Internationally, the experience of many parliaments testifies to the role effective, representative legislatures have in strengthening governance and improving democratic processes. Parliamentary oversight is considered one of the cornerstones of good governance—an essential link in the chain of accountability. Such oversight is important in terms of ensuring that a government’s policies and programs achieve their desired effect; in shedding light on the workings of government through parliamentary debate; on improving the efficiency and effectiveness of expenditure; and in upholding the rule of law.
In the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region, recent events have reinforced the central role parliaments should have in strengthening the public’s voice and its participation, as well as in introducing reforms linked to oversight.
In Tunisia, decisions on the powers a new parliament would have were pivotal to the discussions that shaped the country’s post-revolutionary state. Morocco’s 2011 constitution empowered its parliament, increasing its reach, particularly in the budget process. Similarly, promises of genuine legislative power and parliamentary oversight have been made in Yemen, Jordan, and Oman.
The capacity of legislatures to function effectively is still a major concern, though, in many MENA countries. The international watchdog, Global Integrity, places most of MENA well below Latin America and the Caribbean and South Asia. “Capable parliaments are crucial to good governance in MENA,” said Hisham Waly, Practice Manager of Governance Global Practice at the World Bank. “They foster popular participation in politics and promote a more responsive style of government. This depends on political and electoral systems, formal parliamentary powers, political will and space, and technical capacity.”
Relatively weak governance results, coupled with recent constitutional reforms, illustrate the timeliness of Bank support to parliaments in the region. Over the past three years in Morocco, the Bank has addressed governance issues, encouraging reform at national and local levels. In the Transparency and Accountability Development Policy Loan (DPL) Series (Hakama), the Bank invested in policies that laid the foundations for more government accountability and openness.