Parliaments have crucial responsibilities to play in national and local development policies. As a result of their lawmaking, oversight and representative functions, parliamentarians can actively engage in the development and implementation of policies and laws that are pro-poor, minority- and gender-responsive, and environmental sensitive, all which broadly reflect and support efforts to achieve the broad objectives of human development, including the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). Moreover, parliaments play key roles in the promotion and defense of human rights, and many have proved to be effective when engaging in crisis prevention and recovery.
The mission of the parliament should ideally not be limited to a narrow interpretation or understanding of its legal or constitutional duties (oversight, lawmaking and representation). A broader approach shows that these core functions are also development tools that enable parliaments to play crucial roles as strong, constructive and dynamic democratic institutions.
Parliaments & Crisis: Prevention, Management and Recovery
Conflict is not only a threat to human rights, but a barrier to development. Violent conflicts can reverse decades of development gains. The costs of preventing conflict are far lower than the costs associated with recovery (UNDP BCPR Fact Sheet). Effective and responsive programming in the field of democratic governance can be a major component of work to prevent violent conflict and support post-conflict Peacebuilding.
Parliaments & MDGs: Economic Development and Pro-Poor Policies
Capable and vibrant parliaments are essential to countries’ development processes because they are important institutions in achieving the MDGs and economic development aims. Parliamentary development directly supports the achievement of the MDGs because MPs represent the very constituents who are supposed to benefit from them. MPs should ensure that the views of their constituents are reflected in the legislation and state budgets that make up the legal and fiscal framework in which the state defines its development priorities with the ultimate goal that development is more equitable and effective. Indeed an active parliament’s role in poverty-reduction planning fosters a more comprehensive societal participation in economic development.
Part V of the Millennium Declaration specifically commits governments to ‛spare no effort to promote democracy and strengthen the rule of law, as well as respect for all internationally recognised human rights and fundamental freedoms…’ (See UNDP’s website) Parliaments have significant responsibility for promoting, protecting and realising human rights through their functions of lawmaking, oversight and representation. Strong parliamentary institutions help to build and solidify democracy, the rule of law and human rights. Parliaments are directly relevant to a number of key human rights values and principles, such as universality and indivisibility, equality and non-discrimination, participation and the inclusion of vulnerable groups, accountability and the rule of law.
Parliaments across the globe have seen slowly increasing numbers of women elected to serve as Parliamentarians. In some countries the increase in female representation is due to the implementation of gender quotas, while in other countries it is due to other factors including changing perceptions about the role of women in society. The increases in female elected representation provide opportunities for women‘s voices and perspectives to be injected into the legislative process. It is important that women parliamentarians are given the same access to resources and opportunities as their male colleagues. Women parliamentarians have reported that they may be disproportionately assigned to committees that have jurisdiction over subject matter that is deemed more in the sphere of women’s gender roles, such as education or health, instead of committees that handle finances or deal with foreign relations. While increasing the proportion of women parliamentarians in parliaments is important, there should be awareness that parliamentarians and parliamentary leadership must make the empowerment of both men and women MPs as a priority.
The marginalisation and/or exclusion of minorities from political participation violates this core value of democracy as a peaceful means for resolving political disputes. As a consequence, the marginalisation of minorities can have a detrimental effect on poverty reduction, democratic governance, environmental sustainability, and conflict prevention. On the other hand, the inclusion of all perspectives, including minority groups, within political debate can enrich the assessment, analysis, planning, implementation, and monitoring of development initiatives, as well as ensure locally-owned and sustainable solutions to development challenges. A democratic parliament should reflect the social diversity of the population in terms of gender, geography, language, religion, ethnicity, and any other politically significant characteristics.
Parliaments, Environment & Climate Change
Many legislative solutions can be fast-tracked through parliaments to help protect countries and the world from climate change. Many will also have added benefits: creating jobs, making countries less dependent on imported fossil fuels, defending the rights of indigenous peoples and protecting forests from further exploitation.
Parliaments throughout the world are uniquely positioned to create real and lasting change for children. Parliaments can allocate resources through state budgets, shape and enforce laws that promote the rights of children, hold governments and civil society accountable, and represent the interests and voices of children to send the message that the well-being of children is the responsibility of all society.
Parliaments & Aid Effectiveness
Parliaments are at the centre of the domestic accountability cycle. Where aid provides financial support based on domestic policy frameworks, donors have an impact on the policy formulation and implementation process. This is especially the case for ‘development policy lending’, programmatic aid modalities, and all aid that has as its explicit aim any kind of ‘governance’ outcome. Without the oversight of parliaments and elected bodies at sub-national levels on the nature of policy engagement, aid is in danger of subverting domestic accountability. In this regard, the IPU, in collaboration with the Capacity Development for Development Effectiveness (CDDE) Facility, has developed a useful guide for parliamentarians on their role in ensuring development effectiveness.
Parliaments & Extractive Industries
The oil, gas and mining sectors contribute significantly to government revenues, GDP and export in resource-rich countries. Despite this opportunity for development, many resource-rich countries fail to use the extractive industries sector for wider economic and social development, resulting in higher poverty rates and, in some instances, conflict. This is sometimes referred to as the ‘resource curse’.
This page gives an overview of the role parliament can play in the extractive industries sector, and the ways in which it can contribute to the use of the petroleum and/or mining sectors for long-term sustainable development. It also offers a detailed overview of the stages of the extractive industries value chain, including a discussion on the national budget, with suggested action steps and general guidelines for parliamentarians.