Parliaments in the Western Balkans are often seen as solely legislative bodies since they mainly focus on debates and legislation adoption. Oversight is often limited to budget oversight and very little effort is put into organising effective oversight over the law implementation processes.
Recently, parliaments in the Western Balkan region have been introduced to the concept of post-legislative scrutiny (PLS). The parliaments are familiarising themselves with PLS as a novelty: it broadens their oversight role, creates a new agenda, and sometimes also results in a new workload for staff and members of parliaments.
To present this new oversight concept, WFD organised a PLS webinar for parliaments of the Human Rights and Gender Equality Network of Committees in the Western Balkans (HUGEN). More than 60 members of parliaments and staff members had the opportunity to learn and share knowledge from the first five PLS reports which were created and published by individual parliaments during 2020.
Having in mind that PLS is a broad concept and that it might mean slightly different things for different parliaments and stakeholders globally, WFD issued a publication entitled “Post-Legislative Scrutiny in the Parliaments of the Western Balkans”. This publication was made to capture the interest, potential structures, procedures, and practices regarding any type of ex-post evaluation of legislation in the parliaments of the Western Balkans. It investigates the current practices in these parliaments when it comes to ex-post evaluation of legislation.
As Western Balkans’ parliaments continue to familiarise themselves with the PLS concept, they are faced with their existing boundaries in terms of capacities and expertise. For instance, human rights committees in the Western Balkans quite often lack the capacities to address all issues under their broad scope of competences. Most of the time, committees are devoted to passing legislation and very little effort is made to fulfil their oversight role. Furthermore, parliamentary committees do not usually have separate budgets or, if they do, these budgets are insufficient for hiring external experts or providing any assistance. This is highly important because members of parliamentary committees and staff members assigned to them do not have adequate knowledge and expertise in each case.
All eight parliaments analysed in the publication have the possibility to scrutinise individual laws which they select. Having said that, parliaments do have at their disposal a variety of individual oversight mechanisms and tools which could assist in implementing the PLS process (for instance posing oral or written questions, organising different types of hearings, etc.).
Even though none of the parliaments in the Western Balkan region have post-legislative scrutiny as a parliamentary mechanism incorporated in their regulations per se, they were in the position to conduct similar ex post activities which were primarily connected to the EU accession processes. However, these efforts were not structured and were not conducted on a permanent, sustainable, and long-term basis. One of the main reasons is that individual committees rely solely on the few staff members who are assigned to them.
To enhance oversight activities of the Western Balkans’ parliaments, WFD initiated a PLS pilot process with seven parliaments from the region in the beginning of 2020. This process was implemented as part of the HUGEN network activities. Relevant human rights and gender equality committees have selected seven specific pieces of legislation which were scrutinised. This pilot process presents a good step for assessing the complexity of the PLS mechanism and its potential applicability in the future. Some parliaments, such as the Parliament of Montenegro, have even advanced in this process as they have included recommendations from the PLS reports as part of their upcoming oversight activities to monitor their applicability and implementation.
As parliaments in the region continue to devote most of their time to the process of adopting legislation, it is important to further strengthen their oversight capacities. It is still uncertain whether PLS can be made part of official parliamentary practice and whether the outputs of parliamentary work related to PLS can improve. On this journey parliaments need assistance from different stakeholders to enhance their oversight capacities and WFD aims to support these efforts in order to achieve more effective and better implemented legislation.