About People’s Majlis
The COVID-19 pandemic brought unprecedented challenges to governments worldwide. In response to these challenges, various sectors, including legislative bodies, were forced to adapt and find ways to continue functioning amidst the health crisis. One such example is the People’s Majlis of the Republic of the Maldives, which adopted a virtual chamber model to continue conducting plenary sessions remotely. This essay aims to discuss the experience of the Maldives in implementing remote deliberation, highlighting the challenges faced, solutions adopted, and lessons learned throughout the process.
The Maldives was able to quickly adapt to remote deliberation due to the pre-existing rules and infrastructure that allowed for such a transition. The rules of procedure did not prevent the use of virtual plenary sessions, and the house committee ruled that remote sessions should be conducted until the health emergency had been lifted. Additionally, in 2019, the Majlis had undergone a significant infrastructure upgrade that included updated chamber voting systems, broadcasting systems, servers, and internet connectivity.
Tools and Software
The Maldives had previously procured Microsoft Office 365 licenses for its members and staff, providing access to the remote meeting platform, Microsoft Teams. While free alternatives were available, having the licenses for Microsoft Teams offered a significant advantage in quickly transitioning to remote sessions.
In addition to Microsoft Teams, other tools were used to ensure the smooth functioning of remote deliberations, such as Poly for voting, remote access tools like VPN and VNC, broadcasting tools like NewTek Tricaster, live streaming tools like OBS Studio and YouTube, and Discord for maintaining separate communication channels for administrative purposes.
Challenges Faced and Solutions Adopted
One of the challenges faced during the transition to remote deliberation was training and support. Training sessions for MPs and staff were conducted remotely, with initial challenges in guiding first-time users through the platform. Test meetings and training sessions helped familiarize MPs and staff with the platform’s features.
Communication was another challenge that the People’s Majlis had to address. The use of Discord as a separate communication channel for administrative purposes allowed for efficient communication between the Speaker of the House, secretariat staff, and MPs during remote sessions.
Connectivity issues also surfaced during remote sessions. Occasional problems with internet connectivity and video streaming were experienced, but overall, the connectivity was satisfactory. Acoustic feedback and background noise were other challenges that were addressed by advising participants to use headphones and maintain a quiet environment during sessions.
Voting during remote sessions was another area where challenges arose. While the use of the Poly add-on for Microsoft Teams facilitated the voting process, in rare cases, MPs had to cast their votes manually by typing “yes” or “no” in the chat panel.
The experience of remote deliberation in the Maldives has underscored the importance of patience, adaptability, and cooperation among participants. While technical challenges were encountered, the overall success of remote sessions was reliant on the willingness of MPs and staff to work together and adapt to the new format.
The Maldives’ experience in implementing remote deliberation serves as an example of how legislative bodies can adapt to unprecedented challenges, such as the COVID-19 pandemic. By leveraging available technologies, addressing challenges, and fostering a spirit of cooperation, the People’s Majlis was able to continue its operations, ensuring that the legislative process remained functional during a critical time.
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