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Transparency in Parliament

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Parliaments are, first and foremost, political institutions that are created to ensure the perspectives of citizens are reflected in the work of the government. In order to meet this mandate to represent the citizens that elect its members, a parliament must be in constant contact with those same citizens. Part of that engagement involves public consultations, public engagement and a dialogue between parliaments, MPs and citizens.

But as importantly, and more so as societies demand greater access to information, parliaments must be transparent. Citizens must have the ability to easily access information, data and records related to the work of their representatives and the parliament. The vast majority will be quite passive in accessing such knowledge, but that should not deter a parliament from ensuring it is accessible. For as important as the use of such information is the perception that the parliament is open and eager to provide information.

There are many formats and platforms from which information can be provided about the work of the parliament. 

Broadcasting of parliamentary sessions is a common and popular means of transparency. The means by which the sessions of parliament are broadcast will depend on the one that is accessible to the most citizens. In less developed countries this may be the radio. In many countries it is television. In more advanced countries where access to internet is common, webcasting is used more and more. More information on broadcasting can be found here.

As there are organisations and professions that want to observe parliament and report on its work, it is important that parliament build good relations with these organisations. Media should have special facilities and access to MPs and committee and plenary meetings, in order to report on the daily activity of the institution. More information on parliament and media relations can be found here.

Parliamentary Monitoring Organisations (PMOs) are CSOs that review the work of the parliament (and individual MPs) and report on a regular basis. Read more about PMOs here.

Parliament can also be proactive in the provision of information. This has become easier with the proliferation of the internet and access to ICT. Many parliaments are now uploading significant documents, such as daily order papers, draft laws and committee reports, for distribution. Indeed, some even allow citizens to comment on pending work, such as draft laws for consideration before a committee or the plenary.

But transparency is about more than access to information. If parliaments and its members are to have credibility in the eyes of the citizens, it is more and more common for MPs to have to meet certain standards with regards to ethics. There are various methods of ensuring MPs meet a minimum standard of ethical behavior, but all include the adoption of a set of standards and conditions that must be met by all MPs and the reporting on a regular basis on their income and assets. More information on parliamentary ethics can be found here.