Recognising that well-structured, appropriately staffed and resourced parliaments are essential for vibrant democracies, over 20 participants from nine Pacific parliaments graduated from a Corporate Management of Parliament course - a first accredited training of its kind to be held here in the Pacific.
The two-week intensive training offered by McGill University, Canada, was implemented in partnership with the Parliament of the Republic of Fiji and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) with funding support from the Governments of Australia, Japan and New Zealand.
Speaking at the graduation ceremony, the Speaker of the Parliament of the Republic of Fiji, Dr Jiko Luveni, expressed her appreciation for the commitment to upscale administrative skills of Secretariat staff of Pacific parliaments.
“Continuing education in administration skills in the areas of corporate governance, leadership, human resources and financial management that we have just completed, keeps us abreast with modernization and further strengthens our capacity to deliver services with the confidence we need to always strive for and achieve excellence in our performance,” said Dr Luveni.
She added, “I would like to acknowledge the governments of Japan, Australia and New Zealand for their continuing generous support to Pacific Parliaments through our development partner, UNDP, without whom we would not be able to organise this course to such professional standards.”
The Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of Japan, Masahiro Omura, stressed that the work of parliament secretariat staff is significant as it is seen as a service to the entire nation.
“Parliaments function at the heart of any democracy,” said Mr Omura.
“As officials of Parliaments in your respective countries, you hold important responsibilities that contribute to the effective and efficient service delivery of the parliament to the members of parliament (MPs) and all stakeholders in the national decision-making process.”
Enhancing south-south learning
In the training, participants went beyond the course objectives and were able to increase their own level of understanding of parliamentary democracy and democratic principles applied in other Parliaments.
As such, the Australian Deputy High Commissioner to Fiji, Ms Amy Cargo was pleased that through the partnership between the Governments of Japan, Australia and New Zealand with UNDP, the regional participants would have also learnt a lot from their counterparts.
“It is pleasing to see Parliament’s from across the Pacific involved in this training, and it is my hope that as well as learning from the excellent materials provided by McGill University, you have also had the opportunity to learn from each other,” said Ms Cargo.
The Hansard Editor – French, for the Parliament of the Republic of Vanuatu, Gillian Willie, highlighted how the two weeks have allowed her to learn the various approaches used by other parliaments.
“The training was very interesting and learning from participants of other countries on how they have overcome their challenges has helped me to see solutions to some of the challenges that we face in Vanuatu,” said Willie.
Echoing the same sentiment, the Assistant Public Relations Officer with the Congress of the Federated States of Micronesia (FSM), Manuel Yoma, said, “The course was a good experience and I enjoyed the networking between participants as I think it will come in very useful in the future as we progress in our careers within Parliament.”
The Engine Rooms of Parliament
According to McGill University, research has established that effective parliaments enhance democracy, increase government accountability and reduce corruption, encourage peace and development and thus more generally promote good governance and socio-economic development.
It adds that over the past decade, there has been increasing recognition of the importance of enhancing the institutional memory of parliament and thus combating the problem of skills loss at election times, when in some countries, the turnover of MPs is 80% or higher. Building institutional memory in parliament requires a focus on training parliamentary staff.
Adding his remarks at the graduation ceremony, the New Zealand High Commissioner to Fiji, Jonathan Curr, highlighted that the improved professionalization of corporate services underpins the process of parliamentary strengthening.
“Parliaments are central to transparency and effectiveness of decision-making in our countries,” said Mr Curr.
“The engine room of any parliament is the Secretariat and this delegation represents that body of professionals.”
He added, “Without the dedication, skill and hard work of you and your colleagues, the core democratic functions of your countries simply cannot function.”
Parliaments and the SDGs
As one of the pillars of democratic governance, Parliaments are powerful agents of change. It is by ratifying international agreements, translating the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) into enforceable national laws that respond to country-specific development priorities, monitoring their implementation and ensuring Governments are accountable to the people for delivering progress on the SDGs, that Parliaments can drive that change and be effective in their role.
The UNDP Pacific Office in Fiji Country Director and Head of Pacific Regional Policy and Programmes, Bakhodir Burkhanov, emphasised the importance of upskilling secretariat staff.
“The number and capacity of Parliamentary administration staff are critical to the institution’s effectiveness,” said Burkhanov.
“Research has shown that a Parliament with too few employees – or where staff lack the training and skills to support Members and Committees – can see the quality of adopted policies and their implementation affected, ultimately impacting people on the ground.”
He added, “A key focus of the UNDP Pacific Parliamentary Development team is to support capacity building opportunities for staff so that you can effectively carry out your roles. I am pleased to say that all Parliaments and Legislatures represented in this training have benefited from UNDP support in that regard.”
This the first time for McGill University to conduct such training in the Pacific region with 28 participants from nine national parliaments: Cook Islands, Fiji, Federated States of Micronesia, Papua New Guinea, Republic of the Marshall Islands, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Tonga and Vanuatu.
The training programme was supported by UNDP’s Pacific Parliamentary Effectiveness Initiative (PPEI) Project, the Fiji Parliament Support Project II and the Strengthening Legislatures in the Pacific (SLIP) Project with funding from the Governments of Australia, New Zealand and Japan.