Working Together for Accountable Government: Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) and parliaments
Alan Hudson - Research Fellow, ODI
Jack Jones Zulu - Jubilee Zambia
Vanesa Weyrauch - CIPPEC, Argentina
Ojobo Atuluku - ActionAid Nigeria
Alan Hudson opened the workshop, emphasising that parliaments and civil society organisations (CSOs) have an interest in holding governments to account.
Jack Jones Zulu, from Jubilee Zambia, made a short presentation which outlined a range of issues which shape CSO-parliamentary engagement in Zambia, and emphasised that a powerful executive makes the job of working with parliamentarians particularly difficult.
Vanesa Weyrauch, from the Centre for the Implementation of Public Policies Promoting Equity and Growth (CIPPEC), Argentina, made a short presentation. She explained that the workings of Argentina's Congress have a major impact on the prospects of CSO engagement, and outlined a series of mechanisms through which CSOs can engage with Congress. One mechanism which CIPPEC has been involved in is the development of a cross-party caucus on fiscal reform - view paper on Developing a Congressional Caucus to Promote Fiscal Reforms in Argentina for more information.
Ojobo Atuluku of ActionAid Nigeria had prepared a presentation, but was unable to attend the CIVICUS World Assembly. Her presentation emphasised that political context makes a huge difference to the nature of, and scope for, CSO-parliamentary engagement. In Nigeria, key aspects of political context include the fact that citizens do not know that they have the right to demand accountability, corruption, and the top-down nature of policy-making.
All of the participants in the workshop then had an opportunity to contribute to the discussion. Issues raised included the following:
- The value of engaging with parliaments/ parliamentarians
- The difficulties and frustrations of engaging with parliaments/parliamentarians
- The apparent irrelevance and ineffectiveness of many parliaments
- The impact of local political context and politics on the scope for CSO-parliamentary engagement
- The role that party loyalties play in shaping the behaviour of MPs, and the impact that this can have on CSO-parliamentary engagement if MPs behave according to party loyalties rather than on the basis of evidence
- The desirability of engaging with parliamentarians at a regional level, and at sub-national levels
- The possibility of working around MPs, and with officials
- The value of formalising and institutionalising CSO-parliamentary engagement.
A final short presentation was made by Tony Worthington. Mr. Worthington was a British MP from 1987 to 2005 and was an active member of the House of Commons Select Committee on International Development (see background paper by Alan Hudson) Since standing down as an MP he has been working to develop regional chapters for the Parliamentary Network on the World Bank, and has been a key player in the development of the International Parliamentarians' Petition. Mr. Worthington emphasised that CSOs which want to engage with parliamentarians need to understand the system within which MPs are working - what is the political context, and what are the political structures? - and need to see things from the perspective of an MP. So, CSOs should think 'why should this issue matter to the MP?'. He ended his presentation on a positive note, suggesting that if CSOs work with parliamentarians they can set in train a virtuous circle of CSO-parliamentary engagement and parliamentary effectiveness.
By working with parliaments, CSOs can play an important role in holding governments and their leaders to account. This was the theme of this workshop, held as part of the CIVICUS World Assembly 2006 and organised by Alan Hudson, Research Fellow at the Overseas Development Institute.
The workshop attracted more than twenty participants from Africa (Zambia, Zimbabwe, Lesotho, Namibia), Asia (China, Bangladesh, India), the Americas (Argentina, USA, Canada), and Europe (UK, Estonia, Latvia, Macedonia).
About The CIVICUS World Assembly 2006
The CIVICUS World Assembly is a forum for international civil society representatives to get together, exchange ideas, experiences and build strategies for a just world. This event held in Glasgow, Scotland, in June 2006 marked the first in a new, annual format for the CIVICUS World Assembly, with each three-year cycle of events to be held in the same city. This format offers exciting new opportunities for sustained, in-depth exploration of issues crucial to civil society, and iterative, shared learning from community and voluntary efforts from around the world and the local context. Key obstacles to tackling global poverty
Building on and continuing the success of past World Assembly events, the overall theme for 2006 World Assembly was 'Acting Together for a Just World'. This overall theme was explored through four sub-themes: Civic Justice, Economic Justice, Political Justice and Social Justice. Attendees at the opening plenary of the CIVICUS World Assembly regarded 'unaccountable leaders' as the key obstacle to tackling global poverty.