We helped turn COVID-19 into an opportunity to make Malawi Parliament more efficient-UNDP

Speaker of the National Assembly Catherine Gotani Hara and UNDP Representative

United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) has hailed the recent hybrid arrangement at Parliament where only a few members were present in the chamber and others joined online as having contributed to government’s efforts to combating the spread of the coronavirus disease.

UNDP Resident Representative Shigeki Komatsubara who made the remarks during a symbolic handover of ICT equipment to the Malawi National Assembly in Lilongwe commended the house for its transformative and forward-thinking manner in responding to the pandemic.

He noted COVID-19 brought a sense of urgency for UNDP to support Parliament as it had to create an environment where being a key institution in the country, legislators could continue to work safely.

The UN Representative spoke on the need to ensure that the house is more effective, efficient and closer to the people through the donation of 377 various pieces of equipment.

He pledged his organisation’s commitment to work with the legislative arm of government in making it more people centered and ensuring it seamlessly continues to operate during the pandemic.

“We took the opportunity of COVID-19 and turned the crisis into an opportunity to support Parliament making the business more efficient and to have more impact on the lives of the people bringing their voices closer to Parliament.

“Not only was this a milestone on COVID-19 prevention, but it laid the foundation for utilization of digital transformative solutions to improve the effectiveness and efficiency of Governance institutions in Malawi. The lessons learnt during implementation of this initial support shall be a basis for full digitisation of other business processes such as the Hansard section, audio-visual department, and chamber systems,” said Komatsubara. 

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Komatsubara: We took the opportunity of COVID-19 and turned the crisis into an opportunity to support Parliament

He pledged continued support to the house in pushing the digitalization agenda such as a paperless parliament in saving resources and extending outreach to people in accelerating inclusive development.

“Digital could enable people to understand what’s happening in Parliament better and that would make the process more efficient.  Members of parliament can access information better with those we’re hoping and we’ll continue to work with the Parliament the key decision makers in Malawi can get hold of issues, quickly have a substantive discussion and have a collective agreement on the way forward.”

The donation ranging from laptops, desktops, MIFIs, TVs, Cameras, Audio-Visual equipment, Internet connectivity, and zoom licenses is valued at US$250, 000.

Speaker Catherine Gotani Hara acknowledged the impact of the pandemic evidenced through deaths of some members of the National Assembly.

This prompted the Business Committee to discuss how to conduct deliberations and settled for a hybrid manner where some were physically present in the chamber while others participated virtually.

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Some of the donated equipment from UNDP

However when the decisions were made, the institution did not have equipment to support the process and approached UNDP for technical support which donated equipment to facilitate the meetings.

The arrangement helped decongest the chamber and legislators did not miss out on their oversight roles and reduced the number of COVID-19 infections.

Among others, Gotani-Hara cited connectivity challenges encountered as having disadvantaged some members but due to the pandemic the house stuck to the new method.

“If you look at the cost of losing an honourable member of parliament for us I think this probably is the best way to conduct business for us to protect the health and safety of members of parliament and members of staff as well because when parliament is meeting, we have 193 members of parliament, we have members of staff coming from government ministries to support their ministers. 

“We have almost 300 members of staff present; you’re talking of this institution having about close to a thousand people within the building.

“Now if we have all those members, obviously it means the risk is even higher; but if we can reduce that number maybe to 200, obviously it means we’re reducing the chances of members of parliament affected with Covid.  So in terms of that you’d say it was a big positive because we were able to save lives of members of parliament and staff,” stated the Speaker.

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Gotani-Hara: We’d be saving time and it also helps in terms of the efficiency and effectiveness of Parliament

In line with its strategic plan, the August House intends to embrace digital technology in terms of voting and other processes.

“If we were voting using an automated system it would take five, 20 minutes we’re done. So we want to go that route because we’d be saving time and that also helps in terms of the efficiency and effectiveness of Parliament

“In terms of us going paperless, we as Parliament also need to help in conserving the environment; using a lot of paper does mean that we are also not being kind to the environment. And at the same time using a lot of documentation for example the budget document, using volumes and volumes of documents.

“If all these were properly logged into our systems using the internet lines, online, that would save paper and it also saves a lot of costs. If you look at our budget for printing, it’s a lot of money. If we were digital if everything was put online and digitalized, we would not need to be printing all these documentation. So that would also help.”

Parliament is in the process of sourcing funding to use an electronic system from development partners within the next five years as outlined in its strategic plan.