This guide is an introduction to independent oversight institutions and their relationship with parliament. It addresses institutions’ mandates, leadership, reporting, and budgeting, from the perspective of parliaments with their role to establish, oversee, and collaborate with independent institutions in order to strengthen democratic governance
Legislatures are the cornerstones of democratic governance. They check and challenge the work of government, make and change laws and debate important issues.
Parliaments serve as a central gateway for all citizens to actively participate in public life. They also play a critical role in fragile and conflict affected states, bringing together divergent interests and fostering relationships among its members and the groups they represent.
WFD works with parliaments to promote inclusive and effective governance that strengthens policy making, holds government to account and represents people’s interests. Effective parliaments contribute to the rule of law, economic prosperity, improved social welfare and reduced violent conflict inside and among countries.
WFD’s long term aim is to see parliaments worldwide that are transparent, inclusive, engage the public in their work and are truly representative. After over 25 years operating at the forefront of democracy development, WFD has become a trusted partner of parliaments. This is because WFD’s approach is built on a deep understanding of local contexts, facilitated by working with local experts, and does not seek to impose any ready-made solutions or foreign ways of working.
The Foundation currently works with over 30 national parliaments around the globe.
We work at the national and sub national level to help legislatures be more representative, improve the quality of law making, and exercise adequate oversight of government policymaking, delivery, and financial management.
WFD offers access to British and international technical expertise, a long-term approach that fosters learning and makes use of the latest research, and flexibility to adapt programmes to meet emerging opportunities.
WFD is helping develop new, improved standards for parliamentary performance as well as encouraging parliaments to innovate. WFD, through its leadership of the Commonwealth Partnership for Democracy (CP4D), was integral to the drafting of an updated Recommended Benchmarks for Democratic Legislature for Commonwealth parliaments.
These benchmarks are now being promoted as a potential component of Sustainable Development Goal 16, as a way of measuring progress towards building effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels.
WFD is also researching the ways in which parliaments around the world are experimenting and adapting in a fast-changing world. WFD’s study on parliamentary innovation across the Commonwealth, developed through the CP4D programme, highlighted a range of practices including the use of technology to create greater transparency and participation.
Parliaments require effective and visionary leadership in order to serve as a central institution in a well-functioning democracy. This includes both political leaders (Speakers, Deputy Speakers, Committee Chairs, Heads of Party Caucuses) and administrative leaders (Clerks, Department Heads), who need to work together to provide direction and manage the business – and politics – of parliament.
WFD supports parliamentary leaders in a variety of ways. Peer to peer mentoring is a critical component of WFD’s support, and WFD mobilises British and international parliamentary leaders – active and former – to support its partners.
Strategic planning is increasingly recognised as critical to achieving long-term institutional development. Effective planning brings together political and administrative leaders to ensure a joint, coherent effort to developing greater capacity. WFD works with parliamentary leaders to develop strategic plans tailored to the local context that are Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, and Time Bound (SMART).
WFD most recently supported the Parliaments of Morocco, Jordan, Botswana and Venezuela to develop or update their strategic plans.
External communication is an increasingly important area of parliamentary support. Public knowledge about what parliaments do can be limited and negatively impact perceptions of democracy. We provide training for MPs and parliamentary support staff on the importance of engaging with the public, this can include developing a communications strategy or support on specific communications initiatives.
Parliamentary committees are the engines of legislatures, where the most serious scrutiny takes place and the logical entry point for citizens looking to engage in policy making.
Parliamentary committees are an important place for legislators to manage the business of parliament, consider policy issues, examine the work of government and draft and amend legislation, amongst other duties.
Chairs and deputy chairs of parliamentary committees and their senior clerks play a critical role in shaping the work of committees. WFD supports committee leaders in developing annual strategies and work plans, test out new approaches, and determine how best to engage key stakeholders such as government, civil society, citizens, media, and the private sector.
Conducting effective scrutiny often requires committees to undertake some form of public hearing. The UK’s approach to select committee hearings is widely respected as impactful, transparent, and inclusive, and the Foundation actively shares this experience around the world.
WFD is also encouraging committees to undertake more innovative approaches to conducting hearings and collecting citizen input, whether through mobile committee hearings or experimenting with citizen assemblies and juries.
WFD supports committees working on a wide range of issues, including the extractive industry, human rights, the environment, gender equality
This work often overlaps with the support we provided to civil society organisations, where we connect them with relevant committees.
Ensuring tax payers money is spent efficiently by government is a primary role of parliament. Analysing the numbers, comparing levels of spend between different departments and debating where the money should be spent often falls to a dedicated parliamentary committee.
WFD’s approach shares the knowledge and experience of the UK Public Accounts Committee – the cross-party group of MPs who analyse and question government spending and work closely with the National Audit Office – with counterparts overseas. We also support the establishment of dedicated parliamentary services to provide technical advice within parliaments.
Parliaments need the right skills to play a more active and rigorous role scrutinising and challenging budget proposals. Many parliaments have established parliamentary budget offices or other such in-house expertise to provide independent financial and economic analysis.
Parliaments often focus on passing new laws, while checking on the implementation of laws is an added luxury.
Post-Legislative Scrutiny (PLS) is the parliamentary practice used to monitor the implementation of legislation, ensuring laws benefit constituents in the way originally intended.
PLS is particularly relevant when it comes to matters of gender equality – where globally substantial legislation has been passed, but many laws are not being implemented – and addressing outdated laws that remain from the colonial era.
Parliamentarians and parliaments as institutions need top of the range support to do their jobs effectively. Much of our parliamentary work engages the staff working behind the scenes to ensure MPs have the research and information they need to carry out their work.
WFD’s work in this area includes support to ensure the parliamentary record is kept up to date, establishing dedicated parliamentary research centres and institutions that provide financial analysis.
There are a growing number of women legislators in many parts of the world, driven in part by the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) and its 30% minimum threshold for women’s representation. However progress towards gender equality is uneven globally, and increasing numbers of women in office rarely leads to real changes in policy making on its own.
WFD supports women parliamentarians by helping them develop their leadership skills through training, mentoring, and practical, hands-on joint working. The Foundation supports women’s parliamentary caucuses as important mechanisms for encouraging cross-party collaboration in driving meaningful policy change.
WFD provides parliamentary partners with operational options to integrate gender and equality analysis throughout all aspects of parliamentary business, including the legislative, oversight and budgeting processes. We also help parliaments identify ways in which they can function better as a place of work for women and men, as well as providing a safe and accessible space for all citizens to be part of their systems of government.
As the involvement of parliaments in the ex–post stage of law making remains under-theorised, the Westminster Foundation for Democracy has just released a new publication, providing an analysis of the main rules, practices and trends on PLS in Europe, focusing on the experience of seven national parliaments: Belgium, Germany, France, Italy, Sweden, Switzerland and the […]
Parliaments can develop four focused work streams to reduce corruption: enacting legislation, establishing codes of conduct, conducting effective oversight, and forming relationships with indepdendent oversight institutions.