FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
September 15, 2012
Civic Organizations Unite in Landmark Call for Parliamentary Openness and Citizen Participation
ROME, ITALY – Today, on the International Day of Democracy, civil society organizations from across the globe joined in a call to parliaments worldwide for stronger collaboration to improve openness, transparency and citizen participation in the legislative process. With support from more than 80 civil society parliamentary monitoring organizations (PMOs) from over 55 countries, the Declaration on Parliamentary Openness was launched at the World e-Parliament Conference 2012 in Rome in the presence of more than 400 parliamentarians and parliamentary staff. The conference was co-organized by the Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU) and the United Nations, through the Global Centre for ICT in Parliament and hosted by Italy’s Chamber of Deputies.
The declaration’s launch comes as civil society organizations are increasingly seeking opportunities to engage collaboratively with parliaments to help to respond to increased citizen interest in accessing parliamentary and governmental information. By participating in the Open Government Partnership, 55 governments have agreed to develop national action plans, supported by civil society input and monitoring.
María Baron, co-coordinator of the Latin American Network for Legislative Transparency (LALT Network), said, “The declaration draws inspiration from OGP to encourage parliaments to work with PMOs to improve their records on openness, accountability and citizen engagement. Parliaments need to do more to demonstrate that they are committed to representing citizens’ interests, and citizens need parliaments to use their oversight powers to ensure government openness and accountability.” According to Dinara Oshurahunova, who heads the Coalition for Democracy and Civil Society in Kyrgyzstan, “…for me, this declaration is important in connecting citizens from all over the world for a single request to our parliaments - openness.”
Anders Johnsson, secretary general of the Inter-Parliamentary Union, said parliaments have recognized the need to engage more with their citizens and are taking innovative actions to improve citizen outreach and participation. “The IPU/United Nations Development Programme Global Parliamentary Report also highlights how PMOs can boost public knowledge of parliament if there is a constructive relationship between them. IPU supports all efforts that strengthen collaboration between parliaments and PMOs leading to more robust, representative democracies.”
The declaration was developed through a collaborative process that began in April 2012 at the PMO Leaders Conference in Washington, D.C., which featured PMO representatives from 38 countries. The conference was hosted by the National Democratic Institute (NDI), a nonprofit organization that works with parties, parliaments and civil society around the world to strengthen democracy; the Sunlight Foundation, a leading U.S. PMO; and the LALT Network, a regional network of 17 PMOs in eight Latin American countries. The conference was supported by the Omidyar Network, the Open Society Foundations the National Endowment for Democracy, the World Bank Institute, and the Embassy of Mexico to the U.S. The declaration was also discussed at the Open Legislative Data Conference in Paris, hosted by the French PMO Regards Citoyens, and the Center for European Studies of Sciences Po and Médialab Sciences Po. Comments on the draft declaration were also received online. The declaration, along with commentary documenting good practice on parliamentary openness, can be found on the website OpeningParliament.org.
Drawing on standards frameworks and guidelines documents developed by the international parliamentary community, the declaration, which is presently available in seven languages, highlights measures parliaments can take to promote a culture of parliamentary openness—recognizing the basic principle of public ownership of parliamentary information. The declaration also specifies the categories of parliamentary information that should be made available to the public and the channels through which parliamentary information should be made accessible to ensure non-discriminatory public access.
Recognizing the importance of providing parliamentary information in open and structured formats, the declaration also contains specific “open data” provisions to enable electronic analysis, reuse and sharing of parliamentary information. This last point was highlighted by Gherardo Casini, of the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs, and secretary to the high-level board of the Global Centre for ICT in Parliament, who noted: “The declaration affirms the potential of PMOs to amplify parliamentary efforts to open to citizens’ voices—many of which were on display at the World e-Parliament Conference—and to assist parliaments in taking advantage of the opportunities presented by rapid technological innovation.”
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