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The House of Representatives on Wednesday (June 22) referred to a House Committee, a resolution to grant the use of laptop computers during Parliamentary sessions, as a means of increasing the efficiency of sittings and allowing members to easily access information related to House proceedings. Member of Parliament for Central St. Mary, Dr. Morais Guy, who moved the resolution, explained that the matter was “about progress” and keeping pace with scientific advances. “This resolution is about change. As a Parliament and as a jurisdiction, we have gone where others have not gone, even to date,” he stated, noting a number of changes, which have already taken place in the proceedings of Parliament, including live broadcasts of some sittings. He said that many jurisdictions, which were modeled after the Westminster system, had taken the route of incorporating information technology in their proceedings, citing the Federal Parliament of Canada as an example.
Dr. Guy also made note of the recent sectoral presentation by Minister of Commerce, Science and Technology, Phillip Paulwell, in which he used a Powerpoint presentation. “I think going in this particular direction, will make the debates not only more interesting, but more factual”, he said, adding that it might also be easier to counter misleading claims made by House members.
He added, “the use of the computer with its other applications, such as the Internet, will make presentations here much more productive and will enable us to have more vibrant and real time discussions”.
He further proposed that in the future, it may be useful to adopt an Intranet network, giving way to a “paperless Parliament”, where for example, Order Papers can be accessed on laptops, thereby reducing the work of the staff.
Supporting the motion, Mr. Paulwell disclosed that commitments had already been received for the wiring of desks. He told colleague members that, “it is really a pity that for so many years, the work of the Parliament has been hampered by our inability to take advantage of the tremendous developments in ICT (Information Communication Technology), to make us more effective”.
The Science and Technology Minister further pointed out that members needed to make full use of the wide range of available multi media devices and equipment. He stated, “this Parliament needs to be bold. Why should we not set some precedents as we did some time ago when we joined a few Parliaments in opening up our committees to the public”.
Minister Paulwell noted that Jamaica had shown great leadership in terms of telecommunications, in opening up the country’s industries for competition, and facilitating the dramatic increase in teledensity, which had moved from 20 per cent to 80 per cent. “We are seeing Jamaica leading in the whole business of e-government,” he remarked. Last year we established a tax portal where many taxes can now be paid online”.”This Parliament has to lead and it should not be afraid to do so.we should therefore look not only at the use of laptops, but as we were able to demonstrate in my presentation, where for the first time in a budget presentation, we had Parliamentarians glued to a presentation because of the interest, and the variation and the facts that we were able to show in living colour,” Mr. Paulwell said.
While supporting the resolution, Opposition members indicated that caution should be taken in terms of the extent to which ICT was used in the House, as the spoken word was still very integral to the proceedings and the communication of information to the Jamaican people.
Opposition Leader Bruce Golding stated that, “the use of a computer to suffice for the notes that you are allowed to refer to is in my view acceptable, but to go beyond that, look at it carefully to ensure that we don’t lose the kind of spontaneity and interactivity that is supposed to be part of Parliamentary debates.
There are concerns as to where the use of technology begins to impair some of the essential features of the Parliament and some of the traditions that have governed Parliament”.