The following are excerpts from an article contributed by Doniyor Turaev, Deputy Director of the Legislation and Parliamentary Research Institute under the Oliy Majlis (Uzbekistan), for publication. —Ed.
Four years ago, the Action Strategy in the five priority areas of development of the Republic of Uzbekistan in 2017-2021 (the Action Strategy) was adopted. Today there is no doubt about its constructability, as evidenced by the results of the reforms successfully carried out under the leadership of President Shavkat Mirziyoyev.
It is known that the formation of effective public administration is impossible without increasing the efficiency of the parliament. It should be noted the strategic motto voiced by the Head of State - “we will not deviate from the path of democratic reforms” - which demonstrates strong political will and a benchmark for a common understanding of the “effectiveness” of public administration, where democracy acts as a value, goal and means of achieving this goal. Taking this into account, the Action Strategy defines “further strengthening of the role of parliament and political parties in deepening democratic reforms and modernization of the country” as one of the priority areas for improving state and social construction.
Today, conclusions can be drawn regarding the results achieved by assessing how the effectiveness of the parliament's (Oliy Majlis) activities has increased.
Prior to answering this question, it is advisable to understand: what does the concept of "effective parliament" mean.
The Guidelines of the Interparliamentary Union (IPU) notes that “Although ‘effectiveness’ may not at first sight seem a distinctively democratic value, it becomes so where the functions performed are those necessary to the working of the democratic process : law making, oversight of the executive, financial control, and so on.
Summarizing the conclusions of the IPU, we can say that an effective parliament is characterized by: first, the availability of rights and resources to carry out necessary tasks; secondly, the presence of sufficient powers and independence in relation to the executive to oversee it effectively and cooperate with it; thirdly, the presence of a high level of trust among the electorate; fourth, the ability to sustain and promote national integration.
In Uzbekistan, over the past four years, the powers and participation of the parliament in the implementation of reforms, in solving the most important socio-economic, political and legal problems have significantly broadened. It should be emphasized that despite the COVID-19 pandemic, the activities of the Uzbek parliament in exercising its powers did not stop, on the contrary, it is intensified in compared to the previous years.
In particular, the following results have been achieved over the past four years:
First. The material and technical, information and analytical support of parliamentarians has been improved.
In July 2017, at a meeting with parliamentarians and representatives of parties, the President of Uzbekistan raised a number of problematic issues that slow down the implementation of reforms and hinder the activation of role and proactivity of parliamentarians, local representative bodies and political parties in solving the socio-economic problems of the population, and also identified specific tasks for their elimination.
In particular, a number of measures were taken and amendments were made to the laws "On Rules of Proceedings of the Legislative Chamber of the Oliy Majlis of the Republic of Uzbekistan", "On the Rules of Proceedings of the Senate of the Oliy Majlis of the Republic of Uzbekistan", "On Political Parties" and a number of resolutions of the chambers of the Oliy Majlis were adopted, aimed at improving material - technical support for deputies and senators, strengthening the role of political parties and improving information and analytical support for the chambers of the parliament.
The work of the information-analytical and legal services of the chambers of the parliament has qualitatively changed. New structures were created in the Secretary of the chambers of parliament, legal units were transformed into departments with an increase in the staff. A budget department has been created, which provides information and analytical support to deputies on the country's budget.
Since 2018, there has been successfully functioning the Legislative and Parliamentary Research Institute, which is designed to facilitate provision of scientific, information and analytical support to the chambers of parliament. It provides assistance in improving parliamentary and legislative activities, taking into account the best practices of foreign countries and develops proposals for implementation of international standards into national legislation, especially in the field of human rights (over the past period, the Institute has prepared over 400 information and analytical reports, more than 200 scientific and legal conclusions and over 100 drafts laws. The Institute's proposals contributed to the improvement of the rule-making activity of the chambers of parliament, strengthening the mechanisms of parliamentary control, as well as to preparation of concepts for reforming the public education, healthcare and other spheres. The Institute also develops proposals to improve the level of democracy in the country, based on the Democracy Index methodology, compiled by the British company “Economist Intelligence Unit” (EIU).
Second. The quality of the legislative activity of the parliament has improved.
In order to improve the legal support of ongoing reforms, systematize the legislative framework, improve the quality of rule-making activities, introduce modern digital technologies and elements of "smart regulation" into this process, the Concept for Improving Rule-Making Activities was adopted. Based on its requirements, the legislative activity of the parliament is being improved, work is being coordinated to systematize and codify regulatory legal acts, revise the framework, inactive legislative acts (in particular, a "road map" was adopted, which provides for the preparation and consideration of more than 60 bills, which are aimed at systematizing about 200 existing laws and more than 500 scattered by-laws. For example, in order to systematize the electoral legislation, that consisted of five integral laws and a number of disparate bylaws, the Election Code has been developed and adopted. The results of elections to representative bodies of state power, held on December 22, 2019, showed to what extent the new Election Code complies with international standards. In particular, according to the OSCE / ODIHR mission, “the adoption of the Election Code has created an improved legal framework for elections”).
Today, the volume of work and the burden of the lower house in legislative activity has increased. That is, the number of bills pending before the Legislative Chamber has almost tripled, compared to the first years of the previous one.
The mechanisms for public and expert discussion of draft laws have been broadened. A procedure has been established according to which all drafts of legal acts are to be posted on the Unified Portal of Public Services for public discussion. In order to broaden the mechanisms for public discussion of bills at the stage of their parliamentary consideration, there has been introduced the practice of posting the text of a bill adopted in the first reading on the website of the Legislative Chamber. At the same time, the bills of highest public, socio-economic importance in the process of preparation for the second reading are submitted to broad discussion. Also, a responsible committee can organize a discussion of the bills with participation of their authors, representatives of civil society and research institutions.
There has been improved the procedure for considering draft laws. A flexible form of voting has been established. By decision of the Legislative Chamber, voting on a draft law can be held in chapters or sections, as well as on several articles at the same time.
The Parliamentary Commission for Monitoring the Implementation of the National Goals and Objectives for Sustainable Development for the period up to 2030 and Parliamentary commission on observance of the international obligations in the field of human rights have been formed. Changes have been made to the Law “On the Commissioner of the Oliy Majlis for Human Rights (Ombudsman)” aimed at creating a national preventive mechanism for the protection of human rights, the post of Deputy Ombudsman - Commissioner for the Rights of the Child has been established.
Taking into account these changes, in 2020 the Inter-Parliamentary Union published an article on its website, in which it highly appreciated the latest actions by the Uzbek Parliament to implement international human rights standards at the national level.
The recent institutional and legislative changes have contributed to strengthening of parliamentary oversight mechanisms, the role of the Oliy Majlis in the system of state power, and increased responsibility and accountability of the executive branch to parliamentarians. This contributed to intensification of constructive cooperation between the parliament and the executive.
Fourth. Parliamentary powers in addressing the tasks of the country's domestic and foreign policy have been broadened.
Taking into account the practice of democratic countries, in order to increase the responsibility of members of the government to parliamentarians who have received a mandate directly from the people, a procedure has been established for approval of members of the government by the lower house.
Today, the Legislative Chamber considers and approves, upon the proposal of the Prime Minister, candidates for members of the Cabinet of Ministers (the Government) for their subsequent approval by the President.
Candidacy for member of the Cabinet of Ministers is considered at a meeting of the Legislative Chamber after its preliminary consideration by the responsible committee, political factions and deputy groups. A candidate, when considering his candidacy in the Legislative Chamber, presents an action plan that provides for legal, economic, social, organizational and technical measures to achieve targets and tasks for the future.
Expanding the powers of the Legislative Chamber to consider candidacies of government members increases the responsibility of both parliamentarians and members of the Government for shaping the country's internal policy.
In order to improve the legal foundations of parliamentary powers in solving the issues of country's foreign policy, the Concept of Parliamentary Diplomacy was adopted. It is aimed at determining the priorities, strategic goals and principles of the Oliy Majlis in implementation of country's foreign policy and parliamentary diplomacy.
Despite the pandemic, the parliament's activities to develop cooperation with foreign parliamentarians have intensified. If in 2015-2019 there were 28 groups of cooperation with the legislative bodies of foreign countries, now their number reached 51.
New positions responsible for development of inter-parliamentary cooperation and parliamentary diplomacy have been created in the chambers of parliament.
In order to develop the interaction of ambassadors with the Senate and build up elements of parliamentary control, the practice of hearing reports from ambassadors of Uzbekistan to foreign countries has been established.
The measures taken, obviously, contributed to strengthening the powers of the chambers of parliament in solving the issues of internal and foreign policy of the country and development of inter-parliamentary cooperation.
It’s worth to particularly note the active contribution of Uzbek parliamentarians in promoting, within the framework of the UN the important initiatives of Uzbekistan in the field of religious tolerance, regional security, protection of the rights of youth, strengthening the role of parliamentarians in ensuring human rights.
For example, the special resolution of the UN General Assembly "Enlightenment and Religious Tolerance", initiated by the President of Uzbekistan Sh. Mirziyoyev, was unanimously supported by the UN member states and adopted by the UN General Assembly on December 12, 2018.
Besides, one cannot fail to note the initiatives of Uzbekistan to develop a new stage of cooperation between the Central Asian states in order to strengthen good-neighbourliness, regional security and sustainable development of countries. Today, thanks to joint efforts, the level of political trust in the region has significantly increased. Currently, work is underway to create a friendship group of the parliaments of the Central Asian states, which is to serve as a forum for discussing and developing constructive proposals for development of the region.
Fifth. The parliamentary mechanisms of dialogue with citizens are being improved and the openness of the parliament is increasing.
Over the past period, a multidimensional dialogue of parliamentarians with people has been formed, including such areas as involvement of citizens in law-making, parliamentary control, work with citizens' appeals and accumulation of their initiatives.
The work of a parliamentarians with voters has radically changed. Today, a new practice has been introduced for the systematic study of voter problems through field visits (for example, in 2020, despite the pandemic, the deputies organized over 5 thousand meetings with the participation of 95 thousand voters, carried out 14 regional studies. Out of more than 9.3 thousand appeals of citizens considered by the deputies last year, more than 2.9 thousand (31%) were received directly during the meetings and receptions of citizens on the ground. A distinctive aspect of such meetings is that more than 2.6 thousand voter appeals were positively resolved on the ground). The results of the studies and the issues raised in the appeals become the matter for the initiation of parliamentary inquiries, parliamentary hearings and deputy inquiries.
During the period of COVID-19 pandemic, the communication of parliamentarians with voters through digital technologies, social networks, in particular, Telegram, Facebook and others has increased. In parallel, the "Electronic Parliament" has become more active. New websites have been launched in test mode to enhance dialogue with voters and discuss draft laws – oliymajlis.gov.uz, qonun.gov.uz, deputat.gov.uz. The practice of online broadcasting of sessions of the Senate and the Legislative Chamber has been introduced.
It should be noted that at the initiative of the head of state, the “Mening Fikrim” (“My Opinion”) portal of collective appeals was launched in 2018. Citizens can use the portal to submit appeals on issues related to the life of society, legislation, etc. The appeals that have received a sufficient number of supporting votes from the public are considered by the competent authorities - parliament, Cabinet of Ministers, local representative bodies (over two years, the web portal received about 4.2 thousand appeals, of which more than 400 were submitted for voting and only 20 appeals received a sufficient number of votes for consideration by an authorized body. In addition, citizens left more than 2.7 thousand comments on appeals. It is also noteworthy, that the proposals voiced in 40 appeals, were implemented even though they did not receive a sufficient number of votes, due to their importance for the society, and the relevant decisions of the authorized bodies were made on them).
The work of parliamentarians to improve the efficiency of the system of dialogue with the people, to introduce into practice alternative methods of discussing urgent problems with the public yields positive results, which are reflected in the increasing confidence of the electorate.
Analysis of reforms in the field of strengthening the role of the Oliy Majlis in the system of state power allows us to draw a conclusion: the quality of lawmaking activities is increasing. The mechanisms of parliamentary control have been strengthened, the accountability of the executive to parliamentarians has improved, the degree of openness of the parliament has increased, and dialogue with the electorate is gaining momentum.
Summarizing the above, one may note that the tasks defined in the Action Strategy are being implemented in a timely manner and step by step. Progress has been made in strengthening the role and effectiveness of the Oliy Majlis. These positive results indicate the need to continue and support the initiated course of reforms.