People, Planet, and Process – Digital Parliaments a Move towards Green Governance
Planet earth welcomes anything green and the best model for going green is to start from the top. The concept of green governance is an eco-friendly model of parliament respecting the biodiversity and ecosystem of the earth. The digitalization of law-making bodies can be perceived as an important step to this end. With digital parliaments, the country achieves the twin objectives of environment-friendly functioning and increased efficiency in the law-making process. The revolutionary concept of e-Parliament also becomes the role model for promoting environment-friendly initiatives. After all, changes should start with the leaders.
For throwing more light on digital parliaments and green governance we have tried to provide a brief insight on the benefits of e-Parliament for the parliamentarians, citizens and the planet with an assessment of the cost reduction it proposes. The existing challenges to its implementation and the possible solutions have also been examined.
How does e-Parliament help the stakeholders?
e-Parliaments can make a tremendous positive impact on the process of law marking, the citizens and the environment. It uses ICTs within the parliamentary institutions to strengthen the core objectives of democracy. This concept of digital parliament grants more power to the citizens and makes them active participants in democracy. The notable advantages this system delivers are mentioned below.
• Parliament functioning
Seamless integration – By implementing e-Parliament a seamless integration of all the departments within the parliamentary law-making process can be achieved. The availability of information across the departments is radically improved. This reflects on the speed decision-making process which becomes faster and efficient.
Improves efficiency – Technology can streamline the functioning of law-making bodies. It brings in better time management in law-making process since all departments connected with the parliaments have become digitalized. All redundant processes and duplication of work gets eliminated and thereby improves efficiency.
Transparency and accountability - Digitalization increases the transparency and accountability in the parliament functioning and all relevant data becomes easily available to the public. It also extends to include all the social classes in the law-making process. ICT causes a direct increase in the volume of information that is shared with the public and also improves the dissemination of information.
Eliminates paperwork – Technology replaces paper. e-Parliament eliminates completely the paperwork involved in the parliamentary functioning. This has plenty of positive benefits including measurable cost savings and reducing the unnecessary labour of parliamentarians.
Automation- With e-Parliament various tasks are automated to save valuable human time and effort. With the routine and monotonous tasks being handled by technology, human capital can focus itself on the more important tasks.
Encourages political debate – e-Parliament encourages active participation of all the stakeholders. Discussions and debates on policies are promoted and active resolutions of the concerns raised can be achieved faster. Better connections with the citizens result in better policymaking.
Access to information –Citizen’s right to access the information with public bodies is unquestionable. By introducing e-Parliament the citizens gain wider access to the information that public bodies hold. This can create more civic and social consciousness in the people and also inculcate a spirit of ownership and responsibility.
Better engagement of the public – Voicing an opinion on parliamentary policies becomes a matter of a single click. People can have a better understanding of what is happening in the parliament, communicate their views, share their reviews, and even track the progress of the policies. Political awareness increases among the citizens and e-Parliament can extend the people's participation to even the elderly, the disabled and also the rural population.
• Planet earth
Benefits of going paperless need no introduction. With e-Parliament the law-making bodies can cut the usage of tons of papers in its functioning. The environment benefits from the millions of trees saved, reduced emission of tonnes carbon, and also the gallons of water saved. When trees are saved it leads to creating additional oxygen supply for millions of people every year.
Cost reduction in the law-making process
The law-making process becomes simplified with the usage of ICT in its functioning. e-Parliament reduces a huge volume of unnecessary paperwork, unwanted processes and saves time and cost. The recent initiative by SBL Corp to providing an e-Parliament in the Himachal Pradesh Legislative Assembly with 67 MLAs has resulted in a savings of $ 2.2 million to the parliament. If implemented across India with its 4500 MLAs it can give a savings of 20 billion dollars every year.
e-Parliament also provides numerous non-financial benefits by saving trees, water, paper, and reducing carbon emission. Himachal Pradesh gains from saving 6000 trees and 81 million sheets of paper every year. The state also saves 243 million gallons of water a year and reduces its carbon emission by 1000 MT in a year. Across India, it can give an impressive saving of 402985 trees in a year. The country can also benefit from saving 5.4 billion sheets of paper and 15.3 billion gallons of water every year and a reduction in carbon emission by 67164 MT per year.
Current automation – how it is across the globe
Many countries have welcomed the concept of introducing ICT in its parliament as a means of bringing efficient, cost-effective, and smart digital parliament. It is viewed as a means of connecting and engaging with the citizens. Even though many countries have shown a keen interest to begin a smart digital parliament, none have come up with a complete end-to-end solution like e parliament. Most of their efforts have been limited to websites and similar digital platforms like forums.
A few global cases of ICT implementations are mentioned here and it is noteworthy that these scenarios are limited to a common discussion platform and does not use a comprehensive solution like e-Parliament.
Ministry of Finance in Finland launched a project in November 1999, to improve the citizen’s participation in the policymaking process by introducing ICT. The project opened to a warm reception and was revised in 2001 to as a platform for the public to voice their grievances to the ministries.
The Australian government embarked on a major review of its defence policy in 2000. This review process included a consultation page on the website of the Department of Defence and received active participation from the citizens.
UK parliament has carried out a number of online consultations and the groundbreaking initiative of March 2000 to arrange online consultation for women suffering domestic violence using ICT proved a powerful channel to give voice to the otherwise unheard section of the society.
Challenges in the implementation of e-Parliament
ICT has transformed the way parliament functions, but it is not without its set of challenges in implementation. Let’s have a look at the key issues with special focus on India.
Inadequate staff – ICT requires trained staff for its implementation and functioning. Data management and data security have to be handled by experts. Inadequate human capital with the required professional expertise is one of the biggest roadblocks to implementing e-Parliament.
Fear of job loss– With the introduction of technology comes the fear the existing staff might have on losing the job. As technology replaces humans, job insecurity increases and strong resistance to digitalization happens from this segment.
Member’s lacking the knowledge on ICT – Not all parliamentarians would be comfortable with the usage of technology. In fact, many might lack the required technical expertise to adapt themselves to digital parliament. While implementing digital parliament this issue of needs to be addressed on a priority basis.
Apprehensions of the members- Most of the parliamentarians are from a generation that finds technology challenging to understand. Poor computer literacy and lack of exposure to electronic gadgets make them prejudiced against these changes. Shifting their mindset from the conventional methods to modern methods involving smart devices and the internet is one of the biggest hurdles digitalization faces.
Suggested measures for removing the hurdles
The challenges in the path of implementing e-Parliament can be corrected easily. Once the issues are addresses e-Parliament can prove to be a radical solution towards digitalization and smooth functioning of law-making bodies.
The twin issues that require immediate action to this end are training the parliamentarians on technology and improving the infrastructure across the country. All parliamentarians need to be adequately proficient in the usage of technology and other smart devices. With this, the reluctance that most of them display in adapting to the digital parliament can be removed. Along with this, steps should be taken to improve the infrastructure and ensure that the internet reaches even the rural areas of the country. The need of the day is computer literacy for all Indians. This can go a long way in increasing the awareness of the digital world among the people and contribute to the success of e-Parliament.
The implementation of e-Parliament in Himachal Pradesh can be cited as an instance of the success story of e-Parliament. The idea of digitalizing the parliament did not find many takers initially. It faced resistance from almost all the lawmakers who had fears and prejudices to accept digitalization. However, post-implementation, the digital parliament has received appreciation from all quarters. It has contributed to improved efficiency of the law-making process by 70 % and a resultant time saving by 40 %. The confidence in the system has also increased tremendously. Though eParlaiment requires a considerable initial investment, the associated benefits and cost-saving assures that the implementation cost can be taken back in 3 years. This solution has been duly recognized with the highest civil service award.
The e-Parliament in Himachal Pradesh has been running successfully without any downtime for last the 5 years. Kudos to the team behind the successful implementation of this revolutionary concept – the first of its kind in the world and pride of the nation.