MenagerieFearless Forecast: A digital government
Fearless Forecast: A digital government
June 11, 2013
June 11, 2013

Cyberspace, with all its bytes and pixels, is a hotbed of possibilities of liberal twists and turns, game changing ideas, animal videos, and of widespread rants on how the skin color of a person can somehow degrade his or her ability to pursue something.

In a world where everything is slowly being tinged by futuristic tones and clicks, where business meetings are held through Skype, class lectures are personally delivered in bite-size pieces to students via video podcasts and where talking and texting can both be basically done by the move of the finger. It’s not quite far-fetched to presume that, sooner or later, even the Philippine government would succumb to the easy convenience the digital world proudly boasts of.

What will happen when the Philippine government fully relies on a click of a mouse or an internet connection? Take down that thin piece of shiny metal first (2fuse can wait) and take a peek to the computer-based Philippine government.

 

The Good

Let us start small, for the meantime. Suppose something as common as Congressional and Senate plenary sessions, committee hearings on bill referrals, for instance would be initiated and held through online means. Through Skype, perhaps, or a multi-person video conference through some other software. Consequently, politicians would be able to confer with each other in a snap, regardless of location, as long as Internet signal is easily accessible and smooth. A feat not quite improbable nowadays, given the wide range of Internet access at almost all industrialized areas. Funnily enough, this would save precious time and allow for the committees to hold thorough discussions at a moment’s notice, which, in turn, will lead to quicker resolutions and, hopefully, more appropriate and efficient decisions.

Suppose we move on to voting – for instance, when committee members convene, in order to approve or veto a bill. The versatility of making use of digital means is such that absent members may send in their votes through electronic mail or via video chat – a handy solution addressing the frequent lack of attendance by Philippine Senators; case in point, only majority leader Vicente Sotto and Senator Jinggoy Estrada were prompt and present during each of the 212 plenary sessions for the 15th Congress. Subsequently, there exists no justifiable reason for even absent members to fail to participate in sessions. Lack of attendance – whether excused or unexcused – of politicians must then cease to become a problem of grave consequence.

Technology’s grasp on the human lifestyle is rapidly getting tighter and tighter: almost any child would yearn for a laptop or tablet and almost any adult would have one, statuses and tweets as the medium for subtle calls for help or personal problems, and political stands or reactions can be made public as easy as breathing. This is an opportunity for the government to relate with its people, to actually connect and know what they feel.

Of course, it is quite unrealistic to assume that making use of digital methods would transform the Senate into a completely well-oiled and efficient machine instantaneously, yet doing so might, somehow, be a step, albeit small, towards addressing its concerns and faults. The beauty of adapting to digitalized techniques is such that there now exists little to no leeway for politicians to keep excusing themselves and to fail in their tasks – thus, disinterested and incapable ones could easily be detected and weeded out, so much like weeds in a garden. However, there remains the question of how feasible this whole notion is as of the moment.

 

The Bad

Despite the giant technological leaps mankind has taken, there’s a reason as to why governments still hold conferences in person. Real life interaction hastens the flow of ideas; it being unaffected by internet lags.

Online conferences, on the other hand, are perfectly manageable when it’s a one to one video chat, and tolerable when it is a two to one. Having 24 people interacting simultaneously is unwieldy. Each senator would need a computer screen as large as their pork barrels.

To reach maximum productivity in an online discourse, good web conferencing technology and facilities (such as mics and cameras) are a must. If not, the only advantage listening to a soliloquy online has over listening to one in a senatorial hall is that you can lower the volume.

Online voting has “HACK ME” written all over it. Hackers live for the thrill of the challenge, and to their minds, hacking a vote that could set forth to motion or prevent a law from pushing through is a worthy feat. Technology has its limits, and using the internet which connects your computer to every other internet connected computer is a risk. Even the White House, with their layer upon layer of firewalls, got hacked. Although, if the senators pass a vote via Facebook, does that vote become Facebook Official?

 

The Feasibility

Whether you’re a sixth grader saving your 100 pesos for next Saturday’s DOTA session or a newly designated senator, you will always have an internet connection. Such is the power of the Internet: everyone can have access to it, regardless of age and wealth. It is very much like the air we breathe in: free for all but with cats and political jokes.

Our government has already taken a huge technological leap by legislating cyber laws and creating websites and Twitter accounts to some of its respective entities, so there is no denying that with a few more clicks here and there, our senators can suddenly hold legislative meetings on their beds; a laptop, their stately commitment to the nation, and a shirt and tie would do the trick.

Take our friends from Iceland as an example. Ever since the financial crisis in 2008 toppled Iceland’s government and banks, the country has been sculpting its way back to recovery by what probably is the fastest and most innovative way possible: through the beloved internet.

Iceland is one of the most computer-capable countries in the world, and for the drafting of a new constitution, their government has sought for the help of the internet and their people, whose participation, by the way, has been impressive. The government has been accepting suggestions and discussions from its people through their website, Facebook page, Twitter and Flickr, where they also constantly disclose the progression of the constitution’s draft.

Considering all the points presented, the government going digital can either make it or break it. Congressmen and senators may have perfect attendance in online plenary sessions but will they be able to actually form solutions addressing national problems? Are they – especially the technologically challenged ones – selflessly willing to learn the complex and pixelated sphere of the computer for the sole purpose of serving the country? Or will it turn out to be an online bloodbath? This wholly depends on our government’s ability and willingness to take a new step towards technology or to just stick with the more natural and real life interaction we are currently observing. Are they really ready?

The feasibility is uncanny; it makes you want the government to delve into the cyberspace because of the infinite possibilities the digital world presents, but it is also these possibilities which make you hesitant. This also sends us the message that in whatever medium a government uses to function – whether through computers or through physical interaction -, the most important thing remains clear: the welfare of the economy and the citizens must come first.