Policy Series: Failure of Not Strengthening the Parliament

Under the 1992 Constitution, the parliament is supposed to become the state policy black box.  It was empowered to develop, approve, and enforce state policies that would strengthen the country’s sovereignty, maintain its domestic stability, facilitate the economic development, and more importantly, protect core principles of democracy (i.e., our rights and rule of law).  But, now we’re already losing trust in the legislature. Firstly, we witness increasingly polarized debates without any subtantial studies and facts. Secondly, we see intense factionalized fightings over the political posts, election laws, and allocations of funds, loans, and bonds. Thirdly, we see erratic temptations of changing laws, rules, and regulations even without giving justifiable reasons.  Finally, we now can rationally expect what would be major issues for any parliaments in pre-election years (i.e., the changing the constitution, election laws, and revision to the state budget) and post-elections (i.e., dividing up ministries and agencies, cancelling/revising previous economic/financial decisions, and typical ‘pork and barrel’ politics).  This was the case for all past parliaments from 1992. No surprise, same applies to present one.

So, why our parliament is becoming less respected, weak, and the easiest target for the political blame game?  Why it moves from the most powerful constitutional institution to more like ‘symbolic’ one?  Why the law (policy) making institution becomes ‘law (policy) breaking’ one?  Are our ‘esteemed parliamentarians’ trading the power of the parliament for their parochial, short-term interests?  So, what the parliament should do now to regain its real policy-making power and our trust?

We all know – if parliamentarians respect the rule of law and hold their temptations of ‘cheating’ from their own approved rules, the parliament would easily gain the public trust. But, the overall structure appears to encourage cheating; therefore, even a good principled person talks about moral principles and patriotic deeds, but acts in favour of parochial interests.  The result is mistrust and fragmentation.

So, how can we get out of this proverbial crabs in a barrel scenario without dictatorship, oligarchy, revolutions, and foreign interventions?  We need to improve our institutions – especially, the parliament.  Our esteemed members should unite on common objectives of the national sovereignty, development, and democracy (i.e., human rights and rule of law) while constraining their tactical (may be strategic) parochial interests.

In this regard, a key solution seems to me to invest and to empower the parliamentary policy making and enforcing capacity.  It’s constitutionally given, but neglected.

Let’s learn from the institutionalization process of the President.  The 1992 Constitution intentionally made the presidential institution symbolic and deal-broker (for the national interests) along with some rights of checks and balances.  As a result, Mongolia didn’t slide into ‘super-presidentialism’ which is common in most post-communist, esp., post-Soviet, cases and all our presidents played quite constructive roles during major crises (e.g., hunger strike of 1994, July 1 in 2008).  But, they made the presidential institution – the most bureaucratic and influential one.  Each president enlisted leading experts (as advisors); expanded the National Security Council, its secretariat and think tank; enshirned its power in judiciary and foreign affairs; and brought all security organizations under the presidential influence (esp., the president’s power to confer the highest ranks for leaders of these security institutions).

In contrast, the parliament did not increase its bureaucracy and even stripped numerous executive power-checking rights for others.  Yes, the parliament has 8 standing committees, 10 sub-committees, and secretariat with 9 special departments.  But, the real question is – do they matter in the parliamentary policy-making process?  How much autonomy and power does the parliament give to its own bureaucracy?  Or, the parliament and its members simply use them for daily secretarial, clerical, and protocol purposes?

The fault of our parliament is unable to unite and empower its own bureaucracy to regain its chief policy-making power and to increase the public trust.  To do that, parliament members need to get over their parochial interest and self-defeating internal bickering.

The law (policy) making is a complicated process.  First, we need to state the problem and identify main causes.  Here the parliament needs to provide greater autonomy for its standing committee members and staffers.  They must be empowered to question all stakeholders, including outside experts.  Second, we need to develop short, mid, and long-term solutions and attempt to calculate its possible intended and un-intended consequences.  Parliament members could not do that because they are constrained by multiple interests (party, business, local, and personal).  The parliamentary staffers with help of experts could perform these tasks of developing and evaluating different options.  Finally, we need to follow up our policy outcomes for years.  Parliament members couldn’t do that because they are temporary political creatures and overwhelmed with their interests.  Therefore, the parliament needs to build up and empower its own non-partisan bureaucracy – that would build up the parliamentary institutional memory, knowledge, and expertise, and serve as gate-keepers against parochial, corporate, and ad-hoc interests.

Otherwise, our policy-making process will still be failure and victim of parochial interests.

First, repeated elections of parliament members would not provide the policy continuity.  Just take an example of this parliament, there are 28 new members, 19 members in their second term, 16 in their third, and 12 in their fourth and more terms. Previous parliaments had quite well-balanced representation of new and old members.  Have we seen the policy-continuity and responsible policy-making?

Second, increasing the number of individual staffers also couldn’t contribute for the good policy-making.  From 1992, parliament members continuously adding funding and numbers of their staffers.  But, they are also political creatures – more concerned with their own options and interests – than contributing to the institutional memory of the legislature.

Third, increasing the secretarial capacity of the parliamentary secretariat without adding more powerful policy experts will not strengthen the parliament.  Even though the current parliamentary secretariat has many fine policy experts, they would not stand for the good policy making unless the parliament provides the protection from the political and business interests.

The parliamentary non-partisan staffers – who are protected from political and business interests – could help the parliament to ensure proper policy-making and monitoring capacity.  Otherwise, we will continue to operate on the USB (flash drive) memories of parties, factions, and influential politicians.

There are many policy issues are waiting for parliamentary non-partisan policy reviews, the followings are just examples.

1. The control and use of the security, law-enforcement organizations and tax authority: as we have witnessed explicit and implicit attempts by politicians, parties, and factions to insert their control and influence in security organizations and to use them for their own interests.  The politicization and fractionalization of the security, law-enforcement, and tax organizations are the most dangerous phenomena for any states [examples are abundant].  Now it is time for the parliament to re-examine the entire set of policies of institutionalization of security, law-enforcement, and taxation agencies to keep them outside of domestic politics and committed for the public good.

2. The investment agreements especially in mining: the parliament could set up an independent commission to examine the past mining investment agreements, including the OT, for the policy-making (learning) purposes.  The commission along with parliamentary staffers should able to question and examine all past agreements and evaluate the state policy-making procedures in order to improve its own policy-making processes and to train policy experts.  The commission results should not be used for political purposes; therefore, the commission could be headed prominent politicians – outside of the current politics.  Otherwise, we don’t learn anything from our past and most current policy-making expertise.

3. The public service is another aspect, which dearly needs non-partisan review.  The current politicization (could even we called, privatization of ministries and agencies by parties, factions, and politicians) of the public service adds to public mistrust of politicians and parties.  If public servants, especially, those are entering into service, lose their fate in principle of rational bureaucracy (based on professional merits), it is hard to expect good policies and dedications.  Changing and re-appointing political appointees to the ministerial, vice-ministrial, and directorial posts are not the solution.  They would be the part of the problem – deepens the current legitimacy crisis. [There are many examples in our neighbourhood – both good and bad – in South Korea, Taiwan, and Japan.]

In the past, there were attempts to investigate and conduct open hearings on the July 1 riots and anti-corruption reporting, but members used them for their own political purposes.  But, now it is a time for our politicians to rise above parochial interests and focus on national imperatives – by strengthening and empowering the law (policy) making capacity of the parliament.  More importantly, parliamentarians need to cure their ‘let’s change it’ syndrome.  If parliamentarians keep changing rules without thinking (i.e., not asking hard questions), parliamentarians are (non)intentionally propagating the culture of ‘rule of chaos’ – not ‘rule of law’.  If parliamentarians couldn’t strengthen their own base, it will breed the ground for unstable domestic politics, emergence of authoritarian figures, and may be even foreign intervention.

At the macro level of international relations (i.e., systemic level), we clearly see how our own domestic polarization and fragmentation makes the state (a Mongolian state) a weak actor to deal with other state and non-state actors (i.e., multi-national corporations, international institutions).  If we look our domestic political structure at micro-level (i.e., domestic level), we could easily see how parochial interests of parliamentarians deteriorate the institutional capacity of the parliament.  Now it is a time for parliamentarians to strengthen the policy (law)-making capacity of the parliament.

About mendee

Jargalsaikhan Mendee is a Deputy Director of the Institute for Defense Studies of Mongolia. He holds a PhD in Political Science from the University of British Columbia, and MAs in International Relations from the US Naval Postgraduate School and in Asia-Pacific Policy Studies from the Institute of Asian Research of the University of British Columbia.
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1 Response to Policy Series: Failure of Not Strengthening the Parliament

  1. James mccormack says:

    Excellent observations and thoughts of solutions. I wish this type of synopsis could get to the general public but it seems you really don’t have freedom of the press (wouldn’t this article be suppressed if the publisher was not paid to print it, or pressured not to print it?).
    True freedom of the press would expose the issues to the general public.
    What happened to the public who chose to reject Russia and China in 1990. They didn’t teach their children to reject the curmudgeons.
    Saikhanbileg seems to try but the publis is too apathetic. President is no help at all.
    Additionally, the judicial system is the biggest joke.

    With that said, please don’t give up trying.

    Thank you for the article.

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