About Senado Federal of Brazil
The digital era has left no industry untouched, including government operations. This essay explores the evolution of remote deliberation in the Congress of Brazil during the COVID-19 pandemic, with a particular focus on joint sessions. It will examine the precipitating circumstances, the challenges encountered, and the innovative solutions implemented to ensure the continuity of legislative activities.
The Congress of Brazil: An Overview
The Congress of Brazil is bicameral, comprising the Federal Senate and the Chamber of Deputies, which resembles the House of Representatives in other parliamentary structures. When these two houses convene to make a joint decision, they form the National Congress, a body with distinct constitutional attributions separate from those of either house. Joint sessions, involving members from both houses, are typically convened for matters that require comprehensive legislative input, such as budgetary considerations and presidential vetoes.
The Onset of the Pandemic and Initial Response
The COVID-19 pandemic posed an unprecedented challenge to governmental operations worldwide. To minimise disruption, the Congress of Brazil quickly responded by developing the ‘Remote Deliberation System’ (SDR), designed to facilitate smooth plenary sessions. This system enabled simultaneous participation of up to 300 users, which was instrumental in maintaining the functionality of the Congress during the pandemic. Meanwhile, the Chamber of Deputies opted for a semi-remote solution, with key members, particularly party leaders, being physically present.
The Evolution of Remote Deliberation
As the pandemic persisted, it became evident that a more flexible approach was required. The Senate thus began to conduct semi-remote sessions and permanently adopted this approach in 2021. The two houses independently established and consolidated systems for remote deliberation and internal processes. However, these separate systems led to a new challenge: facilitating joint sessions of the National Congress.
Navigating Challenges and Innovations
The National Congress faced a significant hurdle when it needed to convene and deliberate on important matters such as presidential vetoes and budgetary issues. A novel solution was introduced in April 2020: to treat the current moment as exceptional and allow deliberations to occur separately in each house due to the incompatibility of their remote deliberation systems. This provisional solution, however, limited joint debate and created obstacles to deliberation, signalling the need for a more integrated system.
Implementation of a New System
With concerted effort from the General Secretary of the Board, the Legislative Secretary of the Congress, and the IT team, a new system was developed. This system enabled the first joint remote deliberation session of the National Congress with simultaneous participation from all senators and deputies. A significant innovation was the development of a system to facilitate electronic filling and secure delivery of voting ballots, replacing the previous physical delivery method. This system allowed parliamentarians to cast their votes from any location, thereby enhancing legislative efficacy and inclusivity.
The evolution of remote deliberation in the Congress of Brazil has been a testament to adaptability and innovative problem-solving. The pandemic necessitated a swift shift towards digitalisation, forcing the legislative process to keep pace. As a result, the democratic process was enhanced, highlighting the importance of digital tools in modern governance. Born out of necessity, this transformation has revealed the potential for further evolution in the digitalisation of parliamentary procedures in the future.
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