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Parliamentarians and Strengthening Accountability in Development Cooperation

AGORA moderator's picture

Development effectiveness means ensuring that resources are used most effectively to address sustainable development challenges. These include both the national resources provided by taxpayers, as well as Official Development Assistance (ODA) provided by development partners. As a key accountability institution, parliaments have a crucial role to play in promoting development effectiveness.

Strengthening the engagement of parliamentarians in development cooperation processes and making it more effective

On 30 November 2016, UNDESA, IPU and AWEPA held a joint side event at the 2nd High-level Meeting of the Global Partnership for Effective Development Cooperation (GPEDC) in Nairobi. The meeting discussed and identified both the reasons and possible solutions for the lack of participation by parliaments in development cooperation processes. It built on the outcome of the recently released fourth DCF Accountability Survey and the deliberations of the Development Cooperation Forum, which has called for strengthening the role of parliamentarians in the monitoring, review and accountability of development cooperation.

(the following part was cross-posted from the official event report)

Systemic changes, including targeted amendment of the constitution

The meeting identified a variety of measures aimed to support the working relationships of Parliament with the executive branch of national government and development partners, as well as other more general measures such as refining electoral systems and enhancing the separation of powers. Participants noted that African parliaments were typically not given the opportunity to debate on development cooperation agreements, including their terms and practical implications. Further measures should be explored to ensure strong parliamentary engagement in national development cooperation policies and plans. Zambia has attempted to do this, for example, by amending its Constitution in 2016 to capacitate its Parliament with a budget office and require all international agreements, including on development cooperation, to be debated in Parliament before ratification.

Empowering Parliament with capacity-support in financial and technical terms

Limited funding inhibits parliamentarians from undertaking oversight activities, including holding public hearings; provisions should be made to mandate the allocation of a certain percentage of public finance to support these activities. Parliamentarians typically lack capacities for conducting research and interpreting budgets, both of which will practically equip members of Parliament and their staff to prepare for and support informed debate. In addition, measures should be in place to ensure these capacities are sustained and sustainable. Development partners can promote the participation of parliamentarians by providing financing and capacity support, and by encouraging parliamentary participation in the context of their own cooperation interventions.

Putting in place more structured and traceable participation mechanisms for Parliament as a whole

Often parliamentarians participate in development cooperation processes in their individual capacities. Participants underscored the need for establishing a clear accountability mechanism for more and better parliamentary engagement in development cooperation; Parliament should hold internal consultations before and after key meetings and processes related to development cooperation. Dedicated capacity (e.g. focal points) should exist within Parliament for its oversight role vis-à-vis the national aid coordination system and/or overall development cooperation processes and for facilitating information sharing in this area between the executive branch and Parliament. The issue of composition of the parliamentary delegation participating in multi-stakeholder consultation processes on development cooperation, including how they are selected and whether members of opposition party are included, should be addressed in the national development cooperation policies.

Making parliamentary oversight processes more inclusive, participatory and ‘people-centred’

Parliament acts as a strategic link between the executive branch and the public. Participants emphasized the need for parliaments to strengthen their linkages with the public as their constituency. It is important to establish a policy and legal framework and institutional mechanism, which will enable the engagement of the public. It is also essential to ensure the information and data on development cooperation is publicly accessible, so that awareness can be raised about relevant changes in commitments, policies, budgets and results related to development cooperation. One participant shared the example of a South African civil society organization, which appointed a dedicated parliamentary liaison officer and followed through on the work of relevant sub-committees of Parliament on matters related to development cooperation, in addition to monitoring the performance of the executive branch.

We welcome further inputs from parliamentarians.  Please send us your ideas on "how to strengthen the capacity of and participation by parliamentarians to strengthen accountability in development cooperation processes" to UN DESA DCF team, via e-mail at dcf@un.org with the subject line of "Input from Parliamentarian".

For more information on the current state of play of parliamentarian participation in development cooperation processes, please refer to the fourth Study on the Findings of the Fourth DCF Survey  recently published by UNDESA and see the website of the event.