Tynwald offers helping hand to Sierra Leone’s Parliament

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

“Hansard is behind, out-of-date, and only a historical record when it is finally produced,” say Musa L A Foullah, Editor of Debate, and Patience C Brown-Dawson, Stenographer from the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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(Above: Freetown, Sierra Leone)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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