Politics must change to build world we want - IPU Secretary General

When more than 150 parliamentary leaders from across the globe meet in New York later this month, the unique gathering will have the potential to kick-start wide-ranging political action to bring dramatic change to our world for generations to come.

As the heads of national parliaments, Speakers of Parliament are also the official voice of all the people in their countries. Among the most senior political leaders nationally, they also have the power to do politics differently.

That political muscle and a will to effect political reform that empowers all, especially the poor, the marginalized, women and youth, will be needed now as never before.

An agreement to be adopted at the UN in September to eradicate poverty in 15 years and to leave no-one behind in the quest for peace and prosperity through 17 sustainable development goals (SDGs) will be the most ambitious global effort yet to achieve what has proved impossible so far.

With three billion people still living on less than US$ 2.50 a day, according to the UN, it is clear that business-as-usual politics, unreformed economies and infrastructures, and inadequate responses to corruption will not deliver the goals. The SDGs provide a mandate to tackle these obstacles to progress head-on.

Parliaments are powerful agents of change. It is by ratifying international agreements, passing budgets and legislation, monitoring their implementation and ensuring government is accountable to the people, that parliaments can drive that change. Their engagement on national development plans that put the well-being of the people up front and centre can make parliaments the linchpin for success in driving development forward.

This will require the buy-in of 45,000 parliamentarians in the world, representing virtually the totality of the global population.

In recent history, one African parliament’s refusal to adopt the national budget unless more resources were allocated to maternal and child health is a good case in point. It shows that where there is a political will, there is a way. It is also an all-too rare illustration of the power parliamentarians have to hold governments to their word. They must never be afraid to wield that power.

Reforming economies to prioritize the well-being of people will also go a long way to win back trust in parliamentarians and the public’s faith in politics. This is a real challenge facing democracy today.

Clearly, the political leadership required to fulfil this vision of a brave new world will have to be as much in the hands of the world’s parliamentary leaders as in those of heads of government. Speakers of Parliament will de facto be in the vanguard of parliamentary action. After their quinquennial World Conference on key global issues ends in New York, their individual leadership in mobilizing parliaments will help determine how each country fares in the long run.

However, we know that progress on development is built on solid foundations of peace and democracy. Both are under assault today. Our world continues to be threatened by conflict, terrorism, abuses of human and political rights and inequality.  A parliament that is representative of all voices in society and which unabashedly acts to protect them, is a fundamental pillar of the rule of law and good governance. These are also prerequisites for sustainable development.

But not all parliaments have the capacity to take on the heavy demands of the SDG baton. Countries in conflict, post-conflict, in transition, and with weak or fledgling democracies will need help to prepare their parliaments to fulfil their role. Equal attention will have to be paid to fulfilling SDG 16 on building effective, accountable institutions as to the other goals. Governments must not renege on their commitment. Without this essential cog in the machinery of implementation, the SDGs will remain laudable but unattainable ideals.

The impetus for change, including of mindsets, must be there at the starting blocks.  There is no time to waste. Politicians the world over must fulfil their responsibilities and deliver on the demands of their people. It is what the people expect of them.