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Constitutional Reform: Assessing the Effectiveness of Parliamentary Democracy Part 2

By Dyon A. Elliott


Picking up from where I left off in the last Res Publica360 entry, this article continues the analysis of the effectiveness of Belize’s Parliamentary Democratic system.


As I had started in the last installment, I am using the Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU)’s methodology. As I had explained in “Part I”, the IPU’s indicators have to be tackled in parts. We are talking about a hundred and eleven (111) indicators. Last time, we looked at Dimensions 1.1.1 and 1.1.2, which, respectively, look at Belize's Parliament’s Institutional Autonomy and Belize’s Parliament’s "Procedural Autonomy.”


In my own estimation, I obtained a score of roughly 73% for Institutional Autonomy (Note: I converted it to a percentage as it's easier to communicate). Regarding Procedural Autonomy, Belize's Parliament was assessed at 78%.


However, this time around (and moving forward), I figured that there is even more value in getting a more objective, “insider” review. That is, moving forward, I will work with stakeholders who actually operate within the Parliamentary system. For this reason, I reached out to the Speaker of the House Hon. Valerie Woods, who was gracious enough to volunteer her assessment. As a result, the rest of this piece reports on her responses.


Speaker of the House’s Review of Parliamentary System: Budgetary Autonomy


Now, to be clear, this is a multi-part engagement with the Speaker on this and related topics, and these articles will likewise be in parts. For this reason, our discussion this week focused exclusively on the Budgetary Autonomy of Parliament (IPU’s Dimension 1.1.3).


Dimension 1.1.3 has four assessment criteria. The first criterion (Assessment Criterion No. 1) looks at “Constitutional and Legal Autonomy.” As is true for all indicators, the IPU’s methodology ranks from zero (0) to five (5), with the responses, respectively, reflecting “non-existent”, “poor” (for a score of 1), “basic” (score of 2), “good” (3), “very good” (4), and Excellent “5”.


In terms of Assessment Criterion No. 1, the precise questions states:


“The country’s constitution or legal provisions establish an independent legislative branch that has control over its own budget. The authority includes the powers of the legislature to adopt its own budget without interference from the executive.”


When asked to rate the above, the Speaker indicated that Belize’s structure in this area should be scored as “basic” (i.e., a score of 2 out of a maximum of 5).


For Assessment Criterion No.2, the indicator looks at the following:

“National laws on the budget, in addition to a legislature’s standing orders or rules of procedure, provide a detailed framework that clearly defines the extent to which the body has control over its own financing and resources. The framework provides the legislature with the power to approve and manage its budget without interference by the executive branch.”


With explanations and working examples provided, the Speaker explained that it is difficult to score this aspect of Belize’s current system beyond “poor” (i.e. 1 out of 5). This, of course, matches with my own review of Belize’s current Constitution—which, I remind, is going through a reform process—the National Assembly Staff Act, and the Standing Orders. The legal structure is largely mute as it pertains to providing copious details in this area.


For the third sub-criterion of Budgetary Autonomy, that is, “Control over Parliamentary Budget,” this factor states:


“The parliament has the expertise and resources to use its funds as it wishes and, through internal inspection and an external independent supreme audit institution, monitors the management of its budget without interference by the executive”.


This variable likewise received a “poor” from the Speaker. Of course, a point must be made here to exclude the reference to the supreme audit institution—the Auditor General’s office. The key observation here is that the National Assembly staff is still in need of strengthening in the areas mentioned and highlighted by the IPU.


Finally, Assessment Criterion No. 4 looks at “Resource Provisions.” This component reads:


“The legislature’s independent budget ensures the effective and adequate financial capacity of the legislature in order to carry out its representative mandate, such as compensation for members, hiring of staff, development and financing of non-partisan analysis and oversight offices, security for the legislature, technology and infrastructure, supplies and equipment, and other necessary assets and resources related to the institution’s total operations.”


Similar to the previous assessment, this component was also scored “poor”.


Given that the total score for Dimension 1.1.3.’s four sub-indicators is 20, and given that the scores above equate to a combined score of five (5), it can be argued that Speaker’s assessment places Belize’s performance—as it pertains to Parliament’s Budgetary Autonomy—at 5 out of 20 or 25%.


In The End: Context Matters

This series of articles falls within the contextual frame of the ongoing Constitutional reform process being overseen by the People’s Constitution Commission (PCC). My approach to these things is always more systematic and procedural (than prescriptive). That is to say, if we are going to “fix” something, then it is important that we conduct the adequate (and, where possible, empirical) analyses to identify—on the facts—what is indeed “broken.”


Here, based on the kind feedback from the Speak of the House Hon. Valerie Woods, one area that has clear signs of weakness as far as the Effectiveness of Belize’s Parliamentary Democracy is concerned is the lack of “Budgetary Autonomy” of the National Assembly.


The purpose of this exercise and these articles is to highlight the gaps so as to minimize the risk of coming out of the Constitutional reform process without having adequately addressed the actual areas in which our system is actually deficient.


Reference:

IPU (2022). “Indicators for democratic parliaments based on SDG targets 16.6 and 16.7.” Available at: https://www.parliamentaryindicators.org/all-indicators?fbclid=IwAR0TkFfVBOKkeg1TyGP7Um7Df8SUJDnOIWaihTnbkkRToXZ5_4dCyLfvupg.

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