National Assembly of Gambia
Written on January, 2023
In the era of digitisation, institutions worldwide are making significant strides towards modernising their operations and engaging with stakeholders more effectively. Among these institutions are governmental bodies, including parliaments, entrusted with the crucial role of governance. The Parliament of The Gambia, a small West African nation, has embarked on an ambitious journey of digital transformation to streamline its legislative processes, enhance transparency, and foster a deeper connection with its citizens. This essay explores the complexities, accomplishments, and future aspirations of this digital transformation journey, providing a comprehensive understanding of a small yet determined nation’s efforts in the face of global changes.
The Global Challenge and Local Context
The significance of digital transformation for parliaments became particularly evident during the global COVID-19 pandemic. Parliaments worldwide, particularly in many African countries, faced significant difficulties. The unique nature of COVID-19 and the subsequent restrictions imposed resulted in the suspension of parliamentary activities, leading to a severe drop in their productive capacity.
The Gambia’s National Assembly, which serves a population of just two million people, was not immune to this challenge. Its unicameral legislature consists of 58 members, 53 of whom are elected and five appointed by the president. These appointed members include the speaker and the deputy speaker. Despite its modest size, the National Assembly has had to grapple with the same digitalisation challenges as larger and more resource-endowed countries.
The Journey towards Digitalisation
Traditionally, parliaments, including The Gambia’s National Assembly, have been paper-based institutions, with manual administrative procedures, processing of bills, motions, and committee engagements. However, the need to involve citizens in the legislative process and make governance more accessible has necessitated a gradual transition towards digitalisation.
Digital transformation, in this context, is not just about modernising procedures; it’s about bringing parliamentary processes closer to the Gambian people. The National Assembly recognised the necessity of communicating the purpose of legislation more effectively and enabling citizens to have a say in the legislative process. By doing so, it aimed to create a parliament that truly delivers on its mandate.
Progress and Challenges
The journey towards digitalisation is not without its challenges. It requires resources, equipment, and a mindset change, all of which are significant hurdles to overcome. In many developing regions like The Gambia, modernising any institution comes with substantial costs due to the lack of readily available technology and infrastructure. Moreover, changing ingrained institutional culture and navigating the resistance that often comes with introducing innovative ideas in traditional institutions is another significant challenge.
Despite these challenges, The Gambia’s National Assembly has made some notable strides. One of the first steps was to start the process of archiving all acts passed by the National Assembly and making them available on their website. However, this process is ongoing, and full digitalisation, including the ability for citizens to interact with the National Assembly electronically, is yet to be fully achieved.
Achievements and Ongoing Efforts
Despite the challenges, the National Assembly of The Gambia has made significant progress in its digital transformation journey. One of the key achievements is the development of a robust communication strategy that prioritises digitalisation, outreach, and modernising traditional methods of operation. The Assembly has managed to provide email addresses to all members and essential staff, and a website has been established as a central hub for information on bills, assembly activities, and more.
The Power of Communication
The National Assembly has recognised the power of effective communication in its digital transformation journey. It has established a presence on popular social media platforms, including Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube. These platforms serve as interactive spaces for citizens to engage with legislative activities in real-time. This initiative becomes even more significant when considering that over a quarter of The Gambia’s population has access to the internet and are active on various social media platforms.
Harnessing the Power of Television Broadcasting
In its quest for broader accessibility, the National Assembly has also launched a digital National Assembly TV. This platform provides live broadcasts of all National Assembly proceedings, whether in plenary or committee sessions. Offering citizens an insight into parliamentary processes in this way bolsters transparency and fosters public trust in the National Assembly’s operations.
Future Aspirations: Digitalising the Chamber
As part of its ongoing digital transformation journey, the National Assembly is contemplating the digitalisation of the chamber. This initiative would involve providing a computer, either a laptop or a tablet, to all members of the National Assembly. The intention is that all bills, motions, and other instruments under debate would be available electronically, thus minimising paperwork and allowing members more flexibility in accessing parliamentary information, whether they are within the Assembly premises or outside.
Supporting Infrastructure and Services
In support of its digitalisation efforts, the National Assembly has a solid ICT infrastructure. This infrastructure supports file sharing services where all internal parliamentary information is shared through a system. Furthermore, there is an administrative software where tasks are assigned, and staff can report on their duties.
In summary, the National Assembly of The Gambia has made substantial strides in its digital transformation journey, driven by the belief that a digitally transformed parliament is more effective and engaging. The journey has not been without its challenges, but the progress made thus far is commendable. As the National Assembly continues to modernise and explore the digital world, it is creating a model for other small countries embarking on similar digital transformation journeys. The unfolding journey of The Gambia’s National Assembly is a testament to the power of determination, strategic planning, and the utilisation of digital tools in the face of global changes.
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