JIS News

As of next Tuesday (Feb. 21), Parliamentarians will, for the first time in the country’s history, be allowed to use computers during sittings of the House.
Commerce, Science and Technology Minister, Phillip Paulwell, who made the announcement at Tuesday’s (Feb.14) sitting of the House, said that the Speaker of the House, the House Clerk, the Opposition Leader, the Prime Minister, the Leader of Government Business and the Leader of Opposition Business in the House of Representatives and the Senate, would be provided with state-of-the-art laptop computers courtesy of Cable and Wireless. Other members would receive computers thereafter.
He said the intention in the long run was to have all documents used during the sitting of the House available on the machines.
Mr. Paulwell informed that a member of the Ministry’s staff would be engaged over the next three months, to develop a website for Parliament. He said that effort would be made to see how the Hansard reports could be expedited, so that within seven days, the reports could be placed on the website for easy access by Parliamentarians.
Meanwhile, Minister Paulwell informed that an offer has been made by Cable and Wireless to provide a hotspot facility for the Parliament, which would enable instant broadband access. He said the facility would be free of cost to the government. “Once you enter the precincts and the Chamber, you will be able to use your laptops,” Minister Paulwell explained.
Furthermore, he noted that while there could be no restrictions on access to the Internet, it may become necessary to put a system in place to disable sounds transmitted from the computers while in the Chambers.
Last June, the motion calling for the use of laptops and other technical and information aids by Parliamentarians, while in the House, was referred to the House Committee for consideration.
National Security Minister, Dr. Peter Phillips, who moved the motion, said that after full discussions, it was recommended that the use of lap top computers be permitted in the Chamber for note taking purposes or for reference material during a debate, but that they were not to be used in a manner that could disrupt the House.
The Committee also recommended that the use of other audio visual aids during the course of debates should be subject to the discretion of the Speaker, the key consideration being that the use of such aids should not be disruptive to the business of the House.
Dr. Phillips said the step was an overdue one and represented an important improvement and urged members to use the additional freedom responsibly.
An amendment to the motion was also proposed to allow the recommendations to be referred to the Standing Order Committee to make the recommendations permanent by including them in the standing orders of Parliament.
Opposition Leader Bruce Golding in his remarks, said he was concerned about the “appropriateness of accepting gifts from a commercial entity,” which was affected by Parliamentary decisions. He said that use of laptops in the Chamber would require that the Speaker give sanctions to prevent persons from being inattentive.
With regard to the suggestion for the establishment of a Parliamentary website, Mr. Golding said a project team was needed to undertake the initiative as there was a need to digitize the information that has been used in the House over the last ten years, in addition to current and future data.
Minister Phillips, in addressing the reservations, said whatever was approved, the ultimate authority of the Speaker would remain and House members would have to be guided by the discipline imposed by the Speaker in areas where the Standing Orders were silent.
On the matter of accepting gifts from private enterprises, he said it was a matter, which could be referred to the Ethics Committee of the House for consideration, which would in turn, advise the House.

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