Former FCO Minister and Minister for Women and Equality Meg Munn is one of GPG’s long standing Associates. She has been involved in our work in Iraq since 2010. In this blog, she looks back on her time with GPG and her frequent visits to the country.
It was unseasonably warm in Baghdad in December 2022, very different from my first visit for Global Partners towards the end of 2010, when it was cold and heavy rain made being outside unpleasant. In the intervening years, I have visited Iraq over 30 times working on GPG projects in Baghdad, Basra and Erbil. All these projects were focused on developing the capacity of the parliament by improving the knowledge and skills of MPs, supporting the development of women MPs as leaders, strengthening links to the regions through decentralisation, and improving the effectiveness of parliamentary processes. GPG Associates who have worked in Iraq include former MPs and former government ministers, members of the House of Lords, and former parliamentary staff.
One particular important area of work has been strengthening parliamentary committees. Successful committee reports produced in the Iraqi parliament include investigating the problems in provision of drinking water in Baghdad, the implementation of the law on human trafficking and the impact of the law on freedom of expression on journalists. Iraqi women MPs who were in leadership positions in committees have been supported to help improve their effectiveness. They are especially concerned to demonstrate their capabilities because with Iraq having a 25% quota of female MPs, they can suffer attempts to diminish their authority by being labelled “quota women”.
At the General Election in 2021, the majority of MPs returned were new to parliament. As the previous years had seen repeated angry public demonstrations about the poor economic situation and the failure of government and parliament to provide public services, new MPs were keen to respond to these concerns and to make a difference as quickly as possible.
More recent support has been focussed on MPs’ constituency work and their outreach to electors. It also worked on improving oversight in parliament through supporting the development of committee staff, coupled with a focus on a small number of committees. There has been close engagement with the Parliamentary Directorate who oversee committee work. Given the tensions in the country, the MPs want to support their committee work with activity in their constituencies. In addition, GPG has been providing support to the newly established Parliamentary Development Institute, whose role is to organise and deliver training to staff and MPs.
This project focused on work with a few parliamentary committees. Initial workshops were held with staff. It took some time to appoint MPs to committees and to reach agreement on the appointment of a Chair. We helped them in developing annual work plans and reviewed the nine-stage inquiry process for committee inquiries that GPG has developed.
Back in 2010, the concept of oversight was little understood, the majority of committees concentrated on reviewing legislation. The more recent experience of undertaking inquiries, and the developing institutional memory in parliament, has helped to change this view.
GPG’s programme included working with the Finance Committee, whose primary focus was the budget. They also wanted to undertake an inquiry on systemic problems within the financial system. The Agriculture and Water Committee identified the issues affecting agriculture through the actions of neighbouring countries in relation to water resources. The Education Committee’s focus was on funding both for school building and students.
The Women’s Committee were keen to undertake work on violence against women in politics. This phenomenon has developed so widely that it has its own acronym: VaWiP. In Iraq, aspiring women politicians suffer both physical and online harassment and intimidation. With local elections planned across the country, the committee decided they wished to improve awareness of the issues and influence the situation. Working with GPG they were able to draw on international experience.
Linking the regions to the Iraqi Parliament (Council of Representatives)
Each region in Iraq has at least one Council of Representatives Office. In previous years GPG has worked with a number of the offices to help strengthen links between parliament and the public. This has encompassed liaising between the public and MPs regarding local issues and working with local MPs on matters related to the work of parliamentary committees. For example, the Basra office held a consultation event on the journalist’s freedom of expression law for the Media Committee.
The Parliamentary Directorate, which line manages the regional offices, is working to ensure that regional offices are effective in supporting MPs in their constituency work and in committee work. A key task, supported by GPG, is the development of standard protocols for offices to enable them to develop strong relationships with their local MPs. In addition, this will improve oversight work in parliamentary committees, with the views and experiences of the people affected by the specific topic being included in the work of MPs.
Parliamentary Development Institute
The development of the Institute demonstrates the growing confidence and maturity of the parliamentary administration. GPG has supported management to develop a strategic plan identifying where training should be given by experienced parliamentary personnel, and where the appropriate support should be provided by international organisations. In addition, this project has held sessions to train the trainers, encouraging the use of a range of training techniques. The aim is to encourage learning through a variety of means, including online courses.
Over the last twelve years, I have seen significant improvements in a number of important areas. Parliamentary staff now have a good grasp of democratic processes and Parliament itself is focused on providing the support MPs need. While it is true that the public remain largely dissatisfied with the performance of government and parliament, new MPs are often elected with a determination to make a real difference.
But there is still a great deal to be done. Developing a democracy after many years of dictatorship and internal and external conflict is never easy. It is about developing a culture of representation and accountability in society at large and this takes time. Twenty years in the life of any country is a short time, particularly one going through many changes, often accompanied with violence. During my work there I’ve been privileged to work alongside those striving to achieve democratic change and hope to continue to do so.