Res Publica

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Issue 2, 1989 Expand all abstracts

    Most attempts at parliamentary reform in Belgium are prompted by the desire to support a Parliament which is being marginalized by political actors such as the government and the parties. These efforts are inspired by traditional constitutional thinking. Initially parliaments were designed as democratie bodies which should challenge the aristocratie government. Nowadays, parliament has quite another function. It has to facilitate the political information and to counteract the incompetence (and alienation) of citizens who are willing but unable to participate in an increasingly complex political system. Reform should aim at restoring the significance ofpublic debates in parliament. In order to be informative these debates should focus on important issues of the political agenda and catch the attention of the general public. Within the constraints of our political system it should be possible to upgrade the early debates on budget allocations and the late debates on the evaluation of public policy effectiveness.

Guido Dierickx

Access_open De relatie parlement-regering in België

Authors Herman De Croo

    This article analyses the complex relationships between the elected parliament and the government. Firstly, effective political participation of the constituency in the election of its parliamentary representatives is limited because of the pre-selection of the candidates by the parties themselves. Secondly, the freedom of the parliament is restricted by the complex network of pressures and counterpressures between legislature and executive. Parliament has recently tried to regain some of its influence by organising special parliamentary inquiry committees and by resorting to professional help for assistance in its legislative work. However, the growing professionalisation might become yet another restriction to the parliamentarians' freedom of political action. Thirdly, parliamentary legislative power is undermined by the subtile way governmental decision making ends in legislation. The mass media seem increasingly unable to translate this complexity to the public. As a result the public becomes more and more indifferent to the functioning of the system, which could endanger the genuine democratic influence of the people in the parliamentary system.

Herman De Croo

Access_open Note sur le parlement et les mécanismes du pouvoir

Authors François Perin

François Perin

Access_open Naar een alternatieve Senaatsfunctie

Authors Frank Swaelen

    The federalisation of the Belgian state requires a rethinking of the legislature, especially of the Senate. A 'Second Chamber' seems a necessary prerequisite for a federal system. It usually serves as a forum of representation of the different components of the federation, deliberation and national cohesion. In the future the Senate could also become closer involved into European politics. As far as the specific redrawing of the powers of the new Senate concerns, opinions differ considerably. Firstly, nearly all parties agree the Senate should have the same powers as the House of Representatives to revise the Constitution and laws on the political institutions. Secondly, there is far less unanimity on the question whether the control powers of the Senate should be as extensive as the House of Representatives. In the current state reform the Senate retains its right of investigation. Thirdly, the role that the Senate and the House of Representativesin the 'ordinary' legislative work can play has to be well defined. There are many ways to redistribute the legislative power. Whatever the principle will be, it is essential to work out a reasonable arbitration procedure between the two chambers. Fourthly, the Senate should retain its power to propose candidatures for the high courts and to act together with the House of Representatives in matters of the monarchy. Fifthly, the Senate should grow into the principal body of mediation for conflicts between the different components of the federal state. The last point of discussion in the reform of the Senate is its future composition. Guiding principles should be: a certain allegiance between the councils of regions and communities and the national Senate, an expression of political experience, no increase of the total number of representatives and a fair representation of the minorities.

Frank Swaelen

Access_open La rénovation du Parlement

Authors Charles-Ferdinand Nothomb

    Although there is a consensus about the representative parliamentary system throughout Europe, it is in a state of crisis. To renovate Parliament means to restore the essential functions of that institution: budgetary power, legislative action and control of the government. In the field of budget a reform to institute a general budget on expenditure and to impose stricter rules on the funds as well as a very tight budgetary schedule for the government, beside the budget on revenues, was passed by the House at the end of March 1989. In the legislative sphere new approaches should be considered so as to enable Parliament to reduce the complexity of the legislation, to correct badly written texts and to get rid altogether of superfluous texts. The citizens' rights can only be fully safeguarded by a well functioning legislative assembly. A rationalisation of the control on governmental action is necessary in the field of parliamentary commissions and particularly the commissions of enquiry, petitions and the scrutiny of State expenditure. To conclude it should be noted that the renovation of Parliament must go hand in hand with better relations with the common citizen.

Charles-Ferdinand Nothomb

    Opening up as many sources of information as possible is particularly conducive to the development of workable policy plans and to efficient decision-making in a democratic political system. It follows that MPs can greatly benefit from using computerized information systems. As far as the parliamentary activities are concerned, we can distinguish between internal and external information flow. The contents of the parliamentary documents, the procedure for processing them and the information on the parliamentary control are part of the internal information flow. The external information on the other hand refers to the relations between the MPs and the executive and the judiciary branches, supranational and international institutions as well as the library. To date, the House of Representatives has been the only assembly that has set up a computerized information system. The data bases of the House comprise: the parliamentary documents and the state of advancement of all proceedings linked to these documents (bath in the House and in the Senate) until the publication of the text in the official state journal. Other databases relate to the parliamentary control: interpellations, motions, oral questions and the entire text of the written parliamentary questions. The record of the House will also be stored in a data base giving references. The library fund has been integrated in the interlibrary network DOBIS-LIBIS. A data base was also designed for the press information, and linked to an image processing system. What has been realized in the House to date must also be feasible for the other parliamentary assemblies. Viewed from that perspective, it seems advisable that data bases be centralized in one parliamentary information DP centre. Access to this centre should be particulary user-friendly and uniform, so much so that all MPs can make maximum use of it. The system set up by the House meets with an ever increasing demand from other possible users. In this context, attention should be drawn to the interconnection of this system with other parliamentary assemblies, the extension of the system to other users in the House ofthe MPs and the external access to the system via the telephone network: direct access for the universities, and for certain public and private institutions and individual MPs, and the BISTEL and/ or VIDEOTEX access. The majority of the public data bases linked to the telephone network can be interrogated via the BISTEL system, hut many interesting applications are not accessible via the telephone network as they function in closed circuits. Opening up data bases by linking them to the telephone network, implies that the problem of cost and privacy be carefully examined. As to privacy, we should reflect on the public or confidential character of the data and its consequences, on safeguarding the information stored in the system and on the evolution ofcommunications technology from the perspective of a continental European communications network.

Louis Vanvelthoven

Access_open Massamedia en parlementaire verslaggeving

Authors Jos Bouveroux

    During the last years the mass media have paid less and less attention to parliamentary activities. That is so because the real decision making, the real power, has shifted from the legislature to the executive. There are also other reasons for the declining interest in parliament: its complicated functioning, the limited interest of parliament in topical subjects, the often lengthy and technical debates. Parliament and mass media could, however, try to bridge the gap between eachother, e.g. by broadcasting special programmes on parliamentary activities. This might give the parliament a chance to reconquer a portion of its lost power. However, it remains to be proved that there is a genuine political willingness to restore the legislature as the dominant political power centre. The mass media cannot and may not be a party to this conflict. They can only be a tool.

Jos Bouveroux

    Untill recently the primary emphasis of the budget of the Belgian State was on formal controls of spending. The detailed classification of objects of expenditure was the main control mechanism. The growing needs for managerial control on the proliferation of public organisations turned intrest of the government executive to concerns with the efficient performance of government activities. Program budgeting was introduced as a technical solution for the public management. Legislative action resulting in an expenditure change has become more and more exceptional and shows how extraordinaly skillful must be those who wish to penetrate this budgetary system from outside the executive. Parliament thus remained silent in this debate. However, when linked with the definition of social objectives, budgeting by outputs could be a vehicle for restoring the active role of the legislature in the budgetary process. The general idea is to gain control on budgetary decisions by focusing on the end products of public organisations and on governemental objectives instead of on inputs as personnel, equipment or maintenance. By effective goalsetting, the Belgian Parliament could restore its budgetary authority.

Georges Stienlet

Access_open Audit als functie van het Rekenhof

Authors Jos Beckers

    The Belgian Auditor's Office is not competent to judge good management. Parliamentary initiatives have been taken to extend its competence towards an efficiency, effectiveness and economy control. Up till 1985 the Belgian budget was drawn up according toa classification system with insufficient regard for the application ofmanagement objectives to budgetary allocation. Based on notions originating from the P.P.B.S. system the budget is drawn up now by programmes assigned to organisation divisions. In the future the parliamentary budget procedure could be transformed into a ratification of the General Budget of Expenses and a supervision of the execution of the departmental budgets. The General Budget will contain the programmes. A similar system offers the external controller a better management and control instrument. An efficiency control exists in various farms in Germany, Great-Britain, Ireland, the Netherlands, France, Spain and Canada. The European Auditor's Office evaluates good financial management too.

Jos Beckers