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Declaration on Parliamentary Openness [Draft Commentary]

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Title III - Making Parliamentary Information Transparent

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.