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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CEDAW: Ugandan journalists give ‘voice to the voiceless’

Of all the stories she covered reporting on gender issues in Uganda, journalist Abalo Ireme Otto says the one which upset her most involved an eviction. “A woman was thrown out of the house by her husband,” she says. “Her children witnessed the scuffle.”

The press in Uganda frequently come across distressing stories like this. Another journalist recalls: “A woman was raped and she went to the police to report it. But instead a policeman kept her as a wife for some time.” These shocking incidents underline the importance of seeking change.

Reducing violence against women and girls will involve a long-running campaign. But it is one the Ugandan government is committed to, having passed a raft of legislation in 2010 bringing the country into line with the UN’s Convention for the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW). The challenge now is implementation. In particular one issue keeps appearing again and again, reflected by a case study described by journalist Emmy Ojave: “A woman who was denied access to land, together with her children, after her husband’s death.”

Tackling discrimination against women

Land rights for widows are protected by law under CEDAW, but this does not automatically result in justice for bereaved women. In economies heavily dependent on agriculture, land rights are extremely important. So when married women are separated from their spouses, either by divorce or by death, their in-laws often seize control of her possessions and property. In Uganda – as across much of East Africa – these discriminatory practices often clashes with the law.

In order to tackle this and the other issues covered by CEDAW, Westminster Foundation for Democracy supported the Ugandan Parliamentary Press Association (UPPA) in its training of journalists in December 2014. “It shall help to sensitize the masses on their rights to gender equality,” as journalist Komakech Geoffrey described the training’s purpose. WFD’s goal has been to improve reporting on CEDAW in a bid to improve understanding of the new laws which enforce it.

Woman Cooking in Uganda - Mark JordahlJournalists spread awareness

Since then many of the journalists have updated WFD about the difference their subsequent reporting has made. “After the training I was able to trace down a survivor of gender-based violence and exposed her plight to the world,” Julius Ocungi says. “The response to her was overwhelming, because she was beloved. She was exposed to humanitarian organisations who helped in treating the citizen.”

Emmy Ojave has a similar example .”I advocated for the rights of a widow who was denied access to her late husband’s land,” she explains. “I wrote about the role of women in bringing about change. They mediated and the woman with children was given a plot of land for cultivation and construction.”

These journalists have contributed to raising awareness about CEDAW and in the process helped establish women’s rights. All those updating WFD say they have much more to offer, too. “I expect to accord more women and young girls the chances of having justice served to them,” Julius Ocongi says. “I feel revamped to do more to help our women out there,” Abalo Ireme Otto adds.

‘A voice for the voiceless’

For these journalists, trained by UPPA with WFD’s support, their work can make a real difference to citizens’ lives. Their role is to be a “voice of the voiceless”, as Komakech Geoffrey puts it. Wilfred Ronny Okot is more specific. His role, he says, is “to inform, educate and empower the public on their roles, responsibilities, contributions and rights”. For Abalo Ireme Otto, her mission is simple: “To stand for the truth in the fight against women discrimination.”

WFD’s 30-month programme supporting CEDAW is approaching its closure, but we aim to offer further support to the Ugandan Parliament in the years to come. In the meantime our work with Ugandan journalists has changed reporting on these issues – and even shaped the views of the reporters themselves. One anonymous journalist confessed to having changed attitudes because of the training. “Culture had a serious effect on my way of reporting,” he admitted, “since some cultural practices promoted discrimination against women. But now it won’t affect me.”

Featured images: Flickr
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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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WFD congratulates Georgian Parliament’s Human Rights Committee

Westminster Foundation for Democracy has offered its congratulations to the Georgian Parliament’s Human Rights Committee after MPs adopted recommended rules of procedure without amendment.

Mrs Eka Beselia, Chair of the HRC, received praise from George Kunnath, WFD’s Regional Director for Europe, following the passage of the relevant legislation earlier in June.

The changes mean the Parliament of Georgia will in future conduct hearings on a range of issues covering:

– recommendations produced by UN human rights committee relating to Georgia;

– judgements made by the European Court of Human Rights; and

– recommendations provided as part of the UN’s Universal Periodic Review process.

“This is a major step which strengthens the Parliament of Georgia’s ability to scrutinise the Government’s implementation of its Human Rights Action Plan,” George Kunnath said.

 

WFD, in partnership with the University of Oxford, has developed an assessment tool for human rights committees to improve their effectiveness and help them comply with international standards and best practice.

Its outcomes in Macedonia, Serbia, Tunisia, Uganda and Ukraine, as well as Georgia, were summed up in a paper presented in the UK Parliament on July 6th.

Mrs Beselia, who spoke at the launch event, told the Westminster audience that the “institutional absence” of the scrutiny of human rights had been replaced by her committee’s work being viewed “as a normal and ordinary process”.

The successful reforms follow six months of engagement between MPs on the Committee and civil society organisations in Georgia.

More: ‘You can’t ignore human rights’

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Blog: A mix of parliamentary strengthening actors can achieve better results

By Devin O’Shaughnessy, Director of Programmes

Do others in the democracy-strengthening sector think it is inappropriate for one country to focus primarily on sharing its model with beneficiaries, rather than offering a more international, comparative approach? This is certainly a legitimate discussion to have, but I hope others will agree that having a mix of parliamentary strengthening actors is helpful.

By embracing Westminster Foundation for Democracy’s unique position in the parliamentary strengthening field, rather than resisting it, I am convinced we are helping bolster the sector’s overall effectiveness. I believe we are offering our partners what they need: an in-depth understanding of a particular form of democratic practice and culture – parliamentary, party, electoral – from which they can decide what is of interest, and what is not right for them. We often mobilise acting and former parliamentarians, senior party members, government officials, and civil servants to share their experiences and offer practical guidance on how to manage the day to day challenges of democratic politics and governance.

One aspect of our unique value add is in decoding and explaining why certain practices have evolved in the UK, what the particular strengths and weaknesses are of these methods, and how they may or may not be relevant for a specific context. We strive to build close, long-term relationships in the countries where we are working, which helps us develop a strong understanding of the local context. This is crucial to our ability to identify relevant practices from the UK – and from other countries – about which our partners may like to learn more.

In Westminster coalition governments are a rarity, so the majority and opposition have developed a system where they treat each other with respect – clearly defining the rights they have to speak and the ‘usual channels’ through which they decide on parliamentary business and the parliamentary/ calendar. It is a positive example of a developed political culture where the opposition is respected, but not able to filibuster or create endless squabbling.

The Westminster approach explains why WFD places so much emphasis on the importance of helping political parties function effectively within parliaments. This isn’t about exporting the Westminster model; it is about ensuring parliament has a strong voice in divided societies and is able to keep a government’s business moving forwards. The Northern Ireland Assembly in Stormont is a strong example of this, too. Stormont, as well as the Scottish Parliament and Welsh Assembly, represents a successful attempt to allow for a diverse set of dispensations at the sub-national level. These strengthen the political ties that bind the UK together – important lessons for other countries going through devolution.

(Above: Researchers from the Parliamentary Budget Office in Serbia shadow their counterparts in the Scottish Parliament)

None of the above means we view our role as being to convert the world to British parliamentary practices, however. Instead we offer a response to demand from countries which want to hear practical, detailed examples of how parliaments function in other countries. Those in states transitioning to democracy often want to explore what they hear from a variety of countries and contexts and pick out what works for them. One example among many of this is Tunisia and Morocco’s interest in the UK’s public accounts committee model, which both North African countries are now in the process of adapting for their context, despite using systems historically more similar to France’s.

We believe focusing on the British experience helps ensure our programmes are context-specific, too, as each country we operate in has a different response to the UK approach. Of course we avoid the temptation to offer generic trainings in any case, but what helps with this is the need to understand their interests. In a lot of cases, we find their interests are party interests. This is why helping parties and helping MPs understand how they go about their business within a partisan context is critical. It is an under-focused area of assistance which WFD is seeking to address via our new integrated programming concept. This, too, draws on Britain’s unique democratic experience, as much of the UK’s insight is about precisely this.

There are practical reasons for supporting a country-specific approach as well. One big advantage is diplomatic. Peer-to-peer encouragement and positive pressure for change often proves very effective. Using MPs, who carry real diplomatic weight in this sense, gives WFD’s programmes real clout. This is especially the case where there are strong historical connections and/or growing links between countries.

(Above: Ghanaian delegation meet Speaker of the House of Commons, John Bercow)

To be clear, we do not just focus on sharing the British model. We have seen that our partners also want to learn about other practices, perhaps from their neighbours or even much further afield. We seek to understand what is happening in parliaments and political parties around the world, so that we can facilitate experience and relationship building globally. We have parliamentary programmes in around 25 countries and deliver party and regional programmes in more than double that amount. These relationships give us the ability to identify innovative, effective practices from all corners, find the right tools for each context, and reaching out to our networks to share them. The historical ties of the Commonwealth and our links to their institutions also reinforce this approach.

We draw confidence from the fact that donors are increasingly recognising the importance of the country-focused approach. In the past, there has been perhaps too much focus on sharing general principles, rules, and institutional structures, and too little on how these components work in real life, where politics, history, culture, and individual incentives intersect and influence actual practice.

There should be space for all kinds of approaches to operate effectively. Non-specific comparative approaches – which can be useful for understanding the general principles of democracy and good governance – should be reinforced by the activities of organisations like WFD which offer their own unique perspectives, rooted in a country’s historical experience and the evolution of its democracy. WFD is also ideally placed to facilitate similar relationship building and experience sharing between countries that have much to offer each other, that without our intervention would be unlikely to happen. The tone of how these lessons are explored will always be important – it must come from a place of respect and friendship – but their value should not be dismissed. We believe a diversity of approaches will lead to stronger overall results.

 

(Main photo: Alex Schlotzer)

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Ten ways WFD improved citizens’ lives in 2015/16

Democracy-strengthening programmes make a real difference to citizens’ lives.

Here are some examples of Westminster Foundation for Democracy’s results from the last 12 months.

Helping ecotourism in Jordan

alquds jordan training 2013Increasing the involvement of young people in politics is a key challenge in maintaining Jordan’s democratic progress.

Forest fires in Jordan’s beautiful wooded north-western region more than halved in 2015, thanks to an initiative led by a youth leader whose training was funded by WFD.

More here: Saving Ajloun’s forests – the ‘lungs of Jordan’

Suleiman Al-Qudah’s ‘My Forest’ initiative mobilised local citizens, faith groups and environmentalists to improve public knowledge about the disadvantages of deliberately setting fires in order to obtain firewood.

“If I hadn’t taken the training,” Suleiman says, “I wouldn’t have had the motivation or the ability to try and start an initiative dealing with the forest fires. I got to learn about my rights and duties. I was given a framework for my thoughts and identity.”

One beneficiary, a local campaigner called Roqaya Al-Orood, was inspired to begin an initiative cleaning up 6,000 square metres of damaged forest land and, subsequently, a separate project cleaning the east bank of the Jordan River.

Helping widows in Morocco

Morocco women - flickr - mhobl

Photo: mhobr

Unsustainable fuel subsidies in countries around the world increase carbon emissions and divert precious resources away from other social and economic investments. But Morocco bucked the trend and successfully dropped fuel subsidies in 2015.

This policy improvement was only possible because of the political consensus achieved through the work of the new Public Accounts Committee (PAC), established with WFD’s support, which made subsidies the subject of its first report.

“My government was not able to do it because they were fearful of unpopularity, but Morocco was able to make the change because the parliament provided a platform for discussion,” says Dr Berroho, an MP and PAC member.

Some of the money saved was diverted elsewhere – to a new fund providing financial support for widows whose children are still in school.

“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, National Coordinator of the Association Démocratique des Femmes du Maroc.

Campaigning for justice in Egypt

Egypt police - Flickr - James BuckPhoto: James Buck

Shaimaa al-Sabbagh, an activist belonging to Egypt’s Socialist Popular Alliance party, was shot dead during peaceful protests in Cairo on January 24th 2015.

The search for accountability and justice in the aftermath of her shocking death could have been frustrated had it not been for the efforts of the Arab Women’s Network for Parity and Solidarity (Tha’era), supported by the UK Labour Party’s WFD-funded programme.

Tha’era built on the relationships it had established in the wake of the 2011 Arab Spring to build solidarity behind its demand that the Egyptian President ensured a “transparent public investigation concerning her death”.

Its campaigning on Facebook, organising of demonstrations in member countries and lobbying of international organisations ultimately led to the successful prosecution of the responsible policeman.

A Tunisian member of the Network said: “The mobilisation of Tha’era members at the time of Shaimaa’s murder and their capacity to alert international public opinion was a beautiful example of regional solidarity.”

Helping schoolchildren in Iraq

iraqi schoolgirl - flickr - DVIDSHUB

Photo: Flickr

Like other legislatures in the region, the Iraqi Council of Representatives has recognised the need to improve its contribution to policy debates in the country. One way of doing that is to use civil society organisations to support policy development.

The think-tank Dar Al-Khebrah Organisation (DKO), established with WFD’s support, has provided the impetus needed to achieve a major wave of investment in Iraqi education.

Dr Ehsan of DKO had proposed raising the cash to pay for 10,000 new schools by amending the Stamp Fees Act to charge an additional 1,000 Iraqi dinars on all official government transactions.

After submitting his idea to the Ministry of Education, its minister instructed that the policy proposal be examined by an internal policy committee. This is now under consideration and it is hoped the measure will shortly be approved.

Once this takes place it will be debated by the Council of Representatives. Its Education Committee chair has already indicated he will fight for the bill until it is enacted into law.

Pursuing justice for torture victims in Georgia

IMG_2817Torture victims seeking justice in Georgia will be the ultimate beneficiaries of WFD’s work linking up civil society organisations with MPs in the Georgian Parliament.

Its Human Rights Committee is working more closely with civil society thanks to events organised by WFD which have helped both assess relevant legislation and revise the Parliament’s scrutiny of human rights issues.

More here: Meet the Georgian MPs determined to achieve change

“One of the main challenges our state faces and our organisation works on,” Vakhtang Kanashvili of the Centre on the Protection of Civil and Political Rights told us in December 2015, “is the conduct of the comprehensive investigation of facts concerning crimes of torture that occurred before 2012.”

The Centre is calling for a firmer criminal policy and amendments to the Criminal Procedure Code in order to comply with international standards.

“The next step must be the correct qualification of facts concerning crime of torture and the persons who perpetrated that crime must not be granted any kind of legal privilege, including plea bargaining,” Mr Kanashvili added.

More women candidates in Bosnia and Herzegovina

DSC_0097Bosnia and Herzegovina’s prescribed 40% quota for women’s representation in the government has not yet been achieved.

Ahead of local elections in October 2016 across Bosnia and Herzegovina, WFD is collaborating with the UK parties and working with local digital and social media to encourage more women candidates to stand.

More here: Bringing inclusive democracy to a divided society

Among the participants in local discussion events is Irma Baralija, a Professor in Mostar and member of Naša Stranka’s leadership.

“I believe that lectures, meetings and open discussions with young female students, like the one WFD organised at the University in Mostar, can motivate some of those students to get politically engaged in the future,” she says.

Both Labour and the Conservative Party have contributed to this integrated programme, building on their longstanding sister-party relationships.

Building the capability of new Kyrgyz MPs

kyrg1November 2015 saw a group of new MPs beginning their work in Kyrgyzstan’s Jogorku Kenesh by attending induction sessions provided by WFD.

“I may have some confusion now because I’m a new person here, but I found the induction training extremely interesting,” new MP Evgeniya Strokova says. “I’m very excited to use the knowledge I got, and I’ll definitely do so in my work as an MP.”

More here: Inducting new MPs in Kyrgyzstan

The new intake faces intense pressure to improve the Parliament’s performance, as there is a bar on any further constitutional amendments until 2020 – giving it a clear window of opportunity to establish a multiparty system.

Participants received presentations and briefings on the functions and powers of Parliament, how Parliament interacts with the institutions of Government and how they, as new MPs, can represent their constituents more effectively.

“If the parliament is proactive, there’s a chance for us to get out of the economic crisis and for the country to become more stable,” former Speaker Zainidin Kurmanov told MPs. WFD is helping make this possible.

Strengthening the Punjab Assembly

Punjab AssemblyPakistan’s decentralisation process is of critical importance to strengthening democracy in the country. To make this work, each of the Regional Assemblies needs to be able to operate in a professional way and build the confidence of their citizens.

That is why transforming the rules of procedure for the Provincial Assembly of Punjab (PAP) – the members of which represent 28 million citizens – was an enormous achievement for Ayesha Javed, a Member of the PAP.

“My dream has come true,” she says. “I started the process of reforming the rules alone in 2013 but continuous pushing and immense support from WFD has enabled me to get the Reforms Bill passed in 2016.”

Ms Javed received training from WFD which encouraged her to propose amendments to the changes.

The changes – including the adoption of an annual calendar which will allow MPAs to prepare for debates for the first time – will benefit all the Assembly’s MPAs, and therefore all its citizens.

Enforcing women’s rights in Uganda

women's parliamentUganda has passed the legislation it needs to end sexual harassment, domestic violence and other forms of gender inequality.

But implementation has not proved straightforward, prompting WFD to organise Uganda’s first ever Women’s Parliament of MPs, campaigners and local politicians.

More here: ‘This Parliament empowered me’

Participants shared inspiring stories of their experiences in protecting women. “I hope to share a lot with women about the different testimonies,” Betty Bwamika, an attendee from the Mpigi district, said. “It’s important that women can express themselves – you can fight for your rights.”

The Women’s Parliament is set to yield further results in the months to come as its work of citizen engagement reaches more people. For example, two women who attended the event have subsequently lobbied a multinational operating near their home village to pay for more primary school places.

Helping LGBTI citizens across Africa

africa lesbians

Photo: Flickr

The Africa Liberal Network, supported by WFD, has helped advance political representation for Africa’s LGBTI citizens since 2014.

The adoption of its Marrakesh Declaration on Human Rights by 44 member parties from 30 countries was a significant moment because it included clauses which recognized sexual orientation and commit to equal rights for all.

The ALN has promoted this view by providing support for election planning, political communication, branding, canvassing and working on the ground-up elements.

“In Botswana, for example, this was quite revolutionary in the sense that the liberal opposition now poses a serious challenge to the ruling party,” ALN programme coordinator Luke Akal says. “This is a first for Botswana and was in large part because of the work the ALN did with our parties and partners.”

More here: Africa Liberal Network party focus

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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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Helping Iraq’s Integrity Commissions tackle corruption

“We need to blend our efforts with others’ experiences to fight corruption in Iraq,” Mr Bassim Jasim Hajwal, Director General of the National Integrity Commission in Iraq, says.

As David Cameron tackles anti-corruption in a major summit on the issue in London, Westminster Foundation for Democracy’s programme in Iraq is making steady progress.

Mr Hajwal, an important figure in Iraq’s efforts to ensure good governance, is committed to enhancing his Commission’s capacity. He wants it to respond effectively to recent reforms by the Iraqi Government. Westminster Foundation for Democracy’s programme in Iraq is helping him achieve this by bringing together those engaged in similar work around the world. Working with the National and Regional Commissions to increase their skills by showing them the Indonesian experience in a recent study visit to Jakarta (pictured above), for example, is an important part of our programme.

This process is far from straightforward. The Integrity Commission wishes to work as an independent institution, but implementing its decisions is proving challenging. “Lack of skills in building good relationship with law enforcement agencies is preventing us from implementing our follow-up efforts appropriately,” Mr Hajawal adds. “The Integrity Commission needs to strengthen our relationships with different organisations.” Further to engagement with WFD programming, the Baghdad Commission will now prepare a report on what has been learned about the mechanisms of investigatory work, public prosecutors and law enforcement agencies in fighting corruption.

2 - Erbil - flickr - jason pitcherErbil, the capital of the Kurdistan region in Iraq, aims to shine a light on corruption issues. Photo: Jason Pitcher (Flickr)

It’s not just Mr Hajwal who will benefit from WFD’s work. WFD will continue to support him and his colleagues working on similar issues in the Kurdistan Region’s Integrity Commission programme. More broadly, better governance will help all the direct and indirect stockholders who are interested in fighting corruption: the parliament, audit institutions, judiciary system, etc. It is part of the UK Prime Minister’s “golden thread” of good governance whose importance will again be underlined in London. This week’s summit is set to unveil a package of measures which will seek to drive out the culture of corruption wherever it exists around the world.

In the longer term, once institutions with strong integrity take root in Iraq and elsewhere, individuals will benefit too. Reducing corruption through strengthening relevant institutions and integrity commissions will raise accountability and better oversight efforts on public finance, which will directly reflect on individuals’ situation and their shares in states’ incomes. This is what WFD aims to do in Iraq and our programming remains committed to supporting efforts to strengthen public accountability.

Achieving this builds Mr Hajawal’s hope that by combining skills and lessons from different experiences and similar contexts, Iraq’s Integrity Commissions can learn about the effective mechanisms that make such institutions strong and independent – and overcome the different challenges which inevitably emerge along the way. “I am ambitious that WFD can help the Integrity Commissions in Iraq,” Mr Hajawal says, “and build the Commission’s capacity.” It will not be easy. But this is work which, in both Baghdad and Erbil, is already underway.

4 - Conclsuion meeitng between both commisisonsThe Baghdad and Erbil Integrity Commissions’ leaders discuss the findings of their study visit to Indonesia with WFD

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Ukrainian politicians ‘buddy’ with British MPs

(l to r: Jeffrey Donaldson MP; Sergei Alieksieiev MP; Yuri Levchenko MP; Philip Davies MP; HE Natalia Galibarenko, Ambassador of Ukraine to the UK; Sir Gerald Howarth, Chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Ukraine; Natalya Katser-Buchkovska MP; Jonathan Djanogly MP)

Westminster Foundation for Democracy helps share understanding about British politics overseas, but it is not the only source of information for MPs working in other parliaments.

“I’m a big fan of Yes, Minister,” Yuri Levchenko, a Ukrainian MP visiting the Houses of Parliament, said earlier this week. “This visit is a great opportunity to see how it really works on the inside.”

The antics of fictional politician Jim Hacker and Sir Humphrey, the unruffled civil servant who carefully guides him through his time in power, are “satirical”, as Mr Levchenko pointed out. But the British MPs present at the Ukraine All-Party Parliamentary Group where Mr Levchenko was speaking freely accepted the programme contains more than a grain of truth. For British MPs, APPG Chair Sir Gerald Howarth joked, Yes, Minister is an “instruction manual”. WFD prefers to offer visiting MPs insight into British parliamentary practise through more formal methods – including the ‘buddy’ scheme linking British parliamentarians with Ukrainian MPs taking place this week.

This approach reflects WFD’s commitment to exploring new ways of innovative programming. Mr Levchenko, whose party has five MPs in the Verkhovna Rada, has been partnered with Jeffrey Donaldson, a WFD board member and Democratic Unionist Party MP. Huntingdon MP Jonathan Djanogly was accompanied by Natalya Katser-Buchkovska, a member of the Rada’s Sustainable Development Committee; this week she attended sessions of the Commons’ Energy and Climate Change Committee. Sergei Alieksieiev is shadowing Philip Davies, the Shipley MP, who has taken Mr Alieksieiev to Bradford Crown Court. “I am very grateful for the chance to exchange experiences,” Mr Alieksieiev told the all-party group meeting. “I would like to stress that there is not so much populism in the British parliament; all the decisions are made professionally.”

Such a remark could not be made without attracting self-deprecating comments from the British MPs present. They were full of praise for the Ukrainian MPs, applauding their resolve in dealing with a political and security crisis. “We want to help them get where they want to be,” Mr Donaldson said. Mr Howarth spoke of the Budapest Memorandum and Britain’s “responsibility to support Ukraine at this difficult time”. Stephen Pound, a Labour MP, described Ukraine’s significance in terms of both its size and its symbolism. “It’s important we realise there is a great future of collaboration with Ukraine as a European nation,” he said. “It is an extremely and increasingly important country.”

The British political commitment to Ukraine is reflected in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office’s three priorities for the country, as described by Jason Rheinberg. These are returning Ukraine to its sovereign borders; helping Ukraine reform; and strengthening its democratic institutions, “an extremely important part of that road ahead”. WFD seeks to contribute to this. Our programme, in collaboration with GIZ, has established a Financial and Economic Analysis Office which can help strengthen the Rada’s financial scrutiny work. “I would like to thank WFD for helping us,” Natalya Katser-Buchkovska said. “There are a lot of laws which need economic analysis, and now we have a chance to receive really high quality expertise. This is really valuable for us.”

Improved financial scrutiny can help expand the Rada’s role in anti-corruption, an important part of the present government’s reform efforts – and a point of political contention reflected in the comments of the Ukrainian MPs present. Their debates on this issue and others will continue in the Rada. As they do so, the FEAO and WFD stand ready to support their work.

“We’ve found a group of members of the Rada who are extremely motivated but working in difficult circumstances,” Anthony Smith, WFD Chief Executive, told the group. WFD aims to work with the Rada’s staff “as they seek to refocus their support to MPs for many years to come… We want to be there for the long-term.” Just as WFD has helped individual MPs develop relationships with their British counterparts, so we aim to harness British expertise to help strengthen the Rada.

As Mr Howarth put it: “The new members of the Rada are very well motivated, it’s been most encouraging for us. The future of Ukraine rests on some of those who are here today, and your colleagues in Kyiv.”

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