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IDD 2018: What if parliamentary oversight did not exist?

On 15 September, the IPU celebrates the 21st anniversary of its Universal Declaration on Democracy and the 11th anniversary of the International Day of Democracy. The date is an opportunity to reaffirm our shared commitment to protect and promote democracy.

Democracy Day is also a time to review the state of democracy around the world. This year we are focusing on the importance of parliamentary oversight – a core function of parliaments and a vital part of the checks and balances in any healthy democracy.

But what if parliamentary oversight did not exist?

If parliamentary oversight did not exist, the people, through their representatives in parliament, would not be able to hold the government to account. MPs would not be able to assess the impact of government action on society, to help ensure that appropriate resources are provided to implement government programmes, monitor commitments made, or identify the unintended or negative effects of government policy or actions.

The simple fact of knowing that questions may be asked, that you may be required to justify your actions, creates a different mindset among governments and their administrations. This is one of the most important contributions of oversight to democracy. It is no coincidence that the first action following a coup d’état is often to abolish or suspend parliament.

However, despite its importance there are many challenges preventing MPs from fulfilling their oversight duties effectively. For example, in some countries, MPs cannot speak freely. Protecting the freedom of expression of parliamentarians is fundamental to their ability to scrutinize and oversee the actions of government. It is not rare to see that outspoken MPs are subject to human rights violations ranging from arbitrary arrest to politically motivated legal proceedings. Some MPs even lose their lives.

Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU) Geneva