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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“Positive change” in Province Orientale

(Above: Training of trainers event with the RCPP in Kinshasa.)

“The WFD has brought a lot to Province Orientale. With every WFD seminar comes positive change.” So says Mr Germain Mbav Yav, Head Clerk to the Legal and Administrative Committee and member of the Réseau Congolais des Personnels des Parlements/Congolese Network of Parliamentary Staff RCPP. And what’s more, “all the MPs and officials are now committed and eager to improve their work.”

Mr Mbav Yav’s comments came at the end of four years of work by Westminster Foundation for Democracy (WFD) supporting the RCPP which was established in 2009 as a network of parliamentary staff across all of the DRC’s legislative bodies. By providing parliamentary expertise to instill parliamentary practices and approaches, the WFD programme sought to support the emergence of a dynamic and vibrant parliamentary culture that would be attentive to the needs of the provinces.

Germain has worked in the senate since 2005 in various positions but since 2012 he has worked in the role of Head Clerk. During this time, he has received various trainings from the French National Assembly and the UNDP but it was not until WFD became involved with the senate that Germain was truly able to realise his potential, “WFD allowed me to put into practice the training that I received in legislative drafting, not only by supporting me in drafting the module on legislative drafting but WFD also went ahead and published my work afterwards.” The example module Germain refers to was reviewed by Alistair Doherty a former UK House of Commons Clerk for over thirty years. Using British parliamentary expertise in this case has led to concrete, practical tools that can be used for learning after the programme ends.

(Above: Germain delivers training on legislative drafting to other members of the RCPP.)

Furthermore, before attending the ‘training of trainers’ seminars, Germain was unsure how to ensure his training sessions were of practical use to the trainees. “The tools of this training provided by WFD have really helped me to focus more on the effectiveness of a training session rather than just simply developing an activity that has no real objective and gets no tangible results,” he says. Instilled with this new level of confidence, and possessing new and effective training insights and skills, Germain has been able to make a positive impact on his colleagues. “Since this training, I make an effort to give my staff advice and suggestions, so that they can express their talents and shine.”

But it is not just Germain who has seen the fruits of WFD’s labour. At a broader level, there have also been noticeable positive changes and improvements. Germain has noted how officials and MPs are keen to learn and improve and, crucially, officials are now more cognizant of the fact that in their official capacity as parliamentary officials they need to remain politically neutral even if they do belong to political parties. Furthermore, following a study visit to the provincial assembly of the former Katanga province, Germain highlights how “MPs are working hard to respect the rule of procedure more consistently.”

The WFD programme has also achieved impact at the national level in the DRC, especially on missions carried out by the RCPP, the operations of the technical unit, the influence of the administrative secretariat and the functioning of the provincial assembly of the former Province Orientale. More specifically, the seminar on parliamentary institutional communications that was organised in 2010 in Matadi by RCPP and WFD, was noted to be particularly successful. As a result of this seminar and the support provided by RCPP and WFD, protocol and communication services began to really take shape in the provincial assemblies. So impactful was this seminar that the Rapporteur of the Provincial Assembly for Bas-Congo (who attended the seminar in its entirety) informed the President of the Provincial Assembly of the work that the RCPP and WFD were doing. Germain was extremely happy to observe that “it was following this seminar that he (the President) came to understand how important it was for the MPs to rely on and work with the administration.”

The work that WFD has been doing in DRC in supporting the work of the RCPP fits well with the overall mission of WFD. In helping the RCPP to instill effective parliamentary practices and approaches, the work carried out by RCPP and the WFD has resulted in an increased professionalism and more fruitful relationships amongst staff and MPs, and furthermore, as Germain notes, “finally, and for the first time, the DRC has books on legislative drafting, parliamentary chancellery and the drafting of parliamentary documents.”

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Adaptive practice, sustainable outcomes: Thinking and working politically

At relatively little cost parliamentary strengthening plays a crucial role in the sustainability of international development activity, Lord Malcom Bruce, former Chair of the International Development Committee, commented in his opening remarks as Chair of the ‘Adaptive practice, sustainable outcomes’ session on Wednesday at Canada House.

Westminster Foundation for Democracy (WFD) in partnership with DAI Europe brought together practitioners in the democracy strengthening field to discuss the benefits of an adaptive approach to programming.

What do we mean by thinking and working politically?

The journey the parliamentary strengthening community had come on was highlighted; noting how attitudes to development sat uneasily next to politics and had always focused on economic improvement rather than political change. Development is always inherently political and that is why political economy analysis is an important tool that can help deliver sustainable change. Political institutions are critical to development, because when functioning properly they ensure that vital services are delivered to citizens.

How do we approach adaptive design?

Clarity and confidence are two concepts that need to be emphasised at the design phase of parliamentary support programmes. A robust framework is often needed to implement programmes that can be adapted to changing circumstances without parting from the intended high level outcomes of the organisation. This is linked to building confidence in an organisation among beneficiaries, but also among donors and ensuring that they understand the organisation’s commitment to learn from past lessons. Both clarity and confidence are essential before adaptive methods can be adopted.

You could begin by asking three essential questions: Who are we going to work with? What are you going to do? And how are you going to work? For programmes to succeed, it is important to understand the issues that are blocking reform and engage with those who care about such issues. Working with partners and beneficiaries to identify those gaps is essential. For an adaptive methodology to work in the parliamentary strengthening field transparency with partners about these changes is extremely important.

Capturing successes and failures: Is it time to rethink our frameworks?

Monitoring and Evaluation should play a greater role throughout the programme cycle. Learning whilst implementation is underway allows programmes to refine and improve activities based on the changing context of the environment and based on what is working well or not. Allowing space for honest discussions about how programmes can develop is essential if truly adaptive programming can be achieved. Acknowledgement by donors and implementers that parliamentary strengthening programmes by their nature do not deliver a “quick win” is fundamental for creative programming to flourish.

To achieve the reality of programmes that respond to changing needs commitment is needed from practitioners and donors alike to change their practices. WFD, DAI Europe and the range of practitioners participating in the roundtable are committed to explaining why working in this difficult political space provides real value to development, but also why it needs to be flexible and adaptable to succeed.

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Interview: Franklin De Vrieze

(Above: Franklin De Vrieze, Devin O’Shaughnessy (WFD’s Director of Programmes) and Anthony Smith (WFD CEO) meet the Secretary General of the Hluttaw and his staff in Naypyidaw)

Over the next three years Westminster Foundation for Democracy will deliver its biggest programme yet, helping Burma’s Hluttaw meet the expectations of its citizens as it strives to strengthen its position in national life.

WFD spoke with consultant Franklin De Vrieze, whose extensive parliamentary strengthening experience includes work for UNDP, OSCE and the EU, on his work with WFD and the programme in Naypyidaw.

WFD: What are the latest developments, Franklin?

FDV: After the elections from last year, and with the new Parliament taking office in March, we see a new kind of acceleration in activity. There’s a lot of new members – 80% of the intake – which means they have to learn a lot. On the other hand, the staff are now quite experienced – having been new themselves in the first mandate. The staff, to their credit, are now advising the new members. And the new members are very eager to learn.

WFD: They’re determined to learn more about their role?

FDV: Yes, MPs in Burma do read a lot. Unlike in other parliaments where MPs rely on their staff, demanding one-pagers on everything, in Naypyidaw they study a lot. The library’s reading rooms are always full of MPs reading. They have a strong eagerness to learn.

WFD: What would you say is one of the biggest challenges facing MPs?

FDV: With a new Government having taken office in Myanmar, there is a big expectation that much existing legislation will either be repealed or revised. The Myanmar Parliament is currently reviewing over 400 laws, adopted either during the previous Parliament or beforehand. This constitutes a big workload, but there is also a clear need for some guidance on the best methodological ways how to approach this review of existing legislation. In order to have an informed decision on this, it’s important to know what is the impact: what has worked, what doesn’t work.

WFD: And this is where you come in?

FDV: I’ve done a comparative analysis of post-legislative scrutiny in different countries, looking at the practices on the parliaments’ role in oversight on the implementation of legislation and parliament’s role in evaluating the impact of legislation. We aim to present this comparative analysis to the Myanmar Parliament, and then conduct a workshop to reflect on the options available.

WFD: What are those options?

FDV: In broad terms, we can say there are two approaches. We have the UK approach, where all committees have the power and the mandate to do post-legislative scrutiny as part of their regular oversight job. And then you have the Indonesian model, where you have one committee which has both the mandate to do post-legislative scrutiny and also the resources, through a dedicated research unit. By presenting these approaches, the Hluttaw will be able to consider its long-term options.

The idea would be that the comparative analysis would be shared with other parliaments. We can also develop a manual or a handbook on post-legislative scrutiny which can be used by various parliaments throughout the region and the world.

WFD: Hasn’t anyone does this before?

FDV: Traditionally post-legislative work didn’t get a lot of attention, so far in parliamentary strengthening, most of the attention has been going to the adoption of legislation and the legislative process. So far, not so much attention has been given to post-legislative scrutiny. Many programmes have looked to the oversight role of parliament, but not specifically assessing the impact of legislation.

The Westminster Foundation for Democracy has the potential to substantially contribute in this area. A number of WFD’s other programmes can take this on board – for instance the programme in Indonesia is particularly interested.

WFD: What are the other elements of the programme in Burma?

FDV: First of all, the programme is building upon the House of Commons’ assistance over the last two years – there are now three full-time seconded staff from the House of Commons based in Naypyidaw. This WFD programme builds on that, but goes further in the sense that a number of additional programme components have been added in terms of thematic support to committees.

Another area we will be providing support is the relationship between Parliament and Government. Under the previous administration, the relationship was difficult. Communication channels were very centralised. Now a direct line between each ministry and the relevant select committee has been established. We want to formalise this.

We also want to look into issues of parliamentary oversight, and how committees can organise consultations, public hearings and even field visits. This latter would be a new practice; Myanmar is a huge country and some areas take two to three days to reach. Still, exploring this would lead to a discussion about how much constituency work is possible.

WFD: What themes from Burma are relevant across the region?

FDV: Firstly, there’s questions of youth unemployment. Throughout Asia you have a young population. It’s mostly online, and seeing what’s possible in terms of quality of life. That’s a key issue, creating economic and social opportunities – the challenge is huge.

Another, I think, is the environment question; this is very sensitive in Myanmar and the tensions there are reflected elsewhere in the Asian context.

Then there is the question of ethnicities, another important and sensitive topic. There is an appetite to learn from the peace processes in other countries, and particularly the role of parliament in this.

WFD: Franklin, thanks for your time.

FDV: My pleasure.

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Tynwald offers helping hand to Sierra Leone’s Parliament

(Musa L A Foullah, Editor of Debate, and Patience C Brown-Dawson, Stenographer from the Parliament of Sierra Leone meet with officials from the Isle of Man)

“Hansard is behind, out-of-date, and only a historical record when it is finally produced,” say Musa L A Foullah, Editor of Debate, and Patience C Brown-Dawson, Stenographer from the Parliament of Sierra Leone following their participation in a two-week secondment to the Isle of Man’s Parliament (Tynwald).

The backlog that has developed in the Parliament of Sierra Leone means the official record (‘Hansard’) is only prepared after several months have passed – an area Ellen Callister, Head of Hansard at the Isle of Man’s Parliament (Tynwald) was keen to support.

“The more up-to-date Hansard becomes, the more people will become interested in the Parliament,” Sierra Leone’s Hansard officials hope. “It may even become a problem to cope with such growing demand!”

Having an official record of what’s been said in a Parliament is fundamental to any democracy. This is why parliaments maintain written records of their proceedings so they can be accessed by citizens, civil society and – of course – politicians.

“At the present time very few people are interested in reading Hansard,” Mr Foullah and Miss Brown-Dawson explain. “Typical users are university students, lobby groups and NGOs, looking especially at the controversial issues.

“To find out what is happening currently in the Parliament, people rely mainly on the media – PR and the national broadcaster on radio and TV – to tell the public about the main decisions made.”

As Westminster Foundation for Democracy prepared a broader programme in Sierra Leone supporting the new parliament after elections due in early 2018, it identified an opportunity to help address the limited usage of Hansard.

Thanks to the willingness of Ellen Callister and her colleagues to engage with their Sierra Leone counterparts, Mr Foullah and Miss Brown-Dawson could discuss ideas about what might help clear the backlog – caused by a lack of good-quality equipment and limited knowledge of best practice.

The fortnight of hands-on, practical training will be followed by a visit from an Isle of Man Hansard representative, alongside a representative from the Chamber & Information Service, who are eager to evaluate progress and to share further best practice regarding research and outreach with the Parliament of Sierra Leone. Learning from smaller parliaments and the devolved assemblies across the UK can be very valuable, and this exchange proved no exception.

Helping the team work better will, as Mr Foullah and Miss Brown-Dawson put it, “enable staff to feel less isolated and dispirited at having to do such a huge amount of work on their own”.

But it’s not just the Parliament of Sierra Leone’s Hansard team which will benefit.

(Above: Freetown, Sierra Leone)

“The biggest difference if the Hansard service is improved will be to the civil servants and to the general public,” they say. “This will cause people to do things right, effectively and on time.”

“A well-functioning Hansard will enable MPs and the public to access Hansard on time and make quick reference to past debates and follow up where needed.

“If Hansard is more quickly produced and up to date, it is more relevant and there will be greater demand and reliance on it as the official record.

“As a consequence, it will enable more effective lobbying of MPs and Government Ministers.”

In the wake of the Ebola epidemic and in the lead-up to elections in early 2018, Sierra Leone needs its Parliament to be operating at full effectiveness. WFD intends to assist with this by stepping up its engagement in Freetown through a long-term parliamentary and integrated programme to support the Parliament.

It’s an institution which will play a crucial role in Ebola recovery and will require continued and reliable support from the international community if it is to perform its essential legislative and oversight functions.

The Parliament’s most pressing issues, Mr Foullah and Miss Brown-Dawson, say, are for it to improve financial scrutiny and more broadly its oversight of Government departments; and for the implementation of both Committee recommendations and laws passed by Parliament. WFD’s work will address this need by providing support on administrative capacity-building; financial oversight and internal financial management; providing the Parliament with research capacity; and strengthening the protection of human rights, as well as parliamentary engagement with civil society organisations.

Meanwhile, follow-up planned for later this year will ensure the changes discussed on the two-week secondment at Tynwald become a reality. Mr Foullah and Miss Brown-Dawson have already started putting their experience from the Isle of Man into practice. In October, five parliamentary sessions took place in the Parliament of Sierra Leone and all five have been transcribed with four published on the website.

As with all of WFD’s trainings, the discussion on the Isle of Man was very much a two-way process. The same approach will apply for all of WFD’s future work with Sierra Leone’s parliamentarians and parliamentary staff.

“We in Tynwald have learned a great deal about Sierra Leone as a country, about their Parliament and many style points on how to assist in drafting their Hansard reports,” Ellen says.

“We found the experience extremely interesting and rewarding, and recognise the many sustainable and positive outcomes from our joint project. We are looking forward to continuing to work with Musa, Patience and the rest of the team in Freetown and wish them every success.

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Theories of change: What do they mean for democracy assistance?

(Above: example theory of change – International Institute for Environment and Development)

WFD’s Director of Research and Evaluation, Graeme Ramshaw, reflects on this year’s evaluation conference circuit and how to better integrate theories of change into democracy assistance work.

It’s conference season for evaluators. This means a lot of time spent travelling but also a lot of time spent thinking about monitoring and evaluation concepts and methods. In the past few weeks, I’ve been thinking a lot about theories of change and what they mean for democracy assistance.

This idea has been around for a while now, but I’m not sure anyone outside the evaluation community fully understands its purpose or the potential benefits the theory of change approach brings to development programming. Most seem to use the concept merely as a means of converting their rigid logframes into more compelling diagrams, with arrows connecting various coloured shapes to illustrate dynamism and change. But I think this misses the point.

For me, the theory of change approach is meant to dig into the assumption column—ever present in the standard logframe format but often ignored or misused. At WFD we are certainly guilty of rarely explaining how we expect change to occur at the different stages of our logic model. Others in the democracy assistance community may believe their explanations are more robust, but I think as a whole we haven’t thought enough about how democratic institutions develop and change.

But, before we go any further, we need to make a couple of big assumptions about the nature of the work we do and the impact this has on our theory of change. At the top, we have to assume that institutions like parliaments and political parties matter for democratic development and democratic outcomes. We have to believe that the structure and function of these institutions make a difference in how citizens experience democracy. And at the bottom, we have to assume that parliamentary process and political party development can be learned through a variety of tools or methods, with individual or group learning acting as a sufficient catalyst for institutional change of some kind.

These are big assumptions, but they are supported to a certain degree by our own democratic experience. We have to start from somewhere, because it only gets more complicated when we discuss outcomes. For instance, do we really know how institutions like parliaments and political parties change? And if we do, do we know what role we as outside actors play in catalysing or facilitating that change and how that affects the outcome of that change?

I don’t think we really do. This doesn’t mean there are no theories; there are many. Traditional approaches to parliamentary and political party development are largely based on the premise that structure matters in determining performance of institutions. The theory is that if you create the right form, function will follow. Many still subscribe to this theory, but it has proved problematic in practice. How many parliamentary research centres have been created that generate no research? How many committees created or ‘strengthened’ still don’t perform any meaningful function?

Critics of this approach point to the inherent difficulties in simply transferring structures from one context ‘where it works’ to another without any understanding of why it had worked previously. Indeed, a new generation of parliamentary and political party assistance trumpets the innovation of incorporating incentives into their approach. They argue that institutions are not monolithic but composed of individuals whose incentive structures must be re-shaped to enable change to occur.

While certainly more nuanced than the traditional structural approach, it remains no less prescriptive. We are still imposing ‘best practice’ on them; we’re just smoothing our path to implementation by getting local support first. This is more effective in the short-term, certainly; but if the incentive structures did not facilitate a certain structural set-up prior to our engagement, how long will it survive after we’ve left, if we don’t also address the culture and norms of the institution itself?

Indeed, reliance on political economy analysis (PEA) as the tool for informing programme design only reinforces this trend in my view. In many applications I’ve witnessed, the PEA isn’t used to suggest how we can develop a specific model for a particular context to produce our intended outcome. Rather, it’s used to determine the best method for inducing an institution to accept a predetermined solution. The question wrongly being asked is: who do we need to convince?

The Problem-Driven Flexible Approach tries to mitigate this by avoiding prescription and engaging beneficiaries in identifying locally-rooted solutions to the problems that surface. This idea has a lot of potential for democracy assistance, as we really don’t know what combination of individual, organisational, structural, or contextual factors actually influence the performance of any given parliament or political party. We can identify deficiencies easily, but our solutions based on UK experience or otherwise may not be universally applicable. Being honest about what we don’t know is probably a better approach than assuming we intrinsically understand how institutions like parliament and political parties develop and change for the better.

Our partnership with the University of Oxford is looking at these gaps in our knowledge, using our unique position at the nexus of research and practice to think more deeply about the institutional change theories that underpin democracy assistance programmes. We want to get a better understanding of the conditions under which different theories are more or less successful at explaining why parliaments or parties developed the way they did. This means digging deeper into the theoretical bases for a variety of international democracy assistance programmes and the changes they aim to achieve.

We at WFD articulated a new theory of change last year, and it’s significantly better than anything we had before. But we don’t want to stop there. We want our next strategic review, planned for 2018, to have more and better evidence on which to base our programming decisions. This will give us confidence that while everything we do won’t necessarily work, we will at least have a sound basis from which to learn from our failures, as well as our successes.

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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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Case study: Protecting Punjab women from domestic violence

“Domestic violence is a big issue in the Punjab, but there hasn’t been a law on it until now,” says Mrs Mumtaz Mughal, Resident Director of the Aurat  Foundation. “So when women go to the police station they are told to go back to their home and accept the violence.”

With over 9,000 reported cases in Punjab province every year, civil society organisations had been unsuccessfully campaigning for legislation covering domestic violence for a decade. “At the provincial level there was a lack of political will on women-related legislation,” Summaya Yousaf of women’s rights group Bedari explains. “We didn’t have the knowledge or the capacity to understand the Assembly and conduct really effective lobbying.”

Westminster Foundation for Democracy (WFD) was able to assist by giving women’s rights groups access to the Provincial Assembly of Punjab for the first time. Instead of focusing on the Assembly’s small women’s caucus, civil society organisations were given the opportunity to engage with its male parliamentarians, allowing groups like the Aurat Foundation to lobby more effectively for specific, targeted legislation. Standing committees were engaged, particularly the Assembly’s social welfare and gender mainstreaming committees. Relationships were also brokered with the Assembly’s secretariat, including the Speaker’s office and legislation branch.

“We thank the Westminster Foundation,” Mrs Mughal says. “They provided a full avenue to build linkages to the secretariat, changing the civil society approach to build a close link to the Assembly and change our engagement strategy.”

Together the CSOs, with technical assistance from WFD, put forwards a draft bill. At this stage the relationships cultivated by the Aurat Foundation and its allies became critical. Some MPAs examining the bill closely in standing committee were concerned that a provision which allowed uniformed police officers to enter the homes of at-risk women could breach privacy. Mrs Mughal was invited by the committee to give expert advice– a rare event, as external experts are not usually consulted at this stage of the legislative process in Punjab.

Mrs Mughal argued that women’s security was paramount. “We guided our members that this is not the issue of privacy because the state is responsible for the scrutiny and safety of any human being,” she recalls. “We asked them that a woman protection officer – not uniformed – can have the authority to go to the home.” This amendment was accepted and formed part of the bill, which eventually passed into law on 29 February 2016.

This was a big moment for all the civil society organisations who had campaigned for the law for so many years. “Legislation is the first step towards a just society,” Ms Yousaf says. “The law itself is a long-term process, but it makes clear that if you hit or slap or control your wife or your daughter or your sister then you will be punished.”

Mrs Mughal recalls sitting in the Speaker’s Office with other CSO members and WFD’s Country Representative as the Punjab Protection of Women Against Violence Act 2015 became law. It covers a range of offences, from stalking and cybercrime to emotional, economic and psychological abuse, and provides for the implementation of residence, protection and monetary court orders to protect women. “I was very happy and we were able to celebrate a big achievement,” Mrs Mughal says. “We were thankful – but also aware there are still a number of challenges for us.”

Securing budgetary allocations for the construction of Violence Against Women Centres across Punjab’s 36 districts is set to be particularly challenging; each costs more than 400 million rupees (£2.9 million). State funding has already been released for one district in South Punjab, which will act as a pilot scheme as part of the Act’s phased implementation. But as the Aurat Foundation and other organisations continue to campaign on behalf of women facing domestic violence, they will use the relationships they have established with politicians in the province’s Assembly.

“We need to be selective in the issues we put forwards to the Assembly,” Ms Yousaf says. “We’ve learned we cannot find the solution to issues in isolation: sometimes we need the support of Assembly members, and sometimes they need our support to be briefed on issues. We complement each other’s work.” The Domestic Violence Act is a result of that engagement – civil society and Assembly members brought together by WFD. As this continues it will lead to “good governance”, Ms Yousaf says.

That is WFD’s aim in Pakistan, a country on the path to an inclusive democracy after 2013 saw the first ever transition of power between civilian governments at the federal level. By working to create effective provincial assemblies that apply checks and balance on the federal state, Pakistan can build strong parliamentary systems which benefit all citizens. WFD seeks to support this by helping the provincial assemblies generate better policy and represent groups of citizens – including women – more effectively.

In the meantime, vulnerable women’s lives are set to benefit from this engagement. As the focus turns to implementation of the new law, Mrs Mughal hopes progress can be made quickly so that those facing abuse “can live in a violence-free environment in her home”.

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Blog: Parliaments must defend civil society space

Anthony Smith, WFD CEO, blogs following his participation in a Foreign Office event marking International Day of Democracy.

You won’t be surprised to know that International Democracy Day is a highlight of my annual calendar.

This year, I joined a room full of fellow democracy enthusiasts talking about democracy and human rights with the Foreign Office Minister for Human Rights, Baroness Anelay. There were some common themes.  Four of us mentioned the fall of the Berlin Wall – perhaps not surprising considering the visceral, unforgettable images of that symbol of oppression falling under what felt like a wave of freedom.  That moment was one of the triggers that led to WFD’s establishment.  I discovered recently that my sister-in-law was responsible for getting the first film footage of protests in Dresden out of East Germany and flew by Concorde to get it to the ABC News studios to broadcast in October 1989.

Another common theme was Churchill’s famous comment that democracy is the worst form of government except for all the others, which two of us mentioned.  For me, that quote symbolises the unique capacity of democratic systems to prevent the abuse of power by the executive. That task is just as important now as it was when WFD was founded 24 years ago and indeed, as Sir Jeffrey Jowell said in our meeting, as important as during the Roman Empire when Lucretius famously asked, who will guard the guardians?  Only the people can do that.  The other quote that I mentioned yesterday was by Cyril Ramaphosa who said that democracy allows people to live up to their potential.  So as well as preventing abuse of power, democracy enables people to live fulfilling lives in which they are represented fairly and treated with respect.  What a great combination.

The issue that came up most yesterday was the action being taken in a large number of countries to restrict the ability of civil society to operated freely and openly, not least when defending human rights.  WFD has seen this happen or threatened in many of the countries that we operate in.  Our own work has sometimes been affected by this closing of civil society space.  Parliament needs to play a role in pushing back against such measures, not least when they are introduced through legislation.  We need to help parliaments be aware of the pitfalls of such measures and the impact on human rights.  Of course legislation on NGOs is often needed and there are good examples of responsible legislation available from many countries.  An effective parliament should be reviewing draft legislation carefully to check that it meets this standard.

Finally, there was a certain irony in the fact that our meeting was held in the old India Office Council Chamber, from which a small group of Brits controlled the affairs of what, even then, was one of the biggest countries in the world. If the gents in the portraits on the walls could see India now I hope they would smile at the fact that it has become the largest democracy in the world.


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