Cementing Congressional Connections: HDP Colombia & Peru Trip Recap

  • Courtney Brantley

Besides being prime places to experience South American cuisine, Colombia and Peru are in prime positions for their members of Congress and their staff to strengthen legislative services and oversight.

The eagerness to energize such actions was brought to light during the series of technical trainings facilitated by the House Democracy Partnership (HDP) from August 21 to 27, 2016.

Two experts, Christi Hawley Anthony from the Budget Analysis Division of the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) and June Beittel is an Analyst from the Foreign Affairs, Defense, and Trade Division of the Congressional Research Service (CRS), led the week-long training program in Bogota, Colombia and Lima, Peru to inform members of Congress and their staff in both countries on how to best capitalize on legislative processes. Broadly speaking, the experts’ audiences in both countries gravitated towards learning more about impartial, transparent budgetary practices and also how to develop sustainable, investigative research services for congressional use.

In Colombia, meeting dialogue was significantly focused on the continued development of El Centro de Altos Estudios Legislativos (Center for Legislative High Studies [CAEL]), or a branch of the Colombian Senate  that promotes strategic alliances with Colombia’s academic community, inter-parliamentary projects, and projects to strengthen initiatives that support legislative processes. A deep interest for the exchange of capacity building strategies on the part of the Colombians stemmed from the fact that CRS has been in existence for over one-hundred years while CAEL is a mere four years old. Colombia currently does not have significant funding opportunities to support this cause in Congress, which has been historically overlooked, as recent efforts have been put towards solidifying a peace agreement with the FARC; the final peace accord between the Colombian government and the FARC was signed after 52 years of conflict on August 24, while HDP’s delegation was in-country for this historic event. At the moment, CAEL is primarily utilizing the services of university students to conduct congressional research, making for an inconsistent reporting system. HDP served to animate the importance of such a congressional research service.

In Peru, it was evident that the country is still in a holding pattern of welcoming a new Congress that consists of approximately 75% new members. In HDP’s culminating seminar, 160 newly-minted congressional staff members filled a hall in the Peruvian Congress building to as they personally sought to establish their smaller, individual roles in the roles in the dissemination of information, research and assistance they provide to committees, members, and staff in Congress. The experts answered a plethora of questions for the eager congressional staff members who inquired about congressional best practices for both budgets and research; much of the dialogue touched on how to sustain or collaborate on congressional practices in light in light of the high congressional turnover rate.

HDP saw a number of people in both Congresses who expressed great interest in having follow-up peer-to-peer exchanges and/or continued support through HDP initiatives, such as through video conferences and trainings. Through this trip, IRI and HDP programming garnered high-level support, including that from the Second Vice President of the Colombian Senate, Ivan Name, and the President of the Peruvian Congress, Luz Salgado, who happens to be a 2009 HDP alumna herself. It was a critical time for HDP to be in each country as they are both embarking on paths to promote and update new congressional endeavors. Overall, this trip served as a fresh start for developing a more in-depth HDP programming agenda in its two South American partner countries in 2017. 

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