Since 2019, the Federal District Council has been investing heavily in the modernization and computerization of its work processes. With the implementation of the Sistema Eletrônico de Informação – SEI (Electronic Information System), before the pandemic, it was possible for advisors and parliamentarians to carry out the production of their administrative and legislative documents electronically, minimizing human contact and streamlining their internal processes.
SEI was already being used for administrative processes. In addition to creating templates for all legislative documents, a parallel unit structure was created to separate administrative and legislative processes without the need to implement a new system instance. There was a great effort for this digitalization of the process, because it still happened primarily on paper. The previous effort, from the digital migration of the administrative process to the SEI, was what enabled this migration of the legislative process in the short term that the urgency of the situation demanded.
With this, and with the recent implementation of the Processo Legislativo Eletrônico (Electronic Legislative Process) – PLE system, the house has been able to manage its legislative production process electronically and remotely.
During the pandemic, then, we continue to work normally but now remotely. The leadership orientation took place through oral guidance during the remote session. A group was created with servers that monitored and guided the phases of this remote process in real time. The presencial attendance list of the parliamentarians is carried out by biometrics in the plenary and remotely an application with facial identification and SMS reception is used to confirm each presence and voting record.
Monitoring is on-line via the house electronic voting panel system, which has a remote voting terminal (via cell phone). About the point of order, the request is made orally, during the remote session using the video conference software. The session’s agenda is convened by the President of the house, for Extraordinary Remote Sessions published in the Official Gazette.
The voting process – via the house electronic voting panel system, which has a remote voting terminal (via cell phone) uses 2-factor authentication and photo registration of the deputy at the time of the vote. In exceptional cases, where for some reason it is not possible to use the device, the Speaker orally announces the vote of the parliamentarian (so that it is registered in the shorthand notes), and the responsible operator registers the presence directly in the system.
As for security, our main concern was with the security of the house servers, keeping them in telework, according to the Act of the governing council No. 32, 2020. The necessary actions were taken to make the extraordinary remote sessions official. Digital security has been strengthened and guaranteed through controls.
In order to bring legal certainty to legislative production, Resolution No. 317 of 2020 was published (published in the Official Gazette No. 067 of March 26, 2020), instituting Extraordinary Remote Sessions in order to make it possible to vote on matters during the pandemic period. Besides those, two more resolutions were issued to allow Remote Public Hearings and Remote Extraordinary Meetings, Resolutions No. 318 and 319, of 2020.
To ensure the security and reliability of the system, remote access is very controlled, with security mechanisms provided for since the contract notice. The voting reliability is guaranteed by security mechanisms provided by the contracted solution, which uses 2-factor authentication (code sent by SMS or WhatsApp) for each vote, and recording of the deputy’s photo at the time of the vote, taken by cell phone.
The video conferencing solution was used in remote sessions, meetings and hearings. It was also used at the meeting of the college of leaders. Plenary sessions have alternated between remote and hybrid sessions. In remote sessions, only the Speaker, the Deputy Speaker and the Clerk are present at the plenary floor, assisted by a staff team, composed of civil servants of the legislative team and the team support plenary operations.
The main challenges for the house to implement remote deliberation were the human capital in the development of the solution, the internal regulations and finally the cultural barrier. We had to convince the actors involved (civil servants, parliamentarians, the general public) to implement the remote solution.
We provide assistance to parliamentarians who were not prepared for digital. WhatsApp groups called “Angels of the Plenary” were created where a server was responsible for providing technical support to one or more parliamentarians regarding connection in the meeting rooms, use of the microphone and so on. Over time, these parliamentarians became familiar with the technologies and no longer needed assistance, but the group still remains. The “Angels” get in direct contact with the parliamentarians, usually via WhatsApp or voice call, to follow each step, notify the start of the session, pass the access link, and do everything possible to solve any problems that arise.
No adaptations were necessary to maintain the standards of transparency and participation in the house. However, as mentioned above, the chamber was already undergoing a modernization process and the pandemic ended up coinciding with the inauguration of the Transparency Portal of our house where the citizens can follow our entire legislative production.
The development of the remote deliberation solution is leaving a legacy for the house to develop other solutions to further improve the quality of the legislative process. Since the house’s new legislative process system was recently implemented, which aims to boost the legislative production of parliamentarians while bringing greater transparency and popular participation.
Another advance, which remains for the post-pandemic, is the possibility of holding hybrid sessions and meetings, which allows parliamentarians who cannot attend in person to a meeting or plenary session, either because they are away for health reasons, or outside from the city participating in an external event, can follow and/or participate remotely.
The lessons learned in this period are that the digital world has arrived and there is no going back. Technology needs to be treated as an end area, with extensive risk management and participating in the internal processes of all units.
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