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Declaration on Parliamentary Openness [Draft Commentary]

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Title II - Promoting a Culture of Openness

Sec. 5. Encouraging Citizen Participation

Parliament has a duty to actively engage citizens and civil society in parliamentary processes and decision-making in order to effectively represent citizen interests and to give effect to the right of citizens to petition their government. This includes citizens of all genders, races, ethnicities, ages, languages, political beliefs, and people with disabilities.

The participation of citizens in a democracy begins at the ballot box. However, to effectively represent citizens, parliaments must maintain active engagement with citizens and encourage participation in the lawmaking process. According to the European Parliament’s Office for the Promotion of Parliamentary Democracy (OPPD), “Simply offering the major legislative documents or providing informative videos is not sufficient to achieve the goal of an open and transparent legislative body. These features must be designed to serve the larger objective of actively engaging citizens in the legislative process.”[1] This idea is reflected in the Treaty on the European Union, which states, “The institutions shall, by appropriate means, give citizens and representative associations the opportunity to make known and publicly exchange their views in all areas of Union action.”[2] To quote the CPA, “Opportunities shall be given for public input into the legislative process.”[3] A similar benchmark has also been adopted by SADC-PF[4] and COPA.[5] 

The principle of active citizen engagement is also enshrined in a variety of country contexts. The Constitution of South Africa states: “The National Assembly must facilitate public involvement in the legislative and other processes of the Assembly and its committees.”[6] This constitutional requirement is upheld by allowing citizens to make submissions to National Assembly Committees, which are then considered by lawmakers.[7] In Sweden, parliament reaches out to citizens through regional surveys or by holding panels of MPs in local districts.[8] It also opened regional ‘branches’ throughout the country, where citizens can access educational and informational material on parliament and follow live broadcasts of parliamentary proceedings. These branches serve as meeting places for MPs and voters.[9] In Ghana, memorandums are welcomed from the public on any bill before committee,[10] while in Uganda, members of the public may appear before parliament to give evidence on an item in the budget.[11] The Scottish Parliament utilizes e-petitions for citizens on its website, a practice also used by the German Bundestag (Lower House).[12] 

Citizens and civic parliamentary monitoring organizations (PMOs) have been directly involved in promoting this effort as well, often with the active cooperation of parliament. In Latvia, one organization created a website that allows citizens to draft, in conjunction with legal and policy experts, laws on subjects of their interest, and then make the draft available for other citizens to sign on to. With enough signatures, the draft laws are automatically submitted to parliament for consideration.[13] In Germany, the website has been embraced by parliamentarians who use it to respond to citizens’ questions on issues, providing more than an 80% response rate to tens of thousands of questions.

[1] OPPD, Information and Communications Technologies in Parliament: Tools for Democracy, European Parliament, August 2010, p. 17.

[2] European Union, Treaty on the European Union, Article 11

[3] CPA, Recommended Benchmarks for Democratic Legislatures, §6.3.1.

[4] SADC PF, Benchmarks for Democratic Legislatures in Southern Africa, §2.1.4; COPA, The Contributions of Parliaments to Democracy: Benchmarks for the Parliaments of the Americas, § 7.2.4.

[5] CPA, Recommended Benchmarks for Democratic Legislatures, §

[6] Constitution of South Africa, Section 59.

[7] Website of the Parliament of South Africa. Accessed 6/12/2012.

[8] Global Centre for ICT in Parliament, World e-Parliament Report 2010, IPU-UNDESA, p. 16. Accessed 6/12/2012.

[9] IPU, Parliament and Democracy in the Twenty-First Century: A Guide to Good Practice, p. 63.

[10] Parliamentary Centre, African Parliamentary Index, June 2011, p. 147.

[11] Ibid., p. 180.

[12] University of Westminster, Parliamentary Web Presence: A Comparative Review, pp. 10-11, published in the Proceedings of the 2nd International Conference on e-Government (ICEG 2006), 12-13 October 2006.

[13] Accessed 6/12/2012.