The UK and Sierra Leone Discuss Approaches to Effective Committee Scrutiny

Published 23 October 2020

British Deputy High Commissioner to Sierra Leone Alistair White welcomes delegates on day 1 of the programme

British Deputy High Commissioner to Sierra Leone Alistair White welcomes delegates on day 1 of the programme

In continuing to strengthen relations between the UK Parliament and the Parliament of Sierra Leone, CPA UK recently organised a three half-day programme for committee chairs and clerks on techniques for running effective committee inquiries.

Held in partnership with the British High Commission in Freetown, delegates from Sierra Leone met virtually with counterparts from the UK Parliament for a programme focussed on various aspects of ensuring effective oversight and scrutiny through parliamentary committees.

Over the course of the programme, participants were able to compare and contrast committee procedure, discuss common challenges and solutions, as well as explore new ways of working required in response to the Covid-19 pandemic.  

Virtual Committee Proceedings

Under the hybrid Parliament introduced during the Covid-19 pandemic, select committees in the UK have developed new ways of working to ensure they are able to continue holding government to account, particularly through virtual proceedings. Although committees in Sierra Leone have continued to meet in person, delegates were able to hear from Sarah Champion MP, Chair of the International Development Committee, UK Parliament, on how her committee has adapted to the circumstances. In discussing the benefits to online meetings, Ms Champion highlighted opportunities to hear from witnesses based abroad and individuals who would not have been able to travel to Parliament to give evidence in person.  

Promoting Diversity

Following discussions on increasing inclusiveness of committee work through virtual evidence hearings, delegates further explored how best to ensure their inquiries were able to engage wider society. The discussion explored the value of diversity and inclusion, firstly through representatives and parliamentary staff that reflect wider society, and secondly through witness diversity. Members from the Parliament of Sierra Leone shared some of the challenges faced around diversity, particularly that of women’s representation in parliament, and the impact gender inequality has had on previous committee inquiries.

Sarah Champion MP: ”It is important that parliaments are made up of people who have different experiences – from different races, genders, work experiences and cultural backgrounds - and are able to bring these to Parliament so that when we make legislation and scrutinise we are able to come at this as representatives of the country.”

Chloe Freeman, Committee Specialist, Women and Equalities Committee, shared approaches to enhancing inclusion in committee work from the UK Parliament, in particular the use of social media for engaging young people and setting targets on witness diversity, such as ensuring any witness panel includes at least one woman.

Whilst in conversation with Lord Foster of Bath, the importance of conducting committee visits was highlighted as another effective way of collecting quality evidence from those most effected by an issue being investigated, as well as increasing engagement and understanding of the work that parliamentary committees do. Delegates from Sierra Leone raised the challenge of low engagement with parliamentary work, particularly amongst vulnerable and excluded groups in society and agreed that the work of committees was one opportunity to have such voices heard in Parliament.

Delegates from the Parliament of Sierra Leone also held discussions with the Rt Hon Hilary Benn MP on how chairs can lead their committee through inquiries on divisive topics, and took a comparative look at the process of summoning witnesses in a meeting with the Baroness Barker of the House of Lords.

Techniques for producing impactful committee reports and how committees can influence government policy through inquiries and post-legislative scrutiny were other aspects of committee work explored during the programme.

Delegates from the Parliament of Sierra Leone expressed their appreciation to CPA UK and the British High Commission in Freetown for the meetings held, and the continued efforts to keep our two parliaments connected through virtual events.

Sarah Champion MP and committee chairs discuss the impact of Covid-19 on committee work

Sarah Champion MP and committee chairs discuss the impact of Covid-19 on committee work

Speakers from the UK Parliament:

The Baroness Barker, Deputy Chairman of Committees, House of Lords; Ben Sneddon, Senior Clerk, Petitions Committee; The Rt Hon. Hilary Benn MP, Chair of the Committee on the Future Relationship with the European Union; Christian Matheson MP, Shadow Minister for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport; Chris Shaw, Clerk, Foreign Affairs Committee; Sarah Champion MP, Chair, International Development Committee; Alex Knight, Senior Economist, Scrutiny Unit; Rebecca Usden, Committee Specialist, International Development Committee; Chloe Freeman, Committee Specialist, Women and Equalities Committee; The Rt Hon. The Lord Foster of Bath, Member, Gambling Industry Committee, House of Lords; Stephen McGinness, Clerk, Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee.

Participants from the Parliament of Sierra Leone:

Hon. Alusine Kainde Alu Conteh MP, Chair of the Sports Oversight Committee; Hon. Neneh Lebbie MP, Chair of the Committee on Fisheries and Marine Resources; Hon. Edward George MP, Chair of the Committee on Works and Public Assets; Hon. Dickson Momoh Rogers MP, Chair of the Committee on Transport and Aviation; Hon. Catherine Zainab Tawarally MP, Chair of the Committee on Gender and Children’s Affairs; Hon. Abdulai Daniel Sesay MP, Chair of the Human Rights Committee; Hon. Hindolo M. Gevao MP, Chair of the Legislative Committee; Mahmoud Barrie, Clerk to the Committee on Finance and Economic Development; Mary Admire Massaquoi, Clerk to the Education Committee; Mannah Berewa, Clerk to the Committee of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation.

You can read the report here