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Overseas Development Institute (ODI)

Parliaments and development:
What shapes parliamentary performance and what can donors do to enhance it?

ODI Briefing Paper 18

Alan Hudson

Overseas Development Institute (ODI)

April 2007

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Parliaments have an important role to play in delivering governance which is good for poverty reduction and democracy. But in many developing countries – not to mention developed countries – parliaments are weak and ineffective. Donors have tended to neglect parliaments, preferring to deal with the executive and civil society organisations. Such neglect has done nothing to address parliaments’ marginalisation, or to enhance their effectiveness. There are however, some encouraging signs.

Parliaments in some developing countries have begun to assert themselves, providing increasingly effective budget oversight, for instance in Tanzania, and restraining the ambitions of presidents to run for third terms in office, for instance in Nigeria. Parliamentarians too have become increasingly active – including through the International Parliamentarians’ Petition and the Parliamentary Network on the World Bank – in insisting that they have the right to scrutinise loan agreements between the international financial institutions and their countries’ governments.

As donors’ rhetoric, and to some extent practice, has shifted from that of conditionality to country ownership, they have begun to appreciate the importance of effective parliaments and to realise that parliaments might play an important role in ensuring that aid is spent effectively. Donors are beginning to see parliaments as an essential element in the governance mix.

An increasing number of organisations – including multilateral organisations such as the World Bank and UNDP, bilateral donors such as USAID, DFID and Sweden’s Sida, alongside political party foundations, networks of parliamentarians, and specialist outfits such as the Canadian Parliamentary Centre – are engaging in activities intended to strengthen parliaments in developing countries.

With the exception of USAID which, with a long history of legislative strengthening spent an average of approximately Ј9m per year between 2000 and 2003, donor support to parliaments is limited. Between 2003 and 2006, DFID’s records show that it spent an average of only Ј1.4m per year on supporting parliaments, out of an annual aid budget which now stands at Ј5bn. Sida spent around Ј12m – approximately 2% of its overall budget – supporting local parliamentary organisations from 1997 to 2005. However, donor support to parliamentary strengthening is increasing.

As increased resources begin to flow towards ‘parliamentary strengthening’ activities it is important that donors understand what shapes parliamentary performance, and ensure that their support tackles the causes of poor parliamentary performance rather than addressing merely the symptoms. This Briefing Paper provides an introduction to the issues, and sets out some guidelines for effective parliamentary strengthening.1

  1. This Briefing Paper is based on a DFID-funded review of parliamentary strengthening. DFID’s support is gratefully acknowledged, but the views expressed in this paper are the author’s alone. For further details and the report:

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