PARLIAMENTARY PROCEDURES IN INTERNATIONAL SETTINGS
Several times since 2002 I have reported on an on-going “member’s problem,” the saga of an interntional organisation in which the lack of common approaches to decision-making resulted in a disastrous meeting and a good deal of re-thinking about how we conduct meetings. I’ve included here the background paper written in 2003 describing the situation. Since that time the organisation has revised its by-laws, and I’ve included some of the relevant changes we have made. The third item is the draft Rules of Procedure presented at the January 2005 meeting of the AIP Chapter. The group at the meeting made several good suggestions for change (among them changing the title to “Meeting Procedures” to be less threatening) which I will be incorporating in the next draft.
The meeting of the Council in March will, to some extent, follow these procedures. The real test will be the General Meeting at the Congress, to be held in 2006.
I am grateful for the encouragement and support of the Chapter as I deal with this very real member’s problem.
THE ORGANISATION: An international, interfaith body, which has been in existence for over a century. The organisation has had a focus on developing friendship and understanding between people of different faiths and cultures. Its major focus has been the planning and implementation of Congresses, meetings held every few years to bring people together and provide opportunities for them to get to know one another and build greater understanding of one another’s religious and cultural traditions.
Members of the organisation are groups, primarily religious groups, which share its purposes. They vary in size from quite small groups of fewer than thirty members to one that has 5,000,000 members worldwide. They are located in North America, Europe, East and South Asia. Two of the member groups, one based in the United States and one from Japan, provide the vast bulk of the organisation’s funding. It also has chapters, which are made up of individuals who want to join the organisation. Each country in which there are member groups has a chapter.
The organisation has been chartered in the United Kingdom since 1993. Previously it was located in Germany and before that in the Netherlands. It has Articles of Association, under British corporations legislation, and a very loose set of by-laws. No parliamentary authority is cited. The organisation is administered by a Secretariat headed by the General Secretary (who is the secretary to the Council ex officio).
At each Congress, the delegates elect a Council of up to 21 members from member groups and chapters. The Council is essentially the governing body. Most powers have been delegated to it in the Articles of Association and the by-laws. It meets once a year. An Executive Committee, comprising the three elected officers (president, vice president, treasurer) and up to five other Council members, meets between Council meetings.
THE SITUATION: The most recent general meeting. Most of the general meetings of this body have been pro forma, at which delegates elect a new Council, receive the financial reports, and hear reports by the President and the General Secretary. The meeting is conducted in English, although there is simultaneous translation from English to Japanese for the large contingent of delegates from Japanese organisations. Most of the Europeans and Asians from other than Japan have other first languages than English, but speak and understand it with varying degrees of ease.
IMMEDIATE HISTORY: A very faithful core of people has come to these Congresses for many years, particularly from the US and Europe, but they are ageing. There has not been a growth in attendance among people in their middle years. Consequently the attendance at Congresses has been dropping.
While at one time there were very few organisations promoting religious encounter, in the past twenty years a number of similar organisations have grown up. This organisation’s major funders, particularly the American one, pressed the organisation to re-think its goals, undertake some strategic planning, and develop a clearer focus. The representative of the large Japanese funder concurred.
The Council followed this directive and brought to the recent Congress a strategic plan, which will change the direction of the organisation in some significant ways. The Secretariat attempted to involve member groups through a questionnaire and communicate information about the plan through its newsletter, which is sent to member groups for circulation to their members. However, many delegates did not know much about the plan. Some of them were very opposed to it. This opposition did not become apparent to the leadership until shortly before the General Meeting was to begin.
On the assumption that it would again be a pro forma meeting, the General Meeting was scheduled for an hour and a quarter. The Closing Ceremonies were scheduled to follow a tea break at the end of the General Meeting.
THE PARTICIPANTS: Delegates are appointed by member groups, not always in advance. One hundred ten voting cards had been distributed to individuals representing 42 member groups and 10 chapters. About 20 Council members were in attendance, not all of whom were delegates.
There are some distinct differences between groups from different parts of the world. The North Americans, particularly those from the largest member group, have cut their teeth on Roberts’ Rules of Order. If parliamentary procedure were an Olympic sport, they would win the gold every time. The Western Europeans have a much more informal approach to parliamentary procedure. The Eastern Europeans are re-learning democratic processes after many years in which open debate was not permitted. The Japanese use more of a consensus approach to decision-making, and are uncomfortable with direct debate and conflict. They are more likely to make decisions through quiet, backroom negotiation, rather than in a large and open meeting.
LOW POINTS OF THE MEETING: The entire meeting was a disaster, but there were several points that were particularly contentious in which the lack of commonly accepted Rules of Order complicated the situation.
· Election of the Council: The president presented the slate recommended by the Council, which consisted of the three elective officers and thirteen additional members. (Five additional positions are designated as “open” and would be elected separately.) The recommendation was that the present president continue for two years of the new four-year term, at which time the vice-president would succeed him. A delegate raised a point of order that, because this was a break with precedent the election of officers should be separated from the election of the slate. The president disagreed, and the delegate appealed the ruling of the chair and further asked whether the president should proceed to preside over his own re-election. At that point the President voluntarily passed the chair to the vice president, and left the room.
· The delegate then moved to separate the proposed slate of members from the officers. This was seconded and briefly discussed. The motion was lost by seven votes on a recount. There were 21 abstentions in both votes, indicating the confusion of the delegates about the process.
· The vote on the slate as presented was carried. The president resumed the chair.
· Ratification of amendments: The President presented amendments to the By-laws as adopted by the International Council. A delegate raised a point of order to ask if changing the by-laws in this way was in compliance with the organisation’s constitution. The General Secretary explained that the Council had the power to change by-laws and bring the changes to the General Meeting for ratification.
· The delegate presented a motion that there should be a Constitutional review for the organisation at the next General meeting, and that the amendments be reversed until that time. It was seconded. The motion lost, 33 for, 34 against, 26 abstentions.
· The motion to ratify the amendments to the by-laws as approved by the Council was seconded and passed by a majority.
· Strategic Plan: The president presented a motion to endorse the Strategic Plan adopted by the International Council. It was seconded.
· Several deeply concerned delegates, particularly from Japan, raised questions about the acceptability of the Strategic Plan, which they perceived as essentially reflecting a “Western” or European agenda. They felt that possibly for linguistic and cultural reasons this had not been recognised by the International Council. The results of the decision-making process did not seem right to them.
· Because no provision had been made for translation from Japanese to English in the General Meeting, this discussion was extremely difficult. It was complicated by the fact that the representative on the Council of the largest Japanese group had approved of the Strategic Plan, and indeed had pressed the Council to embark on such planning. His group, therefore, was in the difficult position of disagreeing publicly with other Japanese representatives, something that all the Japanese groups normally avoid.
· One delegate (an American who was representing one of the Japanese groups) presented a “substitute motion” (not recorded) which would have undercut the plan as presented by the Council. One of the delegates from England rose to say that such a motion would have been ruled out of order in Britain as a “wrecking motion.” The motion died for want of a second. The original motion was carried narrowly, again with about 20 abstentions.
There were many problems with this meeting. The leadership did not take into account the possibility of significant dissent, although there was some reason to think there would be some. There was no provision, earlier in the Congress, for delegates to get information on the issues to be raised at the meeting, ask questions, and react to them. Not enough time was provided for discussion. The need for translation in both directions was not foreseen.
One serious problem was the lack of any common understanding of the processes we were using. Americans assumed Roberts, and raised points of order and points of privilege, appealed the ruling of the chair, and so forth. People were confused and angered by these strategies. One Eastern European said to me afterwards, “What is this ‘points’ people keep talking about?” Some people who might have agreed with the dissenters backed the “establishment” because they resented the tactics being used. The largest Japanese group, rather than embarrass its leader, abstained on virtually every motion. But the lack of any guideline left the leadership of the meeting with no clear way to resolve disputes. We “flew by the seat of our pants,” and were luckier, perhaps, than we should have been.
So the question for discussion: Can we devise some rules of order that people from different cultures can work with? What principles would such rules need to embody?
As adopted by the Council at its March 2004 meeting:
Changes to be ratified at the 2006 General Meeting,.
EXECUTIVE COMMITTEE: The President, Vice President and Treasurer shall be the Honorary Officers of the Association and shall represent the Association in legal matters; they shall constitute the Executive Committee. The Nominating Committee shall present the new Council with up to four additional members of the Executive Committee at the Council meeting immediately following the General Meeting at which Council members are elected.
PROPOSALS: Member Groups, associate members, chapters, and individual members may make proposals with regard to items to be included in the Agenda of the General Meeting. Any such proposal shall be in the possession of the General Secretary at least six months before the date of the General Meeting. The Agenda of the General Meeting shall be determined by the Council or the Executive Committee acting on its behalf and sent to the member groups, associate members and chapters at least three months before the date of the meeting. In urgent cases resolutions not submitted according to the above requirements may be brought by member groups, chapters, or the Executive Committee before the Assembly for action, provided that they are distributed in written form and approved by two thirds of the voting delegates.
AMENDMENTS: Any revision to the Memorandum of Association or to the Articles of Association shall be made only at a General Meeting; due notice of proposed changes must be in the hands of member groups and chapters six months before the date of the general Meeting. Member groups and chapters may propose amendments to suggestion revisions provided that notice has been given to the General Secretary one month before the date of the General Meeting. Revisions to the By-laws may be made by the Council. They require a two-thirds vote for adoption. They shall be reported to the next General Meeting for ratification, where they also require a two-thirds vote.
DELEGATES: Delegates from Member Groups and Chapters must be appointed prior to registration at the Congress or General Meeting. The Council shall provide delegates with information on items on the agenda at that time.
RULES OF PROCEDURE: From time to time the Council will adopt Rules of Procedure for the conduct of the General Meeting.
NOMINATING COMMITTEE: At its second meeting, the Council will choose members of a Nominating Committee, composed of one out-going member of the Executive Committee and four other current or former Council members. The Committee as a whole shall be representative of the geographic regions. The General Secretary shall be an ex-officio member without vote, and will provide staff support for the Committee.
The Council will direct the nominating Committee as to the size of the Council and the number of nominees to be included on the slate, within the limitations specified by the Articles of Association.
The Nominating Committee will prepare a slate of candidates for the three honorary officers and as many additional Council members as directed by the Council. The slate will include the names of the three candidates for honorary office. The slate is to be presented to the General Meeting for election.
The slate will include a designated seat for a young adult member (aged below thirty-five).
CONSIDERATIONS: In selecting its slate of nominees from the full member groups or Chapters, the Nominating Committee shall take into consideration the following factors: 1) recommendations from Co-ordinating Councils, the Young Adult Network, and the IALRW, 2) the number of members in the group, 3) the length of membership in the IARF, 4) the financial contribution of the member group to the IARF, 5) the representation of different religions, cultures, countries and continents on the Council, 6) the representation of IARF participants (women and men, lay and clergy, different ages) on the Council, and 7) professional skills required for the governance of IARF
ADDITIONAL NOMINEES: The Council shall invite full member groups not represented on it slate of nominees, and chapters, to nominate persons for the three or more remaining positions on the Council, subject to the following restrictions: 1) a full member group may only nominate a member o its group, and a chapter may only nominate a member of its chapter, 2) a chapter may not nominate someone who belongs to a member group already represented on the Council’s slate of nominees, and 3) no more than one person may be nominated by a full member group or a chapter.
NOTICE: The Nominating Committee shall submit to the full member groups and chapters the nominees for the Council not less than two months before the General Meeting.
NOMINEE CONSENT: Only nominees who consent to their nomination, and to serve if elected, will be included among the nominations presented by the Nominating Committee to the General Meeting.
RULES OF PROCEDURE
Because we come from many different countries with different practices and procedures, it is necessary for us to develop some ways of working together which we all understand. The purpose of these procedures and rules is to ensure that the decisions made at this meeting have come out of discussion and understanding. While the decisions are made by a majority, there must be provision for the minority to be heard and understood. Only then can the whole group support the decisions.
Four principles underlay these procedures:
The majority rules, but the minority has the right to be heard.
Fairness and order prevail.
One thing is dealt with at a time.
Everyone is entitled to the information they need to make good decisions.
The general meeting will be conducted in two sequential sessions. Both will be chaired by the President. The first session is an information and discussion session at which no decisions will be made. Voting on all issues presented to the General Meeting will take place at the second session. All Delegates and Council members are expected to attend both sessions.
The first session is an information session. Each item recommended by the Council will be presented at this session by a Council member. The issue and its rationale will be explained.
Member groups and Chapters were notified in January that they could submit resolutions for the General Meeting to consider. They must be submitted in advance so that all member groups and chapters have a chance to consider them. If there are such resolutions, a representative of the group that submitted them will present them and explain why their group is proposing them.
Urgent matters, as defined in the by-laws, will be brought to this meeting along with other resolutions. Again, the member group or chapter submitting an issue will present it and explain why it is being proposed and why it is considered an urgent matter.
All delegates will have the opportunity to ask questions for clarification, and to raise any concerns they may have about the issues which are proposed.
This is an open discussion. Anyone may speak. However, the President is responsible for ensuring fairness and order. Everyone who wishes to should have a chance to speak, and no one will be allowed to dominate the discussion.
If there are serious disagreements about an issue, the President will appoint a small working group including at least one Council member to explore possible resolutions of these differences before the second session.
No decisions will be made at this meeting.
Member groups or chapters not represented at the first session of the General Meeting will lose their vote at the second meeting.
This is the decision-making meeting.
WHO CAN SPEAK: Registered Delegates who have been accredited by their member groups or chapters have the right to speak. Council members, whether they are delegates or not, also have the right to speak. The General Secretary may speak on any issue, and may call on staff members to respond to particular questions on which they have special knowledge. Observers or visitors may speak with the permission of the President. Persons wishing to speak should raise their hands and be recognised by the President.
The President may set time limits for discussion on a particular issue, or on how long each person may speak on an issue. (When translation is needed, the time for translation is not counted in the time limits.)
No one may speak twice on the same issue, except the presenter of the resolution, who may answer questions as needed and sum up at the end.
WHO CAN VOTE: Only accredited delegates can vote. Delegates will have voting cards, which they will hold up when there is a vote. The President will announce the results of the vote. Any three delegates, or the President, can ask to have the vote counted, or to have a secret ballot.
COUNCIL RESOLUTIONS: A member of the Council will present each resolution from the Council. He/she will explain the issue and why the Council is proposing it. If a working group was appointed to work on a particular resolution, it will report any changes it is recommending to the original motion.
OTHER RESOLUTIONS: A member of the group proposing the resolution will present it, as above.
DISCUSSION: After the resolution has been presented and explained, it is open to discussion. Delegates may ask questions or state their point of view on the issue. When everyone has had ample chance to speak, the President will call for a vote on the issue.
CHANGES: During the discussion, someone may want to propose a change to a resolution. They may do so by making a motion to amend the resolution. They will be asked to write out the change they are proposing. It will be read to the members, and discussed. After it is discussed, the delegates will vote to approve or reject the change. They must decide on all changes before they vote on the main resolution.
QUESTIONS: If a delegate wishes to ask a question about the procedure, he/she should stand. The President will recognise the person and ask for the question.