The Westminster Foundation for Democracy (WFD) has commissioned this study as part of a research stream exploring how enhancing the collaborative relationship between Inde- pendent oversight institutions and Parliaments can strengthen democratic accountability and improve governance outcomes.
Independent oversight institutions are an increasingly important aspect of contemporary governance around the world. While certain independent oversight institutions, such as Supreme Audit Institutions, have a long history – in the case of the United Kingdom, several hundred years - the number and range of independent oversight institutions has burgeoned in the past thirty years, and some countries now have numerous independent oversight institutions, many reporting directly to parliament. Independent oversight institutions can strengthen the quality of democracy through providing specialised oversight of key aspects of governance; issues such as public financial management, respect for human rights, and the fight against corruption.
For institutions to be fully effective, however, they need to be effectively anchored within the overall governance process, so that their findings can be followed up to ensure that they are taken into account in reformed and improved programmes and policies.
There is a continuing discussion about how independent oversight institutions should be linked with the three main branches of the state, the legislature, the executive, and the judiciary. In some constitutional models, such as the Napoleonic model used in France for example, the supreme audit institution (SAI) is formally part of the judiciary. Some people have argued that independent oversight institutions should constitute a separate, fourth branch of the state.
However, in the majority of democratic systems, independent oversight institutions are fully or partially responsible to parliaments; members are chosen by parliamentarians, and reports are submitted for follow-up to parliament. Parliaments, through their constitutional responsibilities for oversight, have the mandate and authority to ensure that oversight insti- tutions’ recommendations are carefully reviewed by government and either implemented, or explanations provided as to why they should not be implemented.
Whatever specific constitutional definition of independent institutions is used, a productive relationship between parlia- ments and independent oversight institutions improves the quality and transparency of governance and makes the system more democratically accountable.
This study explores independent oversight institutions and their relationships with parliaments as a step towards under- standing how these relationships can be enhanced in order to strengthen both oversight institutions and parliaments. It explores the framework of institutions in a number of countries, looking at different types of models and their advantages and disadvantages. It concludes by proposing approaches that can help strengthen the relationship between parliaments and oversight institutions in different governance and institutional contexts.
The number and range of institutions is increasing world-wide, and is varied across countries. In order to focus the study, it looks mainly at three particularly common and important types of independent oversight institutions; supreme audit insti- tutions, anti-corruption institutions, and human rights institutions including ombudspersons with a human rights mandate.