The Role of Parliaments and Audit Offices

[Author of box 19.5 is Todor Tagarev]

As the direct representatives of the public, parliaments are the principle source of democratic legitimacy. They are responsible for establishing the legislative framework in which government and society operate, and play the central role in overseeing the activities of the executive (in particular, defence ministries and the military), as well as defence industry and private security contractors. Parliamentary committees should be sufficiently empowered to scrutinise budget, procurement and personnel decisions in the context of national security policies and priorities. To exercise their powers effectively, they need to have sufficient access to information and the staff capacity to effectively analyse it. In many countries, parliaments have audit offices attached to them. These have an important role in carrying out detailed investigations of government expenditure and highlighting malpractice.

This chapter will look at the various mechanisms and issues of parliament’s role in light of the anti-corruption agenda of building integrity, increasing transparency and improving accountability.

Parliamentary Committees

Committees are parliaments’ work horses. While major political issues or scandals may be played out in front of cameras in plenary, it is in committee format that parliamentarians most often hear testimony from defence officials, debate issues, conduct investigations, or commission reports. Most parliaments have a committee that bears principal responsibility for defence issues, frequently combined with national security issues more broadly. Nevertheless, various aspects of complicated issues like defence invariably cut across a number of committees – for example, finance, foreign policy, human rights and intelligence oversight.

Areas of activity for the security and defence committee include:

  • Developing legislation for the defence and security sector;
  • Advising on budgets and monitoring expenditures;
  • Reviewing government defence policy and security strategy;
  • Consulting on international commitments and treaties to be ratified by parliament;
  • Advising parliament on the use of force and the deployment of troops abroad;
  • Monitoring defence procurement;
  • Reviewing senior appointments; and
  • Monitoring personnel policy and human rights.

 ... For the full text of this chapter see the accompanying file below.


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