Benin, 13-17 May 2013. A delegation of parliamentarians of Benin conducted public hearings in the communes of Copargo, Donga region, Kouandé, Atacora region and Glazoué, Collines region, to listen to the concerns of local populations on the main issues they are facing. Eight members of parliament were part of the delegation as well as parliamentary staff and personnel of the Association of European Parliamentarians with Africa (AWEPA). Discussions focused on three key issues identified upfront: water, sanitation and related health issue, a common element of concern across the country; the placement and exploitation of women and girls from the Donga region; and the production and trade of the cashew nut, a main agricultural product in the regions visited.
The parliamentary delegation was particularly representative as it included politicians from the various political sensitivities composing the parliament of Benin. Representatives of the main political parties, both majority and opposition members, listened at length to the concerns voiced by the populations, community leaders and traditional chiefs and received technical information from local authorities and service providers. “We have listened carefully and taken good note of the problems that have emerged. We commit ourselves to oversee government action to ensure that these concerns are addressed” stated Hon. Justin Sagui Yotto, Deputy Chair of the National Assembly of Benin. Former National Assembly Chair and former Minister of Foreign Affairs, Hon. Antoine Idji Kolawolé, was also part of the delegation. The public hearings were organized under the guidance of Hon. Eric Houndété, coordinator of the programme.
The public hearings followed a seminar on the link between public policies and the attainment of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) in Benin, which that took place in Ouidah, on 13-14 May, 2013. MPs and several experts gathered to discuss the current state of development of the country, in relation to the MDGs and how parliamentary oversight of government action is to be improved.
French MP and Chair of the Benin-France friendship group at the National Assembly of France, Hon. Bernard Lesterlin, participated in the seminar, putting forward the need for stronger ties between African MPs and their European peers. The matter is not one of simply transcribing laws and regulations from one country to another. “Parliamentary oversight in democracy is not just about legal texts, procedures and rules” he stated, but rather to insist on the role of parliamentarians as “representatives of the people” who are to listen to their needs and ensure that public resources and decision-making appropriately meet these needs. This ethic finds of course different forms and variants, depending on the specificities of each country context. The seminar resulted in the adoption of a series of recommendations on the strengthening of parliamentary oversight of government action.
The initiative was organised with the support of AWEPAand the Netherlands Institute for Multiparty Democracy (NIMD), in the framework of the joint programme on the strengthening of political parties and parliaments.