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Saturday, December 10, 2011

Digital Parliament dream takes shape ahead of 2012 polls



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The National Assembly. PHOTO/HEZRON NJOROGE
FILE / NATION Parliament Building is set for a technological revolution. 
By ALPHONCE SHIUNDU ashiundu@ke.nationmedia.com
Posted  Friday, December 9  2011 at  22:00
IN SUMMARY
  • MPs to debate and table committee reports using iPads and laptops by 2013
A small ad in the inside pages of Tuesday’s Daily Nation may have gone unnoticed by many, but in the few words of the ad, the digital dream of Kenya’s next Parliament was laid out for all to see.
The tender notice sought suppliers for 100 desktop computers, 30 laptops, 50 printers, 100 units Uninterrupted Power Supply and 40 iPads.
Now, imagine your average MP scrolling on the iPad while engaging the Governor of the Central Bank about the depreciating shilling!
Scrolling his iPad
Imagine that same MP asking a question as listed on the Order Paper while scrolling his iPad or laptop instead of holding white sheets of paper!
That’s the vision for the National Assembly and the Senate, which will comprise at least 418 MPs in total.
Clerk of the National Assembly Patrick Gichohi told Saturday Nation that the plan is to have about 500 desktops installed in 500 offices before the next Parliament sits in 2013.
Every committee chairman will carry either an iPad or a laptop. The 40 iPads are for the 25 committees of the National Assembly and the 15 committees of the Senate.
The laptops too will be the property of Parliament under the custody of the committee chairmen.
“The committee meetings can be held anywhere in the country. We want the chairmen to be able to work without carrying around huge volumes of paper,” the Clerk said.
The tabling of committee reports in the House will also have to be done digitally, as the House strives to cut on the 350,000 sheets of paper it uses every week. A 25 per cent cut on this, the Clerk said, will be adequate.
Currently, there are very few MPs who carry iPads. Mr James Rege, the chairman of the Energy and Communication Committee and Juja MP William Kabogo are some of those who are often seen scrolling their gadgets as they follow proceedings in the House.
The current MPs have computers in their offices, but very few know how to use them. Some have never made use of the free tutorials on the basics of computer usage.
The MPs of the next Parliament will attend a mandatory induction course at the Karen-based Institute of Parliamentary Studies.
“We have to begin in January 2013 before they settle down to committees. It will take the first six months, and thereafter it will be continuous,” Mr Gichohi said.
Taught the basics
“We expect that those who will come to the next Parliament will be ICT-friendly, and those who are not, will have to catch on early enough.”
The MPs will be taught the basics about the rules of procedure, the Standing Orders, the working of the committees, how Bills work and their responsibility as people’s representatives, legislators and watchdogs on the Executive.
The reason for this is that, there is going to be an absolute separation of powers — The Executive will no longer sit in the House, MPs will also be expected to generate Bills, and debate them.
The Standing Orders have been revised so that the MPs can get experts to help with issues they do not understand.
The experts in various fields will be drawn from the public universities.
“We may not have the money to employ all of them. But we can have them on part-time basis,” he said. However, for the legal office, according to its head, Mr Jeremiah Nyegenye, recruitment of lawyers with knowledge in legislative drafting is inevitable.
The same will apply to the Budget Office, the Clerk said.

There will be two Speakers — one for the National Assembly and one for the Senate.
The nightmare for the Clerk and his team is to look for room for the numerous office-holders in the next Parliament.
Add two Deputy Speakers, the whips and their deputies, the Clerks for each of the Houses, the leader of the majority party in Parliament, the leader of the minority, commissioners of the Parliamentary Service Commission, and the chairmen of House Committees. All of them need offices and staff.
Mr Gichohi added that even political parties will have to be given room for caucuses.
In the cafeteria
After that, the headache will be committee rooms and rooms for the Secretariat. Right now, Parliament has 28 committees. If all of them want to sit on any given day, some will meet in the cafeteria, others in the dining hall, and others in the Media Centre.
These venues are ill-equipped and are inconvenient for the members, Hansard reporters and the guests.
For now, the House has acquired Protection House, at the junction of Parliament Road and Haile Selassie Avenue in Nairobi.
The house has offices and four of the rooms will host committees. Harambee Sacco Plaza also has five rooms set aside for committees.

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