By Akanimo Sampson
The Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU) has charged parliaments to ensure emergency measures put in place by the Executive arm of governments on COVID-19 pandemic do not bypass democratic processes.
While urging legislators to support government efforts to manage the health and economic crisis, IPU says parliaments’ efforts to continue to function during the pandemic are also intended to defend democracy.
On International Day of Multilateralism on April 24, IPU says information collected by it shows that parliaments all over the world are working together in their responses to the coronavirus pandemic.
Through its campaign, Parliaments in a time of the pandemic, IPU is helping to facilitate inter-parliamentary coordination and solidarity by collating and sharing examples of how parliaments can continue to legislate, debate and scrutinise the actions of the government in a time of lockdown and social distancing.
IPU President, Gabriela Cuevas, says “the IPU, throughout its long history has always stood for the principle that global challenges require global responses.
“Only through collective action and reaction can we confront threats to humanity such as this pandemic. Our Organisation has always seen its essential mission as bringing together the parliaments of the world – not only to strengthen the foundations of democracy at the national level, but also to develop joint solutions to international problems.”
For IPU Secretary-General, Martin Chungong, “the clue is in our name. It’s in times like these that inter-parliamentary unity and international solidarity with other multilateral organizations are so important.
‘’The World Health Organisation is the premier body leading the global effort, supporting countries to prevent, detect and respond to the pandemic. Now, more than ever, it needs the support of our Member Parliaments in a spirit of solidarity and multilateralism to end the pandemic."
IPU’s country-by-country compilation of parliamentary responses to the pandemic shows that parliaments are adapting to the health crisis by putting in place the same public health and social distancing measures as schools, places of worship or businesses.
Most parliaments are continuing to function by reducing physical meetings and moving online despite the security, technology and procedure challenges that come with virtual sittings.
Parliaments that have fast-tracked some of the technology for videoconferencing and remote working, such as Argentina, Canada, Chile, Finland and Spain, are sharing their experiences with other, smaller parliaments.
The National Congress of Brazil is also actively sharing its technology solutions for virtual plenaries and teleworking with other parliaments.
IPU is currently facilitating discussions between technology giants and parliaments to discuss IT packages better tailored to parliaments’ specific needs when it comes to virtual settings.
Regional parliamentary bodies have also stepped up to share best practices. For example, ParlAmericas, a permanent observer to the IPU made up of 35 parliaments in the Americas and the Caribbean, is organising online events to encourage exchanges between parliamentary staff on how to organize virtual parliamentary meetings.
Similarly, the Parliamentary Assembly of La Francophonie, an IPU Associate Member is sharing initiatives between its member parliaments to counter the effects of the pandemic.
The IPU has also produced guidance notes, drawing from examples around the world, to help parliaments take into account both gender and a human rights perspective in their response to the pandemic.
Support for the COVID-19 Solidarity Response Fund
IPU has called on its member parliaments to support the WHO through the COVID-19 Solidarity Response Fund, a partnership between the WHO, the United Nations Foundation and the Swiss Philanthropy Foundation.
The Fund is designed to raise money to support the work of WHO and partners to help countries respond to the pandemic, including financing personal protective equipment for front-line health workers, boosting laboratory capacity through training and equipment, and accelerating efforts to fast-track vaccines, diagnostics and treatments.
Forthcoming virtual events on multilateralism and inter-parliamentary cooperation
In April, IPU organised and participated in a number of virtual events on International Day of Multilateralism and Diplomacy for Peace, to help parliaments respond to the pandemic. For instance, Friday, April 24, IPU President Cuevas joined representatives from the Parliamentary Network on the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund.