Parliamentary strengthening partners hold study group on reviewing democratic benchmarks 

A joint study group of partners in parliamentary strengthening convened in Surrey, UK to review the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association (CPA)’s Benchmarks for Democratic Legislatures in light of the aspirations set out in Goal 16 of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). SDG 16 centres on peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development and the role of effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels. Effective parliaments are the principal institutions of the state, central to the attainment of SDG 16, the development agenda and all of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals.

The launch of the Benchmarks for Democratic Legislatures in 2006 by the CPA and its partners was a bold and pioneering step to strengthen parliaments through the promotion of a set of standards for parliaments across the Commonwealth. Today, at a time of increased scrutiny of parliaments and of parliamentarians, the focus on measuring impact and the need to demonstrate the effectiveness of legislatures is critical. The Benchmarks for Democratic Legislatures provide a key tool in assisting parliaments to demonstrate their performance, increase their self-awareness and prioritise areas for development.

A decade on, SDG 16 offers a unique opportunity to revisit the expectations of a good and democratic parliament. Therefore, in collaboration with the Westminster Foundation for Democracy, the CPA convened a study group of leading experts in the field of parliamentary strengthening to review the CPA Benchmarks and continue with this seminal work in setting standards for parliaments. The group considered the development of a tool to help parliaments craft their reform agenda in line with the aspirations of SDG 16; increasing effectiveness, accountability, transparency and becoming more inclusive and responsive institutions. The organisations represented at the study group included: Commonwealth Parliamentary Association (CPA); Westminster Foundation for Democracy (WFD); National Democratic Institute (NDI); United Nations Development Programme (UNDP); World Bank Group (WBG); Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD).

The Secretary-General of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association, Mr Akbar Khan, who co-chaired the study group with the Westminster Foundation for Democracy (WFD), said: “SDG 16 anchors the importance of parliament as a strong institution aiding human development. Gathering together this group of experts in the field of parliamentary strengthening to revise and refresh the pioneering CPA Benchmarks for Democratic Legislatures is timely, as we seek to strengthen parliaments in line with the aspirations of the SDGs.”

Anthony Smith, CEO, Westminster Foundation for Democracy (WFD) said: “The parliamentary community made important contributions to the development of the SDGs. Now it is time to help to implement them. We want to consider how the CPA Benchmarks can help parliaments to do this.”

Lisa VonTrapp, OECD said: “The CPA benchmarks were essential to developing and codifying international norms and standards around democratic legislatures. Ten years later, and in light of new opportunities afforded by the SDGs, it is appropriate that we examine whether and how these standards have evolved and how we might operationalise some of the learning that has come out of their use.”

Mitchell O’Brien, World Bank said: "We need to think about the nature of indicators. They don't tell us a story about the practice within parliaments or the overall performance of these institutions. To take the CPA Benchmarks to the next level we need to explore how they can be better used by parliaments to shape their reform agendas and link parliamentary performance to the measurement of SDG16."

Charles Chauvel, United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) said: “Agenda 2030 applies to both developed and developing countries, and makes an explicit link in SDG 16 between good governance and sustainable human development. These are also both important features of the Commonwealth Charter. As we consider how to measure progress on achieving both the global goals and the aims of the Charter, we need credible and up-to-date indicators about how parliaments are functioning. Do they follow processes that are inclusive, representative, and participatory; in order to function as effective, accountable, and transparent institutions? This exercise is an important contributor to achieving these."

Scott Hubli, National Democratic Institute (NDI) said: “The CPA Benchmarks led the way for a number of similar documents by other parliamentary associations. Despite the wide diversity of parliamentary traditions and models, there has been a remarkable degree of agreement on the fundamental characteristics of democratic parliaments. The benchmarks weren't, however, designed to measure performance. It is important that parliaments have the right tools for the right situations, and we may have opportunity now to help parliaments develop and refine tools for assessing their development over time.”

This study group is the first stage of a joint project between the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association (CPA) and the Westminster Foundation for Democracy (WfD) to update the Benchmarks for Democratic Legislatures to take account of the Sustainable Development Goals.

Background information:
The Commonwealth Parliamentary Association (CPA) together with its partners conducted the exercise which drew on and convened its network to result in the publication of the Benchmarks for Democratic Legislatures in 2006. These benchmarks were the outcome of an original Study Group hosted by the Legislature of Bermuda on behalf of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association and the World Bank Group with support from the United Nations Development Programme, the European Parliament and the National Democratic Institute for International Affairs. The Benchmarks for Democratic Legislatures have been used extensively in parliamentary strengthening across the Commonwealth since 2006.

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The Commonwealth Parliamentary Association connects, develops, promotes and supports Parliamentarians and their staff to identify benchmarks of good governance and the implementation of the enduring values of the Commonwealth. 
 
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