• July 10th, 2020

Parliament confronts Covid-19 challenges

George Sanzila

As the Covid-19 pandemic continues to perversely disrupt institutions around the world, the Namibian parliament has not been spared. 
The pandemic has forced parliament, as it has done with many other institutions, to adopt innovations such as information technologies that are now largely entrenched in the workplace. 

The Namibian legislature has had to rapidly and stoically transform despite the heavy cost burden that comes with such complex yet necessary and inescapable technologies. 

The Speaker of the National Assembly, Peter Katjavivi, was recently pleased with parliament’s longstanding development partners that have come on board to support the institution as it gravitates towards full ICT compliance. 
They have agreed in principle to upgrade the National Assembly conference centre and chamber into a fully-fledged virtual centre. 
According to Katjavivi, this is all aimed at ensuring that the work of parliament continues despite challenges posed by the virus, such as maintaining social distancing and the risk of infections.

Measures and interventions
During the time of a crisis such as this, the work of parliament becomes sacrosanct, as it is expected to scrutinise government decisions, authorise expenditure such as with the current appropriation bill debates and pass legislation. 

The National Assembly has been holding both meetings and sessions virtually uninterrupted for the first time in its history in response and in compliance with the state of emergency regulations that limit the number of lawmakers in the chamber.  The first session of the 7th Parliament begun on 24 March this year but was halted due to the outbreak of the pandemic.

Only 50 members are hosted in the chamber to ensure adherence to public health regulations but also to ensure that the constitutional requirement of forming a quorum of voting members is met. 
Members that are not physically present in the house are connected via an online video link in separate facilities. 
 The tabling of the appropriation Bill that led to the national budget and its subsequent debates, as well as the state of the nation address by President Hage Geingob, have all gone through these innovations, including social media live streaming. 

Motivations for various budget allocations are currently at advanced stages of consideration in the National Assembly for approval.
In continuing to adhere to the state of emergency regulations, the National Assembly has further installed hand sanitiser dispensers at strategic places, temperature screenings, as well as wearing of masks.  

Katjavivi stated that compliance with regulations was as equally important as the need to adapt to the new changes.
“Parliament is currently subject to the same public health and social distancing measures as schools, places of worship or businesses. We need to adhere to the rules. Our role is more vital than ever as we are mandated to pass emergency laws, allocate resources and scrutinise government action. We have to adapt to the changes,” said Katjavivi.

Way forward
According to Katjavivi, who has been an ardent proponent of e-parliament, the pandemic has acted as a catalyst for re-inventing the future and has helped to fast track his long-held dream of transforming the Namibian parliament into a paperless institution.  “Notwithstanding this pandemic, ICT comes with infinite opportunities that should be exploited by parliament in its quest to extensively engage the electorate. This crisis has forced us to fast track the realisation of the e- parliament concept. This will help improve information access and dissemination, as well as empower lawmakers post-Covid-19,” stated the Speaker.
*George Sanzila works in the Research, Information, Publication and Editorial Services (RIPES) Division at the National Assembly

Staff Reporter
2020-06-17 09:57:40 | 22 days ago

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