Monday, July 25, 2016

Penplusbytes Fact-Checker Reports – The Truth behind the Political Rhetoric

To check misinformation, combat confusion, and reduce tensions around the elections, Penplusbytes under the project “Tech Powered Early Warning System for Ghana Elections 2016,” and with support from the National Endowment for Democracy (NED has established a fact-checking unit at its offices to monitor the accuracy of electoral reporting by mass media and social media.

This project will develop an online fact-checking system, investigate the facts, and send out reports correcting the inaccuracies. Reports will include bi-weekly newsletters sent via email, as well as regular updates on dedicated online platforms including social media. It will contribute to educating and informing electorates on making informed choices at the polls, and to encourage politicians to make realistic promises and campaign on policy issues.

According to the Mr Kwami Ahiabenu II, the Executive Director of Penplusbytes, Ghana Elections 2016 Fact-Checker seeks to contribute to peace before, during and after the 2016 Ghana elections. He said, “This tool advocates for issue-based political campaigns and monitors the accuracy of electoral reportage by mass and social media; investigates the facts and publishes a report with the focus on reported hate speech against a person or group, polarizing language and misinformation. This is expected to play an essential role in improving democratic accountability and enhancing political discourse.”

Ahead of the Ghana 2016 General Elections, the political environment is beginning to heat up due to unguided and deliberate political statements from political parties. The effect of this state of affairs is the highly polarized political environment and lack of political dialogue and national consensus on even issues of highly important national issues. Indeed, various political actors and the international community have adopted various strategies aimed at containing the potentially explosive phenomenon every four years. And this project will contribute to this worthy caused by issuing these reports which are thoroughly researched and factually verified information, comments and statements made public by politicians and other stakeholders on issues surrounding Ghana’s upcoming 2016 general elections.

About Penplusbytes
Established in 2001, Penplusbytes is a leading organization in Africa working in 3 areas: governance and accountability, new media and innovations as well as oil, gas and mining. Our vision is to be the leading institution for promoting effective governance using technology in Africa which is anchored on our mission of promoting effective governance by deploying technology that enhances participation.

About NED
Since its founding in 1983, the National Endowment for Democracy (NED), a private, nonprofit foundation dedicated to the growth and strengthening of democratic institutions around the world has remained on the leading edge of democratic struggles everywhere, while evolving into a multifaceted institution that is a hub of activity, resources and intellectual exchange for activists, practitioners and scholars of democracy the world over.

Thursday, July 21, 2016

e- Parliament: Bringing citizens closer to Parliament



Parliament is the bedrock of any democracy, because it facilitates participation of citizens in the governance process through their elected representatives. In addition to making laws, Parliament plays an important role in gauging, collating and presenting the views and needs of the people. 
Further, it articulates citizens’ expectations and aspirations in putting these into national development agenda. 
It also helps identify problems and policy challenges that require attention. Parliaments all over the world, including Ghana’s Parliament are making use of new digital technologies in order to serve their constituencies better resulting in what is termed, e-Parliament.
e- Parliament can simply be defined as the use of information and communication technologies to improve parliamentary internal processes and the facilitation of a two-way interaction with constituents.
ICT applications by Parliament 
Evidentially, information technologies can support all key functions of Parliament, including debating issues of national development (deliberative), checking and approving government spending (budget/taxes), monitoring and tracking the work of the executive arm (oversight).
There are a number of ICT applications that can be used by Parliament to support the day-to-day activities of members such as management of bills, plenary and committee documents, and scheduling, among others. On a second level, Parliament can use new digital technologies in interactions with citizens, providing information and documents, including Hansard online (http://www.parliament.gh/publications/30), providing feedback to citizens about ongoing work, seeking citizen’s input in the legislative process, holding the executive arm of government accountable through citizen’s feedback provision on projects within communities. Thirdly, new digital technologies, especially mobile, can help Members of Parliament (MPs) educate citizens on the role of Parliament so that they can interact better with them.
Since MPs are not always in Parliament, using cloud computing will give them access to parliamentary resources online.  This means members can spend more time in their constituencies from where they can access and work remotely on relevant documents in Parliament. To enable the Parliament of Ghana to engage with citizens on an on-going basis, Penplusbytes, an NGO, implemented “Connecting Citizens to Parliament” www.assurances.gov.gh, which deployed a two-way communication system between citizens and Parliament of Ghana via an online portal for citizen engagement; social media tools, SMS, WhatsApp and mobile apps as well as offline face-to-face engagement through the use of community radio.
Currently, Parliament of Ghana is also rolling out "e-Parliamentary System", which is expected to transform how the House performs its business. This project is to empower MPs to file queries online and set up a speedy and paperless flow of information between Parliament and the executive arm of government. The system will also digitise Parliament’s Library and increase the ability of MPs with proper authorisation to access the Parliament’s intranet (private network) from remote locations. Currently, the “e-payment system offers uploading Parliament’s order papers, voting, procedures and business papers, which parliamentarians can access via installed monitors in the chamber. Also Parliament of Ghana is using Mobile App (https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=net.touchnetgh.pmw&hl=en) which provides information about Parliament’s work, order paper, votes and bills before the House and procedures. 
Challenges
e-Parliament is based on an assumption that all citizens have access to new digital technologies which will enable them effectively interact with their MPs, but this is far from the case. Most parts of Ghana still do not have reliable internet services, so the argument is true that by pushing Parliament to use technology fully, some citizens may be left behind.
Furthermore, some members even when they are provided with laptops, may not have the technical knowledge to utilise them fully in their work. Parliamentary support staff are not only inadequate in number but some of them lack the experience with technology required to implement the e-parliament project successfully. Also the library in Parliament is not equipped with a full complement of technological tools to enable them provide reliable services to members. Furthermore, Parliament does not have the independent budget to invest in some of these new digital technologies, coupled with the fact that they are not able to hire some key ICT professionals.
Citizens’ lack of understanding of the legislative process is also a key challenge in ensuring better dialogue between citizens and MPs. This challenge means a citizen may send a request for money to MPs to pay a ward’s school fees instead of asking a question pertaining to key functions of Parliament such as the progress of a bill or Legislative Instrument.
Conclusion
In conclusion, new digital technologies, especially mobile phones are transforming Ghana’s legislature into a modern and relevant institution, which is in tune with advancement in the new digital age. ICT is, therefore, making Parliaments’ commitment to transparency, accessibility and accountability a reality. This is being accomplished by bringing Parliament closer to citizens, increasing genuine dialogue with citizens and improving internal work processes of lawmakers in a manner consistent with the promotion of citizens’ participation in a fledgling democracy.

The writer is the Executive Director of Penplusbytes.org - you can reach him at kwami@penplusbytes.org or WhatsApp : 0241995737
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