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50th Commonwealth Parliamentary Association (CPA)

Parliamentary Forum Roots for Legislative Interventions on ICT to Encourage Citizen Engagement in the Legislative Process.

Participants of the 50th Commonwealth Parliamentary Association (CPA) Africa Region Conference in Zanzibar Tanzania, have underscored the need to make legislative interventions so as to enhance public engagement by the citizentry, as well as encourage young citizens who are more ICT savvy to participate in the legislative process.

The legislators noted that use of ICT by Parliaments had given the citizentry an opportunity to not only to directly engage with their representatives not matter their distance from them, but to also make a contribution to the legislative process such as the processing of bills.

While making a presentation on "The Use of Social Media in Enhancing Parliamentarians' Constituency Engagements", Hon.Paula Kooper from Namibia noted that though Parliaments were once geographically distant and remote institutions, the use of social media had promoted their visibility among the citizenry. 

"Parliaments are no exceptions on the use of social media in enhancing constituency engagement as it creates new opportunities for legislatures and Members of Parliaments. According to various sources, the rise of social media has elevated the visibility of Parliaments considerably", said Hon. Kooper.

While seconding the motion, Kitui Senator, Enoch Wambua called upon regional Parliaments to embrace use of social media platforms so as to not only cut costs in their operations, but to also promote efficiency among legislators as they serve their constituents.

"Currently in Kenya, Political discourse is more alive on social media than in political rallies", submitted the Senator.

Using the case study of the Kenyan Parliament, Senator Wambua observed that the Parliament of Kenya had made great strides in embracing ICT for increased efficiency. He observed that besides running both personal and Parliamentary social media pages, the two Houses now run paperless operations, and Kenyans interested in following House proceedings can do so via the Parliamentary You tube channels. He further revealed that Parliamentary Committees have embraced the use of whatsapp to plan their activities. 

He added that the use of social media was instrumental in the monitoring and evaluation of the projects under the Constituency Development Fund among other projects initiated by Parliamentarians.

Senator Wambua however led the clarion call on Parliaments to make the necessary interventions to ensure alignment of legislation towards easy and cheap access to gadgets like smart Phones and internet connectivity. He bemoaned that despite the potential of social media and ICT to transform communities economically and in enhancing public engagement in governance by people living in the rural areas, high taxation on mobile phones and internet infrastructure by the regional governments still stands in the way.

Making her contribution on the subject, the Speaker of the Ugandan Parliament, Hon. Rebecca Kadaga challenged the participants to use their legislative role with regard to tax laws to promote the manufacture of cheap mobile phones and to promote affordable internet connectivity.

But the endorsement for the use of social media by legislators did not happen without a warning that Parliaments have a role in ensuring that there is a regulatory framework to promote decency in Communication.

The Vice chairperson of the Senate of Kenya's Committee on ICT, Sen. Abshiro Halake called on legislators to enact rules that will protect innocent social media users from cyber bullying and character assassination by unscrupulous users.

"Many a times we shy away from legislating on regulatory measures on the use of social media for fear of being branded undemocratic, but we have a role to ensure there is decency in the use of social media", She submitted.

Her submission followed reactions from a number of participants in the forum who decried the influx of the misuse of social media mostly by political detractors to deride them and malign their character.

Earlier, in a discussion on the "Use of ICT in Strengthening Public Involvement in the Legislative Process, Hon. Ntombi Lentheng Mekgwe, from Gauteng Legislative Assembly called on the forum to shun the traditional conservative nature that characterises African Legislatures with regard to communication. She noted that the use of ICT had greatly improved parliamentary debates.

"The 4th revolution is here with us. In as much as we agree that the use of ICT and more specifically social media has the potential to disrupt the normal running of Parliamentary business, it has the potential to enhance our engagement with those we represent", she noted.

But Kenya's specially nominated Member of the National Assembly, Hon. Dennitah Ghati challenged the legislators to enact laws geared towards the promotion of the use of ICT among people who are psysically challenged. She noted that lack of access to ICT gadgets fashioned for people with disability had hindered their participation in governance.

The forum is expected to pronounce its resolution on a standard approach to the use of social media during the associations Annual General Meeting, before wrapping up the conference conclusion tomorrow.