Pacific Speakers of parliament look to engage more
Speakers of parliament from a number of Pacific nations which are part of the Commonwealth meet to discuss ways that these young and developing parliaments can become more effective democratic institutions.
Speakers of parliament from a number of Pacific nations converged in Wellington this week to share notes on how to develop stronger and more effective legislatures.
Delegates from Cook Islands, Kiribati, Nauru, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Tonga and Tuvalu were attending the biennial Conference of Speakers and Presiding Officers of the Commonwealth, being held this year in the New Zealand capital.
It provided a forum in which to discuss ways that these young and developing parliaments can become more effective democratic institutions.
Johnny Blades reports:
There are many common issues facing the Pacific parliamentary speakers and the institutions they run. They're generally under-resourced, face multiple logistical challenges just to function on a regular basis and parliaments are often seen as being remote from the people. A keynote speaker at the conference was the Cook Islands speaker, Niki Rattle, a non-MP with extensive grassroots level work experience who highlighted the challenge of parliaments engaging more with the community.
NIKI RATTLE:Because I have worked in the community and I know means and people that I can engage with I have that confidence and in the parliament of the Cook Islands it is something that we are looking at doing and the system that we have come up with is a member of parliament, a member of the opposition, with a staff member. I would like them to go into the school and begin by dissemination of information on parliament and then eventually get into the bigger picture, you know 'wouldn't you like to become a member of parliament?".
The Solomon Islands speaker is the former Prime Minister Sir Alan Kemakeza who says their parliament is still developing, but has benefitted greatly from the exchanges and partnerships with other countries.
Solomon Islands is one of around a dozen Pacific countries to have twinned up with an Australian state parliament under the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association system, and is also the focus of a United Nations Development Programme parliamentary strengthening project.
ALAN KEMAKEZA: It's good that we share and learn from each other. The common issues is how we are going to ensure the openess and transparency of what we are doing in the parliament aswell as the privileges of the members of parliament.
Some Pacific parliaments are criticised over political instability, and how the role of speaker can become politicised.
The deputy clerk of New Zealand's House, Deborah Angus, says critics need to consider that those islands parliaments have not had nearly as much time to evolve as those in New Zealand and Australia.
DEBORAH ANGUS: You're looking at often very new political systems, they may not have been operating for 30 or 40 or 50 years and so there has to be a bit of time for people to develop these things. I think that is the value about this type of conference - that people are listening to eachother and realising they are not alone and that there are solutions that they can develop themselves and they are taking away these ideas.
Pacific delegates seemed unanimous that while Australia and New Zealand parliaments play an oversight and governance advisory role with Pacific nations, it's ideal to forge homegrown solutions to the islands' democratic problems.
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