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UNDP Launches Webinar Series To Promote Parliamentary Innovation And Response During COVID-19

The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) Pacific Office in Fiji has launched a new webinar series, to highlight and promote parliamentary innovation and response to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

Since the global outbreak of COVID-19, some parliaments in Pacific island countries have proactively adapted their response to the crisis. For instance, the Congress of Federated States of Micronesia (FSM) became the first Pacific legislature to convene a virtual session. Samoa’s Legislative Assembly, the Congress of the FSM and the Fiji Parliament also initiated virtual committee meetings.

The Parliament of Fiji was the first to devise and implement business continuity policies, while also approving a stimulus package. While Tonga remained COVID-19 free, its legislative assembly drafted, and tested business continuity polices. Yet, many parliaments in the Pacific are still in the process of developing and implementing appropriate response plans.

Noting these trends, the UNDP Pacific Office in Fiji devised a series of events aimed at knowledge sharing, as well as drawing lessons which could be applied by Pacific parliaments during future potential emergencies.

The webinar Series titled: Parliamentary Innovation and Response during the Pandemic: Learnings from Small Islands Developing States (SIDS) and Beyond, commenced with an overview of parliamentary innovation and responses from the region and globally. It allowed the participants to highlight strategic factors which led parliaments to react to the crisis, as well as aspects that can be replicated or avoided during future crisis.

For comparison, the webinar also drew on experiences made by other parliaments in the region and SIDS, including the parliaments of New Zealand, New South Wales and Australia.

Reflecting on the webinar, the UNDP Pacific Office in Fiji, Portfolio Lead for Parliamentary Development, Jean-Raphael Giuliani, said “COVID-19 has caused massive disruption to life, while also forcing societies and public institutions to adapt.”

“Some of the extraordinary response, like the emergency measures, are justified given the gravity of the circumstances. Because of their impact on the institutional imbalances, they require continuous scrutiny; it is therefore essential that institutions responsible for oversight can continue fulfilling their constitutional mandate”, said Giuliani.

“During the crisis, parliaments played a crucial role ensuring allocation of budgets are appropriate, limitations on citizens’ rights are proportionate, emergency powers by government are used adequately, and the most vulnerable groups are protected and included.”

The Vice Speaker of Congress of the FSM T.H. Esmond B. Moses, one of the panellists, commented after the webinar that “despite lack of resources, Pacific parliaments have accepted the challenge bravely and responded tremendously”.

“The FSM Congress has organised two consecutive virtual sessions, which resulted in approval of a US$2 million response packages, introduction of 21 resolutions and approval of 32 bills”.

He commended UNDP’s efforts in supporting the Pacific Parliaments, including the Congress of the FSM, to strengthen legislatures and thereby improve the quality of democratic governance in the region. “The new UNDP Webinar series will continue the promotion of parliamentary excellence in the region while also strengthening social and political cohesions during the pandemic”, said T.H Moses.

Commenting from Rarotonga, the Speaker of the Parliament of the Cook Islands, Honourable Niki Rattle said, “the webinar was an excellent platform to learn about the experience made by other parliaments in adapting their work to the COVID-19 pandemic”.

She added “this is particularly relevant for us in the Cook Islands as we are talking about reopening our borders; and the Cook Islands Parliament needs to be prepared, with established processes and procedures in case the country has to face COVID-19 cases in the future. Parliament has a crucial role to play and we cannot afford to shut down – we owe to our citizens to ensure the continuity of our work”.

Overall, more than 50 representatives from 18 Pacific parliaments participated in the first webinar of the series, and they included the Parliaments of Fiji, Vanuatu, Kiribati, the Cook Islands, Nauru, the Solomon Islands; the Legislative Assemblies of Samoa, Tonga and French Polynesia; the Congresses of FSM and New Caledonia; the Legislature of Guam.

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