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Problem Statement

The ultimate goal of any society striving for human development is to empower its citizens and place them at the centre of the development process by providing them with access to information and knowledge. The mission of any Parliament is to promote democratic participation and accountability. A necessary step towards the achievement of this goal is to provide citizens with full and unhindered access to Parliamentary works and use of its information. The challenge is not only to provide universal access to information and to close the gap between the information-rich and information-poor, but also to increase the quality and usefulness of information that is made available to the society at large.

Public accountability is the cornerstone of good governance and it is the main function of Parliaments to hold the Executive accountable for its actions to the public. Regrettably, it is in executing this specific function that Parliaments in Africa face a lot of hurdles -- as the Economic Commission for Africa's 'Striving for Good Governance' report highlights, 'legislatures in most African countries remain fairly weak and marginalised.'. The report goes on to propose that Parliaments should 'create better access for the people (...) perhaps taking parliamentary hearings to the people, especially for key national issues.'(Commission for Africa, Our Common Interest. Report of the Commission for Africa, March 2005, p. 90)

Moreover with development assistance increasingly moving towards budgetary support and sectoral policies, Parliaments will be asked to play an increasingly important role in drawing up policies and exercising oversight functions over the contributions provided by development partners and financial institutions. Parliaments are central in providing effective systems of accountability and monitoring via the institutional checks-and-balances mechanism - all of which together strengthen the democratic legitimacy and effectiveness of governance.

Parliaments will also have to perform a crucial leadership role in the Information Society by expanding access and making use of public domain information. With more information being openly available from the Parliaments, more citizens will be able to exercise their civic rights, and become empowered to make informed decisions about their daily life, their environment, and their future. The amount of public information will grow in response to the ever expanding role of Parliament and the growing concern of citizens, who want to become part of the decision making process.

Parliaments are admittedly a strategic component in the process of establishing good governance and achieving greater democratization and, indeed, in taking "Africa integration" to the people and in promoting cooperation among Parliaments/countries.

The parliamentary system of government in Africa, however, is yet to be fully empowered as it has received fragmented and uncoordinated attention from the international community so far. African Parliaments are severely hampered in their capacity for an effective enactment of their constitutional mandate and they lack the means to collaborate with each other towards the renaissance and economic integration of Africa.