This blog is prepared by UNDP Kyrgyzstan’s employee Simone Boneschi, Chief Technical Advisor of the project on Rule of Law in the Kyrgyz Republic.
“The importance of parliamentary oversight should not be underestimated. It is our core function to make sure that we properly oversee the work of the Government to ensure improvements in the lives of our citizens”.
After months of hectic work and with public trust in the parliament hitting one of its lowest points ever, my team and I immediately realized that these words spoken in her opening remarks by Mrs. Aida Kasymalieva, the honorable Vice Speaker of the Jogorku Kenesh of the Kyrgyz Republic, meant that it was not business as usual. Her words attracted the attention of the participants, inspiring the whole audience. It was evident that the numerous representatives of the civil society, who had gathered on 27-28 September 2019 to attend the international seminar “Strengthening Parliamentary Oversight in the Kyrgyz Republic” (organized by us and funded by the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation), were witnessing a new and different way of debating with politicians and the deputies of the national parliament.
As acknowledged by Louise Chamberlain, the UNDP Resident Representative during the event, the seminar was especially important because it was the culmination of progress recently made along the path that has led Kyrgyzstan to become the only parliamentary democracy in Central Asia: the constitutional reform process adopted in 2010 following widespread civil unrest and violence; the country’s 2015 and 2017 parliamentary and presidential elections - which for the first time were largely recognized by both national and international observers as peaceful, fair and transparent; and the accession of the government to the global governance platform of the Open Government Partnership (OGP) in November 2017.
These achievements have been widely acknowledged as the country’s pledges to further strengthen the crucial role of the Parliament in ensuring an effective system of checks and balances to hold the government accountable for its efficient policies and actions. Additionally, they signal the government’s support for more inclusive dialogue and stronger citizens engagement in decision-making processes and demonstrate the government’s increased transparency and responsiveness, including openness to independent and public evaluations of national development progress under the framework of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.
Despite this progress, parliamentary oversight of government performance is still weak. Until recently, there was no established format to hear the Prime Minister’s report to Parliament, while parliamentary oversight of major institutions, such as the Prosecutor General’s Office and Ombudsman’s offices are often affected by personal and political considerations, as opposed to the objective analysis of performance. Also, the existing legislation on parliamentary oversight provides only for rudimentary regulations, lacking practical protocols, procedures, standards, and formats for effective oversight mechanisms.
The seminar was organized in partnership and collaboration with the OGP, the Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODHIR) of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) and the Adilet Legal Clinic. UNDP, the global leader in the implementation of parliamentary strengthening programs, has also taken great pride in partnering with institutions that are so well-respected, committed and passionate at their work to promote accountable, responsive and inclusive governance in this country and across the globe.
As Kyrgyzstan keeps moving forward on this important journey, this seminar which has catalyzed global and regional comparative experience from several parliaments of the world, demonstrated progress made and highlighted innovative approaches that specific national parliaments and civil society organizations have taken to engage in oversight of government activity.
Just to name a few, inspirational presentations were provided by the National Assembly of Serbia on the developed portal for monitoring public spending, by Vouliwatch, a Greek non-partisan parliamentary monitoring organization which promotes the use of innovative digital technology applications to facilitate the monitoring of parliamentarian’s activities and by the Westminster Foundation for Democracy on post-legislative scrutiny.
As a result, the participants have generated additional, stronger national acknowledgment and commitment towards the following:
· Members of Parliament are uniquely positioned to act as an interface between the people and state institutions to adopt people-centered policies and legislation to ensure that no one is left behind. An important entry point for the Jogorku Kenesh to exercise oversight of national progress on the SDGs will be the Voluntary National Review report that the country has committed to present to the High-Level Political Forum on Sustainable Development (HLPF) in 2020.
· Crucial to effective oversight is to provide the Parliament with a strong oversight mandate, which guarantees that oversight is securely rooted in the constitution, legislation and parliament’s own rules of procedure.
· Parliamentary opposition — among others, by scrutinizing policies and actions of the executive and has a crucial role in oversight; it needs to be protected and nurtured
· The SDG16 “Sustaining Peace and Governance Goal” is of special relevance for the Parliament as it is dedicated to the promotion of peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development and building effective, accountable institutions at all levels. Parliament itself needs to be SDG16 ‘fit for purpose’: it must function as an effective, accountable, and inclusive institution.
· The government’s accountability and cooperation are critical to ensure that the Parliament exercises this role independently
· It is incumbent upon the Jogorku Kenesh to seek and consolidate dialogue and partnership with civil society organizations as they have a shared interest to represent and promote the interest of the public and further transparency and accountability.
Recognizing the challenges that lie ahead as the government, parliament, and civil society organizations of a parliamentary democracy at its infancy continue with their efforts to strengthen the oversight function of the national assembly so that Kyrgyzstan becomes an increasingly principled rule of law state, UNDP stands ready and committed to advance national reform processes aimed at enhancing parliamentary democracy in the country, and strengthening an enabling environment for the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals.