Rebeca Grynspan: Remarks at the Regional Seminar on “The evolving relationship between citizens and parliaments in the Arab world”

Jun 5, 2013

Remarks for Rebeca Grynspan
UN Under Secretary-General and
UNDP Associate Administrator
“Crafting Policies With Human Development at the Centre: Parliament’s Role”
at the Regional Seminar on “The evolving relationship between citizens and parliaments in the Arab world” jointly organized by the Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU), UNDP and the Parliament of Morocco
5 June 2013
Rabat, Morocco

President of the IPU, Hon. Abdhalwahad Radi,
President of the House of Representatives, Hon. Karim Ghellab,
President of the House of Councilors, Mohammed Cheikh Biadillah,
Honorable MPs,
Parliamentary Development Practitioners;

I am delighted to join you for this timely session.

I must first thank our Moroccan hosts for their warm hospitality and the valuable partnership with the United Nations Development Programme and the Inter-Parliamentary Union.

This seminar addresses a number of issues of vital importance to the work of UNDP, where I serve as Associate Administrator, as well as to me personally as a former politician and elected Vice-President of my country.

At UNDP, we have long viewed Parliaments as playing a unique and crucial role in ensuring effective, inclusive, and democratic governance. We have enjoyed a lengthy and productive partnership with the IPU in our support to parliaments worldwide.

Parliaments have a vital role to play in devising national and local development policies. By making laws, being an essential part of the check and balances needed in a democracy and exercising oversight, parliamentarians can exert decisive influence in developing and implementing laws and policies that shape more inclusive, sustainable, resilient societies that are grounded in respect for human rights and geared towards maximizing human development—this is UNDP’s core mandate.

As Parliamentarians your role is key. You shape democracy itself, draft the laws, the budget allocations and the fiscal parametres, the basic frameworks to extend the benefits of growth to poor communities and people and build resilience. We in UNDP have been turning more and more to what we call "supporting democracy beyond the ballot box".

Today, we are proud to support the work of one in every three parliaments worldwide.

Last year, I joined the IPU Secretary-General to launch the first ever joint IPU-UNDP Global Parliamentary Report, which outlined strategies and lessons learned for MPs looking for ways to meet public expectations and improve relations between parliaments and citizens.

The Global Parliamentary Report gathers innovative experiences and practices that connect parliaments with citizens worldwide and can help them adapt to the new times and demands.   The Report we launch today focuses on the parliamentary function of representation and the need to hear and respond to civil society and citizens, and maintain a constructive dialogue.  Only by doing so will they turn to be truly representative, and thus accessible to all they represent.

 The Report offers concrete examples of how field visits, constituency work, citizen and expert hearings enable Parliamentarians to receive, reflect on and act upon the concerns of citizens and communities. But the report also recognizes the tensions between balancing the need to be responsive and effective brokers, negotiators, and facilitators, with the demands made on them as representatives.

Recent transitions in this region reinforce the essential role of parliaments in the quest for greater political voice and democracy: there is clearly a need and a demand for more inclusiveness in the work of parliaments, a need to strengthen the representativeness of the assemblies, as well as a necessity to rebuild citizens’ trust in state institutions and their ability to improve citizens’ lives.  

In Egypt and Tunisia, the role and powers of the parliament have been pivotal in discussions about the shape of the post-revolution state.  In Yemen, Jordan, and Oman, the promise of genuine legislative and oversight powers for the parliament are key reforms in response to public demands.

In Morocco, the House of Representatives is currently finalizing its Strategic Plan. This Strategic Plan provides an important opportunity for the implementation of a shared vision in the House to improve its functioning and performance, and emerge as a stronger institution. There will be a lot to learn from this for all of us!

The Arab Region has clearly stated the need for stronger legislative bodies, with better tools to carry out their work and balance historically stronger executive branches of government. Greater transparency, more responsive oversight, and better budgeting are urgent.  Many countries in the region need to restore citizens' faith in government and reinforce political settlements. The need and demand for more inclusive societies and economies, for jobs and economic growth that benefits all are a huge task before you.

The report recognizes, however, that while challenges and even methods may be similar, the customs, practice and arrangements involved in these approaches are unique to each country.  The diversity of parliamentary systems reflects countries’ particular historical and political contexts.

UNDP’s most recent Human Development Report, our flagship publication, notes that since 1990 all but two countries worldwide have improved their human development scores, reflecting major advances in education, health, and income across the globe, especially in countries that began at the lower end. 

Here in the Arab States region, we have seen considerable progress towards achieving the Millennium Development Goals, particularly in education.  But in other areas, the region is lagging—notably in tackling hunger, improving access to water and sanitation, empowering women, and reducing maternal and child mortality. Economic growth has been robust, but it hasn’t always translated into human development progress. As in many other parts of the world, we see that gaps have widened between and within regions, between urban and rural areas, between affluent suburbs and expanding slums. That is why we have called for inequality to be considered an important issue in the post-2015 agenda.

Here in Rabat, we are focused on how parliaments can be drivers of human development, and create an enabling environment for people to enjoy long, healthy and happy lives, with responsive governments and the chance to achieve their potential.  Enabling policies may be local and national, but the benefits are global.  Citizens, who are better fed and better educated, better governed, employed, and informed are more likely to lead the world in a positive direction for all.  Men and women who feel safe on the streets and secure in their legal rights are more likely to invest in their own future.  Well-governed countries that become trusted partners in trade and commerce can experience huge economic gains, which help us all.

Across the region, a number of initiatives are already under way:

  • In Morocco, innovative work has been undertaken by the parliamentary committee for social sectors with the assessment to oversee public policies for people with disabilities and to assess the Moroccan Government’s commitment to the implementation of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and the Optional Protocol.
  • In Kuwait, the budget reflects the National Strategic Development Plan – to maintain economic growth and social stability, an effective system of legislation, oversight, and governance was deemed necessary by the state of Kuwait. In this context, the Kuwaiti Parliament only endorses and passes budgets which reflect the objectives of the National Strategic Development Plan set by the National Assembly—majless al umma—which are aligned with the Millennium Development Goals.
  • In Lebanon, UNDP has helped to promote cross-party regional parliamentary hearings on key developmental issues, including public consultation and engagement.
  • In Tunisia, UNDP worked with the National Constituent Assembly, 300 civil society groups and more than 300 youth delegates to discuss the new Constitution in 24 regions of the country.
  • Temporary special measures have been put in place across the region and have increased the number of women in elected assemblies.  Both UNDP and IPU have been supporting such efforts recognizing the importance of women's empowerment in the decision-making fora.

Post 2015 challenges

Today, we are less than 1,000 days away before we reach the 2015 MDG target date.  Parliamentarians around the world, supported by IPU and UNDP, have a huge opportunity to advance sustainable human development. Together we can shape and launch a post-2015 global development agenda that aims high, drives change, and delivers. Together we can help facilitate catalytic collaboration through learning, exchanges, and cooperation among parliamentarians.

The U.N. Secretary-General’s High-Level Panel on Post-2015 Development Agenda just released its final report last week: The report offers a powerful vision that builds on the Millennium Development Goals and proposes to address unfinished business from the MDGs and offers a path towards prosperity and the fulfillment of human rights and dignity.

The report highlights the centrality of good governance in the Post-2015 agenda as a transformative shift. It further calls on strengthening the capacity of parliaments and all elected representatives, to further support governments to translate commitments into action. It also stresses the need to build momentum for a constructive dialogue on the parameters of the Post-2015Development Agenda, and propose innovative ways for governments, parliaments, civil society organizations, the business sector, academia, local communities to engage continuously in such a dialogue.

Parliaments will play a crucial role in terms of ensuring accountability at global, regional and national levels in the context of rolling-out post 2015 priorities.

Back in the year 2000, the Millennium Declaration articulated a clear vision for a better world defined by dignity, equity, democracy, freedom, prosperity and peace.  Today’s global consultations about the future development agenda show us that citizens worldwide view honest and responsive government as a top priority.

The on-line platform Myworld gathered 607,000 responses from around the world including 16,145 from the Arab region. Nine national consultations were organized in the region (Algeria, Djibouti, Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, Morocco, Sudan and Yemen). In Morocco, the results from the national consultations showed how Moroccan aspirations were linked to the respect and promotion of the rights enshrined in the Constitution and in the international conventions ratified by Morocco. Anti-corruption and human rights emerged as transversal themes. Globally, the respondents voted for a good education, better healthcare, better jobs opportunities and a good and responsive Government as their top priorities.

A better world is within our grasp and the work of parliaments has never been more important, at national, regional and global levels. We look forward to sustaining our partnership with all of you as we work towards a truly transformational new agenda.


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