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Declaration on Parliamentary Openness [Draft Commentary]

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Title III - Making Parliamentary Information Transparent

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.