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Parliamentary Oversight

Parliamentary oversight is an essential component of democratic governance, encompassing the set of practices and mechanisms employed by a legislature to scrutinize and evaluate the actions, policies, and decisions of the executive branch. This function aims to ensure transparency, accountability, and the proper functioning of government institutions. Parliamentary oversight allows legislators to monitor the implementation of laws, policies, public budgets, compliance with international agreements, and government programs through parliamentary committees, parliamentary questions, and parliamentary motions, as well as tools such as hearings, inquiries, and the review of official reports. The oversight process provides a check and balance system, empowering parliamentarians to hold the executive branch accountable for its actions, address issues of public concern, and contribute to the overall integrity of the democratic system. In turn, this empowers the public—voters and interested organizations—to hold their elected officials to account.

The National Democratic Institute (NDI) authored this chapter of the Open Gov Guide.

Parliamentary Oversight in OGP

Parliaments are the most representative part of government, responsible for budgeting, lawmaking, and oversight of the other branches. Parliaments have always been a part of the OGP process, taking part in action plans, promoting open government, and laying the legal foundation for openness.

As OGP members seek to design strong action plans and meet the Open Gov Challenge, parliamentary engagement is often one of the major factors for significant reforms. OGP members are increasingly undertaking “open state” approaches that include all branches of government and all levels of government.

People interested in how parliament can help are encouraged to use other resources developed across the community. Throughout the Open Gov Guide, the OGP Support Unit has emphasized the importance of the legislature’s oversight role as essential to reform. By focusing on legislative oversight, this chapter aims to highlight specific reform strategies governments can take to increase public accountability and raise the ambition of their work.

Key Terms

Definitions for key terms such as parliamentary committees and parliamentary summons.

  • Parliamentary committees: Parliamentary committees, including special and ad-hoc committees, scrutinize specific policy areas or departments. Their oversight includes examining proposed legislation, reviewing policies, and assessing law implementation through post-legislative scrutiny practices. These committees also frequently conduct inquiries or initiate investigations on specific topics, engaging the public and summoning government officials, experts, and stakeholders for testimony during hearings.
  • Parliamentary hearings: Parliamentary hearings involve committees engaging in in-depth discussions, questioning witnesses, and gathering information on specific issues or proposed legislation. Through this process, parliamentary committees can hold the government accountable, shape legislation, influence public policy and ensure responsiveness to citizens’ needs and concerns.
  • Parliamentary summons: A parliamentary summons is a formal order issued by a parliament or legislative body to compel a person or entity to appear before a committee or hearing to provide testimony or produce documents. There are two main types of parliamentary summons: a subpoena, issued to a witness to compel their attendance at a committee hearing or other proceeding; and an order, issued to compel the production of documents or other materials.

The Evidence

Parliamentary oversight provides a robust framework for monitoring and promoting open governance.

  • Recent evidence demonstrates the importance of parliamentary oversight of the defense industry, emphasizing the need to reinforce and further optimize this democratic mechanism through greater awareness of its vital role in the defense sector.
  • Similarly, a key lesson of the COVID-19 pandemic is the need for legislatures to strengthen their oversight work. This study evidences this across the Americas and the Caribbean.
  • Evidence highlights how vital it is that OGP supports strengthened parliamentary oversight to overcome capacity challenges amongst members of parliament (MPs) and within legislatures.
  • In South Africa, these capacity challenges were found to relate to a lack of institutional capacity, informal practices by MPs, and a lack of incentives for MPs to exercise their power over the purse.

Reform Guidance

The recommendations below represent reforms that national and local governments, representatives of civil society organizations, and others can consider for their action plans and the Open Gov Challenge. The reforms are categorized according to OGP’s principal values: transparency, civic participation, and public accountability. Reforms should be adapted to fit the domestic context, and involve and coordinate with other levels and branches of government.

Reforms across policy areas are also tagged by the estimated degree of difficulty in implementation. Though progress is often not linear, the recommendations have been categorized using these labels to give the reader a sense of how different reforms can work together to raise the ambition of open government approaches.

Recommended Reforms Key

  • Transparency: Transparency empowers citizens to exercise their rights, hold the government accountable, and participate in decision-making processes. Examples of relevant activities include the proactive or reactive publication of government-held information, legal or institutional frameworks to strengthen the right to access information, and disclosing information using open data standards.

  • Civic Participation: When people are engaged, governments and public institutions are more responsive, innovative, and effective. Examples of relevant initiatives include new or improved processes and mechanisms for the public to contribute to decisions, participatory mechanisms to involve underrepresented groups in policy making, and a legal environment that guarantees civil and political rights.

  • Public Accountability: Public accountability occurs when public institutions must justify their actions, act upon requirements and criticisms, and take responsibility for failure to perform according to laws or commitments. Importantly, public accountability means that members of the public can also access and trigger accountability mechanisms. Examples of relevant activities include citizen audits of performance, new or improved mechanisms or institutions that respond to citizen-initiated appeals processes, and improved access to justice.

  • Inclusion: Inclusion is fundamental to achieving more equitable, representative, and accountable policies that truly serve all people. This includes increasing the voice, agency, and influence of historically discriminated or underrepresented groups. Depending on the context, traditionally underrepresented groups may experience discrimination based on gender, sexual identity, race, ethnicity, age, geography, differing ability, legal, or socioeconomic status.

  • Foundational: This tag is used for reforms that are the essential building blocks of a policy area. “Foundational” does not mean low ambition or low impact. These recommendations often establish basic legal frameworks and institutional structures.

  • Intermediate: This tag is used for reforms that are complex and often involve coordination and outreach between branches, institutions, and levels of government, with the public or between countries.

  • Advanced: This tag is used for reforms that close important loopholes to make existing work more effective and impactful. Specifically, “Advanced” reforms are particularly ambitious, innovative or close important loopholes to make existing work more effective, impactful or sustainable. They are often applied in mature environments where they seek to institutionalize a good practice that has already shown results.

  • Executive: The executive branch of government is responsible for designing, implementing, and enforcing laws, policies, and initiatives. It is typically led by the head of state or government, such as a president or prime minister, along with their appointed cabinet members. The executive branch’s functions also include overseeing the day-to-day operations of the government, managing foreign affairs, and directing the country’s armed forces. In democratic systems, the executive branch is accountable to the legislature and the electorate, with its powers and limitations outlined in the constitution or legal framework of the respective country.

  • Legislative: The legislative branch of government is responsible for making laws and regulations and overseeing the functioning of the government. It typically consists of a body of elected representatives, such as a parliament, congress, or assembly, which is tasked with proposing, debating, amending, and ultimately passing legislation. The legislative branch plays a crucial role in representing the interests of the people, as its members are elected to office by the public. In addition to law-making, this branch often holds the power to levy taxes, allocate funds, and conduct certain investigations into matters of public concern. The structure and powers of the legislative branch are usually outlined in a country’s constitution or legal framework, and it serves as a check on the executive and judicial branches to ensure a system of checks and balances within a state.

Examples of Reforms from OGP and Beyond

The following examples are commitments previously made within or beyond OGP that demonstrate elements of the recommendations made above. One in four OGP member countries formally engages parliament in the OGP process, and commitments with parliaments as implementers tend to be more ambitious in design. However, there is currently less focus on parliamentary oversight among members—only about one in ten open parliament commitments involves public oversight and accountability.

OGP Reforms
  • BULGARIA Online Petition System: Committed to developing an online petition system by creating a working group to discuss the platform’s format and rules to govern the review of and response to petitions.
  • MALAWI Parliamentary Oversight of New Loans: Committed to mandating the referral of loan bills to the Parliament’s Budget and Finance Committee, which then presents its findings to the National Assembly to ensure parliamentarians can track new loans.
  • NEW ZEALAND Parliamentary Accessibility and Outreach: Increased the accessibility of parliamentary hearings by broadcasting them on a dedicated TV channel and livestreaming 14 select committees on Facebook. The number of petitions more than doubled by the end of the action plan and CSOs reported improvements to the process.
  • OZURGETI, GEORGIA New Oversight Powers for Local Assembly: Committed to updating the rules of procedure to expand the oversight powers of the municipality’s Local Assembly (Sakrebulo) and training local legislators and staff on new and existing oversight duties.
  • QUITO, ECUADOR Transparency and Public Participation in Local Legislative Oversight: Committed to increasing transparency and public participation processes in legislative policy-making and oversight practices of its Metropolitan Council.
  • REPUBLIC OF KOREA Online Petition System for Safety Inspections: Created a system to increase public participation in ensuring food and drug safety by allowing citizens to petition for inspections. Also created a dedicated website and YouTube channel in 2019 to publish information on inspections and petition results.
  • SIERRA LEONE CSO Participation in Parliament Oversight: Committed to building stronger relationships between parliament and CSOs by providing an avenue for dialogue and collaboration. For instance, the parliament would hold a biannual forum with civil society, establish a parliamentary-CSO joint oversight committee, and receive training on the roles and responsibilities of CSOs.
Beyond OGP Action Plans
  • NEW ZEALAND Special Oversight Committee during the Pandemic: Created an opposition-chaired special oversight committee during the first few months of the coronavirus pandemic, with members from all five parties, with broad powers to summon testimony and documents on the government’s response to COVID-19. All meetings were publicly broadcast.
  • SPAIN Sectoral Oversight and Special Pandemic Recovery Committees: Created a temporary congressional committee to receive proposals, hold discussions, and draft conclusions on how to ensure social and economic recovery after the pandemic. Also leveraged existing sectoral committees to oversee ministries during the crisis, such as by calling ministers and senior public officials to hearings.

Who is working on this topic?

Albania Albania
Argentina Argentina
Armenia Armenia
Brazil Brazil
Buenos Aires, Argentina
Bulgaria Bulgaria
Chile Chile
Colombia Colombia
Costa Rica Costa Rica
Croatia Croatia
Dominican Republic Dominican Republic
Ecuador Ecuador
Estonia Estonia
Georgia Georgia
Germany Germany
Ghana Ghana
Greece Greece
Honduras Honduras
Indonesia Indonesia
Ireland Ireland
Israel Israel
Italy Italy
Jalisco, Mexico
Kenya Kenya
Kyrgyz Republic Kyrgyz Republic
Latvia Latvia
Liberia Liberia
Lithuania Lithuania
Madrid, Spain
Mongolia Mongolia
Morocco Morocco
Netherlands Netherlands
New Zealand New Zealand
Nigeria Nigeria
North Macedonia
Panama Panama
Papua New Guinea
Paraguay Paraguay
Peru Peru
Philippines Philippines
Portugal Portugal
Quintana Roo, Mexico
Quito, Ecuador
Republic of Moldova Republic Of Moldova
Romania Romania
Scotland, United Kingdom
Sierra Leone Sierra Leone
Slovak Republic Slovak Republic
South Cotabato, Philippines
Ukraine Ukraine
United Kingdom United Kingdom
Uruguay Uruguay

This list reflects members with commitments in the “Open Parliaments” policy area of the Data Dashboard, of which parliamentary oversight is a part.

Active OGP Partners

The following organizations have recently worked on this issue in the context of OGP at the national or international level. They may have additional insights on the topic. Please note that this list is not exhaustive. If you are interested in national-level initiatives, please contact

Benchmarking Data

The OGP 2023-2028 Strategy sets out the Open Gov Challenge and aims to provide clear benchmarks for performance through reliable data.

While benchmarks for individual countries and Open Gov Guide recommendations are not yet integrated, for this chapter, interested individuals may rely on the following data sets:

  • The Inter-Parliamentary Union recently launched its Indicators for Democratic Parliaments in coordination with the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association, Directorio Legislativo, International IDEA, NDI, United Nations Development Programme, UN Women, and WFD. The indicators enable CSOs and parliaments to examine where a parliament stands in the world today. A specific group of indicators focuses on parliamentary oversight.
  • In 2018, the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association updated its Recommended Benchmarks for Democratic Legislatures to provide a codified set of 87 benchmarks, based on good parliamentary practice across 52 commonwealth parliaments.

Guidance & Standards

While the list below is not exhaustive, it aims to provide a range of recommendations, standards, and analysis to guide reform in this policy area.

  • In 2022, the OSCE’s Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights published a set of standards on parliamentary integrity to ensure that MPs undertake their role in line with values regarding proper behavior.
  • Transparency International published a Parliamentary Oversight Tool in 2022 that reviews the impact of a parliament’s oversight mechanisms in holding governments to account.
  • ParlAmericas has several resources relevant to this topic, such as the 2022 Road Map towards Legislative Openness 2.0, which outlines key concepts and considerations for actions on open parliament, based on co-creation and consultation processes that were undertaken with MPs, parliamentary staff, and CSOs across the Americas and the Caribbean. ParlAmericas also published a Legislative Transparency Toolkit in 2020 that outlines recommendations for active transparency by parliaments, including on parliamentary oversight.
  • Directorio Legislativo published a tool that draws on lessons from the Open Parliament e-Network, a global consortium made up of seven international organizations.
Open Government Partnership