E-discussion: The Challenges and Needs of First-Time Parliamentarians

To mark the launch of Arabic Portal, AGORA will be organising an E-discussion on 'The Challenges and Needs of First-Time Parliamentarians' launching March 1st till April 12th.  This page will offer a daily recap of the discussion as it progresses.  

You can share your views and experiences by logging into the AGORA Trusted Area where the discussion is available live, or by sending us your comments at info@agora-parl.org.  If you are not yet a member of the AGORA Trusted Area, you can sign up here.  

To find out more about this topic and consult the Background Note developed for this E-discussion, please click here.  

LAUNCH MESSAGE

New parliaments in the Arab states region often lack the human and financial resources needed to support first-time parliamentarians.  Very few are able to offer induction programs or other forms of training, and little time is available to deal with the concerns and questions of these new representatives.  Given the exceptionally challenging circumstances under which these first-time parliamentarians enter into parliament, there is an increasing demand for ways and methods to enlarge their understanding, build on their knowledge and capacities, and generally enable them to perform their new tasks to the best of their abilities. 

This discussion invites first-time parliamentarians to voice their needs and provides them with a learning platform to exchange knowledge and experiences.  To enrich the debate and take the first necessary steps towards a constructive learning process, the participation and feedback of experienced parliamentarians, as well as experts and practitioners, is highly encouraged.  

Finally, while this discussion takes place in the context of the Arab States’ democratic transition, we warmly welcome contributions and questions from first-time parliamentarians from around the globe.  This discussion is held in English, French and Arabic and is open to all those that feel this topic speaks to their experiences or needs. 

The discussion centers on the following questions:

  1. What are the main challenges that face the first-time parliamentarian?
  2. What are the main skills, capacities and knowledge a parliamentarian needs to acquire to perform the various parliamentary functions (legislative, representative, oversight, and budgeting)?  How can the efforts of their respective parliaments to strengthen these capacities be improved, and what role (if any) can local and international organisations play in this?  
  3. How do parliamentarians make optimal use of the available human and financial resources at their disposal to improve their knowledge of the Rules of Procedures, the relevant legal frameworks and the daily workings of parliament?   

Beyond these specific questions, we invite you to share any specific knowledge publications, tools or tips that could prove useful to first-time parliamentarians.  The AGORA Portal will shortly launch a new section on this subject and would be thrilled to share your inputs. 

 

DAILY RECAP

Friday, February 27th 2013

Comment by Kevin Deveaux

First of all, I am glad to see AGORA tkaing the initiative on this important issue.  It is critical that there be a more comprehensive and consistent approach to the induction of new MPs. 

New MPs face many challenges, but to note one, I would suggest, from my experience, that the change in lifestyle and working conditions is quite overwhelming.  You immediately become very popular and are receiving e-mails, texts and calls from constituents and other interested parties.  An MPs reputation can quickly be made (or not) in how they deal with these issues and how quickly they respond.  

So, MPs require good listening skills, more than any other skill.  They also require the ability to take what hey hear and aggregate it into an idea or a policy change that can be used when they are in parliaments (i.e. - a question to a Minister, an amendment to a draft law).  

It is also important that a new MP listen and observe more senior MPs from their parliamentary group.  Mentoring by senior MPs is critical to ensure the new MPs gain an understanding of the unwritten rules and customs in the chamber, as well as the written rules.  

But I am curious to hear from others and their experiences.  I look forward to a good discussion.  

 

Monday, March 4th 2013

Comment by Lam Dang:

The challenges of first-time parliamentarians are shared around the world. The first thing is to realize that the role of a parliamentarian is two-fold: one is to represent constituents and the other is to provide national leadership as a body, and the two roles may at time be contradictory. Now, I believe most first-time parliamentarians get there out of the belief to make a difference for their constituents, to provide a voice. But a parliament is much more than a soap box or an internet blog. Once the excitment of delivering a few speeches cool off then the challenges really begin. The problem is that everything that parliaments does affect everybody in the nation. This is where the second role comes in. To vehemently defend one's position or one's constituents' position at the risk of complete political deadlock does not do anyone any good (anyone in Washington reading this?).

In addition a parliament is governed by rules. A 'newbie' should know that most parliamentary decisons are reached by manipulating rules -- what gets on the agenda, who gets to talk, for how long. A mastery of these rules insure that your message gets delivered. These rules are arcane but must be mastered. I have seen many orators shut down by a more senior member's motion to rule out of order. And some bills never get out of committee because the new member does not know how to make the proper motions. This is irrespective of the merit of the speech or the measure.

A member should know to ask for help, from senior members or the technical staff. A little humility helps. Oftentimes the newly elected member may feel that he/she is now part of the policy elite and knows everything. This is of course reinforced by the deference shown to them.

Unfortunately one's IQ or knowledge does not increase because of the election.

Anyway, just a few thoughts to start the discussions.

 

Wednesday, March 6th 2013

Comment by Anthony Tsekpo:

The challenges notwithstanding New MPs have the a great opportunity and platform to contribute to the shaping of development in their Countries and beyond. Experience suggests that the New MPs will maximize this opportunity by mastering the rules of the platform of parliament. The must cultivate and build rapport with the senior staff of their parliaments; they are the memory of Parliament. Experience Secretariat staff like very experienced MPs can assist the New MPs to assimilate the rules of procedure and guide them on conventions which have emerged in parliament but not documented as yet in the rules of procedure.   

In addition many the New MPs must quickly develop the skills of information gathering and processing. This is important because the parliaments have significant resource constraints and are not able to provide the all the needed staff (particularly research staff) support. Thus, the ability of MPs to quickly identify where and how to obtain factual information is key to their performance since parliamentary rules do not allow speculation but the presentation verifiable facts. Internet skills and ability to identify useful databases and search engines is key; also their ability to identify and hobnob with reputable CSOs and think thanks is important who are producing good research and information. Caution, New MPs must learn to specialize in select subject areas to be effective in the contributions in parliament.  

With respect to budget scrutiny and oversight duties, MPs must seek information about the processes of public budgeting from institutions in the executive arm of government. Training institutions in the area of public administration are particularly good sources. Understandpublic budgeting processes and procedures will make it possible New MPs not only to play their oversight role but will also provide them opportunity to know when to lobby for the inclusion of the needs of their constituents in the budget. MPs must know that in the parliamentary system by the time the budget arrives in Parliament it will be difficult for them to start identifying opportunities for taking care of their local needs.  

 

Friday, March 8th 2013

Comment by David Payne:

Orientation Seminars for first time parliamentarians have become standard practice in many emerging parliaments (as well as established parliaments). But they have limited value in as much as they usually last no more than a few days, and bear little value in the long term. The needs of the new MP are not only technical (what are the Rules of Procedure, Constitution, Immunity and Privileges etc) but experiential. They look for ways and means to influence policy (Question to Ministers; techniques to amend Bills in Committee etc). And the latter takes more than a few days. That's which mentoring is much more relevant to the new MP. I agree with Kevin... One-on-one or small groups I find is more effective and more appropiated. 

External technical support - presuming it is objective and non-partisan - is very useful, since it can provide expertise that helps an MP reconcile the need for her/his independent judgement on issues and the need to answer to the solidarity needs of the party or faction. This is the biggest challenge I think. And it only comes with time, and hard earned experience.

 

Comment by Lam Dang:
(original in French available at https://agora.trustedarea.net/ediscussions/discussion-electronique-les-defis-et-les-besoins-propres-aux-parlementaires-elus-pour-la-premiere-fois):

With the adoption of the electoral law in Egypt, the world is watching parliamentary developments across the Arab States with great interest.  Egypt, Libya and Lebanon are due to hold parliamentary elections, among others.  For first-time parliamentarians, it is important to really understand the different roles of parliament: passing legislation, overseeing the executive, and most importantly, adopting the budget.  

The picture used as illustration of this e-discussion is one of the Assemblée nationale in Paris, I believe – for French speakers this image is a reminder of the heyday of the French parliamentary tradition and the Declaration of Human Rights.  Perhaps the Arab Spring will lead to a new heyday for parliaments around the world. 

Particularly interesting with regard to Egypt’s new law is the reservation of a third of all seats for independents, which should lead to more room for individual thought rather than party rule.  This evolution bears watching.  

 

Tuesday, March 12th 2013

Comment by Lotte Geunis:

I would like to pick up on some of the insightful comments made by previous participants. Mr Tsekp refers to the need for parliamentarians to specialise in select subject areas if they are to be effective in their contributions - I think this is a crucial point. First-time parliamentarians who are able to carve out a 'niche' for themselves are in a good position to take the floor, push for proposals and share criticisms on matters relating to that niche. This can then land him or her the visability and support needed to take the floor in other matters. A first-time parliamentarian summed it up quite well: 'it's all about entry points'.

Secondly, as pointed out by several other participants, knowledge is key but often difficult to obtain. There's a huge amount of information to take in, and - for various reasons - the available support staff and services may fall short of providing the goods. It's important to know where to turn, and this is where Civil Society Organisations can be instrumental. Parliamentarians who are able to connect with strong CSOs can get a lot of the legwork done for them as far as reseach is concerned, as they often have a good understanding of what is important to (local) communities.

Finally, the importance of networking cannot be understated, especially for first-time women parliamentarians. Women have been a driving force of the Arab Spring, but so far they are facing disappointing results when it comes to representation in parliamentary institutions. Those who have obtained a seat, or will obtain one in those elections still to come, face challenges that can only be met with the support from other (women) parliamentarians. Only by cultivating strong and reliable relationships with peers, CSOs, think tanks and other relevant actors can they position themselves to deliver on the promises of the Arab Spring. I would recommend the iKNOW Politics women's network (www.iknowpolitics.org) as a good starting point for those looking to connect with others working in the region.

 

Comment by David Payne:

Indeed, I fully concur that it is a good idea for new legislators to resist the temptation to be a master of all political issues before their Legislatures. In fact my first PM (Quebec, Canada) strongly encouraged us (as newly elected MPs, many years ago) to try to master one area of interest, and become an expert in that area.

In this question, (as Lotte points out also) NGOs and civil society in general can provide massive leverage and credibility to a new legislator's knowledge. After all most of them exist because of their specialized interest and knowledge. They have often collected precious research, and have development a network. New Legislators can get ahead fast by keeping an open mind and connecting to the interest groups of her or his taste. I have just returned from an extended mandate in Somalia - assisting the newly convened parliament. And I was very impressed by the energy of the women. They had no difficulty in speaking up (though equal recognition and status is by no mean a reality, and perhaps never will.) The women drive so many of NGO and CS initiatives.

 

Thursday March 14th 2013

Comment by Dan Wandera Ogalo:

A new legislator particularly in Africa is faced with many challenges.

First, the voter does not understand his role. Whereas billions of dollars have been poured by Europe and America in Africa various sectors of governance, civic education of voters is ignored. The new legislator must therefore assume the role of an educator of his role. It is not likely to yield much but at least a seed is planted.

Second, having promised heaven and earth during campaigns namely construction of roads, provision of clean water, basic primary health care, improved agriculture ecetra, the new legislator soon realizes that he or she cannot deliver on the promises. He or she cannot go back to the constituency and say “oh you see, it is the Executive branch to provide what I promised. Please forgive me”.  That won’t work. The new legislator must plunge in lobbying and begging ministers, non-governmental organizations, civil society organizations, foreign embassies and so on.

Third, the new legislator has to establish himself or herself on the national scene. Catch the eye of the powerful ministers. This is done by debating from an informed position. Do research and earn respect from senior ministers. This will help in lobbying for constituency services. The alternative is to choose to be a sycophant simply praising every cabinet minister and heckling those opposing the ministers. In Africa this can be very helpful. It is not intellectually satisfying but in an arena of patronage, a heckler can get far.

Fourth a member should spend the first two months watching how old members are debating and handling themselves. Learn from them before, venturing into serious debate. Use the first two months on simple matters such as seeking eludication or giving information to a member holding the floor. There is nothing like being belittled in the first month. It may frighten the member and make him or her quit debate for the rest of his or her stay in parliament.

Fifth, master the rules of procedure of the House. You are going nowhere if you do not master the rules especially those relating to debate in plenary and the budget.

Sixth, identify a position of leadership you want to ascend to and work towards it. Chairmanship of a committee exposes you to many advantages. But don’t rush for leadership. Work quietly toward it.

Seventh belong to as many caucuses and parliamentary associations as possible. It will allow you build networks and give you the confidence you need to succeed as a parliamentarian.

Eighth, keep in constant touch with the voters. Hold meetings in the constituency as much as possible. Use the meetings to brief voters what is happening at national level and also to listen to their grievances. When in parliament speak out these grievances. Above all make sure the voters learn that you have spoken their grievances.

Nine, do not, do not attempt to use your salary and emoluments to carry out development projects in your constituency. It is not sustainable. It will only cause you bankruptcy, domestic problems and an unsatisfied constituency.

Ten, attend to the business of the House promptly. Do not absent yourself from plenary or committees you are required to attend

 

Friday March 15th 2013

Comment by Franklin De Vrieze:

Having analyzed how newly elected MPs have started their parliamentary mandate in a couple of parliaments, I would like to stress the importance of quality assistance to the newly elected MPs, in particular during the first 3 to 6 months. During these initial months, and in addition to what the colleagues have written above, I would like to mention three issues which are vital for the start of a parliamentary mandate.

1. Practice and precedents. An induction program for newly elected MPs can help them to better understand the rules of procedure of the parliament. As important, probably even more important, is the insight into the political culture in the parliament, the practices and precedents. Every parliament has its particular "battles" around inquiry committees, constitutional revisions, etc, ... To know the background why certain issues were strongly contested, accepted or rejected is vital to understand how parliamentary rules of procedures are applied and which precedents exist. Party colleagues can inform newly elected MPs as well as heads of legal departments of parliaments.

2. Create learning opportunities. Newly elected MPs will be offered to participate in induction programs which often last for 1 to 3 or 4 days. In addition, MPs need to search for additional learning opportunities.They can organize visits to the Auditor General, Supreme Court, Anti-Corruption Agency and others. These visits create networking opportunities which can be critical to obtain the right informations during some of the proceedings in the committees. Other learning opportunities can be found at international level and online platforms, e.g. we have observed how some newly elected parliamentarians in Kosovo were very active on parliamentary development websites and e-discussions and thus managed to get up to speed quickly within the 2nd or 3th month of their mandate.

3. Carefully plan your first media performance. For newly elected MPs, their first performance on nation-wide media is of utmost importance. "a first impression one makes only once". Once a newly elected MP has chose on which topic he or she will specialize, careful advise is appropiate on how to approach media with this topic, as for newly elected MPs this will create the public identity of the MP. Advise from party colleagues and/or media department of parliament can help newly elected MPs to choose the topic and the occasion/moment to enter the nation-wide media scene. 

Introducing newly elected MPs to the job of parliamentarian goes beyond the induction program as such. The three issues mentioned above are examples of this, although there might be more of them.

 

Saturday March 16th 2013

Comment by Tahir Hanfi:

The new legislators should reach the archives of debate and legislation done before them as by enriching themselves through work done will make a very solid foundation. for the purpose the role of Library and research division of the respective parliament plays key role. Furthermore the online information and parliamentary think-tanks such as AGORA and IPU also form basis of good learning opprtunities.

 

Monday March 18th 2013

Comment by Donna Bugby-Smith:

In my experience of working with Parliaments, I have seen that a great deal of emphasis is placed on the induction seminar but it would be near impossible to cover all the topics in week or two week seminar! The induction of the new Parliament needs to be seen in a broader context in other words the start of a continuous professional development plan for MPs. Such things as comiling detailed records of the work undertaken by the prior Parliamentary Committees, helps create both an institutional memory of the work of the Parliament but it also helps ensure that new Committees do not start from "zero" - they can see what the Committees did or didn't achieve, have information about key contacts (academia, civil society or think tanks etc), to assist the Committee and how their work was viewed by the Executive. This helps add more flesh about the role which they would have learnt about during the induction seminar. Planning training/skills development events on a continuous and ongoing basis will also help improve the overall skills of the legislators. Of course every parliament has its own unique features so it is important to plan well in advance for the incoming legislators many who will be complete "novices" so by working with the institution - the parliamentary service/administration will provide a firm foundation to help enhance the overall effectiveness of the parliament. Undoubtedly there will be challenges and issues associated with resourcing but by adopting a more holistic approach beyond the initial induction seminar for MPs, will help foster broader effects towards institutional strengthening and indeed reflect the fact that MPs have to acquire a whole range of new skills once elected.

 

Comment by Sergiu Galitchi:

Challenges: One of the biggest challenges for the first-time parliamentarians is to find a balance of personal, party and state interest. Another challenge is the lack of specific knowledge regarding legislative procedures, budgeting (especially gender budgeting), and oversight of government. More than that, being a MP means participation in different public events: TV shows, debates, roundtables, conferences etc. All these require specific communication knowledge, especially when a bunch of journalist with microphones and cameras are asking many times difficult and sensitive questions. Nowadays speaking two or more languages besides your native one is a must for being a successful politician. Knowledge of foreign languages will allow the first-time parliamentarians to have a better justification for a bill (using best European or international practices), speak with national minorities or international partners, and in the end have a small-talk during a reception which is important for networking. And the last but not the least important challenge is to learn when and how to meet constituents' expectations, which are always very high.

Tools: Availability of a Welcome package - Handbooks on different topics for instance on legislative procedures and parliamentary oversight. An induction programme for first time MPs is a good example of how MPs can be familiarized with different aspects of parliamentary activity, internal structure, committee work etc. It is important to invite experienced MPs which would share their knowledge and lessons learned regarding the role of legislator and parliament's functionality. The experienced MPs have to play the role of mentors for the first-time parliamentarians at least during 3 months. The mentorship has to be organized within the parliamentary groups.

Personal assistants - this people usually are hired based on personal MPs recommendation. Being a MP means a lot of work and activities to take part in. A well organized team of personal assistants makes the MP successful and representative. That is why these people should be well educated, organized, pro-active and devoted to their MPs. Though, the personal assistants might be inexperienced as well. The parliamentary staffers could offer regular briefings on different issues to update and refresh the knowledge of MPs.

 

Monday March 25th 2013

Comment by Rajinder Jhol

Thank you for the question and thank you all for the many comments and thoughts on the needs of first time parliamentarians with respect to drafting new legislation especially the national constitution as it is the case in the Arab Spring nation states.

My first observation in what’s happening in Tunisia is that parliamentarians are rather silent in communicating their tasks, outcomes, timelines, measures and resources. Lots of effort has been launched by civil society organization to gain more transparency in this complex process. In Tunisia, given the silence of the parliamentarians, a civil constituent assembly was formed to lobby for civil society empowerment and call for open process for the deliberations. A few other NGOs and journalists tried to be present at each of the constituent assembly meetings to get out the documents produced for communication back to the civil society, but most of this efforts have been in vain and have had little attention by the elected parliamentarians. So what is happening? Well, lots of discussion is happening on the Internet namely on Facebook and twitter, many rumors, hear-say that had only helped to fire the non-communication and breakdown in civil society – parliamentarian relationship. Please note, that the revolution is not over, little or no documents of valid structure have been produced and the light at the end of the tunnel is still too weak to call this process a success.

What we have done is to produce a Facebook-like website where we list hundreds of different constitutions from different countries and states for parliamentarians and civil society members to have an open discussion. (see full list of currently available countries here: http://www.karari.org/fr/constituencies). 

We believe that civil societies in these nations are highly interested in publically interacting with the thoughts and decisions of the parliamentarians. We believe that this process can be an open process where both civil society members and parliamentarians can work with the same or similar palette of tools over the internet and supporting via offline workshops that can be organized to share and produce the content require for successful civil society- parliamentarian co-production of legislation like the national constitution. Furthermore, this can help to increase the number of ideas and urgent matters and reduce the risks of referendum failure when presenting the final draft documents to the general public.

We are currently seeking expert parliamentarians and knowledge experts to support us as we continuously promote our tool and further develop the tool functionalities to tailor make solutions for parliamentarians and civil society members around the world especially to post-arab spring nation states.

Should you wish you learn more or participate in any form, please do not hesitate to contact me directly atrajinderjhol@gmail.com. 

Best day to you

 

 

 

Thursday March 28th 2013

Comment by Susanne Hedberg

The article “President Mahama urges Parliament to make use of former MPs” might be of interest to You and for this discussion.  Ghana’s President John Dramani Mahama has appealed to the leadership of Parliament of the Fouth Republic and other stakeholders to use the expertise and experience of former MPs as much as possible. He said that “The former Members of Parliament and their forum serves a store house of knowledge which we all need to tap their expertise and experience to propel our development agenda in all sectors of life in the country.”

You can find the article here: http://www.ghanabusinessnews.com/2013/03/20/president-mahama-urges-parliament-to-make-use-of-former-mps/

 

Friday April 5th 2013

Comment by Jill Kyatuheire

Evidence indicates that more and more of the electorate are gaining interest in the governance affairs of their countries. MPs are currently more than ever being put to task to deliver on their roles up to the expectations of the people who elected them to power. This has caused a big number of MPs to lose their seats come the next election due to poor performance. It has also contributed to high attrition rates in most parliaments especially in Africa with up to about 65% turnover for every new election.  

This notwithstanding, MPs most of whom are first timers are drawn from different academic and social back grounds therefore making a very strong case of proper induction. We also know that whereas other professions such as lawyers, medical doctors and others benefit from undergoing a gruesome period of training in preparation for their tasks in that particular profession, MPs do not have this privilege. They are expected to perform these huge tasks of representation, legislation and oversight immediately after assuming office. Actually in Uganda, new parliamentary terms begin at a time when the country is expecting the national budget to be presented by the Ministry Of Finance And Economic Planning. This means that the newly elected MPs nose dive into the budget process almost immediately.  

While the above makes good background and justification for MPs induction, it is paramount that the induction is done in a professional way, carefully selecting the important topics to be considered and the most appropriate resource persons to facilitate this process. Whereas it is important that the induction seminar focuses more on first time MPs, it is equally important that reelected MPs are fully engaged because we all know that issues that face one parliament are different from those that face the subsequent parliaments.

However, capacity building (training) for MPs should be a continuous process. You will realize that there is so much an MP needs to learn to enhance his/her ability to perform effectively. Issues of good governance, constitutionalism and the constitution, parliamentary practices and procedures, parliamentary privileges, immunities and etiquette, multiparty politics, how committees work, human rights and the rule of law, regional parliaments and their collaborations etc etc. The induction seminar can only introduce these topics and briefly discuss their concepts but MPs need to continuously undergo periodic training on each of the most important aspects of their duties in smaller, and much more focused meetings. This is where institutions such as the Parliamentary Study Centers (PSC) come in handy to coordinate and deliver such trainings. PSCs are institutions owned by parliaments that are tasked to handle capacity gaps with in the parliament for both MPs and staff. They are training institutions mandated to periodically assess capacity needs within parliaments and design courses that can be internally delivered to address these gaps. Evidence from countries that have established PSCs such as Kenya, Nigeria, India, Mozambique, Uganda among others, show that it is a cost effective, more productive and self-sustaining way of building parliaments capacity to perform.

 

Comment by Ahmed Jazouli

(original in Arabic available at https://agora.trustedarea.net/ediscussions/ar)

Newly elected men and women parliamentarians often come from different backgrounds. Individual training sessions for newly elected men and women parliamentarians do not exist as they require extensive resources. Thus, capacity building sessions and training programs should be customized to meet the needs and objectives of newly elected parliamentarians and yet build on their skills and expertise.

In addition to training sessions, individual counseling should take place to inform the newly elected parliamentarians on issues pertinent to the constitution, by-laws and procedures in place so as to enable them to better understand their roles and functions and to meet the public’s expectations.

 

Thursday April 11th 2013
Comment by Patrice Lucid

The Parliament of Lesotho (National Assembly) held an orientation for first-time and returning members in 2012. Based on the post-orientation evaluation survey, the following recommendations were made:
The orientation sessions which parliamentarians found most useful were: 
Parliamentary business and proceedings
Committees
Functions and key documents
The motivational session
First-time parliamentarians recommended that training be provided in:
Budget analysis
The affiliation of parliament in international bodies (such as SADC, IPU, UN)
Managing constituency relations
Public participation in parliament
Members further recommended that orientation be a continuous process, with provision for follow-up sessions and trainings.

 

Tuesday April 17th 2013

Comment by Raeda Qandil

(Original in Arabic available at: https://agora.trustedarea.net/ediscussions/ar)

 

Newly elected parliamentarians must be fully able to resume their functions upon election. The parliamentary staff is the most capable for transferring knowledge as they are the institutional memory of the parliament. They can inform first-time parliamentarians on how to perform their mandate, define the mechanisms of parliamentary work in terms of the work of the committees, the sessions and protocols, as well as consolidate the legislation and oversight mechanisms used by the parliament. This induction period should last for at least one month and all training notes should be consolidated in written reports.