“An effective parliamentary democracy requires that parliament be proactive in finding ways how to interact with the public.” – This was the main theme of a press conference delivered jointly by Hon. Anġlu Farrugia, Speaker of the House of Representatives, Professor Alfred J. Vella, Rector of the University of Malta and Mr Emanuel Darmanin, on behalf of the Malta Information Technology Agency (MITA) who earlier this year were signatory to collaboration and sponsorship agreements with regard to the project ‘Apps for Parliament’.
During the press conference on the progress of this collaboration project, Speaker Farrugia explained that the main objective of this initiative is that of increasing visibility and accessibility with respect to a number of activities carried out by Parliament.
One of the areas covered by this collaboration relates to the inter-parliamentary meetings organised by the House of Representatives as part of the parliamentary dimension of the Maltese Presidency of the Council of the European Union (PARL.eu2017.mt). This particular app has provided, and still is providing, timely access to both document and video files of all parliamentary presidency meetings being held in Malta, not only to the parliamentary staff and Members of Parliament from national parliaments of the EU Member States, but also to the public in general. Through this app, users can instantaneously access information relating to these meetings and also follow the live proceedings on the day. At the end of each meeting relevant documentation and video files are made available online.
Another aspect of parliamentary procedure which the above mentioned collaboration agreements cover is that of parliamentary questions. The PQViz app, which shall be available for downloading early next week, provides an innovative visualization of the large amount of information contained in these documents in such a way that users may more intuitively understand how Parliament holds the Executive to account by means of this effective scrutiny tool. Apart from providing access to the actual text of both questions and answers, through the use of this app, one may easily notice trends in certain constituency-related interactions between backbenchers and Ministers. Further developments are planned to facilitate the extrapolation of data and trends about specific topics raised by Member of Parliament in order to address both constituency and national issues.
Whilst the Presidency App was financed directly by the House of Representatives, the development of the Parliamentary Questions App was sponsored by MITA. This project is divided into three phases by the end of which the data available shall be dating back to the 9th Legislature.
Speaker Farrugia thanked Dr Charlie Abela and Dr Joel Azzopardi from the Department of Artificial Intelligence within the Faculty of ICT at the University of Malta who were also present at the press conference. Speaker Farrugia also thanked the students of the Faculty of ICT, who together with Dr Abela and Dr Azzopardi worked closely with the Office of the Speaker in order to take forward this project by creating a number of apps that make parliamentary data more open, searchable and therefore more accessible to the public.