At the Westminster Foundation for Democracy we are funded from the 0.7% aid budget that the UK government enshrined in legislation last year, a topic that will be discussed in Parliament this week.
At WFD, we are proud of aid. And there are many reasons why the UK public should feel proud of this commitment too.
WFD’s vision, the universal establishment of legitimate and effective multi-party democracy, in the long-term, is part of the solution to sustained economic and social development. That is why we invest in parliaments, parties and civil society, as they are the institutions that must work together to deliver change to vital public services like health and education. So here are five reasons why good governance is a good use of British taxpayers’ money.
1. Good governance matters.
Especially with the advent of Goal 16 of the Sustainable Development Goal – which calls for inclusive and effective governance – good governance has been cemented in the international agenda. At WFD we understand the benefits offered by good governance and democracy (a word controversially missing from SDG16). Effective parliaments which contain competing political parties that engage with civil society have a fundamental responsibility for ensuring that services often provided by aid are actually delivered: health, sanitation, education. Increasing the accountability of a country’s institutions and the willingness of its parliamentarians to represent the interest of citizens is at the heart of WFD’s approach, and can be demonstrated through our focus on financial oversight and our work with parliamentary committees.
2. We are building sustainable change…
By working to strengthen institutions within parliaments that will continue to operate beyond the end of our programmes, your money goes further. In Jordan, WFD established a Research Centre which will be fully independent by the end of 2018. Providing evidence to parliamentarians that improves their ability to make decisions informed by evidence on issues important to citizens – like health, sanitation and education – is a crucial part in any democracy. Likewise, in Ukraine, the establishment of the Financial Economic Analysis Office, which provides parliamentarians with evidence on public spending, will continue to operate in the Verkona Rada after the WFD programme ends.
3. At a relatively low cost…
Our work is about bringing people together to learn about the British experience of democracy. We have learnt you do not have to spend huge sums of money to make a difference to people’s lives. We utilise the goodwill of staff from across all UK institutions to share best practice with their counterparts overseas who have not been exposed to the same systems and methodologies. Our new programme in Sierra Leone, for example, is benefiting from the Isle of Man Parliament’s offer to clear the backlog of the Sierra Leone Parliament’s Hansard. The Head of the Scottish Parliament’s Budget Office has mentored his Serbian counterpart after WFD helped establish a similar office in the Serbian parliament this year. This type of support is priceless, and it really matters: solid records of parliamentary debate and parliamentarians who are scrutinising spending are essential for public accountability in countries transitioning to democracy.
4. … in cooperation with local partners…
WFD have an in-country presence for all our parliamentary and integrated programmes. This helps us understand the local context and develop lasting partnerships with grassroots organisations. In Uganda, for example our Country Representative, Dorine, understands the issues that matter to women and girls in her community. And she uses this insight to develop successful partnerships with CSOs tackling violence against women and girls in Uganda. The Women’s Parliament WFD hosted last year brought together grassroots CSOs to discuss the issues that impact women’s and girls’ lives in Uganda. Our new programme in Macedonia is working with local CSOs to improve their advocacy and lobbying skills, which can put on the parliamentary agenda issues that are important to citizens such as the benefits available to families with children with disabilities.
5. … to advance the British national interest.
Building strong democratic culture overseas has many benefits directly for the UK, and the rest of the world too. Democracies protect human rights at many levels: an active civil society defends the most vulnerable, competitive political parties ensure that discriminatory legislation does not make it on the agenda, and parliamentary committees are able to effectively call to account government policy that does. Effective democracies represent all elements of society and bring them together, in a peaceful way, to solve problems through debate, not violence. Aid spent fostering democratic values has the added benefit of encouraging peace and a respect for universal human rights.