International Support to Parliaments: A UN Perspective

By Deveaux, Kevin | Canadian Parliamentary Review, Spring 2010 | Go to article overview

International Support to Parliaments: A UN Perspective


Deveaux, Kevin, Canadian Parliamentary Review


The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) is the largest United Nations agency providing more than $5 billion annually in support to member nations of the UN. This support primarily comes in the form of technical advice, knowledge transfer and capacity building. The mandate of UNDP is to provide the necessary assistance to over 166 countries and governments throughout the world so they can create sustainable programmes that reduce poverty, respect human rights, promote a key role for women in society and protect the environment. This article looks specifically at the UNDP's support of parliamentary institutions.

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The presence of an effective parliamentary institution is strongly correlated with the existence of a viable democracy and an open society. Such institutions are critical to the establishment and consolidation of democracy because they empower ordinary people to participate in the policies that shape their lives. Parliaments are fundamental to establishing the rule of law, protecting human rights, overseeing transparent governance processes, and ensuring national compliance with international obligations.

Among the support provided to countries, the largest sector of support is democratic governance, making up approximately 40% of all expenditures by UNDP annually. Democratic governance includes the promotion of the participation of all citizens in the functioning of their government, the establishment of accountable and responsive government institutions and ensuring democratic governance is based on international principles.

Since the mid 1990s, support for parliamentary development has become an important and growing area of support for the United Nations Development Programme, as a mechanism to increase the representation and accountability to the poor and disadvantaged groups. UNDP supports parliaments by providing long-term technical advice to parliamentarians and parliamentary staff. This technical advice can take many forms, from basic training seminars and study tours at one end of the spectrum to full time technical advisers that work with parliamentary committees and staff to support public hearings, high quality legislation and effective oversight of the executive branch.

In 1995, UNDP had five parliamentary development programmes active at any one time; currently there are over 60 parliamentary development programmes, from Algeria to Mozambique and Timor Leste to Zambia. UNDP is now supporting parliaments all over the world and is a recognized leader in this important pillar of democratic governance.

The key to UNDP's support to parliaments is its national, regional and global infrastructure. Only UNDP, amongst international organizations, has a permanent presence in over 160 countries while maintaining regional bureaus and global expertise that supports the work at the country level. This support comes in the form of (i) Technical Advice and Knowledge Products (1); (ii) Global Programme on Parliamentary Strengthening; and (iii) Multi-lateral Web-based Knowledge Platforms.

UNDP has a Parliamentary Development Team based in New York and Brussels that provides technical advice to UNDP Country Offices and regional bureaus on a demand-driven basis. Where a national parliament is interested in support from UNDP, the respective UNDP Country Office can call on the team to help design projects, organize specific activities, identify short and long-term technical advisers, evaluate the results of ongoing projects and ensure quality assurance. The team also supports the development of knowledge products that draw on UNDP and broader lessons learned in the field of parliamentary development and encapsulates these in formats that are accessible to parliamentarians, parliamentary staff and other actors.

UNDP has had a global programme related to parliamentary development for ten years. Now in its third phase, the Global Programme on Parliamentary Sterngthening (GPPS) works at the global, regional and national levels. …

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