I recently spoke at the World e-Parliament 2009 Conference held in Washington at the US House of Representatives. The conference attracted representatives from all Parliaments and was attended by more than 300 Members of Parliament, Clerks or Secretary -Generals of Parliaments, their deputies and other people working on e-Parliaments. With a global centre in Rome partially funded by the UN Department of Social and Economic Affairs, the group tries to coordinate and develop ICT systems for Parliaments. They strongly believe that ICT can be a tool for greater transparency and accountability of Parliaments and a larger platform for public consultation and interaction with citizens. They are looking at ways to harness new technologies for this purpose.
An annual survey conducted about e-Parliaments and the use of technology finds that Parliaments are increasingly using new technologies to reach people mostly in a passive way – making more information available in different formats. Of the 90 countries surveyed, more than 85% stated they were using ICT in some way to improve their work. Since they survey all Parliaments there is disparity between the work done in the developing world and the developed world. But the hunger and desire for using new technologies is very strong in developing countries.
E-Parliament is not about technology but about providing better service delivery, as it were, of Parliaments to citizens in countries. Clearly there are several elements needed for it to work. One we do not often think about is for example power. I visited the Parliamentary support bureau in Monrovia and while there were computers there was no power so they could not use them never mind having continuous internet access. There are also many risks, as any move to e-government entails massive social transformation and raises political risks.
Parliaments also have to overcome their own internal regulations and rules that inhibit transparency and accountability and if changed would make technology more effective. There is strong support and funding in the donor community for e-government which is seen as “having the ability to transform relations with citizens, business and other arms of government. Analogous to e-commerce… e-government aims to make the interaction between government and citizens more friendly convenient, transparent and inexpensive” (Bassat, 2006). But there is little evident support within e-government frameworks for e-Parliaments. Perhaps it is because Parliaments do not ask for funding or maybe e-government funders do not think about including Parliaments.
It may be that e-Parliament falls between two ideas – good governance and the adaptation of ICT, so neither group is a proponent of the idea. But clearly the use of new technologies could be an enormous boost to good governance in countries and should be included much more within funding frameworks for good governance, basic technological infrastructure in countries and e-government programs.
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