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Preserving the functionality of parliament during the COVID-19 pandemic: The Ukrainian experience

The Ukrainian Parliament – Verkhovna Rada – continued to function even after Ukraine introduced the COVID-19 pandemic lockdown measures. This was made possible thanks to a rapid response to the new challenges it faced and the results of work it had carried out earlier.

One of the outcomes of the implementation of the Verkhovna Rada e-Parliament Strategy for 2018-2020 was the launch on 4 February 2020 of the Unified Automated System for Working with Documents (Electronic Documents Management System) which included the intranet portal "Electronic Document Management System" and "Electronic Bill System". The Ukrainian law on the Rules of Procedure of the Verkhovna Rada defines 118 types of documents to be created and managed in this system, starting with draft laws and resolutions, amendments and accompanying documents to draft laws, etc.  

Before lockdown, targeted training was developed and conducted on a rolling basis for all categories of users of the Electronic Document Management System. As a result, Parliament was essentially ready for a paperless lawmaking process and electronic document management. (Watch the video.)

Nevertheless, the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic posed a number of new challenges, including:

  • The need to amend current legislation to allow for the remote participation of MPs in meetings.
  • The organization of remote work in a safe manner of MPs and parliamentary staff (Secretariat Office).
  • The lack of experience in organizing and no availability of ready-made inhouse solutions for videoconferencing.
  • The need to expand the functionality of existing systems to implement a secure and transparent process of remote e-registration and e-voting.

In a joint decision of the chairpersons of the parliamentary factions and groups in the Verkhovna Rada, it was decided to hold plenary sittings in the plenary hall in an extraordinary mode in compliance with the requirements of social distancing.

On 30 March 2020, the Verkhovna Rada adopted amendments to the law on parliamentary committees which regulates videoconference committee meetings. As of 6 April 2020, 22 parliamentary committees conducted over 300 videoconference committee meetings with ZOOM, MS Teams, and Cisco WebEx. New technologies and approaches offered parliamentary committees the possibility to better interact with other non-parliamentary meeting participants such as experts and civil society. As the committee meetings, including voting, were streamed and broadcast live on various social media portals, openness and transparency were fully respected and given a new quality.

Prior to that, on 23 March, the first videoconference meeting of the Conciliation Board of the chairpersons of parliamentary factions and groups was held using the Microsoft Teams platform. In parallel, a series of trainings and a number of video lessons on videoconferencing and remote work were conducted and produced for the committees’ secretariats, MPs and their aides.

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Trainings and video lessons were designed to provide technical and methodologic assistance to users of all categories who had no experience in organizing videoconferencing or needed additional information and assistance on remote work in keeping with current regulations.

Ukrainian MPs were provided with a mobile workplace solution – a tablet PC when the Electronic Document Management System was launched. The virtual workplace technology for MPs was set up the moment the lockdown measures were introduced. This then became the digital platform for the remote work of the Verkhovna Rada’s MPs and Secretariat Office units during lockdown.

Technical software updates have already been developed for the existing automated systems – the “Electronic Committee Meeting” and “Electronic Plenary Meeting” developed in 2017 with the assistance of the USAID RADA Program. In the near future, four additional modules will be developed: an electronic registration module and a remote electronic voting module for the Electronic Committee Meeting and Electronic Agenda of Plenary Meetings System that will be fully integrated with the Electronic Documents Management System of the Verkhovna Rada. It is expected that these solutions will be another step towards resolving the issue of remote voting at the legislative level.

Lessons learned:

  • Prevent panic and mobilize human resources to overcome the challenges of time.
  • Rapid adaptation and transformation of existing software and hardware – the key to the smooth operation of parliament in a pandemic.
  • International and inter-parliamentary cooperation, exchange of experience and best practices – the most valuable tool in overcoming today's challenges and potential threats in the future.

Contact

Oleksii Sydorenko
Head of ICT Department of the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine
sidorenko@rada.gov.ua