National Asssembly of Zambia
The COVID-19 pandemic has had a significant impact on the normal functioning of organisations and institutions worldwide, including parliaments. In these unprecedented times, various legislative bodies have had to adapt and find innovative ways to ensure continuity in their operations. This essay provides an in-depth analysis of the digital response of the National Assembly of Zambia to the pandemic. It focuses on the challenges faced, the solutions implemented, and the measures taken to enhance the digital transformation of their legislative processes to ensure the fulfilment of their constitutional mandate.
Adapting to the New Normal
When COVID-19 hit Zambia, the National Assembly was faced with a critical decision: either find a way to ensure the continuity of parliamentary functions or risk jeopardising their constitutional mandate. As a result, the assembly took a proactive approach, first by amending the standing orders. This amendment allowed for the adoption of a hybrid system for parliamentary sittings, combining both in-person and remote participation of members.
This adaptation, however, required significant investments in the enhancement and expansion of the ICT infrastructure to support the new mode of operation. The National Assembly had to tackle issues such as ensuring stable video connections, providing sufficient internet bandwidth, and implementing redundancies to prevent connection failures. Additionally, tablets were procured for members of parliament to facilitate their remote participation in parliamentary proceedings, a move that was necessary to maintain the safety and health of the members during the pandemic.
Addressing the Challenges
The National Assembly faced several challenges in implementing these changes. Firstly, there was the issue of the mindset of members. Many of them were not born in the digital age and had limited experience using advanced technology. To address this challenge, the assembly organised training sessions for the members to ensure they could proficiently use the technology and fully participate in the hybrid system.
Secondly, there was the challenge of connectivity, especially for members in rural areas. Many rural regions in Zambia face inadequate internet infrastructure, which affects the quality and stability of connections. To address this issue, the assembly took measures to ensure that members in remote areas were in a place where they could connect to the internet and participate in committee sittings and House proceedings.
Introducing the E-Chamber System
To facilitate the hybrid system, the National Assembly developed a custom application called e-chamber. This application served several purposes, including allowing members to raise points of order and create division lists for voting. The e-chamber system aimed to streamline the legislative process and make it more efficient in the new hybrid mode of operation.
However, the e-chamber system faced some technical difficulties, such as freezing during high traffic periods when numerous members were attempting to participate simultaneously. As a result, the National Assembly decided to use Zoom, a popular video conferencing platform, for voting while continuing to use e-chamber for division lists. This combination of systems has worked well so far, with only a few minor issues that are being addressed and resolved.
Regional Collaboration Among Parliaments
In addition to the internal efforts of the National Assembly of Zambia, regional collaboration among Southern African parliaments has played a crucial role in promoting information sharing, technical support, and best practices. This collaboration has resulted in regular meetings, joint initiatives, and coordinated efforts to support the digital transformation of legislative processes in the region.
The regional collaboration is organised into various layers to ensure effective communication and coordination. These layers include the Clerks or Secretary-Generals of parliament, a committee of ICT directors, and thematic committees of experts in different areas of ICT. This structure has facilitated effective collaboration, problem-solving, and the sharing of applications, such as the e-chamber system, among the participating parliaments.
The digital response of the National Assembly of Zambia to the COVID-19 pandemic demonstrates the resilience and adaptability of legislative institutions in the face of unprecedented challenges. By leveraging technology, investing in ICT infrastructure, and fostering collaboration among regional parliaments, Zambia’s National Assembly has managed to overcome the hurdles posed by the pandemic and maintain the continuity of its operations.
This experience serves as an essential lesson for other parliaments and institutions worldwide, highlighting the importance of embracing technological innovation and fostering a culture of continuous learning and adaptation. By doing so, legislative bodies can ensure that they continue to fulfil their constitutional mandates and serve their constituents effectively, even in the most challenging circumstances.
Moreover, the successful implementation of the hybrid system in Zambia’s National Assembly could pave the way for a more permanent adoption of digital solutions in parliamentary processes, potentially leading to increased efficiency, transparency, and inclusivity in decision-making. This, in turn, could contribute to strengthening democracy and promoting good governance both in Zambia and beyond.
In conclusion, the digital response of the National Assembly of Zambia to the COVID-19 pandemic has shown that with determination, innovation, and collaboration, parliaments can successfully navigate the challenges posed by a global crisis and continue to serve their crucial role in society.
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