EALA Speaker praises WFD’s ‘dedication and commitment’

EALA office

With WFD’s help, the East African Legislative Assembly (EALA) is using the region’s rapidly growing mobile and internet use to bring citizens closer to its work. More and more people are learning about its effectiveness and representation capabilities – and will continue to do so for many years.

This week saw the closure of WFD’s EALA programme after four years of engagement. Our work has contributed to the establishment of its Public Relations Office, the development of a Strategic Plan, increased engagement with civil society and, in the last six months, increased engagement with social media.

EALA Kidega

Speaker Kidega addresses the debrief event

“The Strategic Plan gave the Assembly a clear intent and direction,” EALA’s Speaker, the Rt. Hon Daniel Kidega, said before the debrief event in Arusha. “To take the Assembly to the people and reaching out was our biggest challenge – but that is what integration is about.” This engagement was illustrated by the recent Burundi crisis, which prompted an “amazing” engagement from civil society and the general public on social media.

That response reflects fast-moving changes across the region. Development across East Africa is gathering pace, while the opportunities for strengthening integration among the region’s five states are growing rapidly. EALA, which produces laws that affect the region’s 120 million citizens, plays an important role in this. Its task is to both foster regional cooperation and represent its citizens. In the coming years, EALA can tap into the opportunities offered by this rapid technological change. “Communicating what we are doing and gaining feedback is very important for accountability, oversight and representation,” Speaker Kidega added.

Flags of the East African Community nations fly outside the EALA building

It’s been the fast growth of social media and online platforms which has been the most recent focus of our support for EALA. Staff, EAC Youth Ambassadors, CSO representatives and Parliamentary Officers from partner states have received training in social media use and the Public Relations Office is in the process of developing a digital strategy. The internet offers a new way for citizens to engage with the Assembly and its work. WFD has facilitated this ongoing, developing relationship by producing educational YouTube videos targeted at primary and secondary school children, which will be broadcast on national television and utilised in schools across the partner states; developing new online platforms for engagement; and redesigning the EALA website, which was launched at the debrief event.

Majda El Bied, WFD’s Senior Programme Manager for Africa, addresses the debrief 

We’re now entering a period of hiatus in our activities with the Assembly as a result of this great progress but hope to return in the future. Following our programme’s completion in March 2016, the Public Relations Office will continue utilising the tools provided by WFD and the Strategic Plan runs until 2018.

The EALA offices – where WFD has been working since 2008

“The lessons WFD has learned on parliamentary communications and outreach work are valuable and can be applied to a range of other contexts,” Programme Officer for Africa Charlotte Egan said.

“WFD is proud of its work at EALA and we will maintain our valued relationships with its leadership in the years to come.”

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Moving Mozambique away from its violent past

A legislative sector approach can help move Mozambique away from its violent past

By George Kunnath, WFD’s Regional Director for Europe and Africa

The legacy of the independence struggle and subsequent civil war in Mozambique still influences and shapes many aspects of its governance. The signing of the Rome General Peace Accord which ended the civil war in 1992 was supposed to bring an end to the war and start the process of healing the country. The 1990 constitution provided for a multi-party state and paved the way for the 1994 elections. The 2005 constitution went further, providing for the establishment of provincial assemblies. These, however, have limited powers over provinces’ administration, which is overseen by central government appointees. The main strength of the Provincial Assembly is its power to approve the Provincial Government’s programme and oversee its implementation.

According to the constitution, Provincial Assemblies should have been established within three years of the constitution’s adoption. Yet it was not until 2009 that Mozambique had its first elections for Provincial Assemblies. The ten new assemblies were underfunded, ill -equipped and their staff lacked training and skills to adequately support their members. Most of the assemblies still haven’t got a permanent home, but rent space from other government departments.

They also don’t have the technical skills to effectively scrutinise the Provincial Governments’ programmes and budgets. They lack the necessary support needed to conduct effective oversight. All Provincial Assembly members are part-time (except the Assembly President). Some tend to hold full-time jobs in the public sector – the very institution they are supposed to oversee.

The assemblies are also hampered by the vast geography of each province, compounded by poor transport infrastructure, which makes the task of oversight very difficult. However, it is important to recognise that provincial assemblies do hold a key to ensuring political representation in Mozambique. Their significance is only likely to increase as Mozambique goes down the route of decentralisation.

Since 2009, the relationship between the two main parties in Mozambique has continued to deteriorate. In 2013, Mozambique National Resistance (RENAMO) leader Alfonso Dhlakama revoked the 1992 Rome peace agreement and returned to the bush. Former president Armando Guebuza and Dhlakama negotiated a new peace agreement that would secure the 2014 elections when RENAMO succeeded in winning three provincial assemblies – but claimed victory in six.

They subsequently introduced a constitutional amendment which would have allowed for devolution of political powers to provinces. The proposed amendment would allow the winning party to appoint provincial governors. Having had the constitutional amendment defeated in Parliament, RENAMO threatened to take control in those provinces by force. The dominant Mozambique Liberation Front party (FRELIMO) responded to the threats by attempting to disarm RENAMO. The country has since seen an increase in armed conflict between the two parties.

Mozambique has had steady economic growth and is one of Africa’s fastest growing economies following the recent discovery of new natural resource deposits. The country still remains one of Africa’s poorest nations and can ill afford another protracted civil war. The population is also wary of further conflict after the last war. Citizens would like to see their leaders demonstrate greater political maturity in negotiating peaceful solutions.

In this tense political context, it is important for the donor community and democracy partners to bring the focus back to making the institutions of Mozambique’s democracy work effectively and responsively to the citizen’s needs. It equally importantly needs to demonstrate that the decentralised legislative structures at national, provincial and municipal levels can function and bring about equitable levels of development across the country.

For this to happen the donor community must consider working together to support a single legislative sector initiative to strengthen the provincial and national assembly. Mozambique’s neighbour South Africa is a great example of how a sectoral approach has helped to develop national and provincial legislatures. A sectoral approach also provides value for money and looks holistically at the long-term developmental needs of the growing legislative sector.

The Mozambican constitution also requires the President of the Assembly of the Republic to promote institutional relations between the Parliament and the Provincial Assemblies. The current President does this through the Speaker’s Conference, a meeting between the presidents of the provincial and national assemblies. This forum could be made more effective and play a much more important role in guiding the legislative sectors development.

Another plus for the sectoral approach has been the establishment of the parliamentary training centre, Centro de Estudos e Formação Parlamentar (CEFP), in 2013 with the support of WFD. The Centre’s new strategy is to encourage greater sharing of experience between the assemblies and support ongoing capacity building.

Finally, the donor community must explore ways to encourage the development of the institution of the opposition within assemblies. One cannot expect to develop mature opposition parties without supporting them with the research and skills needed to develop effective policies or to hold the government to account. Donors need to examine the current level of support provide to party factions in parliament and the provincial assemblies. Respecting the role that the opposition plays in an effective assembly is an important part of the culture of a mature democracy.

Armed conflict should never be an option in a democracy.

Photos:

George Kunnath, Regional Director Europe and Africa visits the construction site of the new Maputo Provincial Assembly in Matola accompanied by the Assembly’s President, Joao Muringano Matola.

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Financial scrutiny explored in North Africa

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Why context analysis matters

Exploring the inner workings of a parliament is an intense as well as humbling experience.

By Victoria Hasson, WFD’s Parliamentary Adviser

I usually have a week to seek out key practices affecting the institution’s democratic efficacy.

Though further analysis will take place throughout the length of a programme it is critical that I help get this first part right, and this is not a long time given the complex range and depth of issues each parliament faces.

Once WFD has decided that it would like to support the parliament of a particular country, or renew its support, I’m asked to go out and conduct an analysis of the institution’s practices and procedures.

I look specifically at how, and how well, the institution functions in terms of the four areas we care about: how it makes laws; how well it gives voice to issues that people care about; its ability to oversee government; and its engagement with civil society.

How I do this varies according to the information held by each parliament. In all cases it involves reviewing a mix of indicators. For example, I try to obtain a year’s worth of figures on questions, motions, time lags for everything, especially bills, found in Hansard, committee reports and House minutes – if the institution is developed enough to produce them.

Most of the indicators I’m looking for are qualitative, though. I like to conduct focus groups and one-on-one interviews with junior staff working underneath the leadership, particularly when I suspect drivers for poor performance are political.

This is not entirely straightforward, particularly when I have to rely on an interpreter and complex questions get lost in translation. Even when language isn’t a barrier, straightforward questions bring forth hostile responses from those in a position of power at times when I’ve drilled into a sensitive spot. But this is precisely why I ask the question. Sometimes my questions even elicit emotional responses.

Equally as challenging are those instances in which the culture of a country is such that officials find it almost impossible to admit to any weakness or challenge out of respect for authority.

Navigating through different cultural nuances adds another layer of performance to the entire exercise. My tolerance for all varieties of tea and coffee, as well as cigarette smoke, has increased considerably.

Asserting myself often requires navigating through different gender norms. I had to help officials override their cultural norms on a number of occasions. The gender norms were such that senior officials wouldn’t at first address me when I had a male companion, even though I was the one asking the questions and leading the process.

Quirks aside, the entire experience is extremely enriching. I’m amazed at how welcoming everyone has been. From Speakers to junior clerks, I’ve been given intimate access to the inner workings of another country’s parliament through my conversations with them and this is an extremely precious and privileged experience.

Once I’ve conducted all my interviews and obtained the stats I need I return home and construct an analysis of what’s happening. I have to identify and then think critically about the key drivers at play. I make an intellectual map of what we can do to help fortify its functions.

Where an institution has got a fairly sizeable absorption capacity, because for example political appetite exists and the institution’s secretariat is smart and motivated, I will recommend more diverse programmes to challenge them in new ways. Then I sit down and write my report.

Some people ask me why I care so much about micro-level practices within parliament. My private opinion is that a parliament is democratic and effective so long as the procedures through which it performs its core functions are democratic (the indicators of which are varied and debatable).

This necessarily means that I’m far less concerned about how an MP votes in as much as what they did in parliament prior to that – I’m interested in the process that took them to that vote.

Once I’ve got an understanding of how a parliament works the next step will be to understand the inner workings of its political parties. Sizing this up is important when we want to establish an integrated programme, combining our UK sister-party relationships with our expertise in parliamentary strengthening.

I’m hoping this will be made easier by having previously worked for a political party in parliament. What I will want to look at are things such as how MPs are performance managed and what incentives structures exist within parties to make MPs do their job, or otherwise.

I’m really looking forward to the next batch of parliaments that I’ll get to look at before April, which is set to include the parliament of Laos, Venezuela, Tunisia and Kenya.

I honestly believe that going from macro to micro; micro to macro in terms of our understanding of the context in which a parliament operates is the best approach to designing an impactful parliamentary programme.

If a programme works, it does so because it acknowledges the broader politics at play within a country and because it’s constructed out of, and then back into, the inner practices of a parliament.

Featured image: Ben Terrett

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Human rights in Macedonia: Linking up CSOs with Parliament

WFD is launching a new partnership in Macedonia – connecting civil society with parliament to improve human rights in the country.

By Ivana Petkukjeska

We’ll link up with the School of Journalism and Public Relations in the 12 months to December 2017 to facilitate a dialogue on human rights policy. The project will build on the experience of our work in Georgia, as well as our previous cooperation with the Parliament of Macedonia, to bring together civil society organisations (CSOs) with decision-makers in Skopje.

The problem CSOs in Macedonia face is that their work doesn’t usually result in significant legislative changes. While there are organisations in the country that are really focused and sincere when it comes to improving the laws concerning the target group they support, they often lack capacity to conduct research- and evidence-based advocacy. Those who do conduct their own research often find they lack the ability to make their case publicly because their findings are just data on paper. This lack of both research and advocacy skills reduces their impact on the legislative process, undermining their chances of achieving a positive change.

On the other side is the Government. It has a Strategy and Action Plan for cooperation with civil society, but the extent of implementation remains limited. There is a need for improvement. CSOs find it almost impossible to reach the MPs they need to communicate with to advocate for specific legislative changes.

Photo: Andres Musta

WFD has been supporting the development of the Macedonian Parliament since 2008 through various programmes. Since then we’ve established solid relations and cooperation with the Parliamentary Committees and members of different political parties. Now, our aim is to use our access to the Parliament to help CSOs. We’ll connect them with the MPs and relevant Parliamentary Committees to try to achieve legislative changes which will contribute to the improvement of the human rights situation in Macedonia.

The initiatives for changes to the law will be completely demand-led. We’ll open a call for policy initiatives dealing with human rights and democratization issues. CSOs will be invited to identify issues which will directly benefit certain communities or groups of citizens. By offering research and advocacy trainings, as well as access to decision-makers, the action will strengthen CSOs by capacity building and increasing their integrity with the local communities.

It’s an approach we’ve been pursuing in Georgia for some time. After two years, our initiatives are showing great signs of progress. Just take a look at the event which took place on Monday December 7, the latest in a series of opportunities for local CSOs to highlight pressing issues about torture, property law and children’s rights, and you’ll see the difference WFD’s work can make.

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‘You can’t ignore human rights’: Meet the Georgian MPs determined to achieve change

This week, Georgian civil society organisations (CSOs) have been sharing with the Parliament’s Human Rights Committee the harrowing stories they’ve encountered through their work.

MPs will take these grim examples to the Government in Tbilisi – with the help of Westminster Foundation for Democracy (WFD) and the UK embassy in Georgia.

“Currently no-one cares for him – neither parents, nor the State,” says Maia Gedevanishvili of the Apparatus of Public Defender of Georgia. She’s talking about an 18-year-old who came to her for help. “There’s no state policy regarding young people who aren’t under the care of the state anymore,” she explained. “He is not ready for fully independent life. He doesn’t have a proper education, or job, or home. It is essentially important to help this category of young people prepare for adult life.”

Mrs Gedevanishvili was given the opportunity to raise this case to MPs thanks to WFD’s programme with the Georgian Human Rights Committee. We’re aiming to increase the committee’s oversight; the Government is implementing its Human Rights Action Plan, which needs scrutiny.

On December 7, committee members visited homes for parentless children in Rustavi and Kojori. They were seeking to check the living conditions are consistent with the children’s rights. But they also heard from a range of organisations – including the Centre on the Protection of Civil and Political Rights.

“One of the main challenges our state faces and our organisation works on,” its spokesperson Vakhtang Kanashvili said, “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. These are significant changes, but the MPs who are being lobbied believe they can help achieve them.

The committee’s chair, Eka Beselia, who was a lawyer advocating on human rights issues before her election to parliament, keenly feels the importance of her work. “I strongly believe that you can’t make a difference by ignoring human rights standards,” she says. “Any reform which doesn’t take human rights standards into account is doomed to failure.”

Mrs Beselia believes this engagement reflects the strength of feeling in her country. “The Georgian people very much know what human rights issues are, because they feel it. They’ve been through inappropriate treatment, they were themselves in many cases the victims of violations of human rights.” The language of the petitions and claims received by the committee reflects this, she adds. “They feel that human rights should be engrained in this country. They don’t trust the country, which is why they apply to the committee.”

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Among those participating in the December 7 field visit was the Georgian Young Lawyers’ Association, who highlighted the case of a businessman who was forced to give up his home to the state. “He was forced to sign a deed of gift,” Archil Kaikatsishvili explained. “He lost the property he gained through years of hard work. After the change of government he addressed our organisation and asked for legal assistance; despite our efforts, it was not possible for his violated rights to be restored.” Parliamentary scrutiny of the work of the Public Prosecutor will ensure the prosecution’s responses to the most burning questions will be answered.

These cases reflect the difficulties of dealing with a bleak legacy of human rights in Georgia – and the hope that a better future is now possible.

After the change of government in 2012, the country adopted the Human Rights Action Plan. Responsibility for oversight of its implementation has fallen to the new committee. It has received thousands of petitions concerning human rights violations since then. And it has an ongoing brief to hold the executive to account over its decisions on reforms to the judiciary, prison system and prosecutor’s office.

There is a broader context to the committee’s work, too. Georgia is seeking membership of the European Union and has signed an Association Agreement which helps it prepare its candidacy. So it’s important to the Government that it addresses ongoing human rights issues, which remain an enduring challenge. WFD is also bringing together the committee with CSOs to discuss legislation springing from the EU-Georgia Association Agreement.

Tamar Lukava of the Human Rights Centre highlighted an example of this: the findings of his organisation’s monitoring work in prisons. Among the continuing violations, he noted, was the practice of “the search of women by making them naked in order that they be confined or transferred to institutions”. Mr Lukava said he believes the Human Rights Committee will be able to work on the elimination of this problem.

Dialogue with European partners is an important part of the process. So the committee’s visit to London in early December to meet with civil society organisations, parliamentarians and government officials was helpful. “We might adopt some of the nuances we’ve learned from this trip,” Mrs Beselia says.

The biggest impact WFD has is the access it offers CSOs to this group of MPs. Much of our work around the world is focused on using our links with parliaments to help improve their effectiveness, and it’s CSOs as much as MPs who are the key beneficiaries. They certainly expressed their gratitude in Rustavi and Kojori.

georgia mps“The organisations involved were given the possibility to get a better understanding of the government’s Action Plan on Human Rights and the flaws of implementation,” Tamar Mudladze of Children Of Georgia said. “The project in question facilitates the mobilization process of organisations working in this sphere. It makes the cooperation between different sectors deeper and it facilitates coordinated actions in order the identified flaws to be eliminated. We would welcome that the project be continued in the future.”

WFD continues to implement its ongoing programme with the committee. A visit to minority groups in the southern part of Georgia, further presentations from CSOs of their findings and a conference on torture and inhumane treatment will all help MPs prepare their recommendations for the Government.

There is real optimism across Georgia about the impact the committee can have. “The outcome from this kind of cooperation is rapid and tangible,” says Elenne Pileeva of the ‘Article 42 of the Constitution’ organisation. “The Government increasingly tries to implement these recommendations – because it is responsible towards the Parliament.”

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Women’s caucuses and committees: What do they offer?

“The Parliamentary Labour party is a men’s club.” That was Baroness Corston’s response when talking to the chief whip about establishing a Labour Women’s Parliamentary Group in 1992. Over two decades later, women caucuses and committees are becoming more and more important in parliaments around the world.

The impact they can have – and the challenges they face – were discussed at Tuesday’s meeting of the Westminster Community of Practice. At the first discussion since the launch in September, representatives from the UK parliamentary practitioner community met to consider the effectiveness of formally structured groups in parliaments and how they can achieve gender sensitive policy and legislation.

There was consensus across the panel that female parliamentary bodies are an effective tool for putting issues that impact on women’s lives on the agenda.

Such groups, Professor Sarah Childs from the University of Bristol argued, can provide “a different way of doing politics” and “by design have great potential”.

Kenyan MP Hon. Sanjeev Kaur Birdi, a member of the Kenya Women’s Parliamentary Association (KEWOPA), highlighted their work in influencing recent bills on marriage and reproductive health.

Baroness Corston explained that “issues only women raise politically” were the motivation for starting the parliamentary Labour party women’s organisation. She pointed to the first ever childcare strategy adopted by the UK government in 1997 as a result of lobbying from the women’s group and the increased number of women in parliament that year.

WFD’s Anthony Smith flagged our regional women’s programme tackling legislation across the Middle East and North Africa. This programme is trying to raise awareness of discrimination towards women. Achieving this means engaging all members of society to debate issues that impact all citizens.

Getting the support of male parliamentarians was also seen as essential when advocating for women’s groups and caucuses. Hon. Birdi referenced a dinner event KEWOPA held in which they invited male parliamentarians to be their “dates” to the event where the bill would be discussed. The support this act of engagement earned for the bill reiterated the importance of a united front. Baroness Corston, too, referred to how she measured the success of the Labour party parliamentary women’s group by the amount of times they were asked for advice from the mostly-male frontbench. They became the go-to organisation for policy concerns on gender and women’s issues.

The work Baroness Corston and other female MPs did to create an outlet for the voice of women in the House of Commons was inspirational. Hon. Birdi expressed the pride she felt in sharing the panel with women who have provided precedent for change in countries around the world. Joining the Kenyan parliament could be a daunting experience for women, she said, but added that women now in Kenya “are where they are because of the previous generation of women MPs”.

She spoke of the absurd discrimination some encountered, including bans on taking handbags into parliament and wearing trousers. Parallels were drawn between Mrs Birdi’s experience and that of Baroness Corston, who joined the UK parliament in 1992 when there were only 37 female Labour MPs. Despite the huge strides taken by the Labour party women’s group since then, including the introduction of all-female shortlists for party selection, an effective mechanism for scrutinising legislation was still lacking – until this year.

This summer marked the establishment of the Women and Equalities Select Committee. Its chair, Maria Miller, was present at the event. Her committee “filled the obvious gap on scrutiny and accountability mechanisms” that the informal groups like the parliamentary Labour party women’s group did not have. These groups, Professor Childs argued, often lack the needed resources and level of engagement from members. The select committee was established as a response to the recommendation from the all-party parliamentary group on women’s issues that more “responsive, inclusive, equal” consideration of legislation that impacts on women was urgently needed.

This positive step in the UK mirrors the approach WFD takes in countries where it has programmes that encourage women to be more active in politics. Anthony Smith highlighted the importance of fostering leadership, increasing effective participation and debating legislation – a prime function of the UK institutions that are working toward gender equality in the UK. It is political parties that have the ability to strengthen these processes and get more women active in politics. All panellists and members of the audience pointed to the crucial role political parties play as the gatekeepers to selection.

The level of engagement on such important issues at the event on Tuesday was a wonderful demonstration of the willingness of Westminster institutions and academics to partner and share expertise. It was an extremely positive meeting of the Community of Practice, which was established at its inaugural meeting in September. The wealth of experience and expertise across UK institutions is something that the Westminster Community of Practice will continue to gather together to highlight and inform the most important parts of our work – and the event on Tuesday night was a prime example of that.

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Social media in East Africa: Connecting citizens with lawmakers

Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and other popular social media sites are steadily gathering growing audiences in East Africa.

That poses a big challenge to parliaments in the region – and an opportunity, too…

WFD’s currently working with the East African Community in Arusha, Tanzania, to boost the communications and outreach capacity of the East African Legislative Assembly. A regional intergovernmental organisation, EAC is comprised of the five member states of Burundi, Kenya, Rwanda, Tanzania and Uganda – a combined population of more than 138 million people.

EALA 1EALA plays a critical role within the EAC structure. Much like the European Parliament, its role is to draft and scrutinize legislation which advances the community’s goals of establishing a common market, monetary union and political federation. The Assembly’s made up of 45 MPs – nine for each member state – which meets in the chamber, pictured here.

EALA 2WFD’s been working at EALA since 2010. We’ve supported the production, dissemination and monitoring of EALA’s strategic plan for the 3rd Assembly 2013-18. We’ve assisted four of the Assembly’s six standing committees, strengthening the knowledge and skills of their members. And we’ve engaged with the East African Civil Society Organisations’ Forum (EACSOF), which has mobilised civil society organisations to consult with EALA. Our office is based in the EALA wing of the EAC building – pictured here in the shade on the left.

EALA 3Across the five member state countries there are lots of audiences which EALA needs to communicate with – from universities, schools, business groups and civil society organisations to national assemblies and citizens. The challenge for EALA, as with other regional parliaments, is finding ways to give citizens greater access to its processes – first by growing awareness of EALA, and then by helping them participate more in its work.

EALA 4WFD’s head of communications, Alex Stevenson, headed to Arusha to develop a social media strategy for EALA. He’s pictured here with EALA’s comms team of Bobi Odiko and Lawrence Munezero. Their intention is to use social media channels like Twitter, Facebook and Instagram to connect EALA’s work with the active debates and discussions already taking place in East Africa on social media.

EALA 5It’ll be a big moment when a social media user’s comment is fed into EALA and actually influences its legislation. That will be a key milestone, not just for EALA but for the whole East African Community and the region as a whole.

EALA 6As the strategy is implemented it’s hoped that the growing use of social media across East Africa will be harnessed to strengthen public sentiment and awareness about EALA – and its ability to change people’s lives. That is an outcome for which the EAC’s founding fathers – Mwalimu Julius K. Nyerere of Tanzania, Apollo Milton Obote of Uganda and Jomo Kenyatta of Kenya – would surely all be proud.

EALA 7

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WFD and National Assembly of the Republic of Serbia launch new Parliamentary Budget Office

Serbian MPs’ ability to scrutinise public spending will be boosted from today by the launch of a Parliamentary Budget Office (PBO).

The new body is the result of a longstanding collaboration between the National Assembly of the Republic of Serbia (NARS) and the Westminster Foundation for Democracy (WFD) on parliamentary strengthening work across the Western Balkans region.

Today marks the start of the PBO’s development as an Office providing analysis for MPs on Serbia’s economy, the Government’s Budget’s proposals, and other legislation which deals with fiscal issues. After an initial capacity-building period working together with partners from the Scottish Parliament, responsibility for the PBO will be transferred from WFD to the NARS.

Deputy Speaker of the NARS and Chairman of the Committee for Finance, State Budget and Control of Public Spending, Mr Veroljub Arsic, said:

“Starting today, the National Assembly and the Committee for Finance, State Budget and Control of Public Spending have another tool in conducting financial scrutiny – the Parliamentary budget office. The National Assembly has great expectations from this Office, because it should secure help and support for MPs during the budget process, especially the process of reporting and finalising the budget.”

The Rt Hon Tricia Marwick MSP, Presiding Officer of the Scottish Parliament, said:

“The robust scrutiny of public finances is a key function of any parliament and it is a measure of the success of our Financial Scrutiny Unit that it is being used as a model by the National Assembly of Serbia. I am pleased to see this positive outcome from the Scottish Parliament’s work with the National Assembly and I hope that our two Parliaments will continue to cooperate in the years to come.”

WFD has worked closely with the Serbian Parliament in the past, first through a two-year programme in 2011-13 and then through the Network of Parliamentary Committees which has strengthened cooperation across the Western Balkans.

Now WFD’s staff will be based in the Serbian Parliament itself as they seek to achieve the establishment of the PBO, develop a more robust system of financial oversight, and increase capacity of the NARS’s staff and committees.

“This Office will provide MPs with practical assistance which will directly help their scrutiny of financial matters,” WFD Chief Executive Anthony Smith said.

“Its development is a great example of what we can achieve by working in partnership with parliaments and sharing democratic experience from across the UK.”
Notes to editors

1. The PBO will initially employ 5 researchers.

2. WFD has signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the Serbian Parliament which ensures the PBO will become an integral part of the NARS over the course of WFD’s 2.5-year programme.

3. Ms Gojkovic used a visit to Westminster in November 2014 to announce plans for the PBO following meetings with the House of Lords’ Lord Speaker and the Scottish Parliament’s Presiding Officer.
www.wfd.org/wfd-news/latest/news.aspx?p=109768

4. The establishment of a PBO builds on previous work that WFD has done with the Network of Parliamentary Committees (NPC) which is comprised of 25 parliamentary committees on economy, finance and European integration from across the Western Balkans.

5. The Financial Scrutiny Unit (FSU) is part of the Scottish Parliament’s Information Centre and provides independent analysis and support to Scottish Parliament committees and individual Members on budgetary trends and issues, including independent costings of specific spending proposals, as well as research on all areas of the economy and public finances as they affect the Scottish Government and the Scottish Parliament. Scrutiny of Scottish Government spending is a core part of the role of Members of the Scottish Parliament (MSPs). Its remit covers:

• supporting MSPs in undertaking effective budget scrutiny;
• producing financial costings and analysis; and
• providing economic information and analysis.

The FSU produces briefings on a range of areas such as the economy, finance, local government, and the business environment (see: Scottish Parliament website).

6. The Westminster Foundation for Democracy (WFD) helps strengthen parliaments and political parties in developing countries and countries in transition to democracy. Its programmes aim to build policy capacity so that public policy processes are open, consultative and evidence-based, strengthen accountability so that parliaments and political parties hold other government institutions and actors to account and are accountable themselves to their constituents and stakeholders, improve representation so that parliaments and political parties represent their constituencies effectively and are representative of the interests and needs of their citizens as a whole, and increase citizen participation so that citizens, particularly women, youth and other marginalised groups, have greater access to and a more active role in parliamentary and political processes.

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Coalition of Women Arab MPs combat violence against women

On 5-6 November, WFD supported the Coalition of Arab Women MPs’ seminar on combating violence against women.

The event was hosted by the Lebanese Parliament, the Arab Inter-Parliamentary Union and the Chair of the Lebanese Parliament’s Women’s Committee, MP Gilberte Zouain.

MP Gilberte, who has been a strong supporter of the coalition and spoke strongly of the need for change, said: “We aspire throughout this conference to benefit from the experience of Arab coutnries who have been pioneers in this domain and to re-establish Lebanon’s commitment to tackling violence against women.”

The seminar brought Lebanese MPs together with public institutions and women MPs from nine other Arab countries, creating a space to discuss the revision of Article 522 of the Lebanese Penal Code – which allows a rapist to avoid prosecution by marrying the victim.  The seminar highlighted the need for Parliament to act on this issue and showed the unity of Arab Women MPs in fighting such legislation. It’s a problem which exists in many other Arab countries’ penal codes: notably, Morocco and Egypt have amended the equivalent provisions in their penal codes.

The meetings were chaired by MP Wafaa Bani Mustafa of Jordan, who highlighted the important role of the coalition and their colleagues. She said: “We as parliamentarians are required to eliminate all types of legislative discrimination.”

All coalition members agreed on the need to empower victims through legislation; that there is no honour in violence against women; and that we need practical recommendations that lead to the abolition or amendment of legislation regarding rape marriage.

The delegation was hosted for lunch by Ms Randa Berri, Vice President of the National Commission for Lebanese Women.

(Pictured above: Ms Randa Berri, Vice president of the National Commission for Lebanese Women and MP Wafaa Bani Mustafa of Jordan)

The coalition meeting hosted a number of key speakers, including Dr Fadia Kiwan, Professor and Director at the Institute of Political Science at St Joseph University; and Abdelfattah Jamil from Jordan, who stressed the important role that men can play in advocacy and awareness-raising. The women commended the men in the room for their support.

Mr Nourredine Bouchkouj, Secretary General of the Arab Inter-Parliamentary Union, said: “On behalf of the Arab federation of parliamentarians I wish you all of the success in your deliberation so that we can get full equality for women for the good of our nations.”

(Pictured above: Dr Fadia Kiwan, Professor and director at the Institute of Political Science at St Joseph University)

WFD’s Dina Melhem highlighted individual cases that have pushed attention towards the issue but highlighted that we don’t truly know how many girls and women are living at home with their rapists, because they are forced to live in silence.

(Pictured above, Coalition meeting)

Hasna Marsit from Tunisia followed this by saying that where the law does protect them, women should be encouraged and supported to report their plight. The coalition can contribute to this change by building awareness of the issue and to provide a counter-narrative that empowers the victim, something they will be working on over the coming months. The Coalition will meet in January to mark the Arab day to combat violence against women.

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