The British Department for International Development‘s use of US groups to strengthen parliaments in developing countries risks using taxpayers’ money to promote “less accountable” political systems at the expense of those based on the Westminster model, The Guardian reports:
In a report published on Tuesday, the International Development Committee acknowledges that DfID is a major contributor to parliamentary strengthening – spending around £22.5m bilaterally last year – but urges it to ensure its long-term aid is being spent effectively by putting parliaments “at the heart of its governance work” and taking a more “hands-on approach” to the issue.
While the UK does not “explicitly promote its national parliamentary traditions”, says the report, the situation is very different in the US, where USAid set up the Consortium for Elections and Political Process Strengthening (Cepps) program to provide funding for US institutions to work together to promote democracy in its country programmes.
“The Cepps and National Endowment for Democracy programmes provide some US institutions with an advantage over UK institutions; they have been effectively subsidised by US taxpayers to become powerful institutions well-positioned to win DfID tenders,” says the report. “In contrast, Westminster institutions are largely unable to win bids for US money spent on promoting democracy since much of the money is reserved for core US institutions.”
Relationships between parliaments and the president or prime minister, government ministries, civil society groups and media can be as important for effectiveness of parliaments as the formal capacity and resources of the parliament itself, the report notes, citing a submission by the Carnegie Endowment’s Rachel Kleinfeld, which argued:
Donors should look for areas of interest where elements of society itself, or portions of parliament, are already organized and active. Highest priority should go to programs where there is both citizen demand and receptivity from some portion of parliament…. Where elements of the broader public are speaking on behalf of an issue, but there is a lack of parliamentary interest, it may be a good choice for allocating funds to both civil society and to parliament, in order to enable and encourage responsiveness to citizen demands. Funding to both sides is essential to ensure oversight from citizens, as well as enable parliament to act.