What is it?
A parliament – or legislature – is the body of government responsible for making the laws of a country. Composed of representatives or politicians representing different geographical areas or constituencies, a modern parliament tends to have the following core functions: law-making; budgeting; oversight of government bodies, especially the executive branch of government; and representing the interests of citizens. In performing these functions, parliamentarians may use a number of procedures such as: introducing legislation and amending laws; scrutinizing ministers, civil servants and other government actors through questions, holding inquiries and hearings to receive expert evidence; and gaining access to official documents and information.
Why is it important?
Parliaments play an important role in ensuring the implementation and monitoring of and compliance with international commitments at the national level. They are, in essence, the institutions formally in charge of making governments accountable for their international commitments. Notably, the 2030 Agenda acknowledges “the essential role of national parliaments through their enactment of legislation and adoption of budgets and their role in ensuring accountability for the effective implementation of our commitments.”1
Parliaments can promote accountability for the SDGs in a number of ways. They can make or amend laws to ensure consistency with the 2030 Agenda. They can monitor the actions of the government and its agencies in implementing the SDGs. They can assess overall progress on the SDGs through periodic reports tabled in parliament. They can evaluate budgets and ensure an adequate allocation of financial resources to achieve the SDGs. They can also hold public hearings and inquiries on issues relevant to the SDGs, stimulating public debate in relation to policies to attain the SDGs, and providing opportunities for experts and citizens to offer their views on what is or isn’t working on the ground. Moreover, the role that parliamentarians play in representing their constituents’ interests is vital to SDG accountability, especially for vulnerable or marginalized groups who may have few avenues in which to raise their concerns.
How can it be used?
Citizens have the right to provide input into the work of parliaments4 and there are a number of ways that CSOs can engage, educate and mobilize parliaments and parliamentarians in relation to accountability for the 2030 Agenda, including the following actions:
1. Engage with individual Members of Parliaments (MPs) – CSOs should seek to meet with, lobby and build relationships with individual MPs in order to promote accountability for the SDGs. In particular, CSOs should:
a. Educate MPs on the SDGs and their role as parliamentarians in SDG accountability – CSOs can ensure that parliamentarians are well-informed about the SDGs and the role that they, as MPs, can play in advancing accountability for the 2030 Agenda. In particular, CSOs can educate MPs – especially newly elected ones – on the use of their legislative, budgetary and oversight powers to further accountability for the SDGs.
b. Encourage MPs to legislate in relation to the SDGs – For example, CSOs can urge and support MPs to endorse or adopt the 2030 Agenda in Parliament, ensure that current laws are consistent with the SDGs, and propose new legislation in support of the SDGs.
c. Urge MPs to use their oversight role to monitor progress and action on the SDGs – CSOs can encourage MPs to monitor progress on the SDGs – for example, through regular progress reports or updates in Parliament – as well as to monitor and challenge the government’s actions in implementing the Agenda including its budgetary allocations. CSOs should urge MPs to use existing parliamentary processes – such as open debates, parliamentary ‘question time’ or ‘interpellations’5 – to question ministers on the implementation of the 2030 Agenda and to draw attention to particular SDG issues.
2. Engage with parliamentary committees and working groups – CSOs should engage with parliamentary committees that address issues related to the SDGs, including permanent standing committees as well as ad hoc committees that deal with specific tasks. Parliaments may mainstream the SDGs across existing parliamentary committees and/or establish a dedicated committee or working group on the SDGs.6 As a starting point, CSOs should determine whether the SDGs have been included in the formal mandate of one or more committees and whether a specific committee on the SDGs has been created.
CSO engagement with parliamentary committees may take a variety of forms, including: educating committees on the SDGs through information seminars and training sessions; offering briefings, feedback and/or oral or written submissions to committees on SDG implementation (e.g. what is or is not working); and providing technical advice and expertise on SDG issues. CSOs can also advocate to influential parliamentary committees to have a thematic focus on the SDGs broadly or on specific goals or targets.
3. Participate in parliamentary hearing and inquiries – Parliamentary inquiries and hearings provide spaces where governments can be held responsible for their SDG commitments.7 One way that CSOs can engage with parliaments is by giving oral or written submissions on SDG implementation and/or review to parliamentary hearings and inquiries. Notably, the 2030 Agenda recognizes the role of national parliaments in supporting processes for regular and inclusive reviews of progress at the national and subnational levels.8
Parliamentary committees should have the power to call public hearings to garner citizens’ views on implementation as well as to call on government officials to provide information on the impact of its policies.9 Such hearings can also offer a mechanism for parliaments to receive citizen input on draft or existing legislation in relation to the SDGs.
4. Help connect citizens to parliamentarians – CSOs can play a key role in bridging the gap between legislators and citizens in relation to SDG implementation and review by organizing lobbying campaigns – such as letter writing campaigns – as well as constituent visits in parliamentarians’ electorates or districts. As elected representatives of the people, parliamentarians have an obligation to engage with their constituents throughout their term of office and not just during election times.10
CSOs facilitating outreach and communication between citizens and their representatives can help parliamentarians identify gaps and weaknesses in SDG implementation that may not be apparent in general government reports or national statistics.11 Regular dialogue with parliamentarians also allows citizens to provide information and insights on local implementation of the SDGs, and may encourage parliamentarians to place additional pressure on governments to implement the 2030 Agenda.
• Engaging parliaments on the 2030 Agenda and the SDGs: representation, accountability and implementation, A handbook for civil society (2018), produced by Together 2030, provides guidance on how to engage with parliaments and parliamentarians to promote, support and track the implementation of the 2030 Agenda.
• Parliaments and the Sustainable Development Goals: A self-assessment toolkit (2016), by the Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU) and UNDP provides parliaments with the framework to evaluate their readiness to engage on the SDGs and seeks to help parliamentarians identify good practices, opportunities and lessons learned to institutionalize and mainstream the SDGs into the legislative process.
• The Inter-Parliamentary Union is the organization of national parliaments that works with parliaments to safeguard peace and drive positive democratic change through political dialogue and concrete action.