The public comment period for this legislation has ended.

Declaration on Parliamentary Openness [Draft Commentary]

0 section comments

Title II - Promoting a Culture of Openness

Sec. 7. Enabling Effective Parliamentary Monitoring

Parliament shall recognize the right and duty of civil society, media, and the general public to monitor parliament and parliamentarians. Parliament shall engage in consultations with the general public and civil society organizations that monitor parliament in order to encourage effective monitoring and reduce barriers in accessing parliamentary information.

The representative role of parliament requires that parliament effectively communicate its work, educate citizens about its roles and functions, and provide opportunities for citizens to engage in policy discussions. Yet, the advent of new technologies and the increasing diversity of information available to citizens are compelling parliaments to compete for public attention as never before. In the first Global Parliamentary Report, the IPU and UNDP conclude that, “The cumulative effect of these trends has been a public demand for much greater accountability and responsiveness from [parliamentarians].”[1] While all of 73 parliamentary institutions surveyed for the Global Parliamentary Report indicated they had sought new ways to reach out to citizens and engage them in parliamentary work, parliaments are often ill-equipped financially or technically to undertake these duties effectively.[2] Third party groups that monitor parliaments have demonstrated an ability to enhance parliamentary efforts to inform citizens of and engage them in parliamentary processes. As the IPU and UNDP conclude, these parliamentary monitoring organizations (PMOs) “... are potentially a valuable ally in the process of strengthening and promoting parliament.”[3]

More than 190 PMOs are active in monitoring national or local legislatures in upwards of 80 countries.[4] Many PMOs use technology to help citizens use parliamentary information, while others facilitate efforts by parliamentarians to engage citizens face-to-face through the organization of roundtables and “townhall” meetings. There is a growing body of research to suggest that these activities are having a positive impact on their societies. An independent assessment of the Africa Leadership Institute’s program to publish “parliamentary scorecards” of Ugandan members of parliament found “strong evidence that voters, rather than being beholden to ethnic ties or patronage politics, are willing to condition support on quality of engagement in national politics.”[5] The independent assessment also found a number of other positive effects. An independent evaluation of a report card campaign by Satark Nagrik Sangathan, a Delhi-based PMO, found that the project helped to increase voter turnout by 3.5 percent and led to a 19 percent decrease in cash-based vote-buying, among other positive outputs.[6] 

Many PMOs seek to support the work of parliaments while also enhancing parliamentary transparency and accessibility. In South Africa, the Parliamentary Monitoring Group supplements the Parliament’s institutional memory of committee work by observing, recording, and providing access to committee reports within 24 hours. In Italy, Openpolis Association has engaged in dialogue with 140 members of parliament to create an index of member activity, which it launched at the parliament, and has advised the parliament’s ICT staff on its web initiatives.[7] The Croatian PMO, GONG, initiated a parliamentary internship program that the Parliament of Croatia now implements on its own. PRS Legislative Research, in India, develops legislative summaries and analyses for parliamentarians that are also available to citizens.

Many PMOs also contribute to parliament’s efforts to educate citizens about their work while also promoting accountability of parliamentarians to citizens. PMOs from a diverse array of countries – among them Colombia, Netherlands, Romania, Kenya, United States, France, and India – have developed technologies that facilitate easy access to information about the work of parliamentarians, often creating visualizations that promote understanding of parliamentary information.[8] Many PMOs seek to contribute to fair and accurate reporting of parliamentary work by training journalists on how to cover parliament and helping them access data that helps explain parliamentary work. Of the 100,000 individuals a year who write to their MPs through, a website of the United Kingdom’s mySociety, approximately 40 percent do so for the first time.[9] By increased dialogue with PMOs nationally, as well as in international and regional forums, parliaments can tap the creativity and expertise of PMOs to enhance openness and more effectively engage citizens.

[1] IPU and UNDP: p. 44.

[2] Ibid. p. 25.

[3] Ibid. p. 55.

[4] Andrew Mandelbaum, Strengthening Parliamentary Accountability, Citizen Engagement and Access to Information, National Democratic Institute, September 2011, p. 1.

[5] M. Humphreys and J. Weinstein. 2010. Policing Politicians: Citizen Empowerment and Political Accountability in Uganda. Mimeo. Columbia University, Department of Political Science. Accessed 6/12/2012.

[6] Abhijit V. Benrjee et al., Do Informed Voters Make Better Choices? Experimental Evidence from Urban India, Unpublished. Report written for the Abdul Latif Jameel Poverty Action Lab. Accessed 6/12/2012.

[7] Openpolis Association, Accessed 6/12/2012.

[8] For a listing of these groups, see the Wikipedia page on Parliamentary Informatics. Accessed 6/21/2012.

[9], Analysis of Users and Usage for UK Citizens Online Democracy, May 2011, Accessed 6/12/2012.