|Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York|
PRESS CONFERENCE BY SPEAKERS OF PARLIAMENTS
The Declaration of the Second World Conference of Speakers of Parliaments to be adopted today called on governments to show their political will and take decisive action towards real reform of the United Nations, taking into account the very close linkages between democracy, development and security, Sergio Páez Verdugo, Senator and President of the Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU), told correspondents this afternoon during a press conference at Headquarters.
Other participants in the press conference were: Baleka Mbete, Speaker of the South African National Assembly; Anders B. Johnsson, IPU Secretary-General; and Juan Somavía, Director-General, International Labour Organization (ILO).
Mr. Verdugo said 150 Speakers of Parliament had gathered in New York for three days to express their vision of a United Nations which was stronger and more efficient to meet the challenges of the millennium. The IPU was closely working for the United Nations and saw itself as the political support of the Organization. The Conference had also looked at how that support could be improved. Despite some initial difficulties, the debate during the Conference had been very constructive.
Ms. Mbete, reporting on a panel on the role of parliaments in contributing to democracy which she chaired, said the three-hour-long discussion, based on a survey conducted by the IPU, had been “vibrant”. Among issues of discussion had been the fact that in many countries, a strong and overbearing executive branch had a negative effect on parliaments. In many cases, parliaments could not compete in role and image. Parliaments must, therefore, strengthen the relationship between parliament and civil society, and interact with youth, non-governmental organizations and the private sector. Issues of gender and age within parliaments had also been addressed, as women were under-represented and parliaments tended to have older members.
Another issue addressed was the role of parliament in international politics, she said. Often, the executive branch was running with the issues in multilateral bodies, and parliaments had little idea of what was going on there. In South Africa, parliament engaged with the executive branch so that when a national position was taken, the view of parliament had been taken aboard. Inputs of parliaments into international politics must begin within Member States before the international level and the relationship of the IPU and the UN should be addressed.
Subjects for further study by the IPU were the impact of “floor-crossing” [an elected representative changing parties after election] on democracy, and lobbying and corruption.
Mr. Somavía, chairman of a panel on the relationship between parliaments and the United Nations, said that the discussion had pointed out that, as parliaments were elected locally, they could bring the local reality into the international scene. By participating in the international scene, they could bring international issues into a local context. Parliaments were the natural linkage between politics -- which was always local -- and the international system. Another point made was that there was an ongoing process of moving from an international community of governments into a global community of very diverse actors, including governments, parliaments, local authorities, civil society, unions and the private sector.
He said the oversight function of parliament regarding government’s reporting to parliament on international relations had also been emphasized. Parliament should be the place, for instance, where the impact of globalization should be analysed politically. The discussion had also pointed out that, although the inter-State status of the IPU had been acknowledged through its observer status with the United Nations, a more strategic relationship with the Organization was needed.
He said that, as Director-General of the ILO, he had told parliamentarians that he had found globally that, for the people who elected them, the question of jobs was the most important one. He had called on the IPU to bring that issue forward, to transform parliament beyond ideologies divisions to take it as a national issue. Speakers of parliament could take a leadership role in addressing the problem.
Responding to a question about the delay in issuing a United States visa to the Iranian Speaker of Parliament, Mr. Verdugo said that originally the Conference would take place in Morocco, as the same problem with United States visas had occurred five years ago. The United States, however, had given assurance that there would not be any problem this time, and the Conference was held in New York. However, less than one week before the Conference, visas for Cuba and Iran had been denied. Once the Conference had started, the visa for Iran had been authorized, but the Speaker could not make it to New York any more. That was unacceptable, and the Conference had issued a statement in which it expressed its outrage. He was going to talk to United States authorities to see how the issue could be resolved, as the visa denial was an attack on democracy and on the parliamentary system.
Asked about interaction with members of the United States Congress on UN reforms, Mr. Verdugo said that the IPU strongly supported UN reform. One of the tasks speakers of parliament were taking back was to demand of their governments to approve UN reforms.
Mr. Johnsson added that members of Congress had been present during the Conference. From contacts he had had with them, he understood that they also supported reform of the United Nations. Specifically, they would like to see more interaction between parliaments -- themselves included -- and the Organization.
Asked for comments on statements of some countries, among them the United States, saying that there were about 60 democracies present at the United Nations, which would imply that the work of most participants was, if not worthless, doubtful, Mr. Johnsson responded that in his work, he had noted that in a very large number of countries parliaments were becoming stronger and stronger, and were trying to adapt to a rapid changing world where parliaments had to use new tools to exercise oversight, which was a fundamental task in a democracy.
Ms. Mbete added that democracy, by its very nature, meant the will of the people, and parliaments were the voice of the people. It was, therefore, an important institution for humanity. Without the “true voice of the people”, members of the executive branch would take decisions without any consultations and do as they saw fit.
Democracy ensured the will of the majority, of the ordinary people, first of all, through elections, so that parliament itself was the exercise of the will of the people. There must be freedom of speech within the parliament and the ability to differ openly. There also must be accessibility for members of society. It was difficult to determine what country was or was not democratic. The IPU did not point fingers.
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