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Declaration on Parliamentary Openness [Draft Commentary]

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Title III - Making Parliamentary Information Transparent

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.