“Today this second edition of our Training Seminar on Parliamentary Responsibilities comes to an end. It has been a pleasure to work alongside you all, to share experiences and exchange knowledge, to learn from each other and to discuss together the good practices of our Parliaments, and, also, to reflect on the challenges that lay ahead.
During these four days, we learnt how much the countries here represented differ from each other, but also how much they have in common. Parliaments in the ASEAN region and around the world are based on various political systems which reflect their own context, history and political traditions. For example, while Brunei is an absolute monarchy, the Philippines a presidential constitutional republic, Canada, the UK, Malaysia and Cambodia are constitutional monarchies, Vietnam and Lao PDR represent a single-party state and French institutions borrow elements from both presidential and parliamentary systems.
For what concerns the structure, some Parliaments are unicameral, like for Lao PDR and Viet Nam, and to a certain extent for Indonesia, but 6 out of the 10 of the ASEAN countries are bicameral, like the Western political systems here in consideration are. Both of these systems provide advantages and disadvantages, for example a unicameral system being cheaper to sustain, and a bicameral more effective in representing the plurality of the voices at both local and national level.
The prerogatives of each chamber differ from one country to another, but in most cases the lower house has a more prominent role than that of the upper house. Their members can be directly or indirectly elected, and, in some cases, such as for Brunei, appointed by the Crown.
Between these scenarios, at the regional and supra-national level, the European Parliament symbolizes a unique model of a co-legislative body whose role has been enhanced since the 2009 Lisbon Treaty. As a result, the European Parliament, the only directly elected institution of the EU, gained new lawmaking powers (and we must remember that those EU laws supersede the national ones) and it is now on an equal footing with the European Council.
Talking about the legislative function of Parliaments, despite the differences in the structures used to prepare and approve a bill by the MPs of the countries here portrayed, a common ground of discussion was the work of the parliamentary staff in providing research material to support the lawmakers. Like in the Canadian case, often parliamentary staff are not only non-partisan, but must be perceived as such by all MPs. The Legislative Research Services provide essential information and analysis helping MPs carry out their responsibilities in parliament and in their constituencies. Talking broadly, it has been recognized by many participants that, to be of value, parliamentary research should be un-sided, balanced, objective, relevant, accurate, timely, confidential, well-written and clearly presented. In this regard, PIC offers similar research services, proof-read and fact-checked, to Parliaments that request them, and assures capacity development through an array of training programs like the Trainer of Trainers on Parliamentary Responsibilities and on Parliamentary Communication and FACT. We want remind you about the substantial research documentation that is already available to you on our website. Every paper produced by the research fellows of our programs is available there, sided by the research material that PIC produces independently. This important source of information is there for you and your parliaments to help you in the performance of your duties.
One of the challenges raised by delegates while discussing parliamentary work, but also by the resource persons was the need to bridge the gap between citizens and the institutions.
Parliamentary Communication strategies may differ from political system to political system, but they all have at heart the will of getting the members of parliament closer to their constituencies, by disseminating the work done and assuring high level of mutual comprehension between the parties. Some countries, like Indonesia, strongly rely on promotional communication activities and on the openness, both physical and figurative, of the Parliament to win the trust of the population, while in almost every case going to meet the constituencies face-to-face still is considered as being the most effective way of sensing the pulse of the nation, learning what are the issues people are concerned about, and gaining their support. In the same measure, needs were expressed of finding ways towards a more effective engagement of the young generations in the matters of public affairs, and how to assure that rural areas are reached and the message is spread even in zones where relying on the social media and internet coverage is not always possible (which can be also the case of countries like France). Around this issue too, PIC can be of support by strengthening the communication strategies of parliaments in the region requesting its assistance, through its training programs.
The bond of trust between citizens and MPs is also founded on the oversight function that parliaments often play on the activities of the executive. The Parliament is traditionally the institution that offers tools to check and balance the government, where accountability is assured by the control operated by the work of Committees and specialized offices. In cases such as France, Canada and the UK, if a government loses a confidence vote in Parliament, it is expected to resign. Question times are popular means in many countries here considered to ask the executive to make itself transparent by submitting itself to reply to enquiries. Oppositions can play a role in oversee the government actions too, by showing citizens how alternative governments may handle issues. Elections are, of course, good synthesis of how well the executive performed in the eyes of the people. This function is particularly relevant while talking about budget, which shows in the existence of many Committees around the world dedicated to it, even at the EU level where budget is a shared responsibility between the European Parliament and the Council.
To support the numerous tasks that MPs and parliamentary staff need to perform, the administrative services are essential, but they offer room for improvement in many cases. The structures put in place commonly follow the same concepts, which means that are easily subjected to the same issues. The discussion highlighted the trend of outsourcing the services to make the Secretariats-general more efficient and less costly, while not compromising on the heart of the fundamental features that still are needed to be left under the direct control of the parliamentary staff. Moreover, an improvement of the internal communication was recognized as an important step in avoiding the duplication of the tasks, which would result in an inefficient use of the budget allocated.
So now – what are the next steps forward? Each and every of our activities is implemented according to your own necessities, to your own priorities. This is why your feedback is so fundamental to us. We thank you for the time and consideration you had in reporting back to us on this matter, and we remind you that we are here to listen to your concerns and always ready to improve our activities to fit your needs and the needs of the region as a whole.”