Distinguished First Vice President of the National Assembly,
Distinguished Vice Presidents of the National Assembly,
Distinguished Parliamentarians of Côte d’Ivoire,
It is a pleasure to be here today to celebrate the official inauguration of the rehabilitated National Assembly Speaker’s Office.
Since my arrival late last year, I have been impressed by the air of optimism that permeates all walks of Ivoirian life. Côte d’Ivoire has achieved notable progress in multiple fields since the end of the post-electoral crisis in 2011. Côte d’Ivoire is on the move. Peace and stability have returned, new economic and commercial opportunities are increasing, and good governance is taking hold. Côte d’Ivoire is again assuming its proud leadership role in West Africa. In addition to its contribution to regional economic development, Côte d’Ivoire is also playing a positive role to support regional stability. President Ouattara’s leadership of ECOWAS and Côte d’Ivoire’s offer of troops to regional peacekeeping operations show its commitment to the region. The National Assembly’s and Speaker Soro’s engagement in parliamentary diplomacy have also elevated Côte d’Ivoire’s international profile.
In this promising context, there is reason for the Ivoirian people to have renewed confidence in their democratic institutions. A fully functioning National Assembly is one of the true cornerstones of Côte d’Ivoire’s democratic institutions. A strong, independent National Assembly performing the essential functions of legislation, representation, and governmental oversight serves as a check on the executive branch and provides a voice to the people. This is a fundamental role in democratic Côte d’Ivoire.
A capable National Assembly is crucial for stable, resilient democracy, especially as Côte d’Ivoire prepares for the 2015 presidential elections. The National Assembly’s anticipated work in its upcoming session to revise the existing electoral framework will be instrumental in laying the way for the inclusion and participation of opposition parties, civil society, and citizens in the upcoming electoral cycle. The ability of the Assembly’s deputies to engage their constituents on issues such as the development of political consensus and on citizens’ understanding of fair and transparent “rules of the game” will also be key for successful elections.
For the past several years, the National Assembly’s Speaker has been working out of a location some distance from the Assembly because the Speaker’s offices were unusable due to a fire in 2009 and looting during the 2010-2011 post-elections crisis. The return of his offices to the National Assembly marks an important step in the transformation of the Ivoirian parliament and holds symbolic importance to Assembly deputies and the administrative staff, as well as the people of Côte d’Ivoire. We will miss having the Speaker as my Embassy’s closest neighbor, but we look forward to seeing him here along with the other distinguished Assembly deputies.
The rehabilitation of the Speaker’s Office is the culmination of a series of activities that the U.S. Government has supported to stand up the National Assembly. Through USAID’s Office of Transition Initiatives, we provided office equipment necessary to open the first parliamentary session in early 2012. During this session, we provided legal and operational technical assistance to support the Assembly to set goals and create a roadmap to revise rules and procedures. Additionally, we funded a perception survey to assess public opinion and the opinion of the deputies themselves on the role of the National Assembly. This survey allowed the deputies to understand the expectations and priorities of their constituents. Our support for the rehabilitation of the Speaker’s Office was designed to facilitate communication and responsiveness that are imperative for a well-functioning democratic institution.
These concrete improvements to the National Assembly laid the foundation for the U.S. Government’s legislative strengthening program. This five-year, $13 million program will strengthen the ability of the National Assembly of Côte d’Ivoire to research, deliberate, and enact legislation, as well as improve deputies’ outreach to their constituencies. Including this support to the National Assembly, we are directing more than $30 million toward institutional reform and capacity-building in key sectors of Côte d’Ivoire over the next six years.
As Côte d’Ivoire once again secures its regional leadership role in West Africa, it is important that it continues to strengthen its democratic institutions, like the National Assembly and the justice sector, to project authority and good governance across its territory. We are pleased to be a strong partner with the Government of Côte d’Ivoire and the National Assembly in these efforts.