The 2030 Agenda recognizes the cardinal roles of parliamentarians in ensuring political buy-in, financing and accountability to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Above all, it calls for early and meaningful engagement of parliamentarians in national efforts to translate the global agenda into practice.
‘We acknowledge also the essential role of national parliaments through their enactment of legislation and adoption of budgets and their role in ensuring accountability for the effective implementation of our commitments’.
-Para 45, General Assembly Res 70/1 - Transforming our world: the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development (http://www.un.org/ga/search/view_doc.asp?symbol=A/RES/70/1&Lang=E)
As national processes for the implementation of the SDGs are being put in place, it is important to ensure that parliaments play their rightful role in giving political impetus towards localising, implementing and monitoring progress on the SDGs. Legislatures will be essential actors in:
- Law-making. Implementation of the SDGs will require countries to utilise a wide range of policy and programme approaches. In most cases, to allow for more effective programmes, the parliament must adopt or revise the legal framework. The law-making role will also require parliaments to adopt legislation which directly supports the various SGDs. Additionally, recognising that the annual state budget is also enacted as law of parliament, the law-making function of parliaments takes on an additional critical importance in terms of ensuring that funds are effectively directed towards addressing the most important national SDG priorities.
- Budgeting for SDGs implementation. The annual state budget is the primary funding instrument used by every single country to use direct resources towards SDGs’ implementation. As such, it is essential that parliamentarians are able to engage in the budget cycle, from development, through approval to oversight. The key question for the parliament to consider is whether budget processes ensure that the budget really delivers outcomes within the SDGs framework leaving no one behind, and targeting the most marginalised and excluded groups. There are different forms of funding that will be utilised to fund the implementation of the SDGs: revenue generated by the state (i.e. – tax revenue), private sector funds, funding from charities, ODA and foreign direct investment. Parliaments have a role to play in ensuring development effectiveness, namely, that the financing for the SDGs is made available and utilised most effectively. As a key accountability institution, parliaments should promote the most effective use of all of their resources – both the national resources provided by taxpayers and the Official Development Assistance (ODA) – in addressing sustainable development challenges. Oversight of development expenditure can be challenging for parliamentarians as ODA is not always delivered through the annual state budget. To be aware of all ODA provided to the executive and to best monitor its implementation, parliaments should proactively call for budget transparency and ensure that budget laws apply to both domestic and overseas resources.
- Policy oversight. The 2030 Agenda recognises that ensuring accountability for achievement of the SDGs is critical for it to deliver results for people. One of the most important duties of parliamentarians – whether as members of the government, opposition or while non-aligned – is overseeing whether the executive branch delivers expenditures, laws and programmes to the population in an efficient, effective and accountable way. To this end, parliaments are usually given strong powers of inquiry, interrogation and oversight. They can secure the accountability of the executive branch through various means, including legislation and a range of ongoing oversight activities.
- Representation. Laws and policies to achieve SDGs and the corresponding budgets should integrate the insights and the perspective of citizens who will be impacted by and will benefit from the Goals. The SDGs need to be understood by citizens as a set of objectives that have the potential of making their lives and the lives of their fellow citizens better. By collecting input from citizens and turning it into legislative action, parliaments and MPs can deliver results for constituents while remaining focused on both local issues and national priorities.
- Collaboration and coordination with the government, oversight bodies and organisations promoting the SDGs. Since the development of the country and the achievement of SDGs is a long-term common interest, it should be built on a consensus among all political actors and parties, whether in the executive or parliament. While a country’s commitment to the SDGs is made by the executive who is also officially responsible for all reporting related to progress and implementing laws and budgets, parliament needs to be included throughout the process. Firstly, its law-making and budgetary power, the parliament should seek to coordinate its work with that of the executive. This means engagement in the formulation and adoption of a National Development Plan (NDP) or any other form of SDGs implementation plan and coordinate its work with that of lead ministries by holding regular consultations. Where the government sets up a Taskforce or Steering Committee to oversee and guide implementation of the SDGs, a broad membership including, among others, MPs can ensure that the parliament will be proactively involved in all stages of the SDG planning, implementation and monitoring. Secondly, to exercise an effective oversight, the parliament should also coordinate its efforts with those of oversight institutions. These include bodies such as the Supreme Audit Institution (SAI), National Human Rights Institute (NHRI), National Anti-Corruption Commission (NACC) and other oversight agencies including the Ombudsman, Environmental Commissioner and various Advisory Councils. Coordination with such institutions should include, where appropriate, the sharing of evidence and analysis conducted by one institution with the other. Finally, there are plenty of regional and international organizations which are working to promote the achievements of one or more of the SDGs. Such organisations and groups, which include, for instance, networks of parliaments and MPs, multilateral organisations, international NGOs and development partners, can be engaged to support the work of parliamentarians and parliament to build their capacity and support their efforts to be a full and active partner in the implementation of the SDGs in their country.
- Localisation. To promote a fair distribution of public resources, as well as greater inclusion of communities, women, youth and marginalised groups, parliaments should ensure that provincial and local governments, parliaments and councils are involved in the implementation of the SDGs, from the formulation of the national NDP to the monitoring of its implementation. Through their constituency links, MPs should also seek ongoing input from local community-based and civil society organizations with the purpose of reflecting their perspectives in the programmes and instruments through which the SDGs are delivered in their areas.
Parliaments cannot play these above roles effectively without institutionalizing best parliamentary rules, practice and procedures that will entrench their engagement with the SDGs at regional, national and subnational levels. When implementing the Goals, parliaments will need:
- New capacities and tools to maintain a consistent focus on all 17 SDGs. Most parliaments do not sufficiently engage citizens and seek their feedback. Nor do they have the capacity to conduct in-depth research or systems in place to ensure the voices of citizens are actively expressed through parliamentarians. Such parliaments will need to educate staff and members on the SDGs and how to integrate the Goals into their everyday work.
- Well-capacitated staff who have access to information, data and evidence to be able to provide critical and timely advice to parliamentarians and committees. Without a strong contingent of such staff, a parliament will not be able to engage with the key political actors on an equal footing, or effectively adopt and monitor legislation and budgets.
- Political parties to determine how they want to deliver on the Goals and to present such a plan to the citizens at each election. There is also a need to avoid the “silos” of party politics and instead make sure the consensus and compromise are a result of cross-party debates and discussions in a parliament. After all, all countries will ultimately need to report on their progress towards achieving the Goals notwithstanding changes in the political landscape.
The UN/UNDP is building the capacities of parliaments to develop model legislations, monitoring and evaluation tools and the needed partnerships necessary for ensuring that they play their various roles effectively.
UNDP support to parliaments
UNDP is supporting one in three parliaments around the world in an effort to build inclusive and participative political institutions, to develop sustainable capacities in legislators and parliamentary staff, to share best democratic practices, and to strengthen dialogue with civil society to prevent violence and promote women’s participation. Through its seventy parliamentary support programmes worldwide, UNDP works with parliaments to help them become champions of peaceful and sustainable human development through:
- The provision of expertise, information and knowledge of international best practices and concrete examples from other countries;
- Long-term capacity development; and
- Support to key parliamentary committees and the staff they rely on so that they fulfill their functions
Results of UNDP support
- On energy (SDG 7 UNDP has partnered with the NGO Climate Parliament on the Parliamentary Action for Renewable Energy Project (PARE) to support MPs in India from 2012-2015 to:
- More than double India’s 2020 renewable energy target to 15% in the new national 5 Year Plan;
- More than double the national expenditure on renewables to 1% of the national budget through an initiative in the Estimates Committee;
- Successfully encourage the government to re-establish a generation-based incentive for wind power with funding of USD 130 million; and
- Play a key role in launching USD 157 million in tax-free bonds for renewable energy.
- On climate change (SDG 13), UNDP worked with Climate Parliament and a group of members of the National Constituent Assembly in Tunisia on a Constitutional amendment on the protection of the climate. Adopted by 144 votes to 21, the amendment makes Tunisia the first country outside Latin America with a constitutional commitment to protect the climate.
- On gender equality and women’s empowerment (SDG 5), UNDP supported a draft bill in Colombia to give constitutional status to the principles of parity, alternation and universality to women political participation. In Guinea-Bissau, UNDP supported the specialized Standing Committee for Women and Children to disseminate /raise awareness of Law No. 6/2014 of February 4 (law against domestic violence) in 7 regions of the country. In Moldova, UNDP supported a Gender Audit of Parliament, the development of a parliamentary gender Action Plan and the establishment of a cross party caucus – the Women MPs Platform (WMPP).
- On HIV/AIDS (SDG 3), the Parliamentary Network for the promotion of Population and Development in Cape Verde underwent a series of field missions to promote a wider dissemination and knowledge of and monitor the implementation of Law no. 19/ VII/2007, which regulates all aspects related to the prevention, treatment and control of HIV/AIDS, assessing potential challenges and constraints and collecting feedback towards its improvement.
- Parliamentary capacity building / sensitization workshops on the SDGs conducted in Rwanda, Mauritius, Lesotho, Bhutan, The Seychelles and Fiji.
- Consultative parliamentary workshops organized in different regions in Lebanon enhanced dialogue between MPs and civil society on local development needs and challenges.
- Marshall Islands (May 2015) - high level consultation on key national development issues including MPs, Government officials, development partners, CSOs, and academia.