The Parliamentarian 2020: Issue Four - Social Media and Democracy in the Commonwealth

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VIEW FROM THE CPA SECRETARY-GENERAL

THE IMPACT OF THE COVID-19 PANDEMIC ACROSS THE WORLD AND IDENTIFYING THE CPA’S STRENGTHS TO BEST MEET FUTURE CHALLENGES View from the CPA Secretary-General 2020 has been dominated by the impact of the has earned widespread praise. It was set up in COVID-19 pandemic across the world. My thoughts March of this year. It was chaired by the Leader of are with those who have lost their lives, families who the Opposition, had an Opposition majority and have lost loved ones and the many people who are existed for two months. It was disbanded when the living with COVID-19. country’s alert level was lowered. Recently, I took part in a webinar organised by Of course, trust and consent are not just about the Commonwealth Secretariat to consider the bipartisanship in Parliaments, as important as that legislative approaches taken by Commonwealth is. It is crucially about the relationship between countries to address the pandemic. It was a governments and citizens. The emergency public welcome opportunity to take stock of the situation, health measures adopted to tackle the pandemic to share best practice and to consider what lessons Secretary-General of the rely, in large part, on the participation of the people we might learn from 2020 for the future. Commonwealth Parliamentary – for example, social distancing or wearing face Any emergency situation poses a challenge for Association, Stephen Twigg masks. Emergency provisions are most likely to be Parliaments and Parliamentarians – how best can a effective if they enjoy the respect and support of balance be struck between enabling governments citizens. to tackle the crisis and, at the same time, providing A worrying feature of the pandemic effective oversight and scrutiny? Earlier editions of The Parliamentarian which has been widely written about this year is that, in some in 2020 provided a fascinating insight into how Parliaments have countries, the response has served to accelerate existing trends responded to this year’s crisis in a variety of jurisdictions including the towards authoritarianism, the weakening of civil society and the Maldives, the Isle of Man, Kenya and Australia. scapegoating of minorities. In such circumstances, strong and We know that the virus has affected different countries in different independent Parliaments are more essential than ever. We also ways and that the policy approaches taken by governments have know that it is often the poorest and most marginalised communities varied both in terms of the public health response and the fiscal/ that have been hit hardest by the impact of the pandemic including economic dimension. Going forward, there will rightly be a plethora its economic effects. of opportunities to consider the different responses and to assess The CPA’s Benchmarks for Democratic Legislatures provide an their impact, including parliamentary inquiries. One thing that strikes invaluable set of tools to strengthen the work of Parliamentarians. me, at this stage, is the importance of trust and consent to the The CPA’s Model Law for Independent Parliaments is a resource effectiveness of a country’s efforts to tackle the virus. to help enable Parliaments to exert their independence from Earlier this year, the CPA Headquarters Secretariat published governments in line with the Commonwealth Latimer House a COVID-19 toolkit to support Parliamentarians in their work. The Principles. During this crisis, effective oversight and scrutiny are toolkit highlighted the importance of a cross-party approach. Rightly, more important than ever. We have seen the passage of emergency the New Zealand Parliament’s Epidemic Response Committee legislation and budgets across Commonwealth countries. Post Legislative Scrutiny of such measures is a vital function of the parliamentary process. Another feature of 2020 has been the truly remarkable “A worrying feature of the pandemic which adaptation by Parliaments to the crisis, with new modalities of has been widely written about this year working being adopted in many jurisdictions including online participation by Members in parliamentary proceedings. These is that, in some countries, the response changes have, of course, been an essential component of the has served to accelerate existing trends public health response to COVID-19. Nevertheless, there will be an opportunity for Parliaments to consider retaining some elements of towards authoritarianism, the weakening these changes on a permanent basis. Clearly, there are advantages of civil society and the scapegoating of and disadvantages to virtual meetings. Once social distancing minorities. In such circumstances, strong and measures are no longer required, a return to ‘in person’ plenary sessions is very likely to be the norm. However, for Committees, I independent Parliaments are more essential could see some Parliaments opting for a hybrid approach in which Members who might be away – for example, in their constituency than ever.” 292 | The Parliamentarian | 2020: Issue Four | 100 years of publishing 1920-2020


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