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In the UK and internationally, there is an increasing realisation that parliaments have a significant role to play in development. In DfID’s 2006 White Paper, for example, the UK committed to work more closely with parliamentarians in an effort to,

Much of this new attention is focused on African parliaments, which have slowly begun to exert the new constitutional powers that have come with the transition away from dictatorships to multiparty politics. The picture varies greatly in practice, but interviews in Malawi and Kenya, for example, showed that parliament was no longer,

or a “department of the presidency”. An increasing majority of voters in Africa believe that the legislature should be independent of the Executive and that it is

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unacceptable for a President to bypass parliament to pass legislation. Gradually, parliaments are becoming more assertive in overseeing financial governance.

African parliaments face acute challenges. Many lack formal powers and agreed clear procedures. They lack institutional capacity. Parliaments, as opposed to governing Executives, lack basic facilities, resources and administrative and specialist support, needed to effectively hold the Executive to account. The reality of African parliaments reflects African politics, history and society. The events in Kenya, Uganda and Zimbabwe, since this inquiry was initiated in 2007, each in their way bear witness to the challenges still facing many African parliaments.

The group’s report, Strengthening Parliaments in Africa: Improving Support, looks at the difficulties encountered in African parliaments and at what the United Kingdom, through aid and other channels, is doing to address these difficulties. The aim is that the report will contribute to and inform current debates over the most effective approaches to parliamentary strengthening. The group was particularly keen to hear at first hand the views of counterpart parliamentarians and their staff in a selection of African countries. Members visited Malawi, Uganda and Kenya and, in addition, 20 submissions were received in response to our call for evidence. I place on record our thanks to my noble friend Lord Steel of Aikwood for his participation in the inquiry and in due course, I hope, for his contribution to this debate. Further evidence came from members' discussions in South Africa on parliamentary strengthening, organised by World Bank affiliates, and at Westminster in collaboration with the ODI.

African parliaments are based on western parliaments and have similar roles. The social, cultural and political contexts in which they operate, however, are contrasting and varied. Informal patronage networks are very influential, coexisting with, overlapping with and sometimes conflicting with institutions and parliaments in the formal political sphere. Only two of Africa's 53 states, Botswana and Mauritius, have a record of unbroken multiparty democracy. In an environment of presidential regimes, one-party states and military rule, scrutiny of the Executive and representation of the electorate was rare.

Development partners have been slow to support parliaments in the democratisation revival that started in the 1990s. Appreciation of the significance of governance for development and poverty reduction is only gradually extending to the contribution of parliaments. Yet many donors, discouraged by mixed results of project-based support and conditional lending, are increasingly opting to transfer aid money directly to Governments of recipient countries. This direct budget support makes it essential that these funds are overseen by in-country institutions, such as parliaments.

Development partners are coming to recognise parliaments as allies in the monitoring of the use and impact of aid money as part of their overall role in the scrutiny of the use of public resources. African parliaments are increasingly becoming assertive institutions that have leverage over legislation, monitor and challenge the Executive and represent citizens’ views.

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Although surveys show that there is widespread support across southern Africa for the parliaments’ legislative prerogative, deep-seated challenges remain. Not the least of these are: first, the rules, powers and arrangements that define parliament’s leverage; secondly, parliament’s resources and institutional capacity; and, thirdly, the relationship between parliament and international players.

A recurring theme in the material gathered by the Africa All-Party Group was the limited popular understanding of MPs’ responsibilities and powers. MPs were expected to deliver on solving a wide range of collective local problems and individual needs and bring development in health, education and water, while legislative and scrutiny responsibilities were hardly mentioned. The MPs’ functions in parliament such as legislation and holding the Executive to account were not seen as important. The financial independence of parliament is crucial in this regard. Submissions from Zambia, Tanzania and Malawi underlined that their parliaments were unable to determine and approve even their own budgets.

Our findings demonstrate that African parliaments have begun to exert greater influence on how their countries are governed, but that huge challenges remain. There is insufficient constitutional and other provisions. Problems with institutional capacity continue to constrain parliaments. Even if they enjoy robust powers on paper, the political realities inside and outside parliaments mean that they often fail to exercise effective scrutiny over Executives.

Our inquiry has resulted in close to 50 recommendations in five overarching groups. Broadly, the groups are that: first, development partners understand better the parliaments in their political context; secondly, they must engage in local demand and encourage broad-based ownership, pulled by local participants and not just pushed by the donors; thirdly, co-ordination is essential with development partners working in step with one another, because too many times there are too many partners stirring the broth, so to speak; fourthly, development partners need to learn from evidence-based lessons and apply those results; and fifthly and finally, greater account needs to be taken of parliament in development work, encouraging a full role and avoiding acts that would undermine or marginalise the parliaments that are supposedly being nurtured.

There is a dilemma. While some might say, or admit, that dictatorial Governments can sometimes bring real development to their people through sound policies, it should perhaps be a prerequisite for British development aid that the recipient Government are democratically elected through the expressed will of the people.

We were very pleased to receive DfID’s fulsome response to our report in the general sense. It points out that it has already commissioned studies on parliamentary strength. It acknowledges, however, that where a parliament has already been marginalised, there is little point in promoting parliamentary strengthening.

Where a dictatorial or even repressive Government fulfil DfID’s overall development criteria, it could be argued that development delivered now is jeopardised

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in the long term by the political instability created by this repression. DfID’s rejection of the proposal that it should present an annual report to the parliaments of recipient countries on the grounds that:

counts for little when the parliament is already marginalised.

In these instances there surely is a case for the Government to adopt a process similar to the extractive industries transparencies initiative—making public aid agreements, so as to enable parliamentarians, both here and in the recipient countries, to hold their Governments to account.

Finally, since the field work and evidence-taking and analysis began almost a year ago, there have been some significant changes in political development in several of the countries studied. I should be very grateful if the Minister could update noble Lords on the Government’s current position reflecting the outcome of perhaps the Kenyan and Zimbabwean elections and the situation in that regard.

4.10 pm

Baroness Amos: I thank the noble Lord, Lord Chidgey, and the All-Party Parliamentary Group for the report. I declare an interest as the chair of the Royal African Society, which provides the secretariat to the All-Party Group.

This report is important in tackling engagement between citizens and their Governments and the role that parliaments can play in ensuring greater accountability and transparency. I am pleased that the Department for International Development has welcomed the five overarching recommendations. In the time available, I shall make some general comments about the progress of democracy building in Africa and, in particular, the equation of elections with democracy.

We have seen huge democratic gains in sub-Saharan Africa in the past two decades, although we still have too many leaders who have been there too long. Our recent focus has been on Zimbabwe, but there are other countries too. The Mo Ibrahim Foundation governance index for 2000 showed that 24 elections in 48 African countries were judged not free and fair. By 2005, that figure had dropped to 15. In 2000, six African countries passed the free and fair criteria; that figure rose to eight by 2005. That is slow progress, but it is movement in the right direction.

For me, democracy is not just about elections, although they are important. It is about accountability and transparency, citizens feeling that they have a right to have a say and to be heard, and Members of Parliament holding their Governments to account and putting the interests of the electors first. That requires maturity and stability. Too often, we have seen the effect of the lack of political stability and basic rights in African countries where political breakdown has been followed by conflict and insecurity. Greater stability and participation are achievable through multiparty democracy, but it will take time to take root and mistakes will be made. Strengthening parliamentary democracy and improving parliamentary scrutiny is crucial to the process of building confidence in political processes.

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I agree with the thrust of the argument in the report that it is essential to understand the politics of African countries in order to work with them for sustainable development. Local ownership is essential. It is not just about what donor Governments want. One of the potential problems with the development aid agenda is the focus on Government-to-Government relations. Some African Governments see themselves as being more accountable to donors than to their own people because, through the process of accountability to donor Governments, they know that they will receive aid. It is vital that African parliamentarians and civil society play a greater role. This can partly be achieved through greater transparency in the relationship between donors and recipient Governments, but we also need consultation between donors and recipient Governments and their citizens as well as with business and NGOs. There is an opportunity at the High-Level Forum on Aid Effectiveness in Ghana in September to explore these issues in more detail and, in particular, to look at the need for better analysis and co-ordination between donor and recipient Governments and other actors. This report gives important insight into what needs to be done, and I hope that all of us, including my Government, treat the recommendations with the seriousness they deserve.

4.15 pm

Baroness Park of Monmouth: I read the report of the All-Party Group on Strengthening Parliaments in Africa with great interest and respect. I had intended to discuss many issues, but there is not time. However, I was struck particularly by DfID’s recognition that:

Parliaments are not aid projects; they are important political entities, especially in fragile states, and I hope that one result of this admirable report will be much greater FCO involvement through our missions abroad, which are best placed to provide an analysis of the political terrain. We should not rely too much on the UNDP, which has its own political agenda. That is particularly true in the case of Zimbabwe for reasons beyond DfID’s control.

However, what is happening to parliamentary government in Zimbabwe is both relevant and urgent. Parliamentarians everywhere must surely do whatever they can—I think that we all agree on this—to protect the MDC MPs who were duly elected in March this year and should be taking their seats today. That includes the handful of MPs elected in the rerun last month despite the violence and intimidation recognised and condemned by all the observer missions—the AU mission, the Pan-African Parliament election observer mission and the SADC mission. No date has been announced for Parliament to sit. At present, one MDC MP is in hospital fighting for his life after a beating on 29 June, two are in jail, one has been abducted and is missing, seven have fled to South Africa, and an unknown number are in hiding in Zimbabwe. One is to be “dealt with” immediately on release. His lawyer is therefore not applying for bail: he is safer in prison. I say nothing of the many MDC supporters and electors,

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including some of my age, who have been terribly beaten, imprisoned and refused medical treatment in prison.

Mugabe is ensuring a ZANU-PF majority by delaying the swearing-in of MPs until he can wipe out the MDC majority by abducting, arresting, detaining and hospitalising enough MDC MPs to ensure it. Some 10 MDC/Tsvangirai MPs have been arrested in recent weeks and seven more are said to be on a police “wanted” list. Mugabe is also able to pack the Senate. Finally, under Zimbabwe law, any parliamentarian can be dismissed for failing to attend for two days.

Cannot the group urge the parliaments in Africa with which it has many links to make representations through their Governments and Commonwealth Governments to protect the MPs of Zimbabwe and enable them, elected as they were by the people despite every threat during the elections, to enter Parliament and represent those who have no other voice? Some will say that for us to do this is to play into Mugabe’s hands, because he can say that the MPs now being prevented taking their seats are British puppets or that we should not speak for them. We should not allow him to set the agenda. We did not take that view when we spoke out for Hungary in 1956. No one thought that the ANC in South Africa was a British puppet when we spoke for it in the Commonwealth and in rallies everywhere. We should not allow Mugabe to call the tune. We should speak out against oppression. Those MPs risked their lives to stand and be elected, and the people risked theirs in electing them. If we believe in parliamentary government, we should urge all parliamentarians everywhere to do all they can to protect the MPs in Zimbabwe, and the world should condemn the tyrant.

I was in the Congo in 1960 when the new African Government assembled their first parliament. I remember the delegations from Uganda, Tanzania, Nigeria and Kenya bringing ceremonial gifts. Lumumba’s Ministers had to take office in a country where the Belgians had left no professional infrastructure, civil servants, lawyers or doctors. They had none of the skilled professional indigenous infrastructure and civil society which Zimbabwe has had. The Congo has never recovered from that bad beginning. It is cruel that that infrastructure in Zimbabwe is being wasted by a reversion to what the report called “big man” politics—to dictatorship, in fact. Kenya, Uganda and Malawi have in their different ways solved their problems. Zimbabwe could be restored very quickly to a viable free society if the people whom it elected with such courage could be enabled to exercise their powers of governance legitimately. It is in any case impossible to think how any of the proposals for a political solution to the crisis by negotiation can be effected if those whom the people have chosen to represent them are excluded from the process.

4.19 pm

The Earl of Sandwich: I, too, congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Chidgey, the All-Party Group and the Royal African Society on the constructive tone of the report. I strongly support this initiative as someone who has tended to see democracy through the prism of

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NGOs. This report should reinforce HMG’s new country-governance analysis, which, rather surprisingly, has tended to neglect parliaments up till now, as he said. The donor’s relationship has also largely been with the Executive, but that is now changing.

The report is inevitably UK-centred and I feel that the African dimension still needs strengthening, although there are good case studies. I have long been wary of spreading Westminster democracy for its own sake. Political philosophy from Machiavelli suggests that a form of tyranny can be appropriate in pulling up a failing state. Examples abound in Africa. I pass over Zimbabwe but where would Uganda be without President Museveni? This is one President we do not seem to mind re-electing himself three times.

We tend to become oversentimental about the Westminster model, and I think that the report agrees in recommendation 6. I expect the CPA manual, which I have not seen, to have dos and don’ts such as “Try not to lose your temper”, “Don’t strike an MP from another party, only from your own”, and “Where possible, do not fire guns or attempt to blow up parliament”. These things happen every now and then, and they have happened here. I have visited the Mozambican, Ugandan and, briefly, South African parliaments and have been impressed by their procedures. Some of them are copied. The Ugandan Parliament website shows some remarkable similarities to our own. I clicked on Hansard and found a debate on the inadequacy of the sickle cell anaemia unit in Mulago Hospital, with the PM responding directly to a petition. The Speaker had an endearing quality of engaging directly in the debate, as well as seeking clarification. Our Speaker in another place would enjoy that.

Four of our Clerks have attended parliamentary seminars in Africa based on an exchange of experience and skills, and Edward Ollard says that these are not one-way exercises. The South African Parliament, for example, is keen on outreach to the people and consultative exercises, such as have been advocated here by the Hansard Society.

I agree with much that the report says about the bypassing and even undermining of Governments by development partners, including indigenous NGOs. This is a fact of life in a developing country. NGOs will follow all options that help the poor, knowing that things often do not get done through parliament but by a combination of influences in and outside government. Parliaments must be strengthened but we can expect only gradual change. What happened to NePAD, which is now seven years old? Parliaments were once seen as a vital means of implementing the NePAD peer-review mechanism. Clearly, it is now on the back burner.

My CPA visit to the Mozambican parliament in 2002, led by Andrew Pearson, included a fascinating session with MPs. I congratulate the CPA on all such visits and on involving NGOs as fully as possible in meetings so that MPs and civil society can see that they are mutually valued.

In a post-conflict state, it is hardly surprising that fighters recently turned MPs should still distrust one another, and visitors sometimes help to restore confidence. All noble Lords will know of the partnership between the Westminster Foundation for Democracy and DfID

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in the important work of strengthening the capacity of parliaments in Africa. There is now to be a special focus on the training of trainers in Uganda and Mozambique, and there will be a university link through a parliamentary study centre. The foundation aims to work closely with individual parties and is naturally uneasy with the situation in some countries where there is a tendency towards one dominant party.

In Mozambique, Frelimo has been so powerful that I remember embassies and donors almost trying to nurse the Renamo MPs into a stronger role, in spite of the bloodthirsty reputation that they still carried from the civil war. The same will be true of northern Uganda if and when the LRA ex-combatants try to stand for elections. Opposition parties are still weak. Let us not forget that when Museveni’s main rival, Kizza Besigye, returned to Uganda from exile to run for the presidency, he was arrested and charged with rape and treason, and was later snatched from a courtroom at gunpoint. The world just watched.

Finally, Sierra Leone is another post-conflict case where a lot of quiet cajoling and encouraging has helped to restore the democratic processes. All those in DfID and other organisations deserve congratulations, for the new Administration is frail and continues to need support in its efforts to secure democracy, attract investment and restore confidence in the economy.

4.25 pm

Lord Anderson of Swansea: I, too, congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Chidgey, on initiating the debate. I also congratulate the All-Party Group on this valuable and timely report, in which it took advice from real African experts from the ODI, the NDI and, particularly, the Royal African Society. It is timely, as the recommendations are in tune with the new government policy of recognising the importance of good governance in avoiding waste and misdirection of development aid.

Kenya is a good example of where the politics have destroyed much of the good development that has been done—at least, in part. Traditionally in Africa there has been a lack of questioning of autocrats, even before some countries descended into the Bokassa or Amin regimes. I was pleased with the government response of a litany of the phrase “We agree” to the various recommendations. I am impressed with the belated DfID White Paper of 2006, Governance, Development and Development Politics, which drew on the valuable ODI report commissioned in February.

DfID has traditionally been wary of politics and parliaments. Its aim was to train specialists in the executive branch: tax inspectors and so on. It essentially worked only with departments. The Foreign Office has in many ways been slightly better equipped in reporting on parliaments, but it has its own drawbacks. It has relatively few African specialists, and its personnel tend to spend two-thirds of their careers aboard and are often out of touch with what happens in our own Parliament because there is a relatively limited interface with it.

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