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Nicaragua draws from Paraguay’s experience to improve the monitoring capacity of its National Assembly
Latin American countries, regardless of their size and development level, have a lot to learn from each other’s democratic processes. Nicaragua proved to appreciate the value of intra-regional exchange over external support, when it invited a Paraguayan delegation to share experiences on country-led governance assessments.
A joint mission from the Global Programme on Democratic Governance Assessments, which supports a project to develop an indicators framework for the National Assembly of Nicaragua to better monitor government expenditure, and UNDP-Paraguay, which has successful stories to tell on national governance assessment initiatives (see our story on Paraguay: Congress better equipped to check on governance performance in our March 2010 Newsletter), stimulated the Nicaraguan assessment process into directions it might not have explored without this international exchange.
Strategically led from inside the National Assembly, the UNDP-supported Nicaraguan project aims to give Deputies the tools and information they need to make key legislative decisions and counterbalance other official data published by the executive government to ensure an effective balance of powers. As such, this is a challenging pioneering project in a highly polarized political context. The strength of this assessment leadership by the legislative body of the country lies in the fact that it ensures a high level of ownership and institutionalization of the assessment inside the State apparatus, all the more timely that the Assembly is progressively gaining significant influence in Nicaragua.
The other side of the coin is that this position also makes it more difficult for the assessment process to address certain issues and to be publicly open and inclusive. For example, the choice has been made to focus on socio-economic and MDG-related indicators alone in a first phase, rather than addressing directly classical democratic governance themes. Selected non-governmental actors such as renowned independent Universities and Research Institutes have played an important role in the process, but the direct involvement of a broader range of civil society organization as well as the full publication of the assessment results also remain challenging. Yet these would be conditions of the legitimacy and efficiency of the system of indicators to be produced.
When UNDP-Paraguay came to present its own successful experience in joining different bodies of government as well as a number of entities from academia and civil society into one single committee, which led a series of widely publicized public opinion surveys on democracy in the country, this opened up new possibilities in the minds of the members of the Public Expenditure Analysis and Monitoring Unit (PEAMU) of the National Assembly, responsible for conducting the Nicaraguan indicators definition and information process. The Paraguayan contribution also highlighted other options for making the assessment process more effective, such as making use of the media to promote citizens debate on the assessment results, or focusing on the governance aspects of public services sectors such as education and health. Besides their governance indicators project, the Paraguayans shared their ongoing experience on social public expenditure monitoring through a current inter-agency project called “Invertir en la gente” (Invest in the people). This too gave new ideas to the PEMU of Nicaragua on how to structure their own monitoring system and increase the focus on equity and equality (or lack thereof) in the analysis of public services.
Within this bilateral exchange, the Global Programme added inputs on chore principles of country-led governance assessments and experiences from other regions, and helped the project team overcome the challenges linked to its particular position and flag key recommendations for the planning of the second phase (to the end of 2011).
But neither the Global Programme representative nor the Paraguayan delegation had come to “teach” the Nicaraguans how to conduct their assessment process. In addition to sharing their own knowledge and experience, they learned just as much from the unique case of Nicaragua, notably from the exceptional role played by the National Assembly, as well as the advanced steps taken in terms of gender-focus of the oversight work undertaken at the legislative level – in comparison with other countries of the region. Paraguay has thus returned the invitation to Nicaragua, and another similar intra-regional exchange is scheduled for next year.