International Day of Democracy 2018: What if parliamentary oversight did not exist?

International Day of Democracy 2018: What if parliamentary oversight did not exist?

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On 15 September, the IPU celebrates the 21th anniversary of its Universal Declaration on Democracy and the 11th anniversary of the International Day of Democracy. The date is an opportunity to reaffirm our shared commitment to protect and promote democracy.

Democracy Day is also a time to review the state of democracy around the world. This year we are focusing on the importance of parliamentary oversight - a core function of parliaments and a vital part of the checks and balances in any healthy democracy.

But what if parliamentary oversight did not exist?

If parliamentary oversight did not exist, the people, through their representatives in parliament, would not be able to hold the government to account. MPs would not be able to assess the impact of government action on society, to help ensure that appropriate resources are provided to implement government programmes, monitor commitments made, or identify the unintended or negative effects of government policy or actions.

The simple fact of knowing that questions may be asked, that you may be required to justify your actions, creates a different mindset among governments and their administrations. This is one of the most important contributions of oversight to democracy. It is no coincidence that the first action following a coup d’état is often to abolish or suspend parliament.

However, despite its importance there are many challenges preventing MPs from fulfilling their oversight duties effectively. For example, in some countries, MPs cannot speak freely. Protecting the freedom of expression of parliamentarians is fundamental to their ability to scrutinize and oversee the actions of government. It is not rare to see that outspoken MPs are subject to human rights violations ranging from arbitrary arrest to politically motivated legal proceedings. Some MPs even lose their lives.

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What do MPs think about oversight? Below a selection from some leading parliamentarians*

“The important thing is to put government under pressure. Even if it’s your own party that’s in government.”
Baroness Gloria Hooper, Member of the House of Lords, United Kingdom

“A parliamentarian who is not curious is a curious parliamentarian.”
Michèle André, Senator, France

“Effective oversight can be defined as seeing for oneself whether what the government says is true or not.”
Orfelina Liseloth Arias, Member of the House of Representatives, Dominican Republic

“I have the legal right to get any information from the government. And if they don’t want to give it to me, they have to explain why.”
Andrea Caroni, Member of the Council of States, Switzerland

“Effective oversight is where an MP plays their role independently and boldly, with courage.”
Kabando Wa Kabando, Member of the National Assembly, Kenya

Oversight is also the theme of the IPU’s most recent Global Parliamentary Report, published jointly with the United Nations Development Programme, and with contributions from over 350 MPs from 128 parliaments in the world. 

*These quotes are taken from interviews conducted with MPs in 2017. Some MPs may have changed role or left office since then.

Message from the Secretary-General of the United Nations, António Guterres
United Nations Observances: International Day of Democracy
 

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