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Mr. Chairman, Honourable Members of Parliaments, Ladies and Gentlemen,
The Konrad-Adenauer-Foundation is one of the German political foundations, established fifty years ago in order to promote active participation of citizens in the democratic life of our country after the end of the Nazi-Tyranny. The German political foundations are close to the democratic parties represented in the German Parliament, however legally and financially independent from the political parties. We receive most of our funds from the German Parliament. For more than forty years we are conducting international projects to promote democracy and rule of law and to assist in fighting poverty. Today we have representative offices in 65 developing countries and countries under transition. In more than half of these countries we are cooperating with the parliaments.
It is an honour and pleasure for me, to share with you today some of our experiences in cooperating with parliaments and parliamentarians worldwide – even if most of these experiences and conclusions will be not new for you, as you are the actors in parliamentary life day by day.
When it comes to the question, how we can contribute to strengthen the capacity of parliamentarians to fulfil their functions of accountability and of oversight of the actions of the governments, we have to take in account, that the real power of the parliament and the capability of the parliamentarians, assisted by the staff of the parliaments administrations, differs a lot from country to country. Therefore the first step in a project focussing on the strengthening of this capacity is always a careful assessment – if possible in close cooperation with representatives of the political parties and of civil society of the country - of the real power position of the parliament in the respective country and of the knowledge and capability of the parliamentarians to conduct activities like inquiry, request, analysing technical and financial documents, drafting recommendations or amendments and publicly criticizing powerful government members.
Of course globalization, global governance issues and decisions made in international fora and corporate boardrooms add another huge challenge to the responsibility of parliamentarians today. However first things come first: A parliament, which has no power and capacity at all to monitor and control the government, will not have any chance to be heard and respected when its members rise their voices on development and global issues.
Let me give you a small example. In Cambodia our foundation had started to cooperate with the National Assembly in order to strengthen its role and the effectiveness of its work immediately after the first elections after the end of the civil war and UN transitional administration period in 1994. In 2000, during the time when I was serving as country representative of Konrad-Adenauer-Foundation in Phnom Penh, I agreed with the President of the National Assembly and with the three parliamentary parties represented there to put a focus on questions of government oversight by the parliament and specifically on the exercise of the sovereign budget right by the parliament.
Analysing the situation we understood, that the yearly State Budget Law, prepared by the Minister of Finance on behalf of the Government, did not contain more than very general figures for the different ministries – no details on personnel, programs and projects. Parliamentarians had no access to information in the ministries, which prepared the different parts of the budget. And the draft yearly budget law used to be sent to the two chambers of the parliament for discussion and approval in the second week of December with a deadline of two weeks for finalization and voting.
I discussed this situation with the chairman of the Committee of the National Assembly for Banking and Finance, which was functioning also as budget committee of the National Assembly. He was a powerful member of the inner cercle of the ruling party. He told me, that he would very much like to have the parliament play a real role in the state budget discussion: to be able to gather information in advance, to discuss about details of the budget of the different state bodies and to have time enough for careful examination of the draft of the government in the committees of the parliament. However the Minister of Finance, from his own party, had not cooperated up to now on his requests regarding this issue.
Some weeks later I had the opportunity to discuss the issue with the Minister of Finance personally – a man with good reputation in the donor community for openness and reform minded policies. He told me frankly, that he refused any strengthening of the role of the parliament in preparing and deciding on the state budget in the past and that he would continue to do so in the future as long as the parliament due to lack of knowledge and capacity of understanding the complicated issues of detailed budget provisions and regulations would only disturb and create damage to the coherence and effectiveness of reform- and development oriented policies mirrored in the budget law.
Of course I did not take this for face value, knowing for example, that the head of the parliamentary opposition in the National Assembly was the former Minister of Finance. However this justification was not easy to argue away, because in fact there were neither enough specialist knowledge nor suitable and effective procedures for the drafting, redrafting and discussing of the state budget law in place in the Cambodian parliament.
Professional knowledge on such issues cannot be delivered through a workshop or short seminar or a study tour. Therefore we reacted in assisting the Cambodian National Assembly to apply successfully at the German Government’s Integrated Expert Programme for a long term advisor on state budget issues to build up professional capacity through ongoing consulting and on the job training for the members and the staff of the Budget Committee of the Cambodian National Assembly. This advisor, a highly experienced former secretary of the budget commission of a European Parliament, is working now for several years at the budget commission and cooperating with our foundation in the activities of capacity building for the of the Cambodian Parliament.
This example shows, that in some cases – and that’s not only Cambodia - we have to respond to very basic needs of capacity building before we can address issues of accountability of the parliaments and parliamentarians for development and global issues – which in our case also would be hidden behind some general figures of the draft budget law presented to the Cambodian National Assembly by their government. However in many other cases, where the power and professional capacity of the parliament regarding its overall function of oversight of the government is already more developed, the specific accountability of the parliament and its members for the respond on the challenges of globalisation and of global governance issues can be supported by more specific measures.
In different countries we have had good experiences with quite a number of different activities and approaches:
- Many highly qualified short-term experts are invited by our foundation on request of government institutions or civil society partners of Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung in the different countries where we work in order to pay consultative visits on new political strategies, on new legislation, reform of administrative structures or development of programs and projects as a respond on global governance issues or the socio-economic impact of globalisation. In some countries we have made it a general praxis to offer regularly to the parliament seminars and workshops with these experts too in order to inform and qualify members of parliaments and the supportive staff of the parliament’s administration on these issues.
- In our cooperation with civil society partners in different countries we use to involve members of the parliament and experts from the staff of the parliament’s administration in seminars and workshops on issues, which are connected to the problems of development, global governance and the dealing with the impact of globalisation.
- In some cases we have assisted the parliaments to organise hearings with national and international experts on crucial issues of development and reforms in the respective country, namely when these issues have a certain complexity and the pro and cons of different options are not so clear in the public discussion.
- Often we invite in our ongoing cooperation programs with parliaments not only experts and professionals on specific issues, but also members of our own national parliament or of other European parliaments to meet for some days dialogue with their colleagues in the parliaments of the respective countries in order to discuss not only about the problems, which have to be addressed, but also on the role and functions of the parliamentarians in these processes and the experiences made by them in different countries.
- In some countries, where we meet specific problems of human resources, we have organised systematic and long term training courses for the staff of the parliament administration in charge of assisting with important functions of the parliament, for example policy analysis, law drafting and legislation and scientific consulting of the members of parliament.
- We are organising study tours for members and highly qualified staff of parliaments to other countries in the respective region or in Europe in order to provide them with the opportunity to study on the spot facilities, solutions and institutions addressing problems of development and of governance in our globalising world.
- In many cases we have provided fellowships from some weeks up to two years for staff of the parliament’s administration with specific responsibilities and have organised practical learning at other parliaments or institutions connected to their field of expertise.
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