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Report of the International Conference on Poverty Reduction Strategy in Africa

8. The Role of Parliament in the Implementation of the PRSP
 
The strategically important role of Parliament in the implementation of the PRSP was ably examined by the Honorable Louis Chimango, a Member of the Malawian National Assembly.

Introduction

Mr. Chimango began his presentation by observing that:

  • Recently hun


  • On the policy front, the question of agriculture had become a high profile concern to the extent that unlike in the past it is being recognized that agriculture is the engine of growth.


  • In light of the unfolding humanitarian/hunger crisis unfolding in Southern Africa, it is the Members of Parliament who must assume a frontline role in defending the poor and vulnerable.


  • The challenge of implementing the PRSP requires decision makers to allocate more resources for poverty interventions.


  • All stakeholders including the poor themselves must effectively participate in the PRSP process, which is intended as a model of development dialogue where cooperating partners, national governments, and civil society organizations synergistically cooperate to tangibly and measurably reduce poverty.


Parliament and the PRSP Process

In demonstrating the role that parliament can play in promoting poverty reduction in Africa, Mr. Chimango noted that:

  • Parliaments have a pivotal role to play in the development process in view of the functions of legislators variously referred to as ‘watchdogs’, ‘advocates’ and ‘intermediary of constituents’ in terms of articulating citizens’ development aspirations into public policy outputs.


  • The Parliamentarian is the authentic representative of the poor and vulnerable in the formulation of strategies to reduce poverty, and must refuse to be a mere rubber stamp, but must demand a meaningful role in the implementation, monitoring and evaluation of PRSP processes.


  • Though in Malawi, legislators have not had an active involvement in the PRSP process, a positive beginning has been made in that a number of Chairpersons of Parliamentary Committees were invited to join some of the 19 thematic groups preparatory to the PRSP.


  • Elsewhere on the continent, the evidence available suggests that governments have not adequately consulted parliamentarians in PRSP processes, save for a few instances when parliamentarians have been invited to participate in a ‘token’ and ‘ceremonial’ way.


Can Parliament Deliver on PRSP?

In assessing the potential role parliaments can play in moving the PRSP process forward, Mr. Chimango observed that:

  • The critical challenge facing the PRSP process is to actually secure results from projects and programs so that they may have a positive effect on the poor.


  • Budgetary oversight is a major input and one which parliament is suitably positioned to perform.


  • Parliament’s comparative advantage in the PRSP processes emanates from the fact that it can access budget documents and ultimately approves the budget.


  • There is need to track expenditure lines down to district levels to ensure that objectives spelt out in the estimates of expenditure are being met.


  • Parliamentarians can benefit from the inputs of civil society organizations, which use bottom-up participatory methods whist parliament tends to monitor the treasury, Ministries and government departments right down to district level in terms of expenditure accountability.


  • The Malawi Parliament through its Budget and Finance Committee has held hearings with Civil Society in order to learn first hand, the scope and depth of poverty in the country as well as the efficacy of countervailing measures instituted by the government to address the poverty challenge.


  • Since line Ministries have always been invited to the hearings of the Committee in order to avail themselves the opportunity of verifying the perceptions of civil society organizations, Ministries have been made to sit up because they have been made aware that their expenditures are being tracked.


Implementation of the PRSP: The Role of Parliamentary Committees

With regard to the actual implementation of Malawi’s PRSP (MPRSP), Hon. Chimango Noted that:

  • Malawi’s PRSP, has from the standpoint of internal processes, been completed and will be submitted to the boards of the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank towards the end of 2002 and depending on whether performance is deemed to be satisfactory, the country could qualify for debt relief at this point.


  • Monitoring the process of implementing the PRSP is of paramount importance as this enables parliament to be responsive to the cry of the poor. The question is whether parliament has the technical and human capacities to follow through the budget in a sustained manner.


  • Parliament through its oversight and standing committees can be critical to budget implementation and make budgets pro-poor.


  • Resources and technical support are required not only for civil society but also for parliamentary committees. A basic level of understanding of economic parameters, in-house technical capacity in economic analysis and basic accounting are absolutely necessary as are skills to access information in the current world of the cyber-age if parliaments are to be expected to deliver.


  • Sustainability of Parliamentary Committees’ zeal to hold government to its pledges in respect of pro-poor anti-poverty interventions would lie in the recruitment of highly qualified staff because all too often the committees are constrained by lack of adequate technical support from parliamentary staff.


  • There is urgent need to reform legislation, which currently impedes parliamentary committees from accessing information which impinges on the implementation of PRSP. Without such reform, information tends to become very scanty, as bureaucrats will wish to clear everything with their superiors before releasing it to outsiders. Without an open and transparent information regime, expenditure tracking cannot be carried out.


  • The New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD) offers an entry point for cooperating partners to establish sustainable partnerships with African parliaments at national, sub-regional and continental levels to empower these bodies to play a more pro-active role in poverty reduction than has hitherto been the case.


The Role of Regional Parliamentary Groups in the PRSP

In concluding his presentation, Mr. Chimango observed that:

  • Poverty is a common problem, which transcends physical frontiers, and therefore countries at various levels of development can learn from one another in implementing effective anti-poverty programs.


  • Member countries of the SADC Parliamentary Forum should not confine the exchange of experiences to SADC member states but should build cooperative synergies with members of sister regional parliamentary mechanisms such as the ECOWAS Parliament and the Arusha based East African Legislative Assembly.


Discussion

The discussions after the two presentations raised the following issues:

  1. The sustainability of the funding process was a source of concern. Participants wondered whether the cost involved in the consultative process did not take away from the resources meant for poverty reduction.


  2. After qualitative analysis of the process, there was need to assess whether there is any improvement in the quality of life of the ordinary people.


  3. For purposes of monitoring the PRSP process, all stakeholders need to be involved, and monitoring should reflect all shades of opinions.


  4. There is need for governments to ensure adequate resources are provided for the consultative process, especially for full involvement of parliament.


  5. Uganda was acknowledged as a good example of best practice in terms of consultation and participation of stakeholders.


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