For citizens to be able to participate in the legislative process, they must have an understanding of the rules of engagement, and trust that they are implemented fairly. Provisions on parliamentary openness and regulations about ethics and behaviour of parliamentarians and public officials can be established through constitutions, statutes, rules of procedure, or through a mix of these and other regulations. By adopting explicit and clear policies on openness, parliaments can signal their commitments to representing citizens’ needs and help them navigate this potentially confusing terrain. An openness policy can include procedures for requesting parliamentary information that is not otherwise readily available, as well as procedures for challenging decisions to not disclose particular information. The right of citizens to access and analyse the work of parliament is linked with policies on integrity, which may be established in parliamentary bylaws, or through the adoption of codes of conduct or ethics. Transparency requirements which shine light on the assets, expenses and relationships between parliamentary actors with lobby or interest groups are particularly important, irrespective of a parliament’s level of development.
According to the OpeningParliament.org community’s Declaration on Parliamentary Openness (art.13), “Parliament shall adopt policies that ensure the proactive dissemination of parliamentary information, including policies regarding the formats in which this information will be published.” The Declaration on Parliamentary Openness echoes the conclusions of a 2004 Commonwealth Parliamentary Association (CPA) and World Bank Institute (WBI) study group on access to information, which noted that consideration should be given to regular parliamentary review, for example on a biannual basis, of implementation of the access to information regime (Mendel, 2005). In its Benchmarks for Democratic Legislatures, the CPA also states that “Legislatures shall require legislators to fully and publicly disclose their financial assets and business interests,” a benchmark supported by the Assemblée Parlementaire de la Francophonie (APF), Parliamentary Confederation of the Americas (COPA), and the South African Development Community Parliamentary Forum (SADC-PF) and the OpeningParliament.org community.
- Recognize citizens as the owners of parliamentary information. This includes respecting citizens’ right to access parliamentary information, including proactively providing information categories needed by citizens to make informed decisions about issues being discussed in parliament and their elected officials.
- Conduct an assessment of parliament’s information and integrity policies and implementation capacities. This review should examine the flow of parliamentary information, the technological infrastructure to support this workflow, and how information is used by citizens, civil society and other stakeholders. A review of a parliament’s system for ensuring public integrity review should focus on identifying the mechanisms in place for addressing potential conflicts of interest and disclosure of the financial interests of parliamentarians.
- Develop a workplan for enhancing public access to parliamentary information and opportunities for citizen engagement, and for removing or minimizing restrictions on citizen access to use of parliamentary information.
- Create a basic parliamentary ethics regime. This could include adopting regulations for disclosing member assets and any non-parliamentary income. It may also include adopting ethics regulations limiting conflicts of interest and the creation of an ethics committee or other body charged with the enforcement of these regulations.
- Enable citizens and citizen-based groups to provide input into the policy process, to understand their needs and concerns and help ensure that parliamentary information can reach a broader audience.
- Develop a primer for citizens that clearly explains the parliament’s policies in plain language, especially where rules and regulations affecting the transparency and openness of parliamentary information or the ethical responsibilities of parliamentary actors are captured in a variety of laws, statutes and policies.
- Create educational opportunities for MPs and staff to help them gain the skills necessary to effectively implement these openness and integrity policies.