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Declaration on Parliamentary Openness [Draft Commentary]

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Title III - Making Parliamentary Information Transparent

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: http://www.europarl.europa.eu/pdf/oppd/Page_8/codes_of_conduct_FINAL-ENforweb.pdf. Accessed: 6/15/2012.

[2] CPA, Recommended Benchmarks for Democratic Legislatures, §5.1.1; APF, La réalité démocratique des Parlements: Quels critères d’évaluation? §3.2.1.1.

[3] Ibid., §5.1.2; Ibid., §3.2.1.2.

[4] Ibid., §5.2.1; Ibid., §3.2.2.1.

[5] National Conference on State Legislatures, NCSL Model Code of Conduct for Legislative Staff, 2009, Art. 1, Sec. I. Available at: http://www.ncsl.org/legislatures-elections/legisdata/model-code-of-conduct-for-legislative-staff.aspx#a1. 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: http://www.europarl.europa.eu/pdf/oppd/Page_8/codes_of_conduct_FINAL-ENforweb.pdf. Accessed: 6/15/2012.

[8] Ibid.

[9] Website of the Parliament of Australia, Biographies of senior staff. http://www.aph.gov.au/About_Parliament/Parliamentary_Departments/Department_of_the_House_of_Representatives/Biographies. Accessed 6/14/2012.

[10] Website of the Brazilian Chamber of Deputies, Contact Details. http://www2.camara.gov.br/english/important-contact-details. Accessed 6/14/2012.

[11] Website of the Parliament of South Africa, Parliamentary Service. http://www.parliament.gov.za/live/content.php?Category_ID=132. Accessed 6/14/2012.

[12] Website of the Lok Sabha, Organization Chart of Lok Sabha Secretariat. http://164.100.47.132/LssNew/Secretariat/officer_lss.aspx. 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: http://clerk.house.gov/public_disc/foreign/index.aspx. Senate travel information is searchable at: http://soprweb.senate.gov/giftrule/. Accessed: 6/25/2012.