Rebeca Grynspan: Remarks at the launch of the Global Parliamentary Report

02 Apr 2012

Opening Remarks by Rebeca Grynspan’s
UN Under-Secretary-General and UNDP Associate Administrator
On the occasion of the formal launch of the
Global Parliamentary Report at the IPU Assembly
Kampala, Uganda, 2 April 2012

Honorable Rebecca Alitwala Kadaga, Speaker of Parliament of Uganda,
Honorable Abdelwahed Radi, President of the IPU,
Honorable Members of Parliaments,
Secretary-General of the IPU, Mr. Anders Johnsson
Distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen

I am honored to have the opportunity to join all of you here today at the Inter-Parliamentary Union’s 126th Assembly.

My thanks go to our Ugandan hosts for all their efforts to make this event possible and for being a valuable and committed partner to both the United Nations Development Programme, the organization I help to lead, and the Inter-Parliamentary Union.

UNDP together with the IPU – the world’s largest network of parliamentary organizations, is pleased to officially launch the first ever Global Parliamentary Report “The changing nature of parliamentary representation”. UNDP is proud to work in partnership with the IPU to help countries around the world build “better parliaments and stronger democracies".

In this, we draw on a rich history. From its establishment in 1889, the IPU’s example and advocacy helped to lay the ground for the multilateral cooperation that eventually took form in the United Nations.

The extent of our cooperation is evident in the preparation of the Report we launch today. The IPU and UNDP benefited from the insights and evidence shared by over 650 parliamentarians (with 69 in depth interviews conducted by the lead author as was said by the President of IPU in his speech) and the information provided by over 65 percent of the parliaments in the world.  We are grateful for your support and participation in this unprecedented collective effort.

Your contributions have resulted in a Report, which we believe, can support parliamentarians by gathering innovative experiences and practices that connect parliaments with citizens worldwide and can help them adapt to the new times and demands. There is growing support to the statement that “Democracy is preferable to any other kind of Government”.  But together with this positive trend, there is an increasing demand on Governments and Parliaments, higher scrutiny that involves transparency and information, and also higher expectations to participate and influence decisions.

This report can give us avenues to rise to these challenges and avoid the erosion of the support to Parliaments.  This also has to include the changes that political parties are also experiencing in many parts of the world.  

These are also critical times.  As we approach the 2015 target date for achieving the Millennium Development Goals, there is a lot to celebrate, specially the good news that the Millennium Development Goals targets on halving extreme poverty and the population with no access to safe drinking water have been met, and that even the poorest regions of the world are showing strong progress.  

We are also within reach of seeing every child, boys and girls, enrolled in primary school. And today we have 40 percent fewer deaths from tuberculosis, and 30 percent fewer deaths due to malaria, as compared to 1990. New HIV infections have been reduced by 21 percent since the peak of the epidemic in 1997 and estimates suggest that treatment has averted 2.5 million deaths since 1995.  

Special efforts are being done to decrease maternal and infant mortality, to advance sustainable development, and to fight striking inequalities within and between countries.  More will be needed   to advance and sustain the gains given the threats posed by the financial and economic crisis, the volatility of food and energy prices and the recurrence of natural disasters that have left many people behind or at risk of being left behind, who are not well represented in the aggregate figures:  the poorest of the poor and those disadvantaged, stigmatized, or discriminated against because of their sex, age, race, ethnicity, place of residence, or disability.

To sustain and accelerate progress and face the challenges we referred to above, countries need strong institutions and smart policies. As Parliamentarians your role is key. You shape democracy itself, draft and shape the laws, the budget allocations and the fiscal parameters, the basic frameworks to extend the benefits of growth to poor communities and people and to build resilience. We in UNDP have been turning more and more to what we call “supporting democracy beyond the ballot box”.  This means working very closely with Parliaments, making democracy more people centered; in other words, as we called it in UNDP, turning democracy into a “citizen’s democracy”. 

As the report highlights, Parliaments derive their authority from the public and maintaining that authority requires them to continually evolve and adapt to public expectations.  They need to provide the vital link between the public and the system of Government, serving as the principal forum to air issues of public concern and perform the functions that cannot be replicated by any other institution.  Forms of direct democracy cannot replace the parliamentary process. Where new forms of participation have worked most effectively, they complement and reinforce the representative process, rather than by-pass it.

But then Parliaments have to perform and demonstrate their effectiveness in the three core functions that as we know interact: legislation, oversight of the executive and representation.

The Global Report we launch today focuses on this third function 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.

It recognizes – however - that while methods may be similar, the customs, practice and arrangements involved in these approaches are unique to each country’s culture. The diversity of parliamentary systems reflects countries’ particular historical and political contexts. We know that to be sustainable, development initiatives must be country-led —backed by effective governance.

The Report does not therefore propose a universal model or approach. It rather seeks to provide politicians, experts and citizens with information about how parliaments work around the world, as well as experiences that illustrate challenges and distill lessons for how they might be overcome.

The Report highlights, for example broadcasting plenary meetings as a way to build trust in parliamentary systems and enable meaningful engagement. Where citizens are able to view the inter-workings of their governing institutions, collaboration across party lines is rewarded and understanding is expanded.  We also know that this is not all gains. The conundrum for Parliamentary broadcasting is that conflict and negative images are more entertaining than showing positive and constructive debate. The examples of Benin and Afghanistan with radio broadcasting have been also very effective ways to improve contact with citizens in remote regions and generate feedback. 

Examples of countries in all regions of the world are quoted in the report.

To build trust and effectiveness, Parliaments must also reflect the societies they represent. There has been much progress, but the global average of women holding parliamentary seats is still far from the target of 30 percent affirmed in the Beijing Declaration. Concerted effort is needed to increase the representation of women, ethnic minorities and other excluded groups.

Some countries in Africa have some of the highest levels of women participation in parliament, Rwanda being the highest of the world followed by the Seychelles and South Africa.

We also need better ways of harnessing the enormous potential of new technologies and social media to connect decision-makers with citizens - without rising expectations that each individual demand will be met with a personal email or solution. Parliamentarians need to be able to balance the need to be responsive and effective brokers, negotiators, and facilitators, with the demands made on them as representatives. 

Because people know more, Parliaments have to know better. A new wave of parliamentary reforms are being seen which focus not only on achieving immediate objectives of efficiency – but also help to more fundamentally strengthen the ability of Parliaments to respond in ways that improve people’s lives and achieve sustainable human development.

UNDP stands ready to support your efforts – building on the support we already provide to one in every three parliaments around the world. Here in Uganda, UNDP is working with the Parliament to enhance its oversight role for service delivery and is supporting its outreach efforts to the public.

Going forward together, UNDP and the IPU hope to use the lessons and messages of the Report to stimulate debates on the best ways we can discharge our democratic duties - in our increasingly complex and better-connected societies.

But before closing, let me stress that, even if a lot still needs to be done, as indicated in the Report, Parliaments are today more open and accessible, more professionally run, better resourced, and more effective than ever before.

I end by thanking the Report’s author Mr. Greg Power and his team for their meticulous research and quality work, my UNDP and IPU colleagues for their good collaboration, the Advisory board for their guidance, as well as the practitioners, MPs and numerous donors (Belgium, France, the Netherlands, Sweden, Switzerland) who made it all possible. The Report is a tribute to the millions of women and men who every month, somewhere in the world, vote their MPs into Parliament, and a recognition of the democratic exercise that is initiated every time a free Parliament holds a national debate on the issues that matter to the people they represent.

Thank you.