial to those killed in the uprising when police opened fire on them with birdshot. Shaimaa was hit in the neck and bled to death on the pavement. An image of her captured by an Egyptian photographer was seen across the world, and became an iconic symbol of the events of that day, when ten other demonstrators also died.

Immediately, women involved in Tha’era took action. They contacted one another and drafted a letter to the Egyptian President, the Prime Minister and the Attorney General asking for a “transparent public investigation concerning her death”. They also contacted organisations in Europe, the UK and the USA to ask them to put pressure on the Egyptian government to take action. They used the Tha’era Facebook page to keep one another informed of what was happening. Tha’era members organised demonstrations in support of Shaimaa in member countries and posted pictures of them.

Tha’era’s response was “unexpected” and “surprising”, says Mariam, the Tha’era member interviewed for this case study, whose name has been changed because she wishes to remain anonymous. “Shaimaa was very enthusiastic about Tha’era, but many of us did not understand the purpose of Tha’era and just thought of it like another foreign formation. We did not understand that the response could work or do anything.”

Yet it did make a difference. In February the President referred to Shaimaa as a martyr and “the daughter of Egypt” and asked the Interior Minister to “uncover the truth” behind her death. “It was like a miracle when Sisi was talking about Shaimaa and accepting to launch an investigation,” Mariam says. The investigation which subsequently took place resulted in the conviction and sentencing of a police officer for her death. “It gave us back hope and the strength to follow in Shaimaa’s steps and keep her fight against social injustice and human rights alive. It gave us back a trust in international solidarity and the West.”

(Above: Tha’era Arab Women’s Network for Parity and Solidarity visit Fabian Society)

After the Arab Spring

The ‘Arab Spring’ that blossomed in 2011 brought great hope of steps towards democracy, freedom and the rule of law in the MENA region.

In the upheaval of the Arab Spring that blossomed in 2011, which brought great hope of steps towards democracy, freedom and the rule of law in the MENA region, women were often involved at the forefront of new populist movements. Ironically, though, the changes they achieved often had the effect of threatening or undermining their status. In areas where upheavals have been substantial or prolonged, women’s safety has frequently been compromised, with Egypt sometimes now cited as the most dangerous Arab country for women. In some countries war has had a devastating effect on women’s rights, whilst in others (for instance, Libya) women’s rights activists have been specifically targeted for attack and even assassination.

“Unrest and a fluid situation plagues the countries and societies where Tha’era is situated,” Mariam explains. “Tha’era enabled social democratic women to network across borders to achieve major results within the short period since Tha’era has been formed., Lots has been done on the levels of internal structure, international solidarity, capacity building and name recognition.”

In Morocco, for example, the network has supported its members in reforming the law relating to rape. In Lebanon, following a lobbying effort from 11 Tha’era members from around the region, Mariam says the Progressive Socialist Party’s Secretary-General was compelled to pledged to set up a mechanism to increase the presence of women in electoral lists in cooperation and coordination with the woman organization in the party. “These, among other actions, could not have been achieved without the strong network constructed by Tha’era.”

Supporting Tha’era’s development as an international network

The process of building the network began in January 2012 by the women’s organisations of social democratic parties in four MENA countries – Egypt, Lebanon, Morocco and Tunisia. The name ‘Tha’era’ was agreed upon both because of its meaning (a rebel woman) and because it would work linguistically across the region.

Having agreed on the network’s vision and mission, and formulating an Action Plan, the next step was a Train the Trainers (TOT) manual so that there was a framework in place early on to spread the knowledge and skills gained. A series of training sessions took place at both the national and regional level, so that the network could take hold. “The overall objective is to support women in social democratic parties to reach parity out of a belief that women’s rights cannot be achieved except through if women reach leadership positions in parties and governments,” Mariam says.

Throughout this process, Tha’era received assistance from the UK Labour Party and WFD. “They provided guidance and shadowing which are two crucial factors in the formation of networks,” Mariam says. “Tha’era is today a network that stands on its own feet drawing its strength from the fact that its members are veteran activists in parties; though it is important to stress the importance of funding during the start-up phase.”

The TOT Manual has become a key achievement of the network, as it lays out in clear detail the modules for use in training grassroots members of the various political parties. It was put together in English and translated into Arabic, and will remain as a resource for women in parties in which such resources are sometimes few and far between. Women attending Tha’era meetings have been able to exchange experience and expertise about the various challenges facing them, and the group’s Facebook page has done much to continue this conversation.

Mariam adds: “Tha’era is a good example of how donor organisations can fund projects that emanate from the needs of the beneficiaries and in parallel shadow the project in order to fill in the gaps coming from lack of experience. The Labour Party’s support takes roots in mutual trust, hearing your beneficiary, and providing the needed professional assistance.”

Over 100 women have now been trained by Tha’era using the Manual. Some of these women will themselves go on to train others, giving the training a range and reach it would not otherwise have. This training is particularly relevant for women away from capital cities who may be new to politics or to public activity, so that training in areas such as public speaking or campaign strategy is particularly valuable. As a consequence, women in communities that have traditionally been difficult for parties to reach have been able to access political skills and information. This training would almost certainly not have happened had Tha’era not existed, but it is essential if women in the region are to develop further as political activists and leaders.

The sustainability of the network has allowed the women involved to learn about one another’s activism and adapt what they learn to their own circumstances. The availability of the Facebook page has also facilitated this. The sharing of posts has disseminated women’s success across a wide area, and has been a major contributor to the forming of the ‘solidarity chain’ referred to in Tha’era’s mission. These connections were able to facilitate meetings between Tha’era members and women ambassadors of four European countries in Egypt.

“Exchange of experience and knowledge is very important and Tha’era offers an open space where women from the region can strategize together and launch joint campaigns,” Mariam says. “International solidarity has proved to be effective in assisting women facing governmental pressure and discrimination, Tha’era has the network needed to reach likeminded institutions and parties around the world. On the capacity-building level, and for fundraising purpose, Tha’era empowers the joining of forces that is cost-effective and amplifies impact.”

What next for Tha’era?

Tha’era has brought together a group of very capable and committed women – and enabled them to work proactively on an original, useful and targeted project. What does the future hold? “Consolidation and more consolidation,” Mariam says, “in order to provide a wider open space for social democratic women across the region, increase international solidarity, and try to build the capacity of women activists.”

The network can now face the future on a sustainable footing, has shown itself resilient to challenges, and aims to continue being a leading voice for women’s equality and political participation in such an important region of the world. It’s important for a network like Tha’era to exist, Mariam says, “because it can change things and support young women activist become stronger, it empowers us”.

The tragic story of Shaimaa al-Sabbagh’s death has shown this importance. Asked what Tha’era’s response to the events of January 24 2015 ultimately achieved, Mariam put it simply: “Justice for Shaimaa.”

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Case study: Lebanon’s energised parliamentary oversight

Are Lebanon’s oil and gas reserves a blessing or a curse? “It is definitely a blessing,” says Joseph Maalouf, an MP in the Lebanese Parliament. “The challenge is going to be in the management of the sector. It must be done in a transparent fashion, otherwise we will make a curse out of it by not re-establishing the trust that should exist with the Lebanese population.”

Moves to exploit Lebanon’s reserves, estimated at 96 trillion cubic feet of gas and 865 million barrels of oil, have been an issue of acute sensitivity for the country. Wrangling over the appropriate legislative framework has frustrated observers, contributing to a broader problem facing Lebanon’s politicians. “There is a big lack of confidence between the citizen and the elected official, it’s a huge trust issue,” MP Maalouf explains. “This lack of trust is causing a lot of assumptions, accusations and stereotyping that corruption is everyone’s practice.”

Lebanon’s Parliament can play a critical role in addressing this. Its oversight role is being championed by Mohamad Kabbani, who has been a pioneer in holding the executive to account ever since becoming Chair of the Public Works, Energy and Water Parliamentary Committee in 2000. This has not been easy in what he calls a “paralysed” political context. “Sectarianism protects corruption,” MP Kabbani explains. “That is not theory, this is practice. When I conduct oversight work it is interpreted as being sectarian. I am depending on the facts, but they say I am being political against the minister.”

One way of helping to reduce this impression is by strengthening institutions – both that of Parliament and the Committee in question. Westminster Foundation for Democracy’s programme in Lebanon is doing this by building the Public Works Committee’s capacity to review and contribute to the Government’s oil and gas policy, ensuring that profits stimulate growth and development for the country. Other committees are also benefiting from technical advice and expertise and support for their public hearings and consultations. This work has already seen the preparation of a draft law to introduce a sovereign wealth fund, a key mechanism to ensure that oil profits are used to invest in the economy and benefit the Lebanese population; the publication of a handbook for legislators to help MPs gain a deeper understanding of oil contracts; and an update to the 2007 petrolum policy in line with modern requirements.

lebanon-eiti-meeting-2As part of this approach, in mid-2016 MPs were given an opportunity to consider the benefits of signing up to the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative, a worldwide effort to promote exactly the kind of openness on natural resources supported by MPs on the Committee. Presentations by representative from the World Bank made the case for membership, winning MPs over. “This is an important initiative in achieving transparency in the field of oil and gas,” MP Kabbani says. He and his Committee encouraged the Parliament to adopt this recommendation. The Parliament’s Speaker, Nabih Berri, is now among the signatories to this proposal, demonstrating the significant influence of the Committee’s work.

It is a prospect which is being welcomed by campaigners and industry bodies alike. Wissam Zahabi, Chairman of the Lebanese Petroleum Administration (LPA), told WFD after the session: “I believe that providing access to open data will empower the government to gain trust of their citizens and empower individuals, the media, academia, civil society, and business to make better informed choices, expectations and judgements regarding the oil and gas sector in Lebanon.”

Mr Zahabi hopes that the Committee’s role in influencing debate on this issue could be decisive. “The fact that the energy committee endorses such a step could be a push for the Council of Ministers to take the decision, since the EITI should be announced by the government,” he adds. “The LPA has already presented the file of joining the EITI to the Council of Ministers and this complements our lobbying efforts.”

parlement-signIt’s not just the oil and gas sector which will benefit from this work. Support for MP Kabbani’s Committee is also providing an example of the value of effective committee work, encouraging others to replicate its approach. Both the Committees of Finance and  Information Technology are now engaging in oversight work, building the Parliament’s ability to represent citizens and improve policy. As this culture grows, MPs hope Parliament can provide the space needed to address some of Lebanon’s most pressing problems.

MP Maalouf sets out a vision of a Parliament without sectarian affiliation, instead based on “competencies, skills and patriotism”. But he is realistic: “I don’t think we will ever get rid of the realities, the presence of religions that live with fear.” The challenge is therefore to make the Parliament serve more effectively as a democratic, professional, responsive legislature.

This really matters. Following the YouStink Movement, Lebanese citizens are demanding greater accountability, transparency and delivery in democratic and social reforms by those in power. The growing poverty and unemployment and social pressures increase the pressure on legislatures to represent their citizens’ concerns. As a result of the social movement, there is an increasing need for the Lebanese parliament to become more open, accessible and representative. In 20 or 30 years, MP Maalouf hopes, this can be achieved. “I tell you what I dream,” he says – “to live the democracy we claim to have.”

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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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The Cost of Politics: From selection to election

(Above: Rushanara Ali, MP and Vice-Chair of WFD’s Board of Governors, moderates the first panel of the day with the authors of the case studies in Macedonia (Gordan Georgiev) and Nigeria (Adebowale Olorunmola).)

On Monday July 18th WFD launched new research into the cost of parliamentary politics, exploring six case studies assessing the situation in Macedonia, Ukraine, Kyrgyzstan, Ghana, Uganda and Nigeria.

“How do we make politics more affordable?” was the central question being asked by George Kunnath, WFD’s Regional Director for Africa and Europe, at our conference exploring the increasing cost of politics.

Take Ghana. As George explained, “people have done the numbers and realised it is not worthwhile for them to get into politics” – especially when an MP is compelled to spend £750 a month supporting funerals in their communities. These associated costs mean political life is intrinsically linked to corrupt practice, whether through securing re-election through the exploitation of state resources or the increased power that comes with the role.

Our new research project explores the whole cycle faced by candidates – from getting nominated to fighting the campaign and maintaining a parliamentary seat – and what associated costs individuals face at each stage of this journey.

Getting nominated – how to get on the ballot?

Gordan Georgiev, former MP in Macedonia and author of the research into the cost of politics case study, explained the crucial role that political parties play in the selection process for candidates.

“Getting on the ballot has certain costs,” he explained. “Some are typical, some are pretty innovative and some are surprising” – like the 30,000-80,000 euro cost to change your party membership, or the ability to buy 100,000 votes for ten million euros. This climate, Gordan argued, is responsible for the lowest levels of trust in politicians across Europe to date.

Adebowale Olorunmola, author of the Nigerian case study, said trust is also an issue in Nigeria. He pointed to the “gulf between the parties and people” that currently exists. It’s a gulf created in part by the huge costs associated with selection, but also by the motivations of current politicians who “get into political office to serve personal interests, leaving well-intentioned citizens, with ideas to move society forward, without access”. In Nigeria, to simply get on the ballot paper you must pay an initial 25 million naira fee (approximately £64,000).

(Above, left to right: Lisa Klein, formerly of UK Electoral Commission, Jamie Hitchen, Africa Research Insitute and WFD’s Director of Research Graeme Ramshaw)

Fighting the campaign

With the initial costs of getting on the ballot being so high, it’s equally – if not more – damaging that the expected levels of spending associated with running a campaign are also excessive.

Campaigning costs in Britain remain relatively low. “The UK is quite blessed to have an affordable political system,” George Kunnath explained in the opening address. Elsewhere, however, running a campaign can be so costly that it creates a barrier to access, as our second panel of the day found.

Jamie Hitchin, from the Africa Research Institute, drew on the recent Ugandan elections as an example, where “money trumps ideology” as the success factor for political parties. One hundred and seventy-five million US dollars were spent in Uganda by all parties in the run-up to the most recent presidential elections. This, Jamie added, was almost double the health budget in Uganda for 2015/16.

These high costs associated with running for office undeniably shape citizens’ perceptions of their representatives and what is expected of them – generating money for election, not improving public services for all.

Jamie added that the cost of politics and associated corruption is driven not just by politicians giving out money, but also by “citizens who are expecting to be given money” during a campaign. Changing this attitude is key to changing the associated cost of politics and making it more accessible.
The costs of sitting in Parliament

The challenge of raising the funds to run a successful campaign places huge pressure on elected representatives to recover some of their expenses when in office, either financially or through their patronage and privileges.

The cultural context and perceptions of the role of an MP emerged as a recurrent theme throughout the day. Emma Crew, Professorial Research Associate at SOAS, argued that the relationship between politicians and constituents is key to decreasing the cost of politics and making it more accessible. “By deepening democracy beyond parliament and strengthening civil society, including the capacity for research and scrutiny,” Emma suggested, will be vital to changing attitudes on what the role of a sitting politician is.

This anthropological approach was supported by Kojo Asante, Senior Research Fellow, Centre for Democratic Development in Ghana, who acknowledged that “if you don’t understand why people carry on doing what they are doing” then change will be difficult to achieve.

He pointed to Ghana’s “interesting cultural sanctions”. MPs are expected to pay for office space, textbooks and funerals. If they do not, they risk forfeiting the community’s support when it comes to re-election. This shifts the focus, Kojo said, from governing and providing adequate services for constituents to “always preparing for the next election”.

(Above: Emma Crewe, Professorial Research Associate at SOAS, delivers a presentation about the anthropological elements that contribute to the cost of politics.)

Steps towards reform?

Attitudes, cultural practice and expectation clearly play such a fundamental role in shaping citizens’ expectations of parliaments – so addressing them, particularly within broader global anti-corruption reform efforts, should not be ignored.

Enforcement and regulation of party finance was a key theme throughout the day, but as Peter Wardle, former CEO of the UK Electoral Commission explained, this is not always enough. “You introduce rules, and people find a way to get around them,” he said, referring to his experience of introducing party finance legislation in the UK. “You can have the best rules in the world, the UK rules look good – but if you can’t enforce them they do not work.”

This is where parliaments can come in to help fight corruption at any level. “Parliaments are part of the solution rather than part of the problem,” Phil Mason, Senior Anti-Corruption Adviser at the Department for International Development, said. Something as simple as effective note-taking, like the UK’s Hansard, can go a long way to explaining “what those functions [of parliament] are, of educating people about the roles and functions of MPs and parliaments”.

Stephen Twigg, MP and Chair of the International Development Committee concluded that political parties – a major part of WFD’s work – are part of the solution too. “They can help get a range of people in to politics,” demonstrating how important WFD’s work with parliaments and political parties is in addressing corruption.

Following the UK anti-corruption summit in May, Britain is taking the lead on the global stage in addressing this issue. Now, thanks to this research project, the UK has opened up another avenue to explore change.

 

The six country case studies and synthesis report are available here. 

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From Georgia to Westminster: The reform of human rights committees

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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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Towards effective financial scrutiny in Tunisia

“It’s the first time in the history of Tunisia that we have a parliamentary committee that is charged with the oversight of the management of public money,” Sofiene Toubal, chair of the financial oversight committee, says. “We believe the fruits of these achievements will come in the near future.”

The committee in question – on Administrative Reform, Good Governance, Anti-Corruption and Oversight On The Management of Public Money – was created by the Assembly of the Representatives of the People (ARP) with the support of Westminster Foundation of Democracy (WFD).

WFD’s work on financial scrutiny in Tunisia began, though, at the end of 2014, when the Parliament was drawing up new rules of procedure as part of the country’s broader constitutional settlement.

Mr Toubal recalls: “Most of the members of our committee didn’t have enough knowledge about the Westminster system of parliamentary financial oversight that relies on a committee of oversight of public money management which cooperates with the Supreme Audit Institution. The benefit we got was providing this basic knowledge to the committee and its members.”

Tunisia flags jpg squareAfter WFD’s first induction workshop, which took place in December 2014, a small group of its members sought the creation of a committee which would focus on this work. This was achieved at the beginning of 2015.

But the Committee’s first year saw its work focus on other tasks, and not the oversight of public spending – the core tasks of a traditional PAC.

“Unlike the committees responsible for oversight of public money in Britain and Scotland,” Mr Toubal explains, “our Committee is charged with additional tasks – especially the fight against corruption, administrative reforms and follow-up of looted money and smuggled and disposed assets.”

The length of the Committee’s title reflects the breadth of its responsibilities and the prioritisation decisions which had to be made during its first year. “The weight of these tasks, because of their political importance and public opinion, made it more difficult for the Committee to establish its priorities, at the expense of the oversight of public money management,” Mr Toubal adds.

During this period, WFD provided the Committee’s members with insight into the key functions of a PAC and the benefits which can result to the management of public money.

Committee Clerk Khalifa Ouriemei recalls: “WFD’s diverse activities, which included a study visit to the British Parliament and the Scottish Parliament allowed learning about the British leading experience in the field of the oversight of the public money management”.

“There were also ,a number of targeted workshops dedicated to emphasising topics very tightly linked to cooperation with the Supreme Audit Institution (the Cour des Comptes, equivalent to the UK National Audit Office)”.

“They also focused on the methods of benefiting from the audit reports and the conducting of inquiries. These are indeed very important topics for the development of the work of our committee, leading towards good management and respects of the principles of good governance and transparency and effectiveness.”

MPs are now fully aware of  the positive benefits of their relationship with the Supreme Audit Institution and have mastered the technical aspects of undertaking inquiries from the experiences of the UK, Scottish, Moroccan and Indian PACs.

The chair of the Committee, the rest of its members and its clerk were all convinced that something needed to change. MP Hela Hammi was among those who has played an important role in reforming the ARP’s financial scrutiny.

IMG_7431(2)“We’ve managed to include all of these achievements in the current by-laws,” she says, “and now myself and a group of MPs will submit a draft amendment to the by-laws to bring out the oversight of public money to a specific committee.”

This, Ms Hammi confirms, is necessary “because the combination of oversight with administrative reform and anti-corruption efforts reduced the time dedicated to oversight”.

The Tunisian committee was established along more traditional Public Accounts Committee lines. Meanwhile, on April 4th, MP Jamila Ksiksi, rapporteur of the Tunisian PAC, reported proudly on her Facebook Page that the Tunisian PAC have agreed with the Cour des Comptes to collaborate on the oversight of public expenditures. Four inquiries are set to begin work soon.

This and future inquiries will make a big difference to Tunisia, it’s hoped. The PAC’s work is expected to help optimise the use of public money and reduce Tunisia’s national debt, benefiting public service users. It will reduce corruption and underutilisation of public assets, two problems believed by many in Tunisia to be at the heart of the country’s public sector reform targets.

Helping strengthen parliaments’ ability to conduct financial scrutiny forms a big part of WFD’s ongoing work in the MENA region and beyond. We aim to improve accountability in the countries where we operate – and in the process contribute to the UK’s drive against corruption.

This is an area which Tunisian politicians are committed to addressing, as the creation of the Tunisian PAC shows. Mr Toubal puts it best:

“We believe that we cannot talk about good governance of public money without an effective parliamentary financial oversight.”

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How WFD helps fight corruption around the world

By working to increase the accountability of both parliaments and political parties, Westminster Foundation for Democracy is helping establish the conditions where corrupt politicians and officials find it hard to flourish.

Corruption, according to the Department for International Development, is “often a symptom of wider governance dynamics and is likely to thrive in conditions where accountability is weak”.

That makes WFD a part of the solution to the issues being grappled with in Prime Minister David Cameron’s Global Anti-Corruption Summit taking place this week. World leaders, business figures and civil society representatives are coming together to agree a package of practical steps to expose corruption, punish the perpetrators and drive out the culture of corruption. It’s by addressing the latter that WFD makes its contribution.

“Instead of being a source of the problem,” Chief Executive Anthony Smith says, “parliaments and political parties – both vital for a healthy, functioning democracy – can make the transition to being a source of momentum in tackling corruption, often with WFD’s support.”

Where there are parliaments and parliamentarians that want to make a difference, WFD shares practices from Britain and elsewhere which can work. Take Ukraine, where corruption often tops the list of public critiques facing the parliament. WFD, in partnership with GIZ, has helped launch a Financial and Economic Analysis Office with the Verkhovna Rada to ensure that MPs have better access to information and can make evidence-based decisions about public spending.

Parliaments and MPs face a reputational challenge of their own in countries around the world. The UK has learned a lot about the need for transparency and handling personal finances, as the 2009 expenses scandal showed. We also understand that in some countries, parties require payments for individuals to become candidates. In others, parliamentarians are often expected to support their constituents because public services are poor. We can work with reformers to help introduce better systems and tackle behaviours that shield corrupt behaviours. Our inductions for new MPs – like the induction we carried out in Kyrgyzstan last autumn – are examples of this.

WFD also helps build the ability and responsibility of parliaments and political parties to tackle these systemic issues effectively. In Iraq, we are encouraging cooperation between the Integrity Commissions based in Baghdad and Erbil.

Often this work involves brokering relationships. “Lack of skills in building good relationship with law enforcement agencies is preventing us from implementing our follow-up efforts appropriately,” Mr Bassim Jasim Hajwal, Director General of the National Integrity Commission in Iraq, says. “The Integrity Commission needs to strengthen our relationships with different organisations.” WFD offers assistance in this work.

Earlier this year Mr Hajwal and colleagues journeyed to Jakarta to learn about Indonesia’s reinvigorated anti-corruption efforts – an example of south-south learning facilitated by WFD. Later this month WFD will support the Indonesian Chapter of Global Organisation of Parliamentarians Against Corruption (GOPAC) to deliver a trial run of the best practice workbook they have developed to help parliaments tackle corruption. The regional event, organised with GOPAC, will allow parliamentarians from across South Asia, including Sri Lanka, Burma and Indonesia where WFD is developing country programmes, to test and refine the guidance.

More broadly, parliaments and political parties have an important role to play in championing an independent judiciary and enforcement of the rule of law. They perform a crucial task in supporting the main institutions that do anti-corruption work on the ground: the police forces, investigators, prosecutors and anti-corruption agencies. If there is evidence of state interference with independent probes, say, it is up to MPs and political parties to confront them.

Finally comes the responsibility of parliaments and political parties to listen to and honestly represent the views of citizens who overwhelmingly find corruption to be the source of many of their problems. In our programmes, we share with partners the importance of transparency – because even the best politicians working in a bad system will not be able to make a difference unless they can rely on public support. That only comes about if parliaments can provide an open understanding of the way in which the system is working.

Many of our programmes are taking positive steps in parliaments determined to respond to public opinion. Often public expectations can be met by setting up committees responsible for keeping an eye on where money is being spent. Our previous programme in Tunisia saw the establishment of a committee tasked with both financial scrutiny and anti-corruption work. Among its tasks was “recovery of the looted money, and the issues of managing the confiscated money and properties, as well as the auditing of public banks and public enterprises”. That set in stone MPs’ commitment to delivering more oversight and accountability to Tunisian citizens, which is taking place with WFD’s support.

‘No one can fight corruption alone’

WFD’s approach to programming aims to incorporate the very flexibility that is needed to develop effective approaches to combatting corruption. Context becomes essential when deciding how to combat corruption.

It’s clear that a one-size-fits-all approach will not end corrupt practice. As WFD’s University of Oxford post-doc Susan Dodsworth says: “Corruption is a product of the incentives people face. To eliminate corruption we need to change those incentives. We can only do this is if we understand the context that people are operating in, both at the micro and macro level.” That is why WFD’s country-specific context-analysis informs our programme design – and helps turn the UK’s goal of wiping out corruption around the world a reality.

Our aim is to deliver the multilateral approach called for by Senator Monsurat Sunmonu from Nigeria, who spoke passionately about how to eliminate corruption at our Westminster Community of Practice event back in March. Her key message was the need for a multilateral approach. “No one can fight corruption alone,” she said. “With technological advances and the development of a global economy the world has become a smaller place. No single country can legislate and succeed by itself.”

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