OVERVIEW OF THE JORDANIAN PARLIAMENT MONITOR PROJECT
From October 2008 – December 2009, the Al-Quds Center for Political Studies, along with the National Democratic Institute, engaged in an innovative and multi-faceted pilot project entitled the Jordanian Parliament Monitor (JPM) which aimed to open up the process by which the Jordanian parliament is run to facilitate voter participation in the governmental process. The Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan is a constitutional monarchy and as such the parliament constitutes one of two pillars in its system of government. Through its legislative powers, oversight, and representation functions, as stipulated in the Constitution, the parliament plays a key role in the democratization of the Jordanian political system; however, past performance has revealed certain weaknesses in the exercising of these functions. The nature of Jordan’s government and its parliament in particular has left Jordanians frustrated on a number of fronts. There is a feeling among citizens from all over Jordan that there has been a lack of transparency and accountability with regard to the MPs activities, and this topic came up repeatedly in the roundtable discussions and town hall meetings. Citizens also voiced concerns about tax-breaks given to MPs, as well as frustrations with tribalism and inefficiency in the parliament.
The Al-Quds Center has recognized the urgent need to improve these and other areas of the parliament’s abilities; from the capacity of MPs to perform their work efficiently to administrative concerns. The JPM project was launched in order to address these concerns, as well as improve the overall efficiency, effectiveness, and accountability of the Jordanian parliament at both the individual and institutional levels.
By providing Jordan’s citizens with reliable information to monitor their elected representatives’ track records on key public policy issues, the project has sought to improve the capacity of the parliament as a whole in the performance of its duties. Furthermore, the project sought to enhance the participation of Jordanian citizens in the democratic system, which had previously been discouraged because of a feeling that the whole system needed changing and that little could be done from the outside due to the faults in the very structure of the system. These views were expressed repeatedly in the roundtable and town hall discussions, and included opposition to the one-vote system as well as frustration with the lack of female representation in the parliament.
The Al-Quds Center strongly believes that the Jordanian Parliament Monitor project has been a major and necessary first step on the road to democracy and good governance. Through monitoring, analysis, and dialogue, the project has engaged authorities, civil society and a variety of other stakeholders, which has in turn generated a process of positively reviving the public’s engagement with its parliament and the advancement of institutional openness and accountability throughout the country. These collective steps forward generate momentum and help make further reform more attainable in the future, especially with the help of constructive input from the citizens themselves. The Jordanian Parliament Monitor has proven to be a valuable tool in strengthening the institution.
To give the project context, other projects targeting parliamentary reform in the Arab world have been carried out on various levels before, but they have a larger scale and did not reach the local level in Jordan the way the JPM did. Notably, the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) has a project called Parliamentary Development Initiative in the Arab Region, which compares parliaments and their functions and structures. It has profiles for the way the various parliaments function, but certain countries are more active in the program and Jordan isn’t one of them. The JPM has achieved results on a local level that a larger international project like this one couldn’t.
The following summary of activities and achievements of the Jordanian Parliament Monitor represents the methodology and concrete steps carried out in the implementation of the project. The Jordanian Parliament Monitor project set out to meet three overarching objectives:
1.Assess and enhance the performance of MPs in terms of transparency and accountability.
2.Promote best practices for the Jordanian Parliament to implement its three missions, namely its legislation, oversight and representative functions.
3.Encourage political culture and constructive interaction between the Parliament, citizens and stakeholders.
In order to accomplish these goals, the Al-Quds Center carried out a series of monitoring, reporting, and dialogue activities. These included:
•A national survey study to gauge the population’s perception of the parliament’s work and define national priorities. This aimed to find the large picture of what the Jordanian people think about their Parliament and the activities of the MPs
•The publication of four unique and highly successful reports on the activities of MPs during the ordinary session, the 2009 budget, the extraordinary session, as well as a comprehensive annual report of activity.
•Individual interviews with 108 MPs in order to better assess their views, actions, and recommendations concerning public affairs and policies. The focus on each individual MP gives them their appropriate importance and also gives them a chance to voice their views individually.
•9 roundtable and 3 town hall meetings, providing a unique opportunity for communities to voice their concerns and recommendations regarding the work of their elected official representatives and receive direct responses from the public figures. These help to give us a closer view of people’s opinions and the reasons and logic behind them. This constitutes the qualitative aspect of the research.
•Launch of a new portal to provide a forum for the public to engage with the research conducted and information collected by the project about Jordan’s Parliament. The public can use this for easy, one-stop access to the information gathered which can help them participate in and facilitate the democratic process
Overall, the project conducted important outreach during its first year of operation. The Al-Quds Center carried out 15 events in all 12 governorates of Jordan with a total of over 600 participants, including 36 MPs, 14 ministers and ex-ministers, senior government officials, more than 40 academics, 27 journalists, and hundreds of activists. The project reached representatives from 18 political parties (including new ones or those still in the process of registration), 163 civil society organizations, and 32 municipalities. In addition, the monitoring reports are distributed to over 10,000 mailing list subscribers worldwide, creating an important global outreach.
More specifically, the project carried out the following activities with the following results:
1. Public Survey
The Al-Quds Center conducted a national survey in March 2009 in order to better identify the political and economic priorities of the Jordanian population, and to assess the performance of the parliament and its members through the eyes of electoral constituents. A focus group comprised of several experts and academics in related fields met to prepare the survey scientifically, taking into consideration the characteristics of Jordanian society, its parliament, and international survey standards. They identified three key topics for the survey: (i) how Jordanian citizens view the fifteenth parliament and appraise its performance; (ii) the main problems (and national priorities) as viewed and ranked by Jordanian citizens; and (iii) how Jordanian citizens view the parliament as an institution in general and what electoral laws they want.
Due to delays caused by public holidays and the time needed for research and staff training, the timeline for the public survey was rescheduled to commence in March 2009 rather than the intended timeline of October 2008 through January 2009. The poll was conducted from March 6 through 13, 2009. It was based on a national sample of 1200 individuals at least 18 years of age from all governorates. The survey used a multiple strata sample method in three phases. The first phase included a bloc sampling, the second phase included a household sample, and the third phase included an individual sampling as one individual was selected from the household selected in the previous sample. The survey sampled at a confidence rate of 95% with a permissible error margins of 4+.
The public survey results were published in April 2009 in the report “The Parliament and Parliamentary Elections,” available in both printed and electronic format on the JPM website. The media paid extensive attention to the public survey. The report created positive impacts on developing the Parliament’s performance and raised the public awareness towards the nature of the Parliament's actions.
2.Observation of Parliament Sessions
The Al-Quds Center appointed two observers to monitor all parliamentary sessions, both ordinary and extraordinary. They have been responsible for taking notes and collecting specific information regarding the MPs' work, ideas produced and debated in parliament, and activities of the institution in terms of public affairs and policies, as well as the production of special reports. Both observers attended and documented each parliamentary session as well as committee meetings from October 5, 2009 onward. In addition, two research assistants were also hired to document and analyze the reports received from the observers as well as monitor the media’s parliamentary coverage. For methodological purposes, the team of the project created 3 templates to document the sessions of the House of Representatives, its legislative and oversight role.
Data was collected through three primary channels: the parliament's official minutes; observation reports and proceedings as made by Al-Quds Center project staff; and articles and information reported in the four leading and most credited Jordanian newspapers, Al-Rai, Al-Dustour, Al-Ghad and Al-Arab Al-Yawm. Data was then classified by one of parliament’s three roles: oversight (monitoring and supervising of the government), legislation, or representation. This classification system organized the documentation on the Jordanian Parliament Monitor website, facilitating easy access to information for people and researchers alike.
Report 1: The First Parliamentary Monitoring Report
In addition to data collection and classification, four reports were published during the pilot year. In April 2009, a comprehensive report analyzing the information collected from October 5, 2008 through February 5, 2009 was published. “The First Parliamentary Monitoring Report,” the first of its kind in Jordan, detailed the achievements of the parliament at the institutional, committee, and individual MP level in accordance with respect to legislative and oversight roles. In accordance with the goals designed by the Jordanian Parliament Monitor project, the report was divided into five chapters with significant findings in each section. These were:
1.The elections of the House office and the permanent committees
2.The parliament’s legislative role
3.The parliament’s oversight role
4.The regularity of meetings (MPs’ attendance)
5.Findings and recommendations
The report addressed the legislative and oversight roles of the MPs during the second ordinary session and has succeeded in bringing to light the priorities of MPs. The results highlight the extent to which the parliament performs its legislative and oversight roles in addition to the commitment of the House to its bylaws and parliamentary best practices. In addition, the report provided a series of recommendations for improving the parliament’s functioning in five key domains: attendance by MPs, improvement of the legislative role, operation of House committees, improvement of the oversight role, bylaws regulating parliamentary blocs.
Report 2: Parliament and the 2009 Budget
A second report was also issued in April 2009 entitled “Parliament and the 2009 Budget,” focusing on the trends of the MPs that prevailed during the discussions of the budget draft law. This is the first monitoring report dedicated to the budget and provided increased information regarding the priorities of MPs in addition to illuminating their practical awareness regarding budget articles. The project hired an economist, Dr. Mohammad Maqableh, to analyze the budget data using specialized software, SPSS15.0 License Authorization Wizard and SPSS 15.0 Production Mode Facility.
Report 3: Parliament Monitoring Report 3
The third report, covering the period of June 8th – August 10th 2009, is a review of the second extraordinary session of the House of Representatives. This report gives a brief on the legislative and oversight deliverables of the fifteenth Council in its extraordinary second session in addition to the oversight role of the session. The report is devised into four sections that capture the legislative and oversight aspects in addition to the regularity of meetings and rates of attendance and absence to end up with conclusions and recommendations.
The first section of the report considers the legislative role while the second considers the parliament’s oversight functions, looking specifically at parliamentary questions, memoranda, and communiqués issued by the House of Representatives. The third section of the report looks at the general meetings held, specifically looking at assiduity as well as the manipulation of quorums and complementary meetings. The fourth section of the report provides recommendations regarding committees, blocs, the presidency of the House, attendance, and how to ameliorate the various functions of the parliament.
4.Interviews with MPs
During the same period as the public survey and parliamentary monitoring, the Al-Quds Center has conducted personal interviews with 108 of the intended 110 MPs. The Center designed an objective and comprehensive interview questionnaire to assure the quality and content of each interview. All MPs were contacted and provided a copy of the questionnaire 3 weeks prior to the interview. 105 interviews were conducted either in person or over the telephone, while three were conducted via the MPs secretary office. The remaining two interviews were never held due to lack of cooperation on the part of the parliamentarian.
These interviews allowed the Center to obtain more precise information from the MPs regarding their views and actions of public affairs and policies, parliament's functioning and efficiency, as well as their recommendations moving forward. It also provided a forum for the MPs to respond directly to their parliamentary actions (opinions, statements, and behaviors). The information was used in conjunction with the monitoring reports issued by the Center in order to better assess the Parliament.
5.Town Hall Meetings and Roundtables
Another major activity of the project was the organization of roundtables and town hall meetings. Roundtables are focused on average participants with an average of 25 participants representing various Civil Society Organizations (CSOs). Town hall meetings, on the other hand, comprise a larger number of participants (approximately 60) made up of MPs, political parties, CSO representatives, academics, and voters.
Each meeting followed the same agenda: the JPM project was introduced followed by an open public discussion to determine the priorities of the public, the public’s perception of the parliament’s and MPs’ performance, and finally the recommendations for the project’s advancement. All discussions centered on several common themes, further illuminating the public’s assessment of the current parliamentary system and specific issues as targeted as needing change.
The meetings identified the following priorities and issues of public concern (listed in no particular order):
•Poverty and Low Living Standards
•Political Parties Law
The meetings also specifically identified several overarching perceptions regarding the performance of the parliament and MPs, and offered recommendations for future actions:
1.The discussions focused on the need for an effective parliament that reflects the people’s concerns. The participants expressed their desire for reforms in all sectors of government including: political, social, economic, education and judiciary reform, public freedoms, and human rights.
2.Participants felt that the current electoral law did not match the modern view of Jordan. This law led to the phenomenon of tribalism and weakness with the current Parliament. The discussions called for the abrogation of the electoral law of one vote in order to create a real and contemporary law that could match the real needs of people and improve parliamentarian life in Jordan. Several attendees asked for new combined electoral law with two votes, as one vote goes to the homeland list and the second to the constituency of the voter.
3.Participants also asked for new laws to prevent payouts from being used to influence the election process and its outcomes.
4.Most participants asserted that MPs should fulfill all obligations of their role (legislative, oversight, and representation) rather than the current role of "services" only, which ignores the real concerns of the people. Some participants argued that the success of the MPs’ service role is largely due to the lack of the public awareness of the constitutional role of the parliament. The Al-Quds Center has thus identified that it is vital to change this existing image through the media to build the public’s knowledge regarding the role of the MPs.
5.The discussions also demanded new criteria for the selection of MPs, away from the current markers (tribalism and factionist). They asked that candidates be educated in addition to having prior political experience and knowledge.
6.Participants highlighted the importance of monitoring the MPs’ work in order to improve their performance. They asked that training programs for MPs be developed to increase their effectiveness, especially where certain committees of the parliament suffered from inadequate expertise.
7.Participants expressed the need for greater communication between MPs and their constituencies. Some of the participants inquired about the best ways to communicate with the MPs and asked for possibilities of forming a parliamentarian committee to oversee the MPs’ performance.
8.The issue of active women’s representation in politics was often discussed. The participants expressed dissatisfaction with the woman's quota in parliament, as well as the obstacles that stand in the way of women’s representation.
The final activity carried out during the pilot year, and perhaps the one with the greatest success and impact, was the development and launch of the JPM website dedicated to publishing the results of the Jordanian Parliament Monitor project. The Al-Quds Center organized a workshop on May 16, 2009 to launch the JPM website and the project’s three reports. 60 representatives attended the workshop, stemming from NGOs, academic institutions, and political parties, in addition to MPs themselves.
The JPM website summarizes all of the information the project gathered over its first six months of operation. The website has created a forum for the Jordanian public to have direct access to the Center’s reports and assessments. The website enables visitors to access the following information:
•Deliverables of the House of Representatives and its committees in terms of legislative tasks and draft laws.
•Achievements by representatives and their respective parliamentary blocs in terms of oversight and legislative roles, as indicated by questions, interpellations, analysis, memos, proposals of intention, and amendments to laws, etc…
•Any issue related to public life as discussed in the House of Representatives and cultivating a greater understanding of the parliament’s opinion regarding that issue.
7.Impact of the Project
At the end of its implementation phase, the project has achieved many important goals.
The first two reports have already been published and disseminated to MPs, the media, and NGOs, as well as being made available online. The reports have received extensive media attention for how extensive the qualitative and quantitative information available to the public and researchers has been. Along with the public survey, approximately seventeen different articles were written about the reports, helping disseminate findings and hence increasing the public’s general awareness of the parliamentary process as it stands now. With increased awareness, the public can begin to re-engage with the democratic system, creating stronger civil partnerships and a more effective parliamentary government. A complete listing with links to the articles can be found on the JPM website.
In addition, the publication and dissemination of these reports has led to the following achievements:
•A dynamic relationship was established between MPs and the project. MPs have begun contacting the JPM to update their pages on the website and to draw attentions to their activities, demonstrating their own desire to communicate with the general public.
•CSOs, citizens, researchers, and academics have begun contacting the JPM to know more regarding the positions of individual MPs or the parliament on different issues. This has demonstrated that the project serves a true social value and that it is being actively embraced by a wide cross-section of Jordanian society.
•Parliament blocs have also started using the JPM website to obtain information regarding the activities and positions of other members.
•The JPM is gaining regional acknowledgment. Indeed, the Al-Quds center has even been approached by CSOs that have requested support to launch an "Arab Network for Parliament Monitoring.”
Additionally, the Jordanian Parliament Monitor project has provided the first ever reliable and comprehensive data base of Jordanian parliamentarians available to the public, including CVs, oversight activities, and copies of all speeches on the government budget which were analyzed and included in Report 2. This addresses one of the most common complaints heard from Jordanians around the country, namely that they cannot follow what their elected MPs do in office due to a lack of transparency. This will also help citizens view whether or not MPs follow through with their campaign promises, another concern expressed by many Jordanians.
The roundtable and town hall meetings provided a unique opportunity for each community to voice its concerns and recommendations regarding the work of elected official representatives, and to receive direct responses from public figures. Ultimately, these meetings enabled the MPs to get closer to their electorates, put their words into practice, and participate actively in the improvement of the political process's transparency and accountability. These meetings also provided a forum for the further dissemination of the findings of the survey and released reports.
In addition, by targeting CSOs through the meetings, the project has paved the way for future partnerships between the organizations and the parliament. This has had the effect of integrating civil society into the monitoring of the parliament. Finally, the JPM project has had an important impact on raising awareness on parliamentary culture (civic and political) and has developed a new methodology for parliament monitoring by including specific attention paid to MPs and their constituencies.
The website established as part of the Jordanian Parliament Monitor project continues to be updated on a daily basis, covering different activities of the MPs in accordance to their oversight role or other related topics published in the media. The site has been distributed to the international and local NGOs working in Jordan, activists, political parties, and the Jordanian media, who highly value and praise its effective organization and ease of access to information. The website is considered the leading resource in the region for Parliament work due to the extensive qualitative and quantitative information available. The website is a constructive tool to height the people’s awareness of the nature of the Parliament work and the MPs’ activity and role.
The JPM project has furthered democratization in Jordan and encouraged citizens’ participation in their parliamentary process. Its results are reproducible and the project can act as a blueprint for monitoring different parliaments in the region as a means for achieving connecting citizens to their governments and ensuring critical oversight of MPs and their actions in office.