Strengthening parliamentary capacity for effective governance in Laos

Laos Parliament building

Strengthening parliamentary capacity for effective governance in Laos

Parliaments are key institutions whose functions such as debating, legislating, scrutiny, and oversight strengthen democracy. WFD has been helping the Laos National Assembly and Provincial People’s Assemblies (PPAs) to perform core functions of a legislature through providing support in three key areas.

The National Assembly (NA) of the Lao People’s Democratic Republic (PDR) is the representative of the rights, powers, and interests of the multi-ethnic people of Laos. The assembly has the role of making decisions on fundamental issues of the nation, overseeing activities of the executive organs and other state agencies, as well as making laws. From December 2021, WFD partnered with the Citizen Engagement for Good Governance, Accountability, and the Rule of Law (CEGGA) programme. The partnership – through a grant from GIZ – supported the Laos NA and Provincial People’s Assemblies (PPAs) to perform core functions of a legislature.

These functions include the review and development of quality legislation and practices, as well as operating in a more inclusive manner. To achieve these, WFD provided technical and advisory assistance that responds to the needs of the NA and the PPAs. The key areas of focus were: enhancing the capacity of their members and staff on post-legislative scrutiny, financial accountability, and developing a petition management tool/system. These three areas of focus are crucial in strengthening the National Assembly of the Lao PDR in the execution of its functions, as well as the PPAs.

In Laos, People’s Provisional Assemblies (PPAs) are the representative state bodies closest to the citizens. The core mandate of PPAs is to: represent people of the 18 provinces in Laos with a view of their rights and interests; initiate, deliberate, and adopt provincial legislation; and to oversee the work and performance of the provincial authorities.

Streamlining legislation and budget scrutiny

The Law Committee is one of the nine committees of the National Assembly of Lao PDR. The committee plays a key role in the review and scrutiny of bills as well as raising public awareness around legislation. Although the committee is increasingly active in performing these functions, there was still room to improve the capacity of the committee members to match comparative good standard. To this effect, the committee has developed a post-legislative scrutiny (PLS) manual with WFD’s technical input.

The manual is an operational tool that is helping the Law Committee to streamline the practice of evaluating the implementation and impact of laws to ensure that laws benefit citizens in the way they were intended to. The development of the manual came after a series of workshops that culminated with a piloting session of the guide. Following a series of technical discussions and consultations with WFD’s in-house experts, the National Assembly issued a resolution to enforce the PLS practice. The Law Committee is geared up to using the PLS manual as part of their regular parliamentary business.

A person addressing a group sitting in a meeting
PLS piloting session from 29th September to 1st October 2022 at Viengkham District, Vientiane Province.

The Planning, Finance and Audit Committee (PFAC) is another NA committee that scrutinises the state budget and public spending. To help the committee improve its financial oversight functions, WFD provided technical assistance to the committee members and staff. This was through: (1) facilitating a seminar that enabled the sharing of international experiences in gender-responsive budgeting and financial oversight, and (2) the review of the National Assembly financial oversight manual and tools. The result was an improved budget oversight manual with a parliamentary perspective recommended, and a gender-responsive budgeting section created by a WFD expert in conjunction with the PFAC members. 

A more efficient petitions managing process

The NA Justice Committee-led petitions system serves a significant role in raising awareness around issues of public concern within the legislature and the executive. The system is one of the key mechanisms for judicial redress aimed at protecting citizens’ rights. However, the increasing number of incoming petitions annually necessitated an upgrade of the administrative and management processes. To help with this, WFD in consultation with the Justice Committee worked with the Petitions Office staff. The technical assistance provided by WFD’s international and local experts helped in improving the petition database and management system for more efficiency. The improved tool is now more user friendly, making the Petitions Office more responsive and effective.

This is not the first time WFD has worked with the NA and PPAs in Laos. The 11-month long GIZ funded project builds on the work WFD has been doing to strengthen the capacity the NA and PPAs since 2016. Currently, WFD in Laos is also implementing another programme that supports the NA Justice and Law Committees and select PPAs’ members and staff. Among other objectives, the programme – which runs to July 2023 – is helping in the review and development of quality legislation. February 2022 saw the conclusion of another programme that was helping the NA in taking steps towards building a gendered perspective into key aspects of parliamentary business.