The Parliament of Zimbabwe is currently in the process of digitalising operations.
Parliament successfully courted the United States Agency for International Development (Usaid) to fund the digitalisation programme.
The programme will make the Zimbabwe Parliament one of the few in Africa to use automated state-of-the-art equipment to record proceedings using modern multimedia systems.
NewsDay parliamentary reporter Veneranda Langa (VL) recently held a one-on-one interview with the Speaker of Parliament, Lovemore Moyo (LM), to discuss the implementation of the digitalisation programme for the Parliament of Zimbabwe. The following are excerpts:
VL: Why is it important to have the Parliament of Zimbabwe transformed into an automated institution?
LM: The aim of the whole project was to achieve the objective of taking Parliament to the people by making it accessible to them. Traditionally, people would listen to parliamentary debates from the Speaker’s gallery or through reading the Hansard, which is a publication of debates in the Upper House, the Senate, and the Lower House, the House of Assembly. Members of the public who did not have time to come for live parliamentary sessions had no other way to know about the proceedings of committees and these have done a lot of work, resulting in a lot of media coverage. It is an indicator that parliamentary portfolio committees shadowing ministries do their work. That is why we came up with the idea of improving the recording of the sessions through new equipment.
VL: What was wrong with the old equipment?
LM: Since I resumed office in 2008, Members of Parliament found it difficult to hear what others were saying because the equipment was very old. The last time Parliament had new equipment was in 1992 and the company doing the repairs has been struggling to maintain it because it has become obsolete. Therefore, this state-of- the-art equipment will make it easy for Parliament to interface with the media and so a project proposal was made to bring in audio archiving equipment to complement the work of the Hansard, which is a journal for Parliament.
VL: What was the cost of the project and who funded it?
LM: The automation equipment is worth US$500 000 and Usaid funded it.
VL: Can you describe the first phase of the project, which has already been completed?
LM: The first phase, which saw the mounting of an audio and archiving system, includes a conference delegate system, an archiving system whereby parliamentary debates, committee meetings and other events are recorded and kept for future use, as well as a digital system for Members of Parliament to vote using smart cards assigned to each MP. During the voting process, MPs will be able to view the whole voting process on screens, in a manner that promotes transparency.
VL: Was the automation project part of the Parliament strategic plan?
LM: Yes, indeed. When I came in as the Speaker of Parliament, I had key issues that I had planned to deal with. The first was the modernisation or transformation of Parliament, combined with the reforms that we are currently undertaking, and that started way back in 1996.
The second area of strategic importance to me as the leader of this institution is capacity building. We need to strengthen our oversight role and constitutional mandate that we should police over the work of the Executive.
We also have a strategic point on the representative role and under that role, stakeholders look to us to see if we are able to adequately serve the people because Parliament is about the people, who need to know what is going on in Parliament, apart from getting feedback from MPs.
VL: How will the equipment help the stakeholders?
LM: Journalists and other users of Parliament information will now be able to access it without any difficulties. Even if one were to miss a debate at Parliament, if you have money you can go to the archiving department and ask for an audio recording of the proceedings. The Hansard reporters will also now be able to simultaneously translate what has been said in vernacular into English, and it means every debate in the House will be fully captured. MPs have had to switch into English because the equipment used to translate from vernacular to English had been obsolete. It was unfortunate because Parliament allows for the use of three official languages. With the mounting of the new equipment, all these problems will be a thing of the past. So, that is really the strength of having this equipment.
Indeed, it was part of our broader strategic objective.