Reflections on Alternatives to Promote an Even Broader Participation of Society in the Digital Lawmaking Process

Read the written version of a Q&A between the former Vice President of the Brazilian Senate House, the Chairman of the House Committee on Rules in the US House of Representatives, and the representative of ABRIG

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📌 This text is the result of the transcription of the panelist’s participation in Bússola Tech’s event


Parliament modernisation efforts are essential for a more effective institution that delivers better laws, better oversight of the executive branch, and better representation. The legislative digital transformation should be respectful with the legislative institution tradition and internal balance of power, preserving its core values but improving daily processes for the betterment of Members, Public servants, and our societies.


With that, we’re happy to share with you all the written version of a Q&A between the Congressmen, the former Vice President of the Brazilian Senate House, – The Right Honorable Senator Antônio Anastasia, the Chairman of the House Committee on Rules in the US House of Representatives, The Right Honorable Congressman James McGovern and Carolina Venuto, the President of ABRIG – the Brazilian Association of Institutional and Governmental Relations. 


Carolina Venuto: 


The implementation of the remote deliberation system accelerated the digitalisation process of the Brazilian Parliament. After a time of using this system, we can see some adjustments being naturally made by the Houses, especially to adapt this system of procedural dynamics. 


What is not clear to us yet, however, is how this dynamic can be adapted to guarantee the broad participation of society in this more digital lawmaking process, in particular, in a professional and constant manner, as occurs in the activity carried out by lobbyists. 


Do you imagine any alternative to guarantee, in an equal, transparent, and democratic way, that organised civil society will be able to also present their technical contributions to decision-makers, even if in a digital reality in the legislative process? 


Antonio Anastasia: 


There is no doubt that the digital process is here to stay. We know that the Senate and the House of Representatives have already made good progress in this area. In fact, in the past physical meetings of the Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU), the Brazilian Congress have always been mentioned as a model and I myself have made presentations at that great body with representatives of Parliament from all over the world to show the channels of participation in the legislative process by citizens and by participating in hearings, and even by the presentation of bills and amendments by citizens, through the electronic means that we make available. 


That was already a reality before the pandemic. With the pandemic, this tends to consolidate and advance even further. First, because there is a political will to do it. The Brazilian Congress understands that the more open, the more transparent, the more it receives contributions from different segments of society, the more legitimate its decision will be. The legitimacy of representation is the foundation of democracy, but in the legislative process, the more we have been instructed in the process, the richer, with the controversies, with the debates, we will make better decisions. This is an important matter. I think this is irreversible. 


Now, how can we go even further with digital? This, of course, will happen with the advancement of technologies. We have a technological deficiency in our infrastructure in Brazil. A member from an organised group is able to bring its opinions to Congress, through its members. An indigenous village in Amazonas, or a school in the countryside of a city of my state of Minas Gerais has difficulties in technological infrastructure to take a suggestion to its representative, because Brazil is still very deficient in terms of technological infrastructure. We do not have cabling, we cannot take remote classes from public schools now in the pandemic, because there is no way for students to access classes. This is something very serious that the Executive Branch will have to deal with in the short and medium terms, but in Congress, we are able to welcome it, especially through organised civil society and that is our obligation. 


I think this openness is important, and if we compare what happens today in the Brazilian Congress and 20 years ago, at the time of the 1988 constitution, we can see an immense evolution. Congress is much more open, democratic, and participatory, which for us is very good.


James McGovern: 


Our constituencies have been utilising technology before our elected bodies embraced it. When I first got elected in 1996, for the first few years, most of the communications I received from my constituents were in the form of letters to the mail. Now, the majority of it is in the form of emails. There are various platforms that are airing, not only what we do on the House floor, but what happens in committees. People have access to all of that, although, not all of it is terribly exciting to witness, nonetheless, there is that transparency. 


That’s the good thing about technology, it invites more transparency and it invites more constituent involvement and communication with their elected officials. I don’t know what we would have done in this pandemic if it were not for technology. If we could not operate remotely, I don’t know how we would’ve done the business of the government. The advancements that have been made have saved us from a terrible situation. In terms of how we move forward and what the House rules will reflect, as we move forward. We need to look at what we want to preserve beyond the pandemic. We do remote hearings and one of the advantages of it is that not only can everybody watch them, they can watch the regular hearings too, but I can have somebody from Brazil testify before my committee without having that person having to fly up to Washington to be there in-person and vice versa. 


That’s a good thing and we might want to think about how we preserve that kind of ability to do that, when things get better. I chair the House Human Rights Committee and one of the things that have concerned me during this pandemic is some governments have used this as an opportunity to do things that are not so transparent and to consolidate power in a way that goes against their constitutions, and has used this time to try to do things that are not in the public interest. 


The transparency that comes with technology, we want to keep. I want our governments and our parliaments to be as transparent and as open as possible for everybody to be able to see what happens. 

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