As the Cook Islands prepare to reopen their borders, they feel the need to be prepared with established processes and procedures subject to effective public control in case the country has to face COVID-19 cases in the future.
“Parliament has a crucial role to play, and we cannot afford to shut down — we owe to our citizens to ensure the continuity of our work,” says Honourable Niki Rattle, who has recently stepped down as the first woman speaker of parliament.
Supported by donor countries, UNDP has been providing support to Congress of Federated States of Micronesia and other Pacific parliaments to boost their digital capacity that allows them to operate effectively during and after the pandemic. Digitalization has enabled many Pacific parliaments to continue to conduct their proceedings, approve stimulus packages, and oversee how government actions meet the urgent needs of citizens. It has also facilitated parliaments to participate in knowledge exchanges in the region. Most importantly, it has also allowed people to hold their governments accountable for COVID-19 response in general, that would previously have seen accountability shut down or severely limited during a crisis.
“The Congress of Federated States of Micronesia (FSM) has organized two consecutive virtual sessions, which resulted in the approval of a US$2 million response packages, introduction of 21 resolutions and approval of 32 bills,” says T.H. Esmond B. Moses, the Vice Speaker of the FSM Congress.
As the world’s largest partner in parliamentary development, UNDP works with some 65 national parliaments to enhance their institutions so they are able to anticipate change, adapt to a ‘new normal’ like the Parliament of FSM, and respond to new challenges with agility.
Making sure MPs can function as up-to-the-minute representatives
The work to keep parliaments open is an important example of how digitization is being used as a key catalyst for good governance. Innovative uses of technology are key to institutional effectiveness.
UNDP and the Government of Bangladesh created the MyConstituency Tracker. This allows MPs to track progress on the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and to get an up-to-date disaggregated data. Along with evidence for resource allocation and the effectiveness of government spending, it offers an accurate picture of what is or is not happening.
Dr Shirin Sharmin Chaudhury, Speaker and an MP in Bangladesh, says: “We must remember that the clock is ticking, there is only a decade left to reach the SDGs. Meanwhile the pandemic has made it difficult to keep the economy on track. Hence, this app was demand driven — born out of the need to act on strengthening the parliament with support from UNDP. It has made it easier to find any information on the constituency and help MPs identify existing challenges to make evidence-based decisions.”
Zunaid Ahmed Palak, State Minister of ICT in Bangladesh said: “We want to build a data-driven nation. UNDP’s support on creating this app has greatly helped the MPs to connect the work of their constituency with both the SDGs and the government’s overarching vision for development.”
Parliaments and financing for development: new sources of finance, new areas for oversight, new tools for effectiveness and accountability
In Indonesia, UNDP’s Innovative Financing Lab has been working to support the government to issue the world’s first Green Islamic Bond; to leverage Islamic charitable giving — Zakat for the SDGs; to develop a blueprint for SDGs financing; and to support the setting up of an Impact Fund. UNDP and the Indonesian parliament are working together to scale up parliamentarians’ knowledge and oversight of climate finance. In October the Parliament passed an annual budget law, adding a new tax on carbon.
Similarly, the Parliamentary handbooks on climate finance and development effectiveness have supported Members of Parliaments from around the world to ensure more effective and accountable use of resources in critical areas.
Better watchdogs for the inclusion of women and girls
With support from UNDP’s EU-funded fiscal project in the Portuguese-speaking African countries and Timor Leste, now in its second phase, Angola has recently introduced gender-responsive budgeting, which ensures that women’s needs are taken into consideration along with those of men. Gender markers and a standard methodology are now used to ensure gender equality concerns are factored into resource allocations underpinning SDG implementation. This major milestone on SDG 5 comes as a result of successful advocacy by the Parliamentary Women’s Caucus and Budget Committees.
As countries look to build forward better from the biggest reversal in human development, they are facing difficult policy and resourcing decisions with deep and long-lasting consequences. National governments, parliaments, civil society, citizens, private sector, academia and oversight bodies need to partner more systematically.
With support from the Government of Norway, UNDP recently convened MPs for a series of South-South knowledge exchanges on how the Women Peace and Security agenda can empower them to catalyze positive change, especially in the context of COVID-19. As a result, in Bangladesh, an extensive consultative process with civil society and grassroots organizations yielded a Women Peace and Security National Action Plan for 2019–2022.
“We all have different roles. Unless we the Members of Parliaments and civil societies can work together, we won’t be able to activate policies needed for transformative change,” says Bangladesh MP Aroma Dutta. “The Women, Peace and Security agenda places people at the heart of sustainable human development and human security. Such systematic relationships depend on the existence of accountable institutions and the demand for such accountability. That demand needs to be fostered to make a difference in the lives of women, youth and all those at risk of being left behind.”
In 2017 UNDP and the Parliamentarians for Global Action wrote a Handbook on the Human Rights and Inclusion of LGBTI people. It has been translated into nine languages; formed the basis for nearly 100 national, regional and global discussions on how to promote LGBTI-inclusive law reform; and been cited in a number of parliamentary debates that have led to successful attempts to change laws.
“Changing laws and changing minds takes time and does not occur in a vacuum. I very much hope this handbook is helpful to take that first step towards fully and effectively guaranteeing rights for LGBTI people,” said Belize Parliament Speaker Dame Valerie Woods.
Parliamentarians don’t always have all the answers. They can only hold governments to account effectively if they work in partnership with the people they represent, and if their membership truly reflects that of the societies that put them there. UNDP’s role has been to convene and facilitate those partnerships; maximize the use of technology; and share tools that help build greater inclusion.
UNDP’s new Strategic Plan aims to help countries address emerging complexities by future-proofing their governance systems through anticipatory approaches and better management of risk. And that mission is never more vital than in times of crisis such as these as we build forward better from the pandemic.