Speakers call for independent Parliaments during COVID-19 pandemic at CPA webinar
Commonwealth Speakers and Presiding Officers from Australia, India and the Maldives have emphasised the importance of independent Parliaments and Legislatures, especially during the current COVID-19 global pandemic, during a Commonwealth Parliamentary Association webinar this week.
The CPA webinar for Speakers and Presiding Officers of the Commonwealth provided a timely and unique opportunity to examine the nature of Parliaments as independent institutions in the context of COVID-19. The webinar was introduced by Matthew Salik, Head of Parliamentary Development at the CPA Headquarters Secretariat who spoke about the launch of the CPA’s Model Law for Independent Parliaments earlier this year and the CPA’s work with Commonwealth Legislatures on establishing Parliamentary Service Commissions and ensuring that Parliaments can remain robust, effective and independent institutions.
Hon. Kate Doust, MLC, President of the Legislative Council of Western Australia spoke about how the COVID-19 global pandemic had placed an increased spotlight on the way that Parliaments function and had accentuated the already considerable internal and external pressures that Parliaments face. She also thanked all parliamentary staff who had worked so hard to ensure that Parliaments could continue to function during the pandemic.
Hon. Hitendra Nath Goswami, MP, Speaker of the Assam Legislative Assembly and CPA Executive Committee Member for the CPA India Region spoke of the challenging times that the Parliaments in India are facing with the uncertainty of COVID-19, but that scrutiny of legislation had continued as most Legislatures had robust procedures in place. He also highlighted that many Parliaments were facing challenges in maintaining public interaction with their Legislature, as often the public are not currently allowed into the Chamber – however many Parliaments have utilised technology to overcome these challenges.
Hon. Mohamed Nasheed, GCSK, Speaker of the People’s Majlis of the Maldives spoke about how many Parliaments across the Commonwealth have responded quickly to adjust existing practices and procedures to be able to continue their scrutiny of the Executive and of legislation. The provision of new technologies to facilitate hybrid Parliaments was a huge factor in the continuation of parliamentary procedures and the Speaker highlighted that the Maldives were the first Parliament in the Commonwealth to sit virtually at the outset of the pandemic.
The Secretary-General of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association, Stephen Twigg spoke at the webinar about how Parliaments in the long-term can establish policies, strategies and powers to give them the necessary resources to function independently and effectively. As democratic institutions, Commonwealth Parliaments must ensure public confidence in their ability to manage their affairs and to conduct their essential legislative, oversight and representative functions, especially during the current COVID-19 pandemic. The CPA Headquarters Secretariat is providing assistance to Commonwealth Parliaments through its programme of seminars and its toolkits like the Model Law for Independent Parliaments and the CPA’s Benchmarks for Democratic Legislatures to provide Legislatures with a robust framework of parliamentary procedures.