“There are always forces seeking to undermine democracy. Transparency and open data are key to defending it,” asserted Lord Frances Maude, Member of the House of Lords, in opening remarks of the Open Parliament Day Conference held in the Parliament of Estonia, ahead of the OGP Global Summit.
As expressed by Lord Maude, the global democratic norms of transparency and openness represent the best defense against autocratic or corrupt actors who seek to exercise undue influence on political processes and institutions. Legislatures, in particular, play a vital role in upholding these essential democratic principles and practices. The health of a democracy depends on the ability of the parliament to pass laws that advance the common good and hold the executive to account for the faithful implementation of those laws.
For more than ten years, the National Democratic Institute (NDI) has been a leading supporter of the Open Parliament agenda, having co-developed the Declaration of Parliamentary Openness, in 2012, to support the active engagement of parliaments within the Open Government Partnership. Currently, NDI is supporting legislative transparency reforms and implementation in more than 20 countries around the world. In parallel, at the global level, NDI is a core member of the Open Parliament e-Network (OPeN), along with the Latin American Network for Legislative Transparency, Westminster Foundation for Democracy (WFD), Parlamericas, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (OSCE-ODIHR), and International IDEA. OPeN works to raise awareness regarding the roles of parliaments in open government reforms and to promote collaboration between legislatures, government and civil society.
In the most recent Open Parliament event which NDI helped co-organize with the OPeN coalition, legislators shared tangible advances in how their parliaments have enacted measures to share parliamentary information and enable effective monitoring. While parliamentary transparency remains a collective challenge and an ongoing endeavor, participants emphasized the power of the personal example. They highlighted the importance of individuals using their persuasive abilities to advance the transparency agenda. As Ghanaian member of parliament (MP), Emmanuel Bedzrah, pointed out, if you’re championing a cause, people must have faith in your credibility, which necessitates your own openness and transparency. Indonesian MP, Fadli Zan, and Kenyan MP, Boni Khalwale, also underscored the media’s influential role in driving parliamentary transparency. They noted that the media can compel transparency by spotlighting the quality of individual parliamentary performance and uncovering misconduct among parliamentarians.
Legislators also reflected on the importance of parliamentary oversight to combat corruption. In the United States, Jackie Speier, a former member of the United States Congress, pointed out that while oversight committees can sometimes be used for political showmanship, they also serve as “the truth serum” and act as watchdogs within a government. Jorida Tabaku, Member of Parliament in Albania, emphasized that investigative committees in Albania serve as a vital instrument for tackling corruption. They empower parliamentarians to demand transparency and enable them to function as prosecutors in pursuing corruption cases.
Similarly, the panel recognized that parliament’s ability to shed light on the pressure points and incentives of corruption is strengthened through collaboration with effective independent state institutions. For this reason, MP Samuel Perez, stated that the main purpose of the new Guatemalan Anti-Corruption Commission is to support policy improvement and legislative enhancement.
A parliament’s role in combating corruption is further empowered when it considers the broader social and cultural context. Margit Sutrop, Member of Parliament in Estonia, emphasized that this cultural aspect is often more important than having a law in place and has played a crucial role in the success of the transparency norms that underpin Estonia’s digitalization of public services.
Finally, there was widespread recognition of the role that civil society plays in tracking, reporting on and strengthening parliaments. On that point, Maria Baron, Global Executive Director of Directorio Legislativo, asserted that creating a sustainable basis for legislative transparency depends on collaboration between civil society and legislatures for the co-creation of commitments, including on the proactive sharing of information related to parliamentary activities, including proceedings, legislative proposals, voting records, amendments, committee reports, and budget details.
By reflecting a wide and diverse variety of reform processes, participants in the Open Parliament event were able to demonstrate that progress is possible across contexts, while also highlighting that success depends on tailored approaches appropriate to the domestic political complexities. Importantly, the experiences served to further demonstrate that sustainable open government hinges on the constructive engagement of the parliaments who must pass, fund and oversee the reforms. In other words, Open Government cannot be achieved without Open Parliaments.
Author: Victoria Hasson, Consultant for the Democratic Governance Team
NDI is a non-profit, non-partisan, non-governmental organization that works in partnership around the world to strengthen and safeguard democratic institutions, processes, norms and values to secure a better quality of life for all. NDI envisions a world where democracy and freedom prevail, with dignity for all.