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Declaration on Parliamentary Openness [Draft Commentary]

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Title III - Making Parliamentary Information Transparent


Parliament must adopt policies that ensure full transparency and openness of parliamentary information. Parliamentary information includes information generated throughout the legislative process, including the text of introduced legislation and amendments, information on the scheduling and the legislative process, information on committee and plenary votes and parliamentary debate, and all other information that forms a part of the parliamentary record. In addition, parliament must provide information on the management and administration of parliament, as well as information on the activities and affairs of members of parliament, including information on the assets of members and potential conflicts of interest.

Sec. 13. Adopting Policies on Parliamentary Transparency

Parliament shall adopt policies that ensure the routine and proactive publication and dissemination of parliamentary information, including policies regarding the formats in which this information will be published. Parliamentary transparency policies shall be publicly available and shall specify terms for periodic review of this policy to take advantage of technological innovations and evolving good practices. Where parliament may not have the capacity to publish comprehensive parliamentary information, parliaments should develop partnerships with civil society to assure broad public access to parliamentary information.

Although provisions on parliamentary transparency may appear in constitutions, statutes, rules of procedure, or other regulations, parliaments should have a clearly defined and publicly available transparency policy. By adopting an explicit transparency policy, parliaments signal a necessary commitment to transparency and openness to the country’s citizens. The policy may include such things as procedures for requesting parliamentary information that is not otherwise readily available, as well as procedures for challenging decisions to not disclose particular information. According to a World Bank Institute report, “international provisions make clear that, in addition to having numerous benefits for public bodies and for members of the public, proactive disclosure is an obligation that is part of the right of access to information.”[1] India, Mexico, Hungary, New Zealand, the United States and the United Kingdom are among the countries in which government transparency policies instruct government bodies to err on the side of disclosure.[2]

In addition to publishing their transparency policies, parliaments should review these policies on a regular basis. Periodic review allows parliaments to consider evolving good practices and to take advantage of technological advances. The conclusions of a 2004 Commonwealth Parliamentary Association and World Bank Institute study group on access to information noted that “[c]onsideration should be given to regular parliamentary review, for example on a biannual basis, of implementation of the access to information regime.” [3] The Global Centre for ICT in Parliament has also established that parliaments should elaborate “strategic plans, updated regularly, for the use of ICT that directly improve the operational capacity of parliaments to fulfill their legislative, oversight, and representational responsibilities.”[4] 

Yet, the concept of public ownership of parliamentary (and government) information implies the obligation of public institutions to proactively disclose information. According to Access Info and the Open Knowledge Foundation, “For members of the public, the automatic availability of information means timely access to information and hence reduces the need to file information requests. Additionally, in countries still emerging from authoritarian regimes or where corruption is widespread, proactive disclosure permits anonymous access and so gives some protection to applicants from weaker segments of society who might not feel comfortable writing to government bodies to ask for information for fear of repercussions.”[5] 

Many countries regularly publish and review policies or processes dealing with transparency and other procedures.  In British Columbia, Canada, the parliament is required by law to conduct a review of its processes every six years.[6] More recently, the United States House of Representatives, in their Standards for Posting Info, provides that processes and technologies used to disseminate legislative information “will be phased in and subject to periodic review and reissuance. To ensure documents are made available in user-friendly formats that preserve their integrity, these standards will be subject to periodic review and reissuance by the Committee on House Administration.”[7]

[1] Helen Darbishire, Proactive Transparency: The future of the right to information?, World Bank Institute, p. 1.

[2] Ibid., p.6-7, 16

[3] Toby Mendel. Parliament and Access to Information: Working for Transparent Governance, CPA-WBI, §13.2.

[4] Global Centre for ICT in Parliament, World e-Parliament Report 2010, IPU-UNDESA, p.170.

[5] p. 69.

[6] Toby Mendel. Parliament and Access to Information: Working for Transparent Governance, CPA-WBI, §13.2.

[7] United States House of Representatives, Standards for Posting Information

Sec. 14. Providing Information on Roles and Functions

Parliament shall make available information about its constitutional role, its structure, its functions, its rules and its workflow, as well as the same information for its committees.

Citizens must be able to understand the legislative process and functions of parliament, including parliament’s rules of procedure, rules, and workflow.  Providing access to the primary sources that govern legislative roles, processes and workflow is crucial. However, it  also important for parliaments to present this type of information in an easy-to-read, plain language format for citizens who lack the required technical expertise to understand the primary legal source material, or simply lack the time to work through it. Because parliaments must compete for citizens’ attention with a vast array of entertainment options, parliaments should also seek to present basic information in ways that capture popular attention.

The COPA benchmarks for democratic parliaments state that “Key decision-making processes must be presented in detail when they are officially recorded.”[1] This standard is followed by an overwhelming majority of national parliaments. The Global Centre for ICT in Parliament reports that more than 93% of parliamentary websites surveyed included information on their composition and function. Among its guidelines for parliamentary websites, the IPU specifically lists “History and role” and “Functions, composition and activities” as categories to be included. These categories include information about the history of parliament; its constitutional and foundational documents; a description of role and responsibilities of the parliament—as a whole and including its constituent bodies; its method of functioning; and its staff and budget.[2] 

The European Union adopted a new law in 2011 regarding the public’s access to parliamentary information, which provides that the parliament should also provide public access to information on workflow and internal procedures.[3] It also states that the offices of parliament should “inform citizens, in a fair and transparent way, about their organisational chart by indicating the remit of their internal units, the internal workflow and indicative deadlines of the procedures falling within their remit...”[4]

Most parliaments provide at least partial information relating to this standard. The Parliament of Uganda’s website has information on functions, composition, rules of procedure, administration, committee members and structure.[5] The Senate of Pakistan has a similar section on its website.[6] Brazil’s parliamentary website includes a general overview of Congress, its role, organizational charts, a legislative process “fluxogram,” and other information.[7] The National Assembly of the Republic of Korea’s website has a similar detailed organization chart among other information.[8] The UK Parliament has developed an array of resources for interested citizens, including school curriculum and video games that help users learn about the legislative process.[9] 

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

[2] IPU, Guidelines for Parliamentary Websites, §1.2 and §1.3.

[3] Regulation (EC) No 1049/2001 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 30 May 2001 regarding public access to European Parliament, Council and Commission documents. Official Journal L 145 , 31/05/2001 P. 0043 – 0048, §12d

[4] Ibid., §1a.

[5] Website of the Parliament of Uganda, Accessed 6/12/2012.

[6] Website of the Senate of Pakistan, Senate History and Introduction. Accessed 6/14/2012.

[7] Website of the Chamber of Deputies of Brazil, Accessed 6/12/2012.

[8] Website of the National Assembly of the Republic of Korea, Organization Chart. Accessed 6/14/2012.

[9] Website of the U.K. Parliament, Accessed 6/11/2012.

Sec. 15. Providing Information on Members of Parliament

Parliaments shall provide sufficient and regularly updated information, on the Internet and through other means, for citizens to understand a member’s credentials, party affiliation, roles in parliament, policy positions, identities of personal staff, and any information members wish to divulge about themselves and their credentials. Working contact information for the offices of members of parliament shall also be available to the public.

The IPU’s Guidelines for Parliamentary Websites note the duty of parliaments to publish member information online, including: a list of all current members, biodata, photo, a member’s constituency, party affiliation, committee membership, contact information, parliamentary activities, and other similar data.[1] According to the UNDP and the General Secretariat of the House of Representatives of the Republic of Indonesia note, creating a personal website is something that an individual member of parliament “should do to establish transparency and accountability.”[2] 

Current practice regarding publication of member information varies. The Parliament of South Africa’s website contains an alphabetical list of members of parliament with, at minimum, phone numbers, email addresses, party affiliations, committee memberships, photographs, and areas represented.[3] The parliaments of Haiti and Peru have similar platforms, with some members maintaining their own websites as well.[4] Members of the Lok Sabha in India have individual pages on the parliament’s website, which includes similar information as other countries discussed, as well as information on current legislative action.[5] In Chile and Argentina, the vast majority of legislators use the webpages provided by parliament to provide biographical information about their careers.[6] In the United States, all members of Congress are provided with funds to manage their own websites, where they often offer constituent services, post press releases, link to information about legislation and other legislative activity they are engaged in, and list contact details, among other information. It should noted, however, that the more uniform information is, the easier it is for PMOs and citizens to use technology to analyze and repurpose information provided by members. As one example of good practice, the Swiss Parliament provides extensive member information using XML, an open data format, which allows for broad adaptability and re-use of information.[7]

[1] IPU, Guidelines for Parliamentary Websites, §1.6.

[2] UNDP, Handbook on Transparency and Accountability of Parliament, 2009, p. 52. Accessed 6/12/2012.

[3] Website of the Parliament of South Africa, Accessed 2/14/2012.

[4] Website of the Parliament of Haiti.; Website of the Congress of Peru, Congresistas de la Republica. Both accessed 6/12/2012.

[5] Website of the Lok Sabha, Members’ Home Page, Accessed 4/15/2012.

[6] Participa Corporation, Poder Ciudadano, and Accion Cuidadana, Regional Index of Parliamentary Transparency, August 2008, p. 41. Accessed 6/12/2012.

[7] Andreas Sidler, XML @, Global Centre for ICT in Parliament Meeting, Washington, D.C., February 27-29, 2012. Accessed 6/12/2012.

Sec. 16. Providing Information on Parliamentary Staff and Parliamentary Administration

Parliament shall make available information about its administrative functioning and the structure of parliamentary staff that manage and administer parliamentary processes. Contact information for staff responsible for providing information to the public should be publicly available.

A parliament’s ability to carry out its duties not only depends on the capacity and effectiveness of its members, but on the functionality and performance of the parliamentary administration. Charged with informing the legislative process, administering its workflow, and serving as parliament’s institutional memory, the parliamentary administration is also responsible for implementing parliament’s openness policies. According to the European Parliament’s OPPD, “integrity and impartiality are generally held to be core values of any civil service. This applies even more so perhaps to parliamentary officials who, by virtue of their privileged place of work, are particularly close to the defence of the public interest.”[1] While practices and traditions for staffing the parliamentary administration vary, the importance of its role necessitates that citizens have an understanding of how it functions and operates, as well as information about the identities and responsibilities of individual staff members.

Benchmarks for democratic parliaments often underscore the importance of the parliamentary administration by citing the need for adequate non-partisan and professional support staff.[2] They also cite the importance of parliamentary control over their administration independent of the executive,[3] and availability of adequate resources for recruiting sufficient, competent staff.[4] According to a model code of conduct developed by the U.S. National Conference on State Legislatures (NCSL), “A legislative staff member is a public servant... [whose] work is to assist the state legislature in promoting the common good of the citizens of the state.”[5] The NCSL further specifies that “As government employees, [parliamentary] staff members will respect the need of members of the general public, the press, members of other governmental agencies, and lobbyists to have information about the legislature.”[6] 

To ensure that staff conduct their work with integrity and professionalism, many parliaments adopt codes of conduct that outline parliamentary staff responsibilities with respect to behavior, ethics, acceptance of gifts and other matters that could affect the integrity of their work. Oftentimes, parliamentary staff—and, in some instances, their spouses—are bound by statutes pertaining to the broader public service. In Portugal, for example, staff are bound by a number of statutory and regulatory requirements, including provisions in a code of conduct for public service, in the organic law of the Assembly, in internal staff regulations and in a charter for public employment.[7]

Just as parliamentarians must have confidence in the legislative staff to provide non-partisan, professional analysis and advice, so too must citizens be assured that the legislative administration upholds the public interest in conducting its work. For this reason, citizens should have access to a reasonable amount of information about the staff employed by parliament and its members. This includes, at a minimum: contact information for senior staff of various legislative departments and offices; an “organigram” of the parliamentary administration, and; roles, responsibilities and budgets of each department and office. As in the European Parliament, citizens should also have the ability to have recourse for maladministration, such as delays in receiving requested information.[8]

The Parliament of Australia publishes biographies of senior parliamentary staff members, which also includes information on their roles and responsibilities and contact information.[9] The Chamber of Deputies in Brazil lists the main administrative offices of parliament, their heads, and corresponding contact information.[10] The website of the Parliament of South Africa contains contact information for its Parliamentary Service, listing occupiers of positions including Secretary to Parliament, Chief Operations Officer, and Divisional Heads. Contact information is included for the Parliamentary Service, and offices like Media Management and Public Education.[11] In India, the Lok Sabha’s website includes an organizational chart for all parliamentary staff, and personal information on staff members divided by department, including contact information.[12] The United States Congress makes public a range of information on parliamentary staff including information on their salaries and travel.[13] 

[1] Office for the Promotion of Parliamentary Democracy, Parliamentary Ethics: A Question of Trust. 2011. Available at: Accessed: 6/15/2012.

[2] CPA, Recommended Benchmarks for Democratic Legislatures, §5.1.1; APF, La réalité démocratique des Parlements: Quels critères d’évaluation? §

[3] Ibid., §5.1.2; Ibid., §

[4] Ibid., §5.2.1; Ibid., §

[5] National Conference on State Legislatures, NCSL Model Code of Conduct for Legislative Staff, 2009, Art. 1, Sec. I. Available at: Accessed 6/14/2012.

[6] National Conference on State Legislatures, NCSL Model Code of Conduct for Legislative Staff, 2009, Art. 1, Sec. IV, No. 2.

[7] Office for the Promotion of Parliamentary Democracy, Parliamentary Ethics: A Question of Trust. 2011. Available at: Accessed: 6/15/2012.

[8] Ibid.

[9] Website of the Parliament of Australia, Biographies of senior staff. Accessed 6/14/2012.

[10] Website of the Brazilian Chamber of Deputies, Contact Details. Accessed 6/14/2012.

[11] Website of the Parliament of South Africa, Parliamentary Service. Accessed 6/14/2012.

[12] Website of the Lok Sabha, Organization Chart of Lok Sabha Secretariat. Accessed 6/14/2012.

[13] Member and staff salaries are made available in paper format by the Clerk of the House of Representatives, and by the Secretary of the Senate. The Clerk of the House of Representatives makes staff travel information available at: Senate travel information is searchable at: Accessed: 6/25/2012.

Sec. 17. Informing Citizens regarding the Parliamentary Agenda

Documentation relating to the scheduling of parliamentary business shall be provided to the public, including the session calendar, information regarding scheduled votes, the order of business and the schedule for committee hearings. Except in rare instances involving urgent legislation, parliament shall provide sufficient advance notice to allow the public and civil society to provide input to members regarding the items under consideration.

To ensure that citizens have an opportunity to participate in parliamentary affairs, the public must be made aware of parliament’s agenda in advance. This provision is consistent with the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association’s benchmark for democratic legislatures that states that there “shall be adequate parliamentary examination of proposed legislation.”[1] COPA’s benchmarks for democratic parliaments note that “Parliament must give its Members and the public sufficient advance notice of meetings and the agenda for the meetings,” stating that “A calendar of legislative work must be set so that the legislative schedule is known.”[2] The importance of advance notice of the calendar or agenda, applies equally to committee proceedings, with SADC-PF specifying that “Parliament shall notify the public in advance of committee meetings or hearings.”[3]

The World e-Parliament Report 2010reveals that daily schedules are included on 85% of parliamentary websites -- 70% make the plenary schedule available at least two days before action, with the same being true for 77% of parliaments in regard to committee agendas.[4] It is not clear always clear whether these agendas include meeting times and room numbers, or whether citizens are permitted to participate or observe in all of these meetings. In India, the calendar of business is displayed on the parliament’s website, and both chambers provide information about the provisional list of business a few days in advance of the session.[5] However, the exact procedure is not written into the rules, which leads to inconsistent application and sometimes a lack of information for citizens and MPs.[6] In Bangladesh, the ‘Orders of the Day’ are often made available to MPs only the night before each sitting.[7] In Korea, the National Assembly publishes a detailed schedule for each of its sessions, with information on what topics will be addressed and at what times.[8]

Rare exceptions to this provision may be necessary with emergency legislation, for instance, during a period of war or after a natural disaster. For example, if a natural disaster occurs in a country and parliamentary action is necessary to allocate government funds to provide relief assistance, parliament may not have time to publish an agenda that includes the emergency session required to consider this action. Strict limitations on the ability of parliament to resort to emergency procedures, including limits on the amount of time and consecutive emergency sessions that can be called, are generally recognized as being necessary to prevent abuse of exceptions for emergency legislation.

[1] CPA, Recommended Benchmarks for Democratic Legislatures, §7.1.1.

[2] COPA, The Contributions of Parliaments to Democracy: Benchmarks for the Parliaments of the Americas, §2.15.2-3.

[3] SADC PF, Benchmarks for Democratic Legislatures in Southern Africa, §5.8.7.

[4] Global Centre for ICT in Parliament, World e-Parliament Report 2010, IPU-UNDESA, pp. 56-58.

[5] SAHR, Transparency in Parliament, Sri Lanka 2009, p. 14.

[6] Centre for Civil Society, Parliament and Citizens: Bridging the Gap Through Greater Transparency, July 2010, p. 9.

[7] Ibid., pp. 10-11.

[8] Website of the National Assembly of the Republic of Korea, Annual Parliamentary Schedule. Accessed 6/14/2012.

Sec. 18. Informing and Engaging Citizens on Draft Legislation and Preparatory Analysis

Draft legislation shall be made public and published upon its introduction. Recognizing the need for citizens to be fully informed about and provide input into items under consideration, parliament should provide the public with analysis and background information to encourage broad understanding of policy discussions about the proposed legislation.

Citizens’ right to be informed of draft legislation and related documentation are well established. COPA states that “Laws, proposed legislation, committee reports, and any other parliamentary document provided for by the rules of procedure must be made accessible to the public.”[1] The Guidelines for Parliamentary Websites further emphasize this point by noting that parliaments should provide an explanation of the legislative process, the text and status of all proposed legislation, links to relevant parliamentary and government documentation, the text and final status of previous legislation, the text and actions taken on all enacted legislation, and a searchable database of current, previously proposed, and enacted legislation.[2] A new EU law dealing with the release of documents states that “[p]reparatory legislative documents and all related information on different stages of the inter-institutional procedure… should in principle be made immediately and directly accessible to the public on the Internet.”[3] 

Most parliaments provide information on draft legislation to the public. The Global Centre for ICT in Parliament notes that the text and status of proposed legislation is posted on 66% of parliamentary websites.[4] According to the IPU, the Hungarian Parliament is “in the process of establishing an electronic Parliament, with the text of every submitted proposal (proposed bills, amendments, resolutions, draft policy announcements, reports, interpellations questions, etc.) available online. Although this is primarily intended to facilitate and improve the work of representatives, it means that the relevant texts will also be available to citizens through Parliament’s website.”[5] 

To encourage thorough and deliberative consideration of issues before parliament, parliament may wish to exempt from disclosure certain types of preparatory analysis and background information prepared for the benefit of an individual member of parliament. However, information prepared for the benefit of parliament as a whole are typically made public, to help citizens evaluate legislation being reviewed by parliament with the benefit of the same background and information available to parliament.

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

[2] IPU, Guidelines for Parliamentary Websites, §2.2.

[3] Public access to European Parliament, Council and Commission documents, P7_TA-PROV(2011)0580, A7-0426/2011, Rapporteur: Michael Cashman, 12

[4] Global Centre for ICT in Parliament, World e-Parliament Report 2010, IPU-UNDESA, p. 57.

[5] IPU, Parliament and Democracy in the Twenty-First Century: A Guide to Good Practice, p. 125.

Sec. 19. Publishing Records of Committee Proceedings

Reports of committee proceedings, including documents created and received, testimony of witnesses at public hearings, transcripts, and records of committee actions, shall promptly be made public.

Much of a parliament’s legislative and oversight responsibilities are conducted through committees. As the Centre for Liberal Strategies (CLS) states “Given the fact that often the fate of legislation is decided at the committee stage, transparency of committee meetings (which is a generally neglected area) should be turned into a priority issue.”[1] For citizens to understand the work of parliament and provide input to it, citizens must have access to timely and complete records of committee proceedings.

The CPA, , APF, SADC-PF and COPA agree that “committee hearings shall be in public.”[2] However, there is often a distinction between hearings and discussions among committee members, with a number of parliaments believing that private deliberations can often result in greater deliberative discourse and opportunities for compromise. In general, however, there is an international trend toward committee meetings being open to the public. As the CPA and WBI have noted, “There should be a presumption that committee meetings are open to the public, so that closed meetings are the exception rather than the rule. Where it is necessary to hold a meeting, or part of a meeting, in private, a decision to that effect should be taken in public and reasons for that decision should be given.”[3] 

Similarly, there is also a trend toward routinely providing citizens with proactive access to many committee documents, including testimony before the committee, transcripts of this testimony, and committee reports. The Guidelines for Parliamentary Websites recommend that certain materials be published online—including all documentation produced in previous years, agendas published in advance, records of meetings and actions taken, and reports—and that committee hearings be broadcast live on television or the web.[4] The World e-Parliament Report 2010 survey found that 50% of parliaments surveyed are providing information about committee activities.[5] The Senate in Pakistan has a website specifically dedicated to publishing reports released by committees.[6] In Kenya, the Standing Orders of Parliament require that committees be open to the public, with limited exceptions.[7] In Romania, committees have recently begun to use electronic displays of their committee votes and reports, and post video recordings of hearings online.[8] In the United States and United Kingdom, committee hearings are generally broadcast and telecast live, with reports and testimony released publicly on the web—again, with limited exceptions.[9] In June 2012, in Tunisia, a coalition of open government organizations, OpenGovTN, came to an agreement with the Citizen Assembly to publish all committee meetings and reports on the Assembly’s official website.[10]

[1] Center for Liberal Strategies, Open Parliaments: Transparency and Accountability of Parliaments in South-East Europe, p.16.

[2] CPA, Recommended Benchmarks for Democratic Legislatures, §3.1.4; SADC PF, Benchmarks for Democratic Legislatures in Southern Africa, §5.8.6; COPA, The Contributions of Parliaments to Democracy: Benchmarks for the Parliaments of the Americas, §; APF, La réalité démocratique des Parlements: Quels critères d’évaluation? §

[3] Toby Mendel. Parliament and Access to Information: Working for Transparent Governance, CPA-WBI, §14.3.

[4] IPU, Guidelines for Parliamentary Websites, §2.5.

[5] Global Centre for ICT in Parliament, World e-Parliament Report 2010, IPU-UNDESA, p. 181.

[6] Website of the Senate of Pakistan, Senate Standing, Functional and Special Committee Reports. Accessed 6/14/2012.

[7] Parliamentary Centre, African Parliamentary Index, June 2011, p. 94.

[8] Center for Liberal Strategies, Open Parliaments: Transparency and Accountability of Parliaments in South-East Europe, p. 112; the website for Romania’s parliament is available at Accessed 6/12/2012.

[9] Centre for Civil Society, Parliament and Citizens: Bridging the Gap Through Greater Transparency, July 2010, p. 15.

[10] Wafa Ben Hassine, Constituent Assembly: Duty to Lead the Way in Transparency and Governmental Accountability, Nawaat, 7 Jun 2012. Accessed 6/12/2012.

Sec. 20. Recording Parliamentary Votes

To ensure accountability to their constituents for their voting behavior, parliament shall seek to minimize the use of voice voting in plenary and shall use roll call or electronic voting in most cases, maintaining and making available to the public a record of the individual voting behavior of individual members of parliament in plenary and in committees.

A parliamentary vote tells citizens how a member of parliament stands on an issue. It is critical information for citizens who will eventually be asked to make choices regarding which members or parties should be returned to parliament in the next elections. As a result it is critical that citizens to understand the positions of their elected officials and have unfettered access to the voting records on all individual votes, including information on abstentions and absences. Using roll call or electronic voting helps to ensure that individual votes are ‘on the record.’ Over-use of voice voting or voting by acclamation should be avoided.

The CPA, APF COPA benchmarks state that plenary votes must be held in public,[1] while SADC-PF adds that “Parliament shall make public any exceptions to this presumption and give advance notice before a secret vote.”[2] When using roll call voting, SADC-PF notes that “the public shall be given access to how Members voted.”[3] The CPA and COPA also stipulate that “voting of committees shall be held in public.”[4] Public votes are becoming increasingly common in practice. In Romania, voting is conducted electronically and openly during plenary sessions and votes are posted on the websites of the respective chambers. Citizens are able to monitor the voting record of each individual member of parliament and citizens and civic groups have used videos of plenary voting to reveal fraudulent voting practices and violations of the rules of procedure.[5] Argentina has recently passed roll call voting.[6] However, few parliaments provide access to votes through open data formats that allow PMOs and citizens to easily analyze voting behavior using technology. Without access to votes in open formats, PMOs such as, which use voting data to help citizens understand complex political processes, must input results into their databases manually or by “scraping” parliamentary websites for data, increasing the potential for error and inaccuracy.

Data on voting records is crucial for the effective monitoring of parliaments. The European Parliament’s releasing of vote data on the website—although not yet available in XML—nonetheless allows for analysis of voting records by PMOs and by civil society. For example, the parliamentary monitoring organization VoteWatch.EU scrapes data from the EU Parliament’s website, and displays extensive searchable information about votes and the debates surrounding them.[7] In Tunisia, after working with civil society groups, the Citizen Assembly agreed to publish all plenary roll call lists on the Assembly’s official website beginning in June 2012.[8]

[1] CPA, Recommended Benchmarks for Democratic Legislatures, §2.6.1; APF, La réalité démocratique des Parlements: Quels critères d’évaluation? §; COPA The Contributions of Parliaments to Democracy: Benchmarks for the Parliaments of the Americas, §

[2] SADC PF, Benchmarks for Democratic Legislatures in Southern Africa, §5.6.1.

[3] Ibid., 5.6.3

[4] CPA, Recommended Benchmarks for Democratic Legislatures, §3.1.5; also similarly COPA, The Contributions of Parliaments to Democracy: Benchmarks for the Parliaments of the Americas, §

[5] See, for example:

[6] Jones, Mark, Hwang, Wonjae. Majority Cartels, Distributive Politics, and Inter-Party Relations in a Unidimensional Legislature: the Argentine Chamber of Deputies, 2003, Accessed 4/15/2012.

[7] Doru Frantescu, Policy Director, VoteWatch, State of Play at the EU Level, Global Centre for ICT in Parliament Meeting, Washington, D.C., February 27-29, 2012. Accessed 6/12/2012.

[8] Wafa Ben Hassine, Constituent Assembly: Duty to Lead the Way in Transparency and Governmental Accountability, Nawaat, 7 Jun 2012. Accessed 6/12/2012.

Sec. 21. Publishing a Hansard, Transcripts, or Records of Plenary Proceedings

Parliament shall create, maintain and publish readily accessible records of its plenary proceedings in the form of audio or video recordings, hosted online in a permanent location, and in the form of a written transcript.

The plenary serves as a forum for public discussion and final decision-making on all legislation. In many parliaments, the plenary provides an opportunity for questioning ministers or for voicing the concerns of constituents. There is broad international consensus on the importance of plenary for communicating parliamentary views and intentions to the public. COPA states that “debates on proposed legislation must be open to the public at some stage in the legislative process”[1] and that “plenary sessions of the parliament must be open to the public.”[2] Additionally, the Guidelines for Parliamentary Websites state that parliaments should make public “documentation produced from plenary sessions, such as schedules and agenda published in advance, records of actions taken, text of statements by members, and text of debates” in addition to audio, video, or web broadcasts of plenary meetings.[3] The IPU and the Global Centre for ICT in Parliament also recommend that parliaments make public documentation of previous plenary meetings, along with an audio or video archive of those meetings.[4] 

Most parliaments demonstrate a commitment to this standard by making plenary activities public. According to the World e-Parliament Report 2010, 81% of parliaments provide documentation of plenary activities.[5] In Bangladesh, the Secretary of the Jatiya Sangsad must ensure that a full report of plenary proceedings is published as soon as possible.[6] India requires the Secretaries General of both houses to publish a full report of the proceedings of open sittings. They must also maintain records of all reports and papers laid on the table by both Houses.[7] Unfortunately, as SAHR reports, this is not common practice in the region: “people other than MPs in most South Asian countries do not have easy access to the reports of proceedings and papers laid on the table…The only source of information for most people is media reportage.”[8] By allowing media to control the parliaments’ messages, parliaments are missing out on an opportunity to communicate their work to citizens directly. When parliaments are unable to publish their own transcripts, civil society organizations are often able to fill the gap. In 2012, an Open Parliament initiative in Serbia composed of a coalition of civil society organizations, launched a new website,, which will provide citizens with access to transcripts of all parliamentary sessions.[9]

In addition to written records, many parliaments are providing the public with audiovisual and multimedia recordings of the plenary. SADC PF, in fact, includes as a standard that “citizens shall have access to parliamentary business through broadcasts of plenary and committee meetings via multimedia such as the Internet, live television, and radio.”[10] From Morocco to Brazil to the United States, multimedia recordings of the plenary are becoming common practice; innovative use of hyperlinks can also associate relevant portions of the recorded session to particular points in the legislative history or legislative agenda.  

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

[2] Ibid., §

[3] IPU, Guidelines for Parliamentary Websites, §2.6.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Global Centre for ICT in Parliament, World e-Parliament Report 2010, IPU-UNDESA, p. 180.

[6] SAHR, Transparency in Parliament, Sri Lanka 2009, p. 24.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Ibid., p. 29.

[9] USAID Serbia press release, Transcripts of Parliamentary Sessions Now Available to All Citizens, 6 Jun 2012. Release Open Parliament.pdf. Accessed 6/16/2012.

[10] SADC PF, Benchmarks for Democratic Legislatures in Southern Afica, §6.4.4.

Sec. 22. Publishing Reports Created by or Provided to Parliament

All reports created by parliament or that are requested or required to be submitted to the parliament, its offices, or committees, shall be made public in their entirety, except in narrowly defined circumstances identified by law.

Due to its oversight function, parliament is also an important source of information about the executive branch. On the other hand, parliament’s representational role makes it an important vehicle for ensuring that citizens’ voices are also heard by the executive. Being at the nexus of communications between citizens and their government, parliaments create and receive information that impacts the lives of citizens and should be made available for public consumption. This includes reports developed by governmental, semi-governmental and independent institutions and organizations, including human rights commissions, constitutional bodies, offices of ombudsmen, directors of public prosecutions, audit institutions, state-owned enterprises, courts, and others. In essence, this principle seeks to affirm the right of citizens to “any output of taxpayer funding” including “information collected and produced by the government,” and the expectation that parliaments provide this information as part of their normal course of action.[1]

In many countries, in situations where a government agency or executive department submits a report to parliament, it is the responsibility of the reporting agency to make that report public. These reports are often made available on the agencies website.[2] In others, parliament takes greater responsibility in publishing reports. In Kenya, the parliamentary website contains a feed of reports created by special commissions of the parliament, as well as reports submitted to the National Assembly. For example, it may contain a report submitted by the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission, a policy brief from the Departmental Committee on Health, or a report from the Parliamentary Budget Office.[3] In Sweden, the Committee on the Constitution collects reports on individual ministers to examine the work of the government, and makes all reports received public through the parliament’s website. The parliament, or Riksdag, also collects annual reports from commissions like the National Audit Office, the Parliamentary Ombudsmen, and the Riksbank, which are made available on the Riksdag’s website as well.[4] In the Netherlands, members of the Senate are able to pose direct questions to agencies and members of the government, the answers of which are then printed by parliament and available on the website of the Senate.[5] Even where the underlying reports may be available on the websites of the reporting agency, parliament can bolster its role by also providing information on its review of the report and an additional copy, to ensure that it is preserved as part of the complete legislative electronic record.

[1] TAI, Opening Government, 2011, p. 15

[2] For example, the Canada Revenue Agency’s Annual Report to Parliament is made available on the Agency’s website at; the UK’s Information Commissioner’s Office Reports to Parliament at; the Italian Intelligence System for the Security of the Republic’s Annual Report to Parliament at;

[3] Website of the Parliament of the Republic of Kenya, Homepage. Accessed 6/14/2012.

[4] Website of the Sveriges Riksdag, Reports to the Committee on the Constitution.; Submissions and Reports. Both accessed 6/14/2012.

[5] Website of the Eerste Kamer der Staten-Generaal, Schriftelijke vragen. Accessed 6/14/2012.

Sec. 23. Providing Budget Information

Parliament has a responsibility to make public comprehensive, detailed, and easily understandable information about the national budget and expenditures, including past, current, and projected revenues and expenditures, and information regarding the parliament’s own budget, including information about its own budget execution, bids and contracts, and other funds. This information should be made public in its entirety, using a consistent taxonomy, along with plain language summaries, explanations or reports that help promote citizen understanding.

Citizens, as taxpayers, have the right to access information about public funds and their use. According to the OECD, “Legislatures' budgetary oversight function contributes to transparency and public financial accountability. The presentation of the budget and related documentation in the legislature is normally the first opportunity for public scrutiny of the government’s spending priorities. Legislative debate in both the plenary and committees facilitates public participation in the budget process.”[1] But for public participation in the budget process to be effective, citizens must have access to all budgetary, spending, and audit information accessible by parliament and the executive. Raw budget data, furthermore, should be released in an open format and using a consistent taxonomy that allows for comparison and automated analysis. The OECD provides an extensive and comprehensive roadmap for budget transparency in their Best Practices for Budget Transparency.[2]

In addition to providing all budgetary information in raw form, parliaments should ensure that this information is in a format that can be understood by the general public. To facilitate citizen understanding and analysis, parliament should release plain language summaries, reports and analyses of budget data. The Guidelines for Parliamentary Websites recommend that parliaments publish explanations of budget processes and roles, proposals, reviews, and documentation regarding the review of past and present activities in a searchable database.[3] 


Although part of the national budget, the parliament’s own budget, and information on its execution, should also be made public. In Argentina, both chambers of the legislature are required to publish their budgets, expenditures, and details about administrative positions and the awarding of contracts.[4] Both houses of parliament in India contain links to the website that includes detailed budget information for parliament,[5] while the Ministry of Finance’s website houses the budget for the government of India as a whole, including presentations, speeches and reports given to parliament.[6] The Indian budget is reviewed in detail by parliamentary committees, whose resulting reports and recommendations are also available on the parliamentary chambers’ websites. Further, annual reports and performance budgets are available on the websites of all ministries and government departments.[7] Each year in Uganda, a government ministry brings together all stakeholders involved in the budget process, including Parliament and civil society, among others. “They come together to discuss and share information on the government’s economic performance as well as… available resources… This involves goal and objective setting, as well as review of progress made in terms of service provision over the previous year.”[8] In many countries, the supreme audit institution reports to parliament, and their audit reports should also be made public.

There are also non-parliamentary examples of good budget transparency practice. In fulfillment of the commitments of the Open Government Partnership, the government of Brazil established a Transparency Portal—which as of 2010, is updated daily—that provides “online information on the execution of the federal budget in clear and understandable language.”[9] After the enactment of new laws in 2009, all levels of government must disclose in real time on the Internet their budgetary execution data. In Chile, as of 2006, all public bodies are required to public details of the spending of public funds, contracts, and staff information; which is then linked to the electronic ChileCompra system and available to the public.[10] 

[1] OECD, Government at a Glance 2011, p. 191.

[2] OECD, Best Practices for Budget Transparency, Accessed, 2/14/2012.

[3] IPU, Guidelines for Parliamentary Websites, §2.3.

[4] Participa Corporation, Poder Ciudadano, and Accion Cuidadana, Regional Index of Parliamentary Transparency, August 2008, p. 10.

[5] Centre for Civil Society, Parliament and Citizens: Bridging the Gap Through Greater Transparency, July 2010, p. 6.

[6] Indian Ministry of Finance Website, Union Budget and Economic Survey. Accessed 6/12/2012.

[7] SAHR, Transparency in Parliament, Sri Lanka 2009, p. 48.

[8] Parliamentary Centre, African Parliamentary Index, June 2011, p. 168.

[9] Open Government Partnership, Brazil: Country Commitments, Accessed 6/12/2012.

[10] Helen Darbishire, Proactive Transparency: The future of the right to information?, World Bank Institute, p. 12.

Sec. 24. Disclosing Assets and Ensuring the Integrity of Members

Parliament shall make available sufficient information to allow citizens to make judgments regarding the integrity and probity of individual members of parliament, including information on members’ asset disclosures, non-parliamentary income, including interest, dividends and in-kind benefits.

Polls of citizens often demonstrate that citizens lack complete trust in their parliaments. According to the ECPRD, “The question of averting corruption and maintaining high standards of behaviour in public life has become a topical issue, as evidenced by the public outrage each time there have been revelations concerning serious misconduct by Members, the privileges enjoyed by special advisors, the keeping of slush funds, the sponsorship of government activities or the revolving-door careers of senior civil servants, to name but a few.”[1] By requiring members to disclose their assets and financial interests in detail, parliaments demonstrate a clear commitment to protecting the integrity of the parliamentary institution.

This principle is consistent with international benchmarks for democratic parliaments adopted by the CPA, APF, COPA, and SADC-PF.  The CPA states that “Legislatures shall require legislators to fully and publicly disclose their financial assets and business interests.”[2] COPA’s benchmarks further mandate that members “must disclose their assets before, during and at the end of their term.”[3] Guidelines released by the Transparency and Accountability Initiative, in support of OGP, also state that MPs should be required to disclose systematic information on regular basis, including information on assets, liabilities, sources of income, gifts, and conflicts of interest.[4]

The OECD reports that disclosure of private assets is required in 85% of member country parliaments[5] and is also required in countries as diverse as Algeria, Australia, Ghana, Japan, Tanzania, and Uruguay.[6] Many countries exhibit good practices intended toward a high level of transparency, closing potential loopholes and avoiding opportunities for evasion. In South Africa, members of parliament are provided with a list of “registerable interests” that they must make public.[7] In India, “After a candidate wins elections to either House of Parliament it becomes mandatory for him/her to declare their assets (movable and immovable property for self, spouse and dependent children) within 90 days of taking oath of office as an MP. Liabilities to public financial institutions and the Central and any State Government are also required to be disclosed.”[8] In Canada, Parliament has adopted a Conflict of Interest Code that not only requires regular disclosure of interests by members of parliament, but also requires former members to disclose interests, as well as their spouses and dependent children – closing a loophole that has been used in some countries as a method for avoiding disclosure.[9] According to the parliament’s Standing Orders, New Zealand’s MPs must disclose “returns of pecuniary interests” by publishing them in the “Record of Pecuniary Interest” within 90 days of their general election. Financial interests from both members and their spouses and children must also be disclosed.[10] The Public Service Ethics Act adopted by the National Assembly in South Korea requires that members of the Assembly must disclose ownership of both real and intangible property as well as shares in nonpublic business entities. These disclosures are published in a public bulletin.[11] Latvia adopted a comprehensive law to on financial disclosure of members of the Saeima, requiring broad asset disclosure of members and their relatives.[12]

[1] Williams, Veronica. Parliamentary Codes of Conduct in Europe: An Overview. European Center for Parliamentary Research and Documentation, 2001.

[2] CPA, Recommended Benchmarks for Democratic Legislatures, §10.1.3.

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

[4] TAI’s guidelines, entitled Asset Disclosure (2011), are available here: Accessed 6/18/2012.

[5] OECD, Government at a Glance 2011, p. 207.

[6] Parliamentary Centre, African Parliamentary Index, June 2011, pp. 61, 141; also NDI 10.1.2

[7] IPU, Parliament and Democracy in the Twenty-First Century: A Guide to Good Practice, p. 101.

[8] Centre for Civil Society, Parliament and Citizens: Bridging the Gap Through Greater Transparency, July 2010, p. 18.

[9] Office of the Ethics Counsellor, Canada, Conflict of Interest and Post-Employment Code for Public Office Holders, June 1994. Accessed 6/18/2012.

[10] New Zealand House of Representatives, Standing Orders of the House of Representatives, pp. 160-3. Accessed 6/18/2012.

[11] Public Service Ethics Act, Act No. 4566, 11 Jun 1993 (South Korea). Accessed 6/18/2012.

[12] On Prevention of Conflict of Interest in Activities of Public Officials, 10 May 2002. Accessed 6/18/2012.

Sec. 25. Disclosing Information on Conflicts of Interest and Ethical Conduct

Parliament shall disclose information necessary to protect against actual or perceived conflicts of interest and ethical violations, including relevant information about members’ interactions with lobbyists and pressure groups. Parliament shall also make public information available on the final results of any judicial or parliamentary investigations into charges of unethical behavior, conflicts of interest or corruption.

In addition to requiring asset and economic interest disclosure (see provision 24 above), many parliaments safeguard the independence, professionalism and integrity of the parliamentary institution by ensuring that members avoid actual or perceived conflicts of interest and the appearance of impropriety. To do so, many parliaments require disclosure of ties to lobby and interest groups, criminal records, gifts received, statements or offers of future employment, the final results of ethics investigations, and other information that could call into question the integrity of officeholders. As this information reflects on the fitness of a member or parliamentary candidate to serve in elected office, citizens must be apprised of such information.

The Commonwealth Principles on the Three Branches of Government call on all branches of government to “...respectively develop, adopt and periodically review appropriate guidelines for ethical conduct. These should address the issue of conflict of interest, whether actual or perceived, with a view to enhancing transparency, accountability and public confidence.”[1] Conforming to this principle, the CPA Benchmarks for Democratic Legislatures states that “The Legislature shall approve and enforce a code of conduct, including rules on conflicts of interest and the acceptance of gifts.”[2] Similarly, APF suggests that parliaments should adopt regulations related to the transparency of parliamentarians and their public or parliamentary activities to which parliamentarians must conform.[3] They should also adopt a legal mechanism to regulate the relationship between parliamentarians and interest groups, such as a public registry of interest groups and their activities.[4] 

An article in the American Economic Journal, surveyed MPs in 175 countries for best practices and standards for disclosure of information. The extensive paper found that “Although two thirds of the countries have some disclosure laws, less than one-third make disclosures available to the public, and less than one-sixth of potentially useful information is publicly available in practice, on average. Countries that are richer, more democratic, and have free press have more disclosure. Public disclosure, but not internal disclosure to parliament, is positively related to government quality, including lower corruption.”[5] Putting these principles into practice, the European Parliament requires a “legislative footprint” be attached to all legislative reports drafted by members, which includes information related to meetings with lobbyists that have taken place during the course of their work on the draft report. According to the European Parliament’s OPPD, “[this] offers greater transparency, especially in combination with a new (de facto) compulsory register of lobbyists.”[6] In Sweden, parliament adopted a prohibition of conflict of interests in 1999, stipulating that “a member may not participate in the deliberations of the Chamber or be present at a meeting of a committee on a matter which concerns him (or her) personally or a close relative.”[7]

[1] Commonwealth Secretariat, Commonwealth (Latimer House) Principles on the Three Branches of Government, As agreed by Law Ministers and endorsed by the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting, Abuja, Nigeria, 2003, May 2004, Art. IV. Accessed 6/12/2012.

[2] CPA, Recommended Benchmarks for Democratic Legislatures, §10.1.2.

[3] APF, La réalité démocratique des Parlements: Quels critères d’évaluation? §

[4] Ibid., §

[5] Simeon Djankov, Rafael La Porta, Florencio Lopez-de-Silanes, and Andrei Shleifer, Disclosure by Politicians, American Economic Journal: Applied Economics 2, April 2010, pp. 179-209. Accessed 6/18/2012.

[6] OPPD, Parliamentary Ethics: A Question of Trust, October 2011, p. 7. Accessed 6/25/2012.

[7] Rick Stapenhurst and Riccardo Pelizzo, Legislative Ethics and Codes of Conduct, WBI, 2004. Accessed 6/18/2012.

Sec. 26. Providing Access to Historical Information

Parliamentary information for all prior sessions shall be digitized and made available to the public electronically. Digital information shall be retained in perpetuity and shall continue to be made available to the public. To the extent a parliament cannot digitize and make available its own information, it shall work with outside organizations to facilitate public dissemination of parliamentary information without restriction. Parliament shall provide the public access to a parliamentary library in order to allow members of parliament and the public the ability to access historical parliamentary information.

Historical information provides an important contextual framework for understanding and analyzing current parliamentary activities. It helps lawyers understand the rationale for particular legal decisions, while it helps academics scrutinize the decision-making process over time or benefit from the wealth of information collected on issues touching nearly every aspect of a society’s existence. Public access to historical information should be provided without restriction.

New technologies offer storage, archiving and searchability features that make the digitization of historical records an attractive means for sharing historical information. The IPU recommends making information available on the parliament’s website dating to “as far back as possible” and “[assumes] that documentation that is already digitized will remain available on the website, updated as necessary to comply with the requirements of new technology.”[1] The Organization of American States encourages member states “to take necessary measures to facilitate the electronic availability of public information.”[2] It also follows openness standards developed by the Sunlight Foundation and Transparency International Georgia, which describe permanent archives of government information, preferably online, as crucial to openness and transparency.[3] 

According to the World e-Parliament Report 2010, 59% of democratic parliaments currently have digital preservation programs for documents or are considering them.[4] The United States and European Union both have highly accessible and searchable online systems for current and past legislative actions, entitled “Thomas” and “L’Oeil”, respectively.[5] In Ecuador, the National Congress maintains a searchable online database of all parliamentary action since 1979 which includes “details of the debates and votes that took place on each.”[6] Indonesia’s parliamentary website has a list of past laws, although with slightly less searchability.[7] In New Zealand, a law was passed in 2008 stipulating that all historical law must be digitized, and the program to do so has since been completed with legal information now appearing online.[8] The UK’s Parliament makes available substantial information about past legislation and parliamentary proceedings on their website, as well.[9]

[1] IPU, Guidelines for Parliamentary Websites, p. 12.

[2] OAS AG/RES 2057 (XXXIV-O/04) Access to Public Information: Strengthening Democracy Art. 5

[3] Sunlight Foundation, Ten Principles for Opening Up Government Information, 11 Aug 2010; Transparency International Georgia, Ten Open Data Guidelines. Accessed 6/12/2012.

[4] Global Centre for ICT in Parliament, World e-Parliament Report 2010, IPU-UNDESA, p. 98.

[5] Jeffrey Griffith, Beyond Transparency: New Standards for Legislative Information Systems, Global Centre for ICT in Parliament, June 2006, p. 19.

[6] IPU, Parliament and Democracy in the Twenty-First Century: A Guide to Good Practice, p. 58.

[7] Indonesia on website: 

[8] Website of the Parliament of New Zealand, Accessed on 2/14/2012.

[9] Website of the UK Parliament, Accessed on 2/18/2012.