The second day of the CPA seminar began with a session on the member of parliament and the party, I was honoured to be selected as chairperson for this session. Senator Moses Wetangula from Kenya, and a candidate for the next Kenya presidential election, spoke first about the work of Kenyan parliamentarians who have to meet an extremely broad range of constituent expectations including funeral director, road builder, and paying school fees! There was considerable support for strong party structures that mitigate the power of individual MPs to demand support for their personal wants. In Kenya there are external controls on party governance and internal party issues can be taken to court. The risk of poor governance and independent MPs holding governments hostage was raised. In some countries there is an issue with MPs being elected with party membership then becoming independent to demand favours, this is a particular problem in Malawi, and Kenya has legislation to prevent this happening. Bangladesh MP Suranjit Sengupta talked about the 3 P’s – parliament, people and party. The representation of women in Parliament was discussed, in Bangladesh the Prime Minister and Speaker are women.
Parliamentary ethics, accountability and transparency are the three pillars of good governance and are essential to building the trust of people in their parliament. Ethics was defined as the difference between what you have a right to do and what it is right to do. Codes of conduct, ethical standards and transparency mechanisms were discussed. There was agreement that whilst regular elections are very important, mechanisms for accountability between elections were also required. In many countries the digital divide impedes the access of poor people to information about parliament. In some countries enabling access at regional libraries has been used. Problems raised included the lack of certainty about sitting commencement and duration and a lack of notice about the business of the day being notified to MPs and the community. I asked about whether there was a preference in other jurisdictions between rules or principles for parliamentarians, the indication was that in developing democracies rules were preferred. A question was also asked about election monitoring when a party boycotts an election, this was relevant to the recent situation in Bangladesh.
The work of committees and the committee system was considered in session six. Many legislatures routinely refer their bills to committee as part of their legislative process. The Malaysian representative, Speaker Devamany, advocated for continuing professional development for parliamentarians and in particular a specific university degree course in parliamentary governance. In Jamaica, according to Deputy Clerk Valerie Curtis, many committees are chaired by ministers which is contrary to practice in other jurisdictions.
The final session of the day dealt with the economy and parliament. The Bangladesh Auditor General, Mr Masud Ahmed, gave an overview of the role of parliament in scrutinising executive expenditure through public accounts committees and scrutinising budgets which require legislation and an estimates committee process. I asked whether a recent analysis of parliamentary financial oversight across the world that suggested the quasi-judicial inquiry in Francophone systems delivered a strong process with consistency and Anglophone systems were more robust. The analysis concluded that an amalgamation of public accounts and estimates committees could be beneficial. There was some support but no agreement with this proposal. The delegate from Ghana, Cletus Apul Avoka MP, asked whether MPs need to understand the ‘nitty-gritty’ of budgets, the Bangladesh Auditor General explained his work in briefing and training for MPs.
After the day’s sessions CPA delegates met with the Bangladesh Prime Minister, Sheihk Hasina, and discussed parliamentary procedure in the Commonwealth.