Parliamentary Committees and Public Enquiries
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Working with parliaments key to long term development

The great development benefits can come from relatively low levels of money spent on strengthening parliaments in developing countries, say MPs.

Chair's Comments

“Strong parliaments bring great benefits in and of themselves, but also help DfID and other development agencies to do their work better. There is a great potential for a win-win situation, a strong multiplier effect, reducing poverty, conflict and corruption and increasing accountability and security. Though difficult with frequent set-backs, strengthening parliaments in developing countries has the potential to realise these benefits at relatively low cost.

There is a demand for expertise from the ‘Westminster brand’, especially from Commonwealth countries, but funds are funnelled through large providers in other countries rather than smaller expert organisations. More thought should be given to the supply-side and how to build UK institutions into world class providers.

DFID has made improvements, but needs to go further and make Parliaments more central to its programmes. Parliaments are not really mentioned in anti-corruption strategies – despite the rhetoric and their absolute centrality to tackling this issue because of the role of strong parliaments in holding governments to account. DFID knows the key characteristics of good projects, but it is not always good at implementing them."

The Committee says:

  • DFID should put parliaments at the heart of its governance work; in countries where DFID has an office parliamentary strengthening should be a standard feature of DFID’s work, and of ensuring long term that aid is spent effectively.
  • It was surprised to discover the extent to which DFID uses large US organisations, which are alleged to have an unfair advantage: this runs the risk that UK taxpayers’ money is being used to promote a switch from parliamentary to less accountable, US-style Presidential systems.
  • DFID has a large budget and wants to deliver and commission large projects. But parliamentary work requires detailed management and DfID should also focus on developing the skills and relationships to do this.  DFID should commission more expert organisations; and take a more hands-on approach to managing parliamentary work
  • The Westminster “brand” is well regarded in parliamentary work and DFID should support the development of UK institutions to do the work, but to do this the institutions at Westminster need to work better; they should work with UK experts in the media and the law to build a powerful UK supplier. 
  • combining parliamentary strengthening with associated relevant work can be very effective, particularly  with the media; however, combined work it is not necessary part of parliamentary programmes and such work should not be a substitute for them
  • The EU spends significant sums on parliamentary strengthening; the UK taxpayer contributes about 15% of this. The Committee is “seriously concerned” by the “savage” criticisms it heard of EU programmes, with allegations that project teams did not know how to spend all the funds, even when they unnecessarily double up the numbers of people they send to try and fill budget lines. EU commissioning in this area also came under attack, including the use of non-specialist contractors adept at navigating the EU’s labyrinthine procurement procedures and its willingness to pay far more than is needed. 
  • DFID recognise that multi-party politics gives voters greater choice and therefore greater leverage over their MPs and governments. This of course makes inter-party rivalry a common and welcome feature of a healthy parliament. DFID’s parliamentary strengthening work should not shy away from working with political parties.

A strong parliament operating in a parliamentary democracy brings many benefits to a nation: a representative, accountable and effective parliament is an asset in any state, and no less necessary in fragile and challenging countries. A strong parliament which has sufficient resources to scrutinise its government will inevitably ensure greater transparency and better use of state revenues including official development assistance.

Parliaments are essential to meeting many of DFID’s ambitions for post-2015, including increasing the accountability of Governments, reducing poverty, tackling corruption and preventing conflicts. While it is clearly more difficult to work with parliaments in fragile or conflict affected states, it is these states who can most greatly benefit, while still requiring relatively little expenditure to realise the benefits. 

DFID is a major contributor to parliamentary strengthening, spending approximately £22.5 million from its bilateral programmes and according to DFID estimated a further £3.5 million can be attributed as its share of multilaterals’ expenditure.

These recommendations are likely to involve an increase in expenditure on parliamentary strengthening relative to other programmes to promote democracy such as spending on elections – but it is a relatively small one as parliamentary strengthening programmes are not expensive.

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