Parliaments are slow in going online, study shows
Only 10 per cent of parliaments in the EU, Africa, Latin America, Australia and Canada use information and communication technologies (ICT) to let their citizens know about their activities, an international study shows.
"For most parliaments, our survey has documented that there is a significant gap between what is possible with ICT and what has been accomplished," said Jeffrey Griffith, one of the authors of the "World e-Parliament report 2008" conducted by the United Nations, on Tuesday (25 November) when presenting the study at a conference held in the European Parliament.
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Out of the 105 national legislatures participating in the survey, only 10 per cent were "leading" and "innovative" when it came to websites, webstreaming sessions, communicating with citizens and engaging them in policy making.
Most parliaments had difficulties in keeping their websites up to date and accessible to the wide public. When they provided the text of bills, they failed in also attaching links to relevant information, Mr Griffith said.
"Only 43 per cent of the parliaments reported that they had document management systems," he added.
The survey showed that there was a link between national income and the level of ICT use in the parliaments, but that poor online management was not exclusive to poor countries.
Mr Griffith praised the use of Web 2.0 techniques in the US presidential elections, especially by the campaign of president-elect Barack Obama, who has pledged to continue his direct communication with citizens after he has been sworn in.
A similar model, he said, could be applied by parliaments, but in order for that to happen, there would have to be strong political leadership, the active engagement of MPs and well-trained technical staff.
Vice-president of the European Parliament Mechthild Rothe said that "e-parliament" strategies also need to guarantee "a high level of IT security," to respect the privacy of the personal data when engaging with citizens.
Her summary of the ICT tools used by the European Parliament – RRS feeds, podcasts, online streams of plenary sessions in 23 languages, soon to be extended to committee meetings as well – provided a sharp contrast to the remarks made by representatives of the Pan-African parliament or the Egyptian national assembly, who spoke of a "great digital divide" between the developed world and African countries.
"There are technical and know-how obstacles in introducing ICT in the parliaments of the developing world, marred by ignorance, poverty and wars," Ahmed Fathy Sorour, speaker of the Egyptian parliament, told the conference.
Gertrude Mongella, president of the Pan-African Parliament, echoed his comments and said that the lack of dialogue and parliamentary representation was also one cause of conflicts such as the ongoing troubles in Congo.