Principles for parliamentary assistance

These principles were prepared by Greg Power, Director of Global Partners & Associates for the OECD/DAC/GOVNET and presented to the Fourth Annual Donor Co-ordination Meeting on Parliamentary Support and the 16th Plenary Meeting of the OECD/DAC Network on Governance on 24-25 April 2012.

Parliaments perform a vital role in any system of representative democracy, but they play an especially important role in emerging democracies - not only in improving the quality of governance by ensuring transparency and accountability, but also in shaping the public’s expectations and attitudes to democracy. Parliaments are the single most important institution in overseeing government activity, scrutinising legislation and representing the public’s concerns to those in power. Their performance in holding government to account and engaging with voters will help to establish the norms and values in the early years of a democratic culture.

Although traditionally a small part of international support programmes, donors have paid greater attention to the role of parliaments in the last decade or so. Most support programmes usually seek to improve the effectiveness of the institution in one of their three key functions:

  • 1. Legislation: Assessment of the legislative function will be concerned with how well parliament scrutinises and amends bills, or whether it instead simply acts as a rubber-stamp for the executive.
  • 2. Oversight: Parliamentary oversight is the main means by which government is held to account; parliaments should ensure government departments are run efficiently and that ministers are regularly called to account for their actions, policies and spending.
  • 3. Representation: Parliament ultimately derives its legitimacy from its ability to represent and articulate public concern. Programmes tend to concentrate on the “representativeness” of parliament (how its make-up reflects wider society) and the extent to which MPs consult and engage with voters.
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