From Westminster to Tynwald: Lao delegation visit UK

(Above: Hon. Steve Rodan MLC, President of Tynwald with members of the delegation from Laos)

In March 2017, Westminster Foundation for Democracy’s programme Supporting the Capacity and Accountability of the Lao Parliament, offered a delegation from the National Assembly the opportunity to exchange ideas on how different jurisdictions approach the rights of citizens and legislation through a study visit to the UK.

WFD uses the full breadth of the UK democratic experience to support best-practice exchange platforms between parliamentsThe delegation, led by Mr. Khenthong Nuanthasing, Vice-Chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee and consisting of senior MPs and staff from the National Assembly, visited the UK’s largest parliament in Westminster and the world’s oldest parliament in Tynwald.

(Above: The delegation from Laos: Mr Khenthong Nuanthasing (Head of Delegation), Vice-chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee (NA); Mr Kongci Yangchue, Vice-chairman of the Justice Committee (NA); Mme Pingkham Lasasimma, Vice-chairman of the Economic, Technology and Environment Committee (NA);Dr Bouthan Bounvilay, Head of Research Centre of the Institute of Legislative Studies (NA); Mr Somlet Choulamany, Chairman of People’s Provincial Assembly of Salavan Province; Dr Souvanny Saysana, Chairman of People’s Provincial Assembly of Bolikhamxay Province.)

Sessions in the Houses of Parliament, including meetings with Bob Neil, Chair of the Justice Committee, Mathew Hamlym, Head of the Overseas Office of the UK House of Commons, and Simon Burton, Reading Clerk and Head of the Overseas Office of the UK House of Lords offered the delegation insight into how the UK approaches legislation related to issues of justice.

In Tynwald – the oldest continuous parliament in the world that can trace its history over 1,000 years – the delegates were given insight into the island’s life, the unique relationship between the Isle of Man and the UK and they also received information on how Tynwald operates on a day to day basis.

(Above: In Westminster’s Portcullis House, the delegation meet with Bob Neill MP, Chair of Justice Committee)

The delegation visited the High Court of Tynwald, which is the oldest continuous parliamentary body in the world, and met His Excellency Sir Richard Gozney, Lieutenant Governor of the Isle of Man at the Isle of Man Government House.

Of particular interest to the delegation was how Tynwald supported a diversified economy – although the island is well known as a financial base or tourism destination, the Lao MPs were surprised to know that it exports 1,500 tonnes of cheese to the USA and also provides technical equipment to the aerospace industry! These impressions provided food for thought in the role of parliament in providing the framework for a successful economy to flourish.

(Above: The delagation with Roger Philips, Clerk of Tynwald)

WFD is excited to build on the experience of the study visit through continued work with members of the Lao National Assembly in the areas of justice and rights over the coming months.

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Supporting women councillors in Uganda to advocate for women’s rights

(Above: Betty Atim, former district councillor and Chair of the Women’s Caucus in Gulu, Uganda)

“If a man gets with you and wants to stay together then you should get some documentation” Betty Atim, former district councillor in Gulu and Chair of the Women’s Caucus, explains to her female constituents who face homelessness due to land rights disputes in Uganda.

Betty Atim participated in the Westminster Foundation for Democracy EU funded programme that supported local civil society organisations to raise awareness among district councillors about the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW). The training on CEDAW delivered by GWED-G has provided local councillors with knowledge about existing international legislation, including on Land Rights, and how it can be used at the local level to protect women.

Raising awareness: What are women’s rights?

“What we [the women’s caucus] are now trying to do – is to sensitise our women and pass it over to them” Betty said. “Please don’t just sit with a man and think that you are settled, you must have something attached to you and that man, we say – and our women are now doing this” she explained.

In Uganda, half of the battle in protecting women from discrimination is ensuring they know what their rights are and that there is legislation in place both nationally and internationally to protect them. WFD’s work in Uganda centred around building the capacity of civil society organisations to ensure that laws designed to protect women were actually implemented at the local level.

“On Land Laws, most of us who were in the council didn’t know that we had the rights. We thought you could only talk about these issues in Church” Betty added “The support [WFD] gave GWED-G on certain components such as land was sobering for the women”.

Rosa Mon Abili, Secretary for education, health, sports and community based services also participated in the training added – “For us as district leaders we always believe that knowledge is power, so once we are invited to meetings like this we don’t want to miss out because we get a lot of information that really empowers us to do our work better and effectively.”

(Above: Ms Angwech Pamela Judith, Executive Director for GWED-G facilitates workshop in Gulu district, Uganda)

United for change: Working as the women’s caucus

Having the knowledge to act is the first step, but what was equally important for Betty and Rosa was being able to work with other women leaders from different political parties and sub-counties to advocate on behalf of women, something that was made possible through WFD’s support to GWED-G.

Through the women’s caucus, women councillors have worked together to support women in their community facing land disputes. “We move on to say how we can help a women” Betty added “with the grounds that yes she is a widow, but you cannot send a child to come and take over her property.”

Having representatives at the local level who understand the problems you are facing on a day to day basis because of your gender is so important for the women in Gulu that need help. “[She] then feels relaxed from talking to us and us saying that we can go to court, that we will get this issue sorted and that we can identify some good lawyers” Betty explained.

“To win this case you need to come as a unit, I think women are really picking up on that” Betty added reflecting on the importance of working as a caucus. The issue of gender based violence is fundamental to the CEDAW training too and Betty and Rosa felt the caucus was best placed to help with these cases.

“Most of our district leaders were so united that we were not looking at our party level” Rosa Mon Abili reflected on the changes in the district following the training and establishment of the caucus. “We were [focused] on the basis of service delivery and making sure that we throw one voice as women, because every women has the same kind of challenges” she said.

(Left: Participants at workshop learn about Land Rights and how they relate to CEDAW)

Working together for a brighter future

The sustainability of these changes, which are in their infancy, was something Betty, Rosa and their fellow women councillors knew they would not achieve on their own. Having the knowledge about international legislation, the solidarity of working with other women and the support of male champions are all key to seeing the long-term goal of improved women’s rights in Uganda.

“At least we know that to handle the issue of gender based violence we need men on board” Betty said “by sensitising us women alone, men are looking at it like they are not vulnerable, so by bringing a few men down they are adding to our polling.”

Okelo Peter Douglas Okow, District Speaker in Gulu was one man who played a key role in supporting the women’s caucus last year. “If women and girls do not participate in decision-making then their issues will not be incorporated into the district counties agenda” he explained.

The relationship the women’s caucus developed with the Speaker was crucial as it allowed for key issues, like land management or gender based violence, to be put on the local council agenda. “As the speaker, I interacted with them [the Women’s Caucus] and I am happy to say that this caucus helped the women in lobbying, advocacy and in championing women’s issues at the local government level” he continued.

WFD’s support to GWED-G has ended but we hope the skills, training and support provided to women councillors, male champions and GWED-G itself will continue to help women in rural Uganda. Betty, for example, is just one councillor who now feels confident enough explaining to women why they should not be physically abused, or thrown out of their homes. If she continues to pass on this knowledge and explain to women who come to her for help that they have been treated badly and that they can do something about it, then the future will be very different for women.

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From presence to influence: Beyond International Women’s Day

(Above: Shannon O’Connell has joined the Westminster Foundation for Democracy as Senior Policy Advisor – Gender and Politics. With over twenty years’ experience in the field of politics, governance, and international development, Shannon has particular experience in women’s political empowerment and gender mainstreaming.)

In the 1990s, I worked in the House of Representatives in the United States. I purposely sought a position with the staff of a Member of Congress who was considered one of the most progressive of the 435 representatives. Among other important issues, his voting record included consistent support for initiatives to protect and advance the interests of women and girls.

One day, a group of school girls from the Congressman’s constituency came to visit. They were given a tour of the Capitol, told a bit about the functions and history of the legislative branch and then ushered back to our office to meet the Congressman. They asked questions about how the House worked, and then one of the girls asked the Congressman, “Do you think I could ever be a Member of Congress?”

Immediately, without taking a breath, the Congressman replied, “No. I’m the Congressman from this district. This is my job.”

The girl was about twelve years old. By law, she could not even run for the House of Representatives for another thirteen years. Yet even then, in an unguarded moment, a very senior, experienced, well-established and (theoretically) progressive Congressman saw her as a threat.

During that time, I also dated a guy who was a strong proponent of Valentine’s Day. It’s not that he was particularly romantic (he wasn’t), but he felt it was a useful reminder that, once a year at least, you should say or do something endearing for your partner.

(Above: Shannon participates in a WFD organised round-table for marginalised groups in Uganda)

How are these two meandering memories linked? Oddly, they’re linked by International Women’s Day.

International Women’s Day in many ways serves as one of these kinds of reminders. Once a year, we stop and remember to say laudatory and important things about women and girls, and about the state of their well-being in the world. But if this is where our focus and our agency stops, what we are offering is of little more value than the Congressman’s voting record.

In recent years, the conversation about women’s participation has focused on the numbers – getting more women into elected and appointed offices and into executive positions. Globally, the news in this regard is good. The number of women in national legislatures stood at 23% in 2016, up from 17% ten years earlier. Affirmative action efforts in Uganda, for example, have raised the number of women in parliament to 34%; Rwanda leads the world at 61%.

This is the quantitative side of moving towards more equal and inclusive decision-making. It is a start. It is the Valentine’s Day equivalent of women’s participation – a nice gesture that injects a bit of energy and strengthens the connection, and without which the relationship would not be particularly vibrant.

But the real romance is not about quantity, it is about quality – the quality of women’s participation. This means not just increasing the presence of women, but also increasing the influence of women.

Worldwide, political systems are stumbling. Problems range from general voter discontent and disengagement to genuine instability and chaos. The call for change, for reform, for stronger more engaged systems that deliver real benefits for voters, is loud.

Democratic activists are responding to this call and part of the answer, unequivocally, is about supporting women’s leadership and injecting their influence into these systems – not just as window dressing, but as a core component of the architectural restructuring that needs to happen. Women (and other groups who tend to live outside decision-making frameworks) are part of an opportunity to do things differently, and do them better. We know there are multiple benefits to more inclusive decision-making systems and that these are not just limited to the well-being of women and girls. All of society gains.

This is not a silver bullet that will solve all our democratic woes, but figuring out how we not just let women in but also let women lead means we are asking the right questions – the ones that will get us all on the path to stronger systems of government that will deliver for all citizens.

This International Women’s Day, ask yourself and the organisations that you influence what you can do to help women be part of doing things better.

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Women’s political participation in Sierra Leone

Sierra Leone is expected to hold general elections in March 2018. This provides an opportunity to increase the level of women’s political participation. Women constitute more than 51% of the total population but occupy only 15 out of 124 seats in parliament.

On 20 and 21 February, Westminster Foundation for Democracy (WFD) hosted a two-day summit in Freetown with legislators, political party officials, election authorities, UN Women and civil society organisations from Ghana, Sierra Leone, Uganda and Zambia. Organised in collaboration with the Political Parties Registration Commission (PPRC), the event aimed at finding concrete and effective solutions to promote women’s access and participation in political life.

Opening a roundtable on barriers to participation, Dr Fatou Taqi, President of the 50/50 Group said: “women make up over 50% of the Sierra Leone population and when you give them a chance to participate then you will see that half of your problems have been solved”.

As political campaigns continue to be competitive, candidates face a range of issues from financial constraints to political violence, a lack of political mentoring and other immaterial barriers set up to deter women.

“Women need to support each other and mentor each other. We have the strength and we don’t even realise the strength that we have until we face the difficulty” explained Augusta James Telma, Secretary General from the All Political Party Women’s Association (APPWA); “we just have to use that strength”.

Delegates noted that to encourage inclusive and representative democracy, women must be supported in diverse yet sustainable ways. Diversity should be guaranteed at all levels of government: within political parties, national parliament and local authorities.

Sunkarie Kamara, Mayor of Makeni demonstrated this through sharing her story of resilience: “in my council, we have achieved exemplary gender balance of almost 50% men and 50% women” she said; “I would advise women here to take full advantage of their capacities. From my experience, persistence and being adamant is key. I was intimidated and silenced but I remained steadfast. Only then they realised that I was being serious.”

Delegates took part in panel discussions, group work, case studies and sharing of personal stories between participants. Former Ugandan MP Olivia Kawagala, told participants that “stopping women from performing and coming forward is violence against women.” This was seconded by Rose Sakala, former UN Consultant on Conflict Resolution in Zambia , who said “When you stop women from what they want to do and limit them in their homes that is also a form of violence”.

Mohamed Alpha Jalloh, WFD’s Country Representative in Sierra Leone explained that women’s’ political participation is essential to deepen democracy in the country. To achieve greater participation of women in politics a collective effort is required. “We need men who can serve as role models to stand up, stand tall and proudly champion the democratic course of women’s political participation in partnership with women” Mohamed explained, “I am a woman champion and will lead WFD’s support to promote women’s political participation in Sierra Leone.”

WFD continues to support women through its programmes in Africa. Our Sierra Leone activities will support the enhancement of Sierra Leonean women’s leaders in achieving their full potential in politics.

This event was part of WFD’s programme that brings together parliamentary and political party expertise.

It is being implemented in parallel to a parliamentary programme and a DFID-funded elections programme: ‘Standing Together for Free, Fair and Peaceful Elections,’ which we are implementing in consortium with local partners.

 

(Photo: Top: Participants at the end of the two-day summit in Freetown, Sierra Leone)
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The New International Strategy of the Scottish Parliament

Fergus Cochrane

By Fergus Cochrane, Head of Scottish Parliament’s International Relations Office

As a young and evolving parliament, the Scottish Parliament is keen to share its experience with other parliaments across the world and our increased engagement with the Westminster Foundation for Democracy (WFD) over recent years has contributed to that aim.

The Scottish Parliament’s International Strategy sets out how our international work can support the Parliament’s strategic objectives. We want to maintain our reputation as an open, accessible and participative Parliament, willing to learn from and assist other legislatures whilst supporting the development of our own international relationships.

There are three elements to our Strategy: Policy, Parliaments; and Organisations. The Policy element identifies the issues that are central to us and on which we will seek to develop relationships with, and learn from, other parliaments. Our Strategic Plan ensures that the issues important to us as a Parliament are at the core of our international relations activities. It is these issues which will largely inform why, when and who we seek to work with internationally. However, we have developed strong and meaningful partnerships with other parliaments, through our key partnership with WFD and its parliamentary strengthening programme and look forward to supporting this work in the future. This falls neatly into the ‘Parliaments’ and ‘Organisations’ elements of our Strategy.

A key part of this work has been consolidating relationships with other parliaments in areas where we can offer expert advice such as financial oversight, research support, and strategic planning.
For many of the parliaments we work with, this relationship begins with a visit to Holyrood where delegations are exposed to ‘how we do things here’. As an evolving Parliament, and where there has been a devolution of further powers since 1999, it can be interesting for delegations to see how the Scottish Parliament, as a unicameral parliament, scrutinises the use of these powers. For example, how our committees (and procedures) are responding to the newly devolved tax powers. However, it is also of interest and importance to learn about other parliaments, to hear and learn of their approaches and how they do things.

We have been involved with the Western Balkans network for a few years now although since 2015 that has been focused on the National Assembly of the Republic of Serbia and its establishment, through the WFD, of a Parliamentary Budget Office (PBO) which will support more effective financial oversight by the Assembly and government accountability.

Colleagues here have partnered with WFD’s Belgrade office on the preparation and implementation of the first 100-day work plan of the PBO, including developing its training academy and modules, supporting the secondment to the Scottish Parliament of the PBO researchers in March 2016 and general support (and friendship), on-the-job coaching and mentorship sessions.

Jordan is another example where we have provided key support and started to build fundamental relationships. David McGill, Assistant Chief Executive at the Scottish Parliament, has provided instrumental support on strategic planning for the House of Representatives in Amman, meeting with the Secretary General and the leadership of the Parliament as well as all the Heads of Departments. He has been able to ascertain and collate the needs and priorities of parliamentary staff to feed into a strategic plan modeled on the Scottish Plan. By conducting comprehensive sessions on our strategic planning experience, the principles behind strategic planning, and the methodologies for implementation and monitoring and evaluation, David has provided comprehensive feedback and mentoring to the House on the final draft of the Strategic Plan that was submitted to the Secretary General for consideration in late September 2016.

David has also collaborated with WFD in similar work with the House of Representatives in Morocco and in March the Scottish Parliament will proudly host both parliaments for joint discussions on this important issue.

In the coming weeks and months, we will work with the WFD and its programmes in Montenegro, Kenya, Bahrain, and Sri Lanka. We look forward to working with the WFD, and its parliamentary partners, in the future, adding value where we can and sharing thoughts, ideas and experiences.

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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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Westminster Foundation for Democracy in 2017

Anthony Smith, WFD CEO, signs MOU with Speaker of the Hluttaw in Burma

Anthony Smith, CMG

This year we celebrate the 25th anniversary of Westminster Foundation for Democracy (WFD).

In this time, the Foundation has worked to support democracy in over 70 countries, sharing experiences and forging strong partnerships around the world.

We owe our existence to the vision of a group of British parliamentarians that saw how important it was to invest time and energy in sharing Britain’s democratic experience – good and bad – with countries emerging from the Soviet Union. Democracies in those early partner countries have been transformed and many are now helping other countries take the same journey. Britain’s democracy has also evolved, with four vibrant parliaments sharing that same vision – that we are stronger when we share our experiences and work to support democratic institutions around the world.

WFD’s approach is simple. We draw on the rich diversity of Britain’s democracy – political parties of every size, parliamentarians that have helped Britain remain stable and prosperous through economic expansion, recession and austerity, external and internal conflict, and officials that have provided expert guidance – including through intense constitutional debate – without getting in the way of political leadership.

The two years since our present strategy was published have seen WFD expand geographically and diversify our work. We now have offices in 25 countries and programmes in many more, which means more opportunities for “South-South” learning as well. The variety of the work is fantastic. A number of our partners have started on historic transitions – Burma, Sri Lanka, and Venezuela spring to mind. Some of our partners – for example Tunisia – have had their first democratic transition of power while a second generation of citizens in others such as Ghana have enjoyed peaceful transitions.

Wherever we work, we always tailor our work to local demands. That means ensuring that we understand the local context, but it also means combining political party and parliamentary programmes in new ways, addressing behaviours and political culture, not just the formal rules and structures. WFD has also launched two new lines of work. First, we have begun to provide and train UK election observers for international election missions and, second, our research programme is both looking back at lessons from our previous work and looking forward at issues that will affect our future work.

We want to build on that progress in 2017, in three main ways:

We will work with new partners and in new countries. There is a strong demand for this in every region and, while we cannot respond to every request, we do think there is scope for further expansion. We have seen a lot of interest in regional networks among political parties and parliaments. Respect for and interest in Britain’s democracy and our approach – sharing experiences not pushing any specific model – is global.

We will renew established partnerships and build new ones. World-class British organisations such as the BBC, the British Council, the National Audit Office and think tanks like Chatham House, Wilton Park and Overseas Development Institute can provide critically important lessons on a range of issues that affect the quality of political and civic life in our partner countries. We would like to work as closely with them as we already do with others such as the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association.

We will increase our impact on some key policy issues. At the top of the list is women’s political empowerment where we want to ensure that all of our programmes consider their impact on women. Tolerance and dialogue are also a top priority – parties and parliaments can help build shared rules of the game and tackle conflict within society. And anti-corruption remains critically important.

Challenges to democracy-strengthening

Whatever the eventual shape of WFD’s programmes, 2017 will be an important year for any organisation that is working to support democracy. The political turbulence of 2016 was in at least some cases an indication that existing democratic leadership and institutions were not serving their citizens well. At its heart, democracy is the best way of preventing the abuse of power by political leaders. But if democracy is seen to be failing citizens, then there is a greater risk of autocracy gaining ground, at least in the short term.

That creates two challenges. The first is of political leadership, whether exercised by Presidents and Prime Ministers, parliamentary Speakers, Committee Chairs, judges, editors or heads of civil society organisations. Their behaviour will determine the atmosphere in which democratic institutions can work to tackle the real problems – security, the economy, social inclusion – that our societies face. Political competition is important, but so is respect for minority opinions and for their right to express them.

The second is a challenge of effectiveness. Institutions need to work well enough to maintain public confidence in them, so it is important to tackle the nuts and bolts of institutions as well as their strategic roles. For example, if a parliament cannot carry out its core role properly, or even publish records of its proceedings on time, then it will lose credibility and dent the perception of the democratic system.

For both these reasons, WFD will continue working to support both political leadership and institutional effectiveness in our partner countries. We value your contributions and hope that together we can strengthen democracy in the year ahead.

 

(Photo: Anthony Smith, WFD’s CEO, signs MOU with Speaker of the Hluttaw in Burma)
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New WFD partnership to support historic change in Burma

Burma’s democratic transition was one of the most watched in the world in 2016. After over 50 years of military rule, the national parliament faces the challenge of delivering change in line with citizens’ expectations.

Starting in 2017, Westminster Foundation for Democracy (WFD) will partner with Burma’s legislative body, the Pyidaungsu Hluttaw (Parliament), to assist with the development of an efficient and open parliament.

Burma has suffered long periods without a sitting legislature and parliament lacks the facilities and systems necessary to support effective law-making, oversight and representation. Building the capacity of parliament to help a large number of new MPs and parliamentary staff fulfil their functions is also needed.

The WFD programme will offer expertise from the British parliamentary experience in partnership with the House of Commons, provide English language training through the British Council and help develop the systems and infrastructure a modern Parliament needs.

Under the terms of a Memorandum of Understanding signed by WFD and the Hluttaw, the House of Commons will second experienced parliamentary specialists to offer day-to-day support and coaching to committee and research staff.

(Above photo: Hon. U Win Myint, Speaker of the Pyithu Hluttaw, participates in best practice exchange with UK counterpart, John Bercow)

Using a combination of MPs, parliamentary staff and experts from the UK and the region, the programme will share experiences that will support the capacity of the Hluttaw in a number of areas.

To help MPs carry out legislative research and wider learning and to foster international relations, we have partnered with the British Council to provide an English Language Enrichment Programme.

We will also work with the Irrawaddy Policy Exchange to propose ways in which existing facilities can be better used, to make best use of the space.

On 23 January, the Hon. U Win Myint, Speaker of the Pyithu Hluttaw marked the beginning of this important collaboration with an official visit to the UK Parliament. The visit focused on the Westminster committee system, how Prime Minister Question Time works, and the role of the Whips office and will inform the next stages of the partnership.

Speaking at the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding, WFD’s CEO Anthony Smith CMG said:

“We are honoured to be working with the House of Commons and the British Council to support the Hluttaw as it increases its skills and begins to play a full part in this country’s political, social and economic development.

“The Hluttaw will play a critical role in ensuring that all citizens are properly represented, that the many policy challenges are fully debated, and that there is clear accountability by government.”

Check out www.wfd.org for regular updates about the programme and follow WFD on Twitter to keep up to date with all of our programmes.

(Top photo: Signing of Memorandum of Understanding between WFD and the Hluttaw)
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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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