Multilateral Legislative Strengthening Leaves Countries Better-Equipped for COVID-19 Crisis

  • Amanda Zink, Scott Nemeth

As we mark the International Day of Multilateralism and Diplomacy for Peace, the devastation that has been unleashed by the COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the vital importance of collaborating with our allies to address this unprecedented challenge.

Multilateral efforts to bolster democratic institutions is crucial to this fight. For the past 15 years, the International Republican Institute (IRI) has worked under the auspices of the House Democracy Partnership (HDP) to strengthen legislatures and forge constructive multilateral relationships through programs such as the Americas Summit for Transparent Legislatures and myriad regional study tours, such as Engaging Citizens in Building a Secure e-Society in Estonia.

The HDP is a bipartisan commission of the U.S. House of Representatives that works with 21 partner countries to strengthen legislatures and improve regional and global cooperation between them. Over the past 15 years, HDP has regularly brought together regional legislatures to share lessons learned and best practices in their journeys to democracy, and to empower them to implement these lessons.

Last year, members of parliament from nine countries across the Americas pledged their allegiance to combatting corruption and increasing transparency across the region. Part of IRI’s Americas Summit for Transparent Legislatures, the Buenos Aires Declaration on Transparent Legislatures codified multilateral efforts to address one of the most paralyzing governance issues in the region: corruption.

Participants from across the Western Hemisphere were inspired to coordinate more closely with their regional partners and develop medium- and longer-term goals to combat corruption. As countries grapple with economic challenges associated with COVID-19 and re-allocate their federal budgets in response – while also receiving loans and aid from foreign donors – the types of transparency measures encouraged by the Summit will be crucial to countering potential corruption issues.

Most recently, HDP convened legislatures from Armenia, Georgia, North Macedonia, Ukraine and the United States for a peer-to-peer exchange of e-governance knowledge and skills. Not only did this exchange enable European and U.S. partners to learn about the economic impacts and societal efficiencies provided by e-governance, it allowed for an open dialogue on the challenges facing legislatures today.

In addition to strengthening regional ties, the study tour empowered participants to implement new legislative strengthening initiatives in their home countries to create more efficient and responsive legislatures both digitally and in-person, a critical capability during COVID-19. For example, Honorable George Khatidze of the Georgian National Assembly credited the study tour for empowering him to “use Estonia’s e-Governance experience within the framework of the Open Governance Permanent Parliamentary Council” to strengthen e-governance in Georgia. These seminars provided the ideas and tools needed to digitally connect citizens to their government and have proven particularly useful in the new era of social distancing.

IRI and HDP have also piloted this multilateral approach through regional exchanges in Africa, bringing together the United States, Kenya and Liberia to strengthen legislative capacity to write, analyze and codify national budgets that provide vital oversight and transparency for each legislative body. Strategic budget allocations and analysis are proving to be particularly important as countries finance the distribution of test kits, set up field hospitals, provide economic support to business and citizens and take other steps to combat and recover from the pandemic. Participants left the regional seminars not only with an improved knowledge of the core functions of a legislature, but also with stronger relationships with their regional partners.

As nations around the world grapple with the COVID-19 pandemic, and as the ability of democracies to efficiently respond to crises comes under fire, multilateralism and the coordinated action of strong legislatures will be critical. Only the coordinated action of states and their people will create a response with the speed, efficacy and resources needed. The alternative? A disjointed, isolated and uncoordinated landscape leaving individual nations to find their way alone. IRI, through the work of HDP, is dedicated to supporting multilateral ties that strengthen democracy and, in doing so, our ability to work together to defeat the unprecedented challenge posed by COVID-19.

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