Parliamentary Infrastructure

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Parliamentary Infrastructure

In almost all countries the building in which parliament operates is consider a national treasure or a symbol of national identity. But working in what may be an older building can cause many challenges for the day-to-day operation of a democratic parliament. And the leadership of a parliament must manage this entire infrastructure effectively.

Though infrastructure includes all aspects of physical materials that make up a parliament, there are key types of infrastructure that are relevant to parliamentary development.

Physical Space: A parliament is often challenged to ensure there is sufficient space for staff, MPs, committees and parliamentary groups. Many parliaments do not provide office space to MPs or parliamentary groups, thus handicapping them in their attempts to represent their constituents.

Recording Proceedings: A further challenge lies in the recording of the debates and votes of the plenary sessions of the parliament. The logistical and technical challenges in providing accurate and timely transcripts of proceedings have been difficult to overcome for many parliaments.  Some parliaments rely on a form of electronic voting to record the votes of all MPs and the installation of an effective system for this type of voting is usually one of the first steps when a new parliament is established. 

ICT: The provision of adequate ICT for the work of a parliament is often the greatest challenge that faces the institution. From the provision of desktop computers and laptops for MPs and staff to online services and access to records to standard e-mail addresses, in the 21st Century if a parliament is to be effective and responsive to the needs of its citizens it requires a minimum level of ICT to function.

Library: Though the concept of a library is changing, as more and more materials are found online, the need for a repository of information and academic studies has not changed. A parliament must have professional library staff that are able to collect, catalogue, find and distribute knowledge on behalf of MPs.

Constituency Offices: There is a growing trend to establish offices in constituencies (or regionally) to better connect citizens to their MPs.  In some countries the parliament direct builds and operates these offices, including the hiring of staff. In others, the parliament provides funds to MPs to allocate for the rental of space and hiring of staff. Either way, it is fast becoming a best practice that a parliament provides the resources to facilitate interaction between MPs and the citizens they represent.

Where a parliament is unable to meet these challenges it will be unable to fulfill its mandate to pass laws, monitor the executive branch and represent citizens. It will also leave open the possibility that some MPs will have access to external resources (and the subsequent influence demanded) that will enable a disparity in how the MPs fulfill their mandates. In these cases, some MPs may have access to party or personal resources that allow them to establish constituency or parliamentary offices or to purchase their own computers, while those that lack such resources will be a=unable to compete, thus raising questions about the fairness of the system.