Active transparency and trust in parliament

By WFD Director of Research Graeme Ramshaw

The WFD Research Programme has been investigating citizens’ trust in parliament both in partnership with the UK House of Commons and through its work on the Western Balkans Regional Openness Index with ActionSEE. We found that the picture is neither as rosy nor as gloomy as others contend.

In September 2017, the Open Government Partnership (OGP) published a reported entitled “Trust: The Fight to Win It Back” reflecting the international community’s growing concern about the disconnect between citizens and their governments. The report’s content is rich, and I won’t attempt to summarise it here, but the underlying premise for many of the authors was the prominence of transparency in the quest for improved citizen trust. Now, I’m not about to argue on the side of less transparency, but I think that in the context of the institutions with which WFD works the reality is more complex.

First, there is an issue with presenting trust as a principal objective for parliaments and political parties. Parties are partisan entities and by their very nature will only be trusted by those who align with the party’s platform. Trying to gain the trust of more of the citizenry may dilute the important function that parties serve in aggregating specific interests. This is distinct, of course, from individual politicians being trustworthy, and there is ample evidence that citizens can hold diverging opinions on the integrity of their specific MP versus the institutions to which he or she belongs (Costa et al., 2012; Davis, 2009).

Parliaments find garnering trust equally difficult. They are designed as fora of debate, making partisan ‘bickering’ a feature rather than anomaly of their function. In an era of growing political polarisation, this makes trust an increasingly rare commodity. Indeed, evidence from the World Values Survey suggests that parliamentary trust generally hovers around 40% in established democracies, with very little movement either way. Interestingly, trust in parliaments in authoritarian regimes is significantly higher, also bringing into question the validity of trust as an indicator for democratic legislatures.

On the extent to which transparency leads to trust, there also remains no clear consensus. Recent evidence finds that in several countries, the more citizens know about the workings of parliament as an institution, the less they trust it or are satisfied by it (Hansard Society, 2017). This has led some scholars to openly question the link between transparency and trust: “Not only have MPs never worked so hard, but also transparency has never been so high and there has never been so much information or access to parliament. What is more, decline in trust in parliament depends more on variables external to parliament than on what parliament actually does. However, as collective, visible and accountable institutions, parliaments are destined to be unloved” (Leston-Bandeira, 2012, p. 525).

While trust in political institutions is likely to remain elusive, we can encourage greater engagement and satisfaction of citizens through transparency efforts. But the quality of that transparency matters. Passive transparency, the publication of data, proceedings, and other documentation without description or explanation, is insufficient, and in worst cases, can be manipulated by those seeking to undermine trust in democratic institutions—a point acknowledged in the OGP report.

What is needed instead is active transparency where parliaments and political parties are not only open about their activities but actively communicate the rationale, purpose, and outcome of these activities. Parliamentary communications remains a nascent field at present, but its development is necessary to ensure that open data initiatives progress beyond merely presenting material to creating genuine citizen access. WFD through our partnership with OGP and others looks forward to supporting this transition and the emergence of truly open parliaments and political parties.

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WFD research to inform cost of politics talks in Ghana

At what point does the cost to stand for election become so high it affects equality, trust and good governance?

New data shows the cost of running for political office in Ghana went up by nearly 60% over one single electoral cycle (2012-2016).

Opening the second phase of WFD’s flagship research into the cost of politics, an in-depth analysis of the costs incurred by candidates in Ghana, published in February, will inform WFD technical talks with government, political parties and civil society about practical steps to ensure wider and fair access to politics.

Ghana has held six elections since returning to multiparty democracy in 1992 with three peaceful power transitions, including, in 2016, the first defeat of a sitting incumbent. However, multiparty competitive elections can be costly affairs for aspiring and incumbent legislators. WFD research found between 2012 and 2016 the cost of running for political office in Ghana increased 59%. On average candidates needed to raise approximately GHS 390,000 (approx. USD 86,000) to secure the party primary nomination and compete in the parliamentary election in their constituency. If the cost of politics rises to unaffordable levels the danger is that politics becomes the domain of the elite and wealthy, and that the motivation and incentives of MPs move from serving the public to recovering their own investment.

The cost of elections in Ghana

WFD’s new study, in collaboration with the Ghana Centre for Democratic Development (CDD), breaks down the various costs involved in seeking public office in Ghana. Over 250 candidates and sitting MPs were surveyed about their experiences in the 2012 and 2016 elections. These findings were complemented by individual interviews and focus groups. Four key areas of election expenditure – campaigns, payment of party workers, media and advertisement and donations – were analysed in detail at both the party primary level and during parliamentary election campaigns. They paint a picture of an environment where male candidates outspend female ones; where the greatest costs incurred are by candidates standing in municipal areas; where party primaries, particularly those of Ghana’s two main political parties (the NDC and NPP) can be very expensive affairs; and where an ability to spend the most money is, by and large, a critical factor in successful winning a seat in elected office.

In Ghana, a sitting MP earns GHS 233,000 annually (approx. USD 51,000). Therefore a successful election campaign on average costs them the equivalent of the best part of two years’ wages. This illustrates how much of a barrier to entry the cost of politics can have on ordinary Ghanaians who are keen to seek political office but lack substantial sponsorship.

It is important to note that the figures quoted for the items above also do not account for all the ‘soft’ money raised and spent by the candidates in the parliamentary primaries because according to respondents, tracking how much a candidate spent in any contest is an extremely difficult exercise: ‘it is a fact that there are so many items we spent money on, which cannot be accounted for in our election budgets’, a candidate who wished to remain anonymous said. The actual cost is therefore likely to be higher than the numbers provided.

Implications of the increasing ‘costs of politics’ on democracy

From those surveyed, three broad themes emerged on the political and societal implications of rising costs of running for and maintaining public office:

  • Exclusion: women and youth suffer disproportionately when the cost of politics rises.
  • Disillusionment: increasing costs lead to the perception that competence takes a backseat to wealth in gaining seats in parliament.
  • Corruption: mounting MP debts makes them susceptible to a variety of forms of corruption.

What kinds of options are available to counter the trend or mitigate its impact? The research presented respondents with several ‘good practice’ solutions that have been implemented elsewhere to limit the growth of political finance.

Adopting ‘good practice’: what will work for Ghana?

First, those surveyed expressed strong support for remedies that affected other institutions or groups. For instance, 80% supported laws that requires balanced media coverage during elections. 88% supported civic education programmes that encouraged voters to stop making financial demands on candidates or MPs.

The sample also supported interventions that would likely benefit them personally, whether financially or indirectly. 85% supported a reduction in filing fees imposed on candidates by electoral commissions or political parties. This has been a particularly large growth area for political costs, as parties have come to realise the potential rents to be gained from extracted significant fees from their candidates.

There was far less support, however, for regulations that restricted their own ability to operate within campaigns. Just 50% favoured a cap on spending for electoral campaigns, while only 56% supported a similar cap on how much candidates could spend on media advertising. These kinds of caps have a somewhat chequered history in Sub-Saharan Africa, so the resistance may not be entirely self-serving, but the distinction is intriguing.

Lastly, over 72% of the respondents expressed support for sanctions against those who engage in political patronage. Given that 83% of these same respondents declared their approval of political patronage in a previous question, this juxtaposition strengthens the hypothesis that most political actors would like to see the system change (and the costs reduce) but few to none feel they can make that change on their own.

Instead, they accept the rules of the game as they are while expressing support for certain changes that might eventually shift the rules in a positive direction. Further research will explore this collective action problem and the effect this cognitive dissonance has on efforts to catalyse political finance reform.

The complete study, funded by DFID Ghana through the Strengthening Action Against Corruption (STAAC) programme, will be available on wfd.org in February 2018, when WFD will begin engaging institutions and civil society in Ghana to present the results of the research and discuss practical action.

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Increasing openness of institutions in the Western Balkans

On 16 November, Westminster Foundation for Democracy (WFD) launched a Regional Road Map on Good Governance for the Western Balkans to support democratic institutions in Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo, Macedonia, Montenegro and Serbia become more transparent and accountable.

Since 2015, according to polling by the Policy Association for an Open Society, public trust in national institutions in the Western Balkans has declined. Improving the accountability of institutions, including the executive, legislative, judiciary and local branches of government through better access to information can help reverse this trend. This is fundamental for democracy to succeed in the region.

Operating as part of a consortium in partnership with ActionSEE (Accountability, Technology and Institutional Openness Network in South-eastern Europe), WFD shares parliamentary best practice on transparency and openness to support the development of tools that will help legislators implement the roadmap.

The Regional Openness Index – Towards national roadmaps for greater transparency

Between July and December 2016, the ActionSEE consortium developed a Regional Openness Index to measure how transparent governments in the Western Balkans are and how easy it is for citizens to access information. Assessments, based on international standards, were conducted to identify systematic problems related to transparency in the six partner countries. Criteria included:

  • How easy it is to access information through official websites
  • The quality of legal frameworks related to transparency initiatives
  • Existing procedures for the routine publication of information of public interest

Following assessment, individual country road maps with recommendations actions were produced. These are addressed to the executive, legislative, judiciary and local branches of government in each country.

Implementing the Regional Roadmap

 The Regional Road Map brings together each individual country action plan and provides high-level recommendations. These include adopting a national policy of openness at the executive level, the routine publication of parliamentary voting records, updated court websites and more timely release of local authority information. Taken together, these steps have the potential to transform the perception of how transparent and efficient Western Balkans institutions are.

Working at regional level, the Foundation aims at accelerating the transition to greater accountability. Over the next three years, the Regional Openness Index will be updated on annually to help citizens and institutions track progress towards transparency in the region. Updated country and regional road maps with action plans for institutions will be developed based on the revised scoring.

The Foundation has been working at regional level in the Western Balkans since 2012, primarily by supporting the Network of Parliamentary Committees on Economy, Finance and European Integration of Western Balkans (NPC). Through the NPC, WFD helped establish the region’s first ever Parliamentary Budget Office in Serbia in 2015, which was quickly followed by a counterpart in Montenegro the following year.

 

(Photo: Action SEE network presents country road maps to parliamentarians of the Western Balkan region.)
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A better deal: new law passed in Lebanon on oil and gas taxation

On 19 September 2017, the Parliament of Lebanon passed a new law with strong ring-fencing measures that will help get a better deal for the country from extractives.

With the recent discoveries of deep-sea gas fields, there are now real prospects of securing substantial revenues which can support better public services. But this will only be possible with the right legal framework and strong oversight from Parliament.

Westminster Foundation for Democracy (WFD) has supported the Lebanese parliamentary Public works, Energy, Water and Transport Committee for two years. Working closely with the committee chair, WFD brings international expertise and convenes meetings of MPs, officials and ministers. This has given the Committee some of the tools it needs to introduce new laws to improve transparency, stewardship and management of the extractives sector. The WFD programme has also supported the Parliament to raise its profile in oversight of the sector and highlight the vital role for Parliament at each stage.

In August 2016, WFD provided the Committee with an international comparative study on management and governance of the oil and gas sector. During meetings to discuss the study, the Committee adopted a recommendation to introduce a new oil and gas taxation bill.

A follow-up workshop with WFD in February 2017 provided an opportunity for Lebanese MPs to debate taxation of the oil and gas sector. This included contributions from Nick Butler, former Group Vice President for Strategy and Policy at BP and a former senior policy adviser to the UK Prime Minister. His recommendations focused on ‘ring-fencing’ to bring the Lebanese system into line with best practice worldwide. As he explained:

“Ring-fencing is a well-established part of energy taxation systems around the world. It allows the profits and the costs associated with each particular field development to be assessed and taxed separately.”

“If a major field is very profitable it can be taxed at the appropriate rate without all the profits being offset by expenditure elsewhere. It ensures companies cannot use losses on other activities – including onshore activities in energy or any other business – to offset their liabilities in respect of the offshore field.”

“Following the discovery of oil and gas in Lebanon, the country is expecting significant changes and lot of reforms are required.”

This resulted in the Committee deciding to amend the bill to strengthen original provisions on ring-fencing. Committee Chair Mohammed Kabbani MP, commented:

“Following the discovery of oil and gas in Lebanon, the country is expecting significant changes and lot of reforms are required. Certainly, the Parliament must play an important role in this process, the collaboration with WFD allowed for this to take place.

“Through the sharing of best practices and information, a comprehensive approach in the adoption of the Oil and Gas Taxation Law was followed, constructive engagement from relevant ministries was facilitated by the programme; the evidence provided on the ring-fencing generated an informed debate and decision. This support reinforced the oversight role of the Parliament and its centrality in shaping key polices.”

(Photo: Oil and Gas Taxation Bill discussed at a WFD workshop with members of the Public works, Energy, Water and Transport Committee.)

Along with ise securing a good deal for the Lebanese public purse, the parliamentary Committee is playing an important role – with WFD support – in transparency, good governance, management and oversight of the sector.

Support from the Foundation recently resulted in Parliament recommending Lebanon completes the process of joining the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI), a global standard for the good governance of oil, gas and mineral resources.

Committee member Joseph Maalouf MP has also recently lodged a new draft law on transparency of the Oil and Gas Sector. The Committee launched this initiative at a WFD workshop in November 2016, which brought together Lebanese MPs on the topic: “Oil and Gas- A legislative initiative to fight corruptio” .

On 19 October 2017, WFD will facilitate a workshop on parliamentary scrutiny of the Sovereign Wealth Fund Bill. This will aim at debating and designing a sound model of governance for the fund which will manage Lebanon’s assets.

(Main photo: Lebanon’s General Assembly meet to vote on the Oil and Gas Taxation Bill.)
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Lebanon: Progress towards Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative

Lebanon is well on its way towards joining the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI), a major step towards ensuring that the profits from Lebanon’s oil and gas reserves contribute to the country’s economic development. Westminster Foundation for Democracy is working to support the Public Works and Energy Committee oversight role to make sure this becomes a reality.

The Lebanese Parliament is currently debating a draft petroleum transparency law. This reaffirms the commitment to join the EITI made by the Lebanese Council of Ministers in January 2017, and demonstrates the impact that the initiative is already having.

Since the discovery of 96 trillion cubic feet of gas and 865 million barrels of oil in the early 2000s, membership of the EITI has been on the agenda. The announcement that Lebanon will join the EITI has, therefore, renewed optimism that the emerging oil and gas sectors will be effectively overseen by the Parliament, and that citizens will benefit from the expected income.

In reaction to the announcement, Mohamad Kabbani, the Chair of the Public Works and Energy Committee, said “this is part of our campaign and efforts towards achieving transparency of the oil and gas sector in Lebanon. We worked hard to push the government to join this important initiative and the Committee has issued a specific recommendation on this.”

While Lebanon’s oil and gas extraction has not yet come on stream, the Public Works and Energy Committee recognised the importance of establishing a regulatory framework and mechanisms to deliver transparency in the sector before contracts with oil companies are signed. This will be crucial if Lebanon is to avoid the ‘resource curse’ phenomenon that has blighted many other oil-rich nations.

Since the discovery of 96 trillion cubic feet of gas and 86 million barrels of oil membership of EITI has been on the agenda.

To this end, WFD has been providing technical assistance to the Public Works and Energy Committee, to support its work on new legislation and overseeing Government energy policy. Building on this, the Committee is taking a leading a role in championing parliamentary oversight of the energy sector. Mr Kabbani explained, “We are also supporting the adoption of a bill entitled Transparency of Oil and Gas, so that we can ensure full transparency of this promising sector”.

In October 2016, Joseph Maalouf, MP and member of the committee, released a draft transparency bill, and in February 2017, WFD supported the Committee in reviewing a draft bill on oil and gas taxation. In the coming months, the Committee will be working with relevant ministries on drafting a proposal to establish a Sovereign Wealth Fund.

Through these activities, the Public Works and Energy Committee has continued to exert pressure on the Government to enforce a regulatory framework demanding responsible oil and gas exploration, ensuring that oil and gas companies adhere to international standards. After more than two years, the Committee had a break-through in autumn 2016, when the Government approved two decrees that had delayed the development of an offshore oil and gas sector since 2013.

Joining the EITI had been another issue that had faced blockages. Through supporting the initiative of the Public Works and Energy Committee to act as an effective forum for the discussion and promotion of energy policies and proposals, WFD has played an important role in assisting the Committee in its mission to push for EITI membership.

Looking forward, WFD will continue to assist the Public Works and Energy Committee in overseeing the adherence to EITI standards, playing a continuing role in oversight of the sector, and enforcing the legal framework on energy transparency once contracts are signed and the oil and gas come on stream.

(Top:photo: WFD organised workshop in Beirut with the Public Works and Energy Committee)
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Building citizens trust through openness and engagement

May 2017 saw the arrival in Kyiv of over 300 people from 52 countries interested in parliamentary openness. The Global Legislative Openness Conference was a two-day event, hosted by the Ukrainian Parliament and organised by the Legislative Openness Working Group of the Open Government Partnership and the Open Parliament Initiative in Ukraine. WFD participated through its senior staff from the UK, Sri Lanka and Serbia, and by supporting the presence of parliamentary delegations from Uganda, Kenya, Montenegro, Jordan, Morocco and Ghana.

The conference opened with an inspiring key-note address on “envisioning a democratic renaissance”, by Rt. Hon. Francis Maude, former Minister in the Cabinet Office (UK) and former co-chair of the OGP Steering Committee.

The first panel discussion on “parliaments, trust and openness” discussed recent studies which are questioning a direct link between parliamentary openness and public trust in parliament. As greater openness of the institution will also reveal the deeply diverging views among politicians and expose corruption risks, it was concluded that greater openness only contributes to increasing public trust in parliament if it is accompanied by greater accountability of political leaders and parliamentarians, and broader possibilities for the public to engage in the parliamentary activities including by providing views and proposals related to legislative and oversight initiatives of parliament.

(Above: The plenary hall in the Ukraine Rada – a unique and history-marked setting to discuss openness)

The session on Parliaments and OGP discussed the best practices in compiling an Open Parliament Action Plan, highlighting the case of Georgia. The Georgian Parliament is currently finalising its second Action Plan on openness, based on close cooperation between parliament and CSOs. It is a good example of putting in to practice the Open Government Partnership’s new legislative engagement policy, which outlines how parliaments can develop and implement legislative openness plans and commitments.

One of the highlights of the conference was the session on Technology, Disinformation and Fake News. Digital innovations and social media provide not only avenues for citizens to engage with their governments. They also provide a public platform for disinformation campaigns. The speakers at this session gave concrete and scary examples of recent campaigns of disinformation and the impact on political decision making. The Governance Director of NDI launched an urgent appeal for parliamentarians to inform themselves on the issue and pressure their governments to act.

A large part of the conference took place in the plenary hall of Ukraine’s Rada, which provided a unique and history-marked setting for discussions on openness. It thus had some significance when the former President of the European Parliament and former politician from Ireland Pat Cox gave a keynote address at the Rada, highlighting the democratic transition in Ukraine and welcoming new anti-corruption legislation. He quoted one of the EU’s founding fathers, Jean Monnet, who said: “nothing is possible without people; nothing lasts without institutions”, thus calling for a stronger role of parliaments in the governance of democratic states.

(Above: WFD sponsored the participation of parliamentary delegations from Uganda, Kenya, Montenegro, Jordan, Morocco and Ghana to participate in the Global Legislative Openness Conference)

The founder of “Code for Pakistan” gave an in-depth presentation on how digital innovation can streamline government service delivery and citizens’ responsiveness. The director of “mySociety” (UK), of the Information Development System of the Italian Senate and of the Moldova Open Government Institute each presented new tools for parliaments on open data.

WFD’s input to the Global Legislative Openness Conference took shape during the session on open budgets, where the WFD Senior Governance Adviser shared the work of the Western Balkans Network of Parliamentary Committees on oversight of international funds (Instrument of Pre-Accession) and on the involvement of CSOs in the budget process in Georgia. He highlighted the preliminary findings of the new research by six CSOs from the Western Balkans and WFD in designing the Regional Openness Index for the Western Balkans.

The conference delivered a rare opportunity to share and benefit from common experience, to find out of fresh trends in legislative transparency, and to learn more about the best ICT tools for public participation. Open and transparent parliaments can contribute immensely to effective democratic governance and at WFD we will look at how best to incorporate the emerging themes into our future parliamentary programmes.

 

(Top: Rt. Hon. Francis Maude, former Minister in the Cabinet Office (UK) and former co-chair of the OGP Steering Committee opens the conference with a key-note address on “envisioning a democratic renaissance”.)
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Kurdistan Regional Government unveils inclusive anti-corruption strategy

Corruption is a significant and persistent challenge in Iraq. The Transparency International corruption perceptions index puts Iraq 166th out of 175 countries, indicating a huge need to improve public sector financial management and tackle corruption.

The security challenges that Iraq faces, including the threat of ISIS, have contributed to challenges to the nature and make-up of the state and made cooperation between the central and regional governments difficult. Westminster Foundation for Democracy (WFD) has enabled engagement between the Integrity Commission of the Kurdistan Region and the equivalent Federal Commission in Baghdad.  WFD support has been instrumental in enabling the development of an anti-corruption strategy for the Kurdistan Region that can improve public trust in government across the region.

Previous attempts to produce a plan to tackle corruption failed due to the lack of engagement and coordination of the key institutions. Under the sponsorship of WFD, Iraqi Kurdish institutions mandated to fight corruption, have worked together for more than 12 months in harmony and produced a draft anti-corruption strategy which is about to be launched.

Central to the strategy is a commitment to improve the transparency of public institutions, promote an anti-corruption culture and introduce active coordination mechanisms for tracking and investigating corruption within different institutions. The strategy recognises the need for greater compliance with international standards and to involve civil society in the monitoring process.

Former Minister in Jordan and anti-corruption expert, Dr. Muhyieddeen Touq supported WFD in the assessment of the draft Anti-Corruption Strategy for the Kurdistan Region during a workshop held in Amman. Dr Touq described the strategy as one of the most advanced in the region, noting that this is particularly impressive given that this draft represents the first of its kind in the Kurdistan region.

“The draft strategy of the Kurdistan region includes methods on how to develop an action plan for the implementation phase”. Dr. Touq said.

“Developing a strategy from the bottom up provides opportunities for the wider society to contribute and means the development of the strategy will certainly support the implementation phase.”

The draft strategy has broad support among institutions in the Kurdistan Region, with the strategy steering committee integrated by members from the Parliamentary Committees of Integrity and Finance, Council of Ministries, Supreme Audit Board, Public Prosecutor and Commission of Integrity. This approach, promoted by WFD, ensures high level buy-in which in turns helps to ensure the likelihood of successful implementation and decrease of corruption.

The draft strategy adheres to high international standards and best practice and has benefited from the sharing of experience from the UK, the Iraq Federal Government, Jordan, Indonesia, and Kosovo; the strategy was also peer-reviewed by an expert from Palestine.

In addition to expert input, the steering committee undertook a broad consultation of key stakeholders, reaching out not only to institutions mandated to deal with corruption but also to a range of CSOs, activists, practitioner groups, academics, and journalists for their views and feedback. In addition to surveys, the steering committee held three focus group discussions with civil society. This policy of inclusion was noted as having long-term benefits by Dr Touq who said that “developing a strategy from the bottom up provides opportunities for the wider society to contribute and means the development of the strategy will certainly support the implementation phase”.

As a result of this broad consultation, the draft strategy adopts a multi-sectoral approach to tackling corruption, including specifically attributing a role for the political sphere in fighting corruption.

(Photo: Dr. Muhyieddeen Touq sharing his experiences with the delegation from Iraq and Kurdistan region CoIs, Amman, Jordan- 11 Jan 2017)
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Advancing research on democracy between theory and practice

Graeme Ramshaw, Director of Research and Evaluation

What image comes to mind when you think of ‘research’? A white lab coat? A tall stack of books? An Excel spreadsheet full of data? The truth is that people hold a lot of preconceptions around the word ‘research’ (to say nothing of related words like ‘theory’) and the role it has to play in democracy support programming. At WFD, we’re trying to break down some of these assumptions and encourage better dialogue between researchers and practitioners. This includes recognising that research has many contributions to make in informing the work of WFD and organisations like us.

“Research is what I’m doing when I don’t know what I’m doing”

Wernher von Braun

Practitioners never like admitting that they don’t know what they’re doing. But learning requires acknowledging mistakes. Indeed, emerging trends towards more adaptive approaches to development programming encourage a healthier relationship with failure and uncertainty. WFD is working with our partners the Overseas Development Institute (ODI) and DAI Europe to contextualise these lessons to parliamentary strengthening programmes. At our recent conference “Deliberating Democratisation,” this theme of acknowledging the limitations of our existing evidence and working with academics and others to push these boundaries further came across clearly.

“Research is formalised curiosity. It is poking and prying with a purpose”

Zora Neale Hurston

Oftentimes, however, we have an idea about what we’re looking for when we turn to research. Whether through activities or discussion, questions arise whose answers can only be found through careful and persistent enquiry. Over the past year, WFD has been interested in understanding more about how parliaments can protect and promote human rights; what are the trade-offs in designing parliamentary and political party support programmes; and why political parties in the Middle East and North Africa struggle to gain traction with citizens in the region. The answers we’ve found so far are available on our website, but we’ve got more ‘poking and prying’ to do. In the next year, we’re looking into the relationship between open parliament, transparency, and citizen trust; how to measure and benchmark parliamentary effectiveness in the context of the SDGs; the politics of decentralisation; and much more.

“Research is to see what everybody else has seen and to think what nobody else has thought”

Albert Szent-Gyorgyi

Innovation is always a popular buzzword. Everyone wants to find the next best thing. But research teaches us that old ideas are critical for progress. New ideas build on old ones, filling in gaps or refining the thinking to take it to a new level.  At WFD, our cost of politics research is not inherently new. But by assembling concepts in a way that no one else has done before we have added unique value. Likewise, our upcoming research into closing civil society space with our partners at the University of Birmingham takes an old concept and looks at it from new angle, analysing the processes and incentives that inform decision-making around CSO legislation.

In this intro piece, I’ve tried to show there is no single definition of research; everyone can find one that fits best. The articles that follow give further depth to some of the topics WFD has explored this year through its research and its events. I hope they inspire you to take risks, be curious, and find your own questions and your own answers. Happy researching!

Highlights: WFD research programme

Seeing democracy as an ecosystem By Anthony Smith, CMG

Shaping an innovative approach to adaptive programming in democracy assistance By Sarah Leigh Hunt Consultant in Governance at DAI Europe and Graeme Ramshaw Director of Research and Evaluation 

Are we measuring what really matters? By Susan Dodsworth, Research Fellow 

Closing civil society space in East Africa By Charlotte Egan, Africa Programme Officer

Access to politics: Cost as a barrier By Angie Melano, Research Assistant 

 

Photo: From top left: West Africa Cost of Politics conference, Deliberating Democratisation event and Closing Civil Society Space conference
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The Cost of Politics in West Africa: WFD regional conference

How do we make politics more affordable?

This is the central question WFD’s research into the cost of politics is tackling. The research programme, launched last July in London, will explore the issue in West Africa by convening the region’s experts at a conference in Nigeria on 31 January.

The conference will address the whole cycle candidates face – from securing nomination to campaigning and maintaining a parliamentary seat – and the associated costs individuals face at each stage of this journey.

The variations in social, cultural and political dimensions that exist between Nigeria, Ghana, Senegal and Sierra Leone will be examined with the aim of exposing the different contexts politicians must operate in, and the impact this has on the incentives which drive MPs.

“Because our work is political, it is most successful when there is political will – a factor commonly driven by incentives. What we’re learning is that a lot of these incentives are set well in advance and the cost of politics plays an important role in determining the incentives” WFD’s Regional Director for Africa, George Kunnath, explained.

To address the issue of incentives in the region, the event will focus on how existing regulations can be enhanced and the role political parties and the media play in shaping them.

The impact this phenomenon has on marginalised groups, such as women and youth, as well as the need for cross-border cooperation will be debated by leading experts from election management bodies, civil society, political parties, MPs, the media, academia and enforcement agencies. By facilitating cross-border learning and an exchange of best practice we hope to identify priority issues that can be addressed in the region, with the long-term aim of developing a regional action plan.

Going beyond an assessment of politicians and political parties, the conference will look at the role citizens and society play within this phenomenon and the broader impact this has on governance. In Ghana, George Kunnath explained “people have done the numbers and realised it is not worthwhile for them to get into politics” – especially when an MP is compelled to spend £750 a month supporting funerals in their communities. These ‘associated costs’ mean political life is intrinsically linked to corrupt practice, whether by securing re-election through the exploitation of state resources or the increased power that comes with the role.

Adebowale Olorunmola, WFD Country Representative for Nigeria, highlights trust as a major issue in the region. Contributing to WFD’s Cost of Politics report he illustrated the “gulf between the parties and people” that currently exists; a gulf created in part by the huge costs associated with selection but also by the motivations of current politicians who “get into political office to serve personal interests, leaving well-intentioned citizens, with ideas to move society forward, without access”.

For more information about WFD research click here. Follow WFD on Twitter for updates on the #CostofPolitics

 

(Above: Photo – Henry Donati captured citizens’ waiting to vote in Ghana’s most recent presidential elections as an Election Observer on the European Union Mission in December.)
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The Cost of Politics in Ukraine: Interview with Prof. Andriy Meleshevych

(Above: Photo: Valdemar Fishmen)

Money plays a central role in the political system; from selection costs to financing an election campaign, potential members of parliament often require great personal wealth to secure a seat at the decision-making table. Last July, WFD launched a series of research into the cost of politics in Europe and Africa.

Andriy Meleshevych, Professor at the National University of Kyiv-Mohyla Academy and author of the Cost of Politics research paper on Ukraine explains why this research is important.

Andriy, can you explain the key findings that emerged from the research on the Cost of Politics in Ukraine?

Political party finance is a controversial area in any country. In Ukraine, in the past no money was allocated in to the national budget for the purpose of public finance of political parties. Basically, nobody cared except several NGOs.

Currently we have budget money allocated to successful political parties; those represented in the parliament as a result of parliamentary elections. It is not much but it is still the first step. In fact, the first trench of money was transferred to some political parties recently. The Government also set up an enforcement mechanism; the National Agency of Corruption Prevention, which checks declarations submitted by political parties on their income and expenses. The most important thing in Ukraine is that not only the legislative framework has been adopted but the mechanism of its enforcement has been set up and the money was allocated in the national budget for this purpose.

Why do you think addressing this issue is so important for citizens’?

Nobody wants to live in a country that is corrupted, everyone would like to have some predictability, some rule of law in their country. It is much more convenient, calmer and comfortable to live in a country where you know what might happen to you tomorrow.

So, how does the cost of politics research fit into anti-corruption efforts more broadly?

Public finance of election campaigns and political parties is an extremely important issue. It is at the heart of the issue of power in a society: who holds this power, who has access to this power, in what ways such an access is guaranteed and provided, is it fair access or is it corrupted access. I think there are many faces of corruption, but political corruption especially in the top echelons of power determines the whole fabric of society.

You mentioned that new measures aimed at reducing corruption have been introduced – How did parliament react? Was there a lot of opposition?

The most recent elections to the Ukrainian Parliament took place two years ago and resulted in a significant refurbishment, or using political science terms; a major realignment of political forces in Ukraine. The political will of the majority of Ukrainian members of parliament to move closer to European institutions is one essential motivation and the other crucially important element is the role of civil society. All the major changes that I have described to you we have civil society to thank for. The Government without civil society pressure would be much slower.

Where there any surprises revealed by the research?

Yes, the amount of money involved in the electoral campaigns in Ukraine. I did not expect that they would cost so much. I expected it in the UK or the US but the amounts that aspiring politicians in Ukraine were paying for campaigns was comparable with the wealthiest European countries.

And what about the impact on sitting MPs – What costs do they face?

The Revolution of Dignity was a watershed in a way as before that members of parliament [saw being in parliament as] business. You get to the parliament, you invest money in your electoral campaign, you get access to the national budget. Then you lobby your interests, you introduce bills that somebody pays you to introduce and you make sure the bill is accepted, then you get rewarded by business: this is how Ukrainian politics worked.

After the Revolution of Dignity, the situation changed significantly. Salaries for members of the Ukrainian Parliament decreased to about 300 dollars per month, which is also ridiculous. How are you going to perform your duties if you are only making 300 dollars per month and the cost of living in Kyiv is pretty high? Currently it is getting to normal. They increased salaries to a realistic figure so people who came from civil society can survive in parliament. The civil society representatives who are currently members of parliament or joined public service didn’t come from business and they heavily rely on the money that they make as their salary.

And it’s very important to get the views of ordinary citizens represented in the parliament. It seems like there is a lot of progress being made – are you hopeful for the future?

I am hopeful because I see significant changes but what is very important is that society does not get disillusioned. We currently have very high levels of expectation in Ukraine. If society does not get disillusioned, then it can push the Government to do what civil society wants them to do in the interest of a democratic Ukraine. If these very useful anti-corruption laws are not implemented – and Ukraine is very skilled at not implementing good laws – then it will lead to instability, disillusionment in democratic changes, and perhaps even the loss of national sovereignty.

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