Open Government for Dummies: Open Parliament

Open Parliament is based on implementing the pillars of open government in the legislative branch to generate inclusive solutions to public problems.

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European Parliament

By Laura Tamia Ortiz Chaves. Published: August 2, 2021.

That Congresses and Senates should be transparent, accountable, promote participation and the use of ICTs in public decision making, and improve their relationship with citizens may seem like an obvious must. However, several opinion polls, such as Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index, show decreasing trends in the levels of citizen confidence in public authorities, including legislative bodies, in practically all countries.

International organizations have being increasingly promoting campaigns for legislative openness. For example, in 2017, OGP published its guide for the orientation of parliamentary participation policy, which is currently being updated. It commits to encouraging the signing of commitments to openness in that branch and giving visibility to parliamentary action in the adoption of legislation with open approaches. To this end, it proposes peer-to-peer knowledge exchange events, synergies, and the inclusion of parliamentary commitments in national action plans or the generation of new independent plans.

To make its efforts effective, it promoted the Open Parliament eNetwork (OPeN). This alliance emerged in 2012 after the signing of the Santiago Declaration on Parliamentary Transparency and Integrity in Parliaments and Political Parties, but until March 2018, there was no formal launch. Its members include Directorio Legislativo, Latin American Network for Legislative Transparency, National Democratic Institute, OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights, ParlAmericas, Westminster Foundation for Democracy.

OPeN has created The Roadmap Towards Legislative Openness, which, among other things, invites parliaments to adopt legislation and regulatory frameworks on transparency and access to information; to promote and create bodies to ensure compliance with such legislation; to be accountable in a participatory manner; to promote open budgets in order to publish and justify public expenditures; ensure citizen participation in public decision-making, including generating legislation for the protection of whistleblowers; promote ethics and integrity through codes of conduct, following ethical principles in their work, by regulating lobbying and sanctioning non-compliance; generate egalitarian and inclusive policies.

Ten principles of Parliamentary Openness

From Arena Ciudadana, Transparencia Mexicana, and Akora MX, propose ten principles that an open parliament should comply with, which are:

  • Give maximum publicity and access to parliamentary and legislative information.
  • Publish information in simple formats and have simple search mechanisms.
  • Publish the analysis, deliberation, and voting of the work of committees and plenary sessions.
  • Guarantee access and public transmission of plenary sessions.
  • Publish detailed information on the management, administration, and expenditure of the assigned budget.
  • Publish detailed information on legislators and officials of the legislative body.
  • Have mechanisms and tools for effective citizen monitoring and control.
  • Ensure inclusive citizen participation in legislative projects.
  • Give preference to the use of open data formats, free software, and open source.
  • Promote legislation in favor of Open Government policies.

Despite having been conceived in Mexico, these principles can be extrapolated to any country in the world as long as there is the political will to do so.

Examples of implementation

Examples of parliamentary openness begin with the ratification of transparency and access to information legislation. Reviewing the Reporters Without Borders World Press Freedom Index can give a sense of how countries are doing in this regard. Among the best-ranked of the 180 countries evaluated, with a lighter color, are Norway, Finland, Switzerland, Denmark, and Costa Rica. At the other end of the scale are Eritrea, North Korea, Turkmenistan, and China, where access is meager.

Wold Press Freedom Index

Another point to consider is the creation and approval of laws for the protection of whistleblowers in countries such as Ireland, which included it as part of a commitment within its first OGP action plan. Serbia, in its attempt to join the EU, which was at the time one of the most renowned initiatives as an example of good practice, although, at the Conference on Protection of Whistleblower at the State and Local Level, held in Belgrade in 2019, the gaps still existing were pointed out. Moreover, the European directive, although with different results in its implementation in member countries.

Also noteworthy is the implementation of co-created Action Plans for open parliaments, thanks to OPeN and other civil society organizations in Indonesia, Colombia, Chile, or North Macedonia, to mention a few. In addition, this same month, the Transparency Council and the Constitutional Convention of Chile signed an agreement to support the instance in transparency, integrity, and access to information.

Chile implementation dashboard

Source: Open Government of Chile (https://www.ogp.gob.cl/panel-de-seguimiento/)