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Declaration on Parliamentary Openness [Draft Commentary]

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Title II - Promoting a Culture of Openness

Sec. 2. Promoting a Culture of Openness through Legislation

Parliament has a duty to enact legislation, as well as internal rules of procedure and codes of conduct, that foster an enabling environment that guarantees the public’s right to government and parliamentary information, promotes a culture of open government, provides for transparency of political finance, safeguards freedoms of expression and assembly, and ensures engagement by civil society and citizens in the legislative process.

The adoption of legislation and regulations that allow for broad access to parliamentary information and participation of citizens in parliamentary processes is necessary, albeit insufficient, to promote a culture of openness. Legislation must also ensure the existence of an enabling environment – inside and outside of parliament – in which citizens are encouraged to organize, assemble and engage in open dialogue with parliamentarians regarding public policies and other issues. Creating a culture of openness also requires that citizens have ample access to legal and judicial recourse to ensure that they may contest perceived threats or seek justice when disputes arise.

According to COPA, parliaments “must foster a spirit of tolerance and promote all aspects of democratic culture in order to educate and raise awareness among public officials, political actors and citizens about the ethical requirements of democracy and human rights.”[1] As a publication by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the General Secretariat of the House of Representatives of the Republic of Indonesia notes: “Continuous relations between the people and the parliament will exist when access and opportunities are legally and formally provided to the people to obtain information on everything that takes place in the parliament.”[2] A number of parliamentary associations, including the Southern African Development Community Parliamentary Forum (SADC-PF), endorse a specific example of this broader principle in calling on parliaments to “enact legislation to protect informants (“whistle blowers”) and witnesses presenting credible information about corrupt or unlawful activities.”[3]

In Indonesia, the Public Information Disclosure Act, adopted in 2008, explains the specific goals of transparency legislation adopted by parliament, including, enhancing citizens education of the process of lawmaking, encouraging citizen participation, increasing the active role of citizens in making policy, and creating accountable governance.[4] The Law on Access to Information of Moldova, passed in 2000, includes parliamentary information in its aim to “establish a general normative framework on access to official information,” as well as inform the public, and “stimulate the formation of opinions and active participation of people in the decision-making activities in a democratic way.”[5] The Standing Orders of the Scottish Parliament include a chapter on openness and accessibility, with rules such as mandatory public meetings, access of the public to committee meetings, and the ability of citizens to bring petitions to parliament and have them heard, among others.[6]

[1] COPA, The Contributions of Parliaments to Democracy: Benchmarks for the Parliaments of the Americas, §

[2] United Nations Development Programme [hereinafter, “UNDP”], Handbook on Transparency and Accountability in Parliament, pp. 9, 36. Accessed 6/12/2012.

[3] Southern African Development Community Parliamentary Forum [hereinafter, “SADC PF”], Benchmarks for Democratic Legislatures in Southern Africa, §8.1.8.

[4] Public Information Disclosure Act, Act 14, 30 Apr 2008 (Republic of Indonesia). Accessed 6/19/2012.

[5] The Law on Access to Information, Chisnau, 11 May 2000, NR. 982-XIV (Republic of Moldova). Accessed 6/19/2012.

[6] Standing Orders of the Scottish Parliament, Chapter 15: Openness and Accessibility. Accessed 6/19/2012.