The COVID-19 pandemic has made the world realize the importance of technology on a massive scale. Millions of students continued their education through digital platforms, businesses adopted remote working, and families maintained connections despite the distance. Governments and their institutions, including parliaments, had to adapt to this new reality as well. This essay discusses the importance of transparency in legislative power, using examples from Mexico and the Latin-American Network for Legislative Transparency.
The State of Digital Advancement in Legislative Institutions
The pandemic revealed that the level of digital advancement of legislative institutions was lacking, particularly in developing countries and at the subnational level. Some parliaments were able to quickly adapt to virtual plenary and committee sessions, while others struggled due to insufficient infrastructure and internet access.
Mexico’s Federal Senate and the Lower House of Congress, for example, had relatively advanced digital procedures, allowing them to quickly adapt to the new reality. However, the local Congress of Mexico City experienced a significant halt in activities due to their reliance on physical documents and lack of digitalization.
Transparency as a Victim of COVID-19
The lack of administrative and procedural organization in some institutions led to a degradation of transparency levels. In Mexico City, freedom of information requests had to be suspended until October 2020 due to the inability to access physical archives. Furthermore, some governments used sanitary precautions as an excuse to limit transparency and public participation in legislative processes, such as replacing committee hearings and open forums with simple YouTube streams or even ceasing them altogether.
The Importance of Legal Obligations for Good Practices
The essay emphasizes the importance of setting good practices as legal obligations rather than leaving them at the discretion of politicians. One example is Mexico’s promotion of the open-government partnership in 2011, which led to the enactment of a robust transparency law in 2015. However, political willingness to promote open-parliament and congressional openness waned once global attention shifted elsewhere.
Recommendations from the Latin-American Network for Legislative Transparency
The Latin-American Network for Legislative Transparency has been promoting the adoption of practices and legal obligations at national and subnational levels to ensure greater transparency in parliaments. Some recommendations include:
1) Standards of openness in designation processes, such as Supreme Court appointments, electoral transparency commissions, ambassadors, and cabinet confirmations.
2) Integrity and anti-corruption standards, including independent equity evaluations and monitoring for conflicts of interest.
3) Adherence to normative and regulated best practices in acquisitions and public purchases, allowing public scrutiny, audit, and inspection.
4) Publicity of bills before voting, with at least 72 hours for public review and input.
5) Evaluating National Congresses and Promoting Legislative Openness
The Latin-American Network for Legislative Transparency has been conducting bi-annual evaluations of National Congresses in the region since 2012, with the 2021 evaluation covering 14 countries. Additionally, a group of Mexican organizations will measure the legislative openness index in 32 local congresses in the country for the first time.
Civil society organizations, particularly parliamentary monitor organizations, play a vital role in promoting transparency and openness in legislative institutions. By providing objective evaluations, these organizations can help parliaments and congresses identify areas for improvement and adopt better practices.
The COVID-19 pandemic has shown the importance of digitalization and transparency in legislative institutions. Governments must learn from these experiences and embrace transparency and openness in their processes. Civil society organizations, such as the Latin-American Network for Legislative Transparency, play a crucial role in ensuring that transparency is not just a slogan but a reality that benefits both representatives and their constituencies.
In conclusion, the COVID-19 pandemic has served as a crucial turning point for legislative institutions around the world, highlighting the need for greater digitalization, transparency, and openness in their operations. As the world continues to evolve and adapt to new challenges, it is vital that governments not only learn from their experiences during the pandemic but also take proactive steps to incorporate transparency and openness into their processes, ensuring a more efficient, democratic, and accountable legislative system.
The efforts of civil society organizations, such as the Latin-American Network for Legislative Transparency, are instrumental in this transformation. By advocating for the adoption of practices and legal obligations that promote transparency and openness, these organizations can help bring about lasting change in the way governments operate, fostering trust and collaboration between citizens and their representatives.
Moreover, a transparent and open legislative system can contribute to the fight against corruption and the promotion of good governance, ultimately leading to a more just and equitable society. By involving citizens in the legislative process, governments can ensure that legislation truly reflects the needs and aspirations of the people they represent.
To achieve this, it is essential that governments invest in digital infrastructure and capacity building, ensuring that all legislative institutions have the necessary tools and resources to carry out their functions effectively and transparently. This will require a concerted effort from all stakeholders, including politicians, civil servants, civil society organizations, and citizens themselves, to work together towards a common goal.
Furthermore, the experiences and lessons learned during the pandemic can serve as a catalyst for broader discussions on the role of technology in governance and the need for greater transparency and openness in all aspects of public life. As we move forward, it is crucial that these conversations continue to take place, and that governments around the world strive to learn from one another’s successes and challenges in order to create more transparent, open, and accountable legislative systems.
Ultimately, embracing transparency and openness in legislative institutions is not only a matter of good governance and democratic accountability, but also a crucial factor in building trust and fostering strong, resilient societies. By working together, governments, civil society organizations, and citizens can help to ensure that transparency and openness become the norm in legislative institutions around the world, leading to a brighter and more equitable future for all.
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