The other day I received a digital copy of the World e-Parliament Report for
2012 – a massive 290-page document dealing with the current situation in
parliaments around the world with regards to the prevalence of information and
communications technologies (ICT) in parliaments.
The report, prepared by
the Global Center for ICT in Parliament, in cooperation with the Inter
Parliamentary Union (both of which the Knesset is an active participant), is
based on the answers to a detailed questionnaire by close to 160 parliaments
around the world, many of them parliaments from states that cannot be considered
democratic by any standard, but nevertheless participate in the various
international parliamentary forums, and quite a few of which (including those of
the Arab states) receive assistance and advice from the UN Development Program
on parliamentary issues and democracy.
ICT in parliaments relate to three
main issues: ICT as a tool used by MPs to perform their parliamentary work; ICT
as a means used by parliaments to manage their parliamentary activities in the
plenum and committees, their administrative activities, and the management of
the vast quantity of documents they produce; and ICT as a venue of contact
between parliament and members of parliament on the one hand, and the general
public, on the other.
AS EXPECTED, the report found enormous gaps between
developed and developing countries, though apparently shortage of funds has
slowed down the ICT revolution, even in the most advanced states.
the report does not offer information on individual states, the answers of each
state that filled the questionnaire are available from the staff of the Global
Center for ICT in Parliament. Thus, for example in response to a query about
“the paperless plenum” several years ago, the Knesset was informed that South
Korea was most advanced in this sphere.
In general, the Knesset belongs
to the top 10 percent of parliaments in terms of the sophisticated use of
Regarding the availability of information through the effective use
of ICT, we have our strengths and our weaknesses, which are less a function of
capabilities than of policies and budgets.
In terms of information, the
Knesset is, to the best of my knowledge, the only parliament that does not only
posit on its website the full minutes of its plenary debates within less than an
hour after a speech is delivered, but also the full verbatim minutes of
non-confidential committee meetings.
One of the weaknesses is that the
Knesset is yet to complete a platform for presenting all stages of the
legislative process, and most problematic of all, Israel’s complete book of laws
and regulations for free public use.
While the Knesset website offers all
the legislation passed in the last 13 years, if one wishes to download the most
up-to-date version of a law one needs to enter one of the commercially run law
websites. The Knesset is currently trying to overcome the obstacles towards
changing this, but for the time being anyone wishing to download laws must spend
a small fortune to do so.
WHILE THE work performed by Global Center for
ICT in Parliament is extremely valuable, what it is engaged in is the easier
part of international parliamentary cooperation, namely the exchange of
technical information and know-how.
There are other international
activities, performed by other organizations, such as the eradication of
corruption and the increase of the participation of women in
While all this is undoubtedly important, what seems to be
neglected is serious international debate – both on institutional and academic
levels – on the issue of the crisis in which many parliaments find themselves
today, which has resulted in plummeting public trust in parliaments, even in the
most advanced parliamentary and presidential democracies.
Part of the
problem is public ignorance regarding what parliaments actually do, but the core
of the problem is the absence of a clear definition of what parliaments are
expected to do in the current day and age, and their effectiveness in performing
The modern parliamentary system crystallized in the course
of the 19th century, and the problematic inter- War years of the 20th
Though there have been many developments in such spheres as the
technicalities of how parliaments actually function, the ethical and legal norms
that Members of Parliament are expected to abide by, and transparency, hardly
anyone has addressed the issue of whether it is not time to change the balance
between the legislative authority and the executive authority in the democratic
state, and to define the job of the MP. Indeed, there is no definition of the
MP’s job in any country! In the UK, for example, there have been calls in recent
years to define the MP’s job since it has been observed that many MPs are
acting, to a growing extent, as ombudsmen for their constituents, while
neglecting most other aspects of what is thought to be the job of
In Israel, on the other hand, the excessive growth of
privately initiated legislation, and the Government’s attempt to fight the
phenomenon, inter-aliya by means of the Economic Arrangements Law, are a
different reason for the need for the definition of jobs and tasks. In fact,
most of the attempts to define the job of the MK have come from the High Court
of Justice that is occasionally called upon to interpret various articles in the
MKs’ Immunity Law relating to their job.
The Knesset session that will
open right after Succot will undoubtedly spend most of its time in the process
of dissolving itself towards new elections, and pass as much last-minute
legislation as possible. Thus it is quite unlikely that, even if the will
existed, it will find the time to deal with fundamental reforms of the sort
But why don’t the various international parliamentary
forums start addressing them? The writer teaches at the Max Stern Yezreel Valley
College and was a Knesset employee for many years.