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Declaration on Parliamentary Openness [Draft Commentary]

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Title II - Promoting a Culture of Openness

Sec. 4. Promoting Civic Education

Parliament has a responsibility to actively promote civic education of the public, and particularly youth, by engaging in discussions that promote understanding of the role of parliament, its rules and operational procedures, its work and functions, and the duties of parliamentarians. It also includes providing detailed parliamentary information, as well as summaries and plain language explanations of parliamentary work that can be used effectively by citizens of mixed educational and life experiences.

Educating citizens about the role of parliament and its work is essential to the health of a democracy writ large. When citizens do not understand the work of parliament or remain disengaged from the legislative process, the likelihood that their interests will be incorporated into legislation and oversight activities is reduced. Parliamentarians often suggest that the complexities of the legislative process and the lack of understanding of their work can cause them to spend more time catering to the needs of individual constituents, rather than conducting their core functions. Educating citizens about the role of parliament can help them to understand how to most effectively petition for their interests and participate more fruitfully in political life.

The Commonwealth Parliamentary Association (CPA) recognizes that, “The Legislature shall promote the public’s understanding of the work of the Legislature.”[1] This standard is also reinforced separately by the SADC-PF and COPA benchmarks for democratic parliaments.[2] Further, in regards to government openness, a joint study group of the CPA and World Bank Institute on Access to Information concluded: “Public education campaigns should be undertaken to ensure that the public are aware of their right to access information… Parliamentarians have an important role to play in this process by making sure that their constituents are aware of their rights.”[3]

Countries vary widely in their application of this standard, establishing innovative ways to engage and educate their citizens. As some areas present more challenging environments than others, it may be crucial for parliaments to work with citizens and civil society to find the best way to undertake these efforts. In Malawi, the parliament has both a Public Relations and Civic Education department that are dedicated to outreach programs throughout the country.[4] The constitution in Ghana in 1992 established through parliament a National Commission for Civic Education that plays a similar role.[5] In further advancement of this goal, the Parliament of Ghana holds an annual public event to educate the public, a speakers forum, parliamentary resource center, and a youth parliament.[6] In Brazil, the parliament has helped to organize youth parliament programs that educate youth about the function and role of the legislature.[7] In Iceland, Parliament has a website dedicated to the education of children aged 13-15, which is used by many teachers as a tool in their classrooms. The Finnish parliament established an electronic game in which “groups of schoolchildren can virtually enact legislation…”[8] The UK parliament has also developed games relating to the legislative process for use as an educational tool.[9] In Tanzania, Parliament has a special department on Civic Education, Information and International Cooperation “whose duty is to ensure that the general public is sensitized to understand the work of the Legislature.”[10]


[1] Commonwealth Parliamentary Association, Recommended Benchmarks for Democratic Legislatures, §9.1.4

[2] Southern African Development Community Parliamentary Forum, Benchmarks for Democratic Legislatures in Southern Africa, §2.1.4; COPA, The Contributions of Parliaments to Democracy: Benchmarks for the Parliaments of the Americas, §4.1.2.3

[3] Toby Mendel, Parliament and Access to Information: Working for Transparent Governance, CPA-WBI, §11.1 and §11.2

[4] http://www.commonwealth-of-nations.org/Malawi/Standards/The_Malawi_Parliament/welcome. Accessed 6/12/2012.

[5] Constitution of Ghana, Chapter 19. http://www.judicial.gov.gh/constitution/chapter/chap_19.htm. Accessed 6/12/2012.

[6] Parliamentary Centre, African Parliamentary Index, June 2011, p. 145. http://www.parlcent.org/en/wp-content/uploads/2011/09/API-African-Parliamentary-Index.pdf. Accessed 6/12/2012.

[7] http://www.ispp.org/meetings/abstract/civic-education-and-political-attitudes-the-effects-of-minas-gerais-youth-p

[8] Inter-Parliamentary Union [hereinafter, “IPU”], Parliament and Democracy in the 21st Century: A Guide to Good Practice, p. 65

[9] Website of the UK Parliament, http://www.parliament.uk/education/online-resources/games/. Accessed 6/11/2012.

[10] Parliamentary Centre, African Parliamentary Index, June 2011, p. 23.