Virtual meetings are as old as the internet itself. In the early days of the internet in the 90s, we had what we called chartrooms and dating sites. Although antiquated today, these were the precursor to the present day Zoom and Facebook streaming platforms.
While Covid has propagated more usage of virtual meeting platforms, the pandemic did not create them. They have been there for years. Then, why did organisations, like our Parliament, not adopt such earlier?
The answer will surprise you; the love for allowances. That brings us to the current setup of Parliament meeting. About half the House is sitting while the others is attending through virtual channels. The puzzle is that the half that are on Zoom have to be around Lilongwe. That surely does not smell technological.
Why would members of Parliament (MPs) travel all the way to Lilongwe and attend a Parliament meeting from some hotel room virtually? Would it not have been better for those MPs to attend the same from the comforts of the constituency office or indeed home office?
The reason here is that Parliament wanted a situation where it would equally pay allowances to all MPs regardless whether they were attending via Zoom or physically.
After all, would it have not been possible just have the Parliament secretariat and the Speaker in the House and all members attending via technology?
When one makes such suggestions, one is comforted with propositions like ministers are supposed to be there physically to answer questions from members. My view on this is that the ministers would give better replies virtually from their offices where principal secretaries would be at hand to help if need be.
Technology must make life easier and cheaper. The current setup of Parliament is very lavish. MPs are spending on data, hotel accommodation and travel when data costs should have all swallowed up the second and third cost centres.
MPs don’t represent themselves; they represent their constituents. When they attend Parliament virtually from constituents, people are better represented. The MPs would be attending surrounded by the environment they represent.
What shall we say about these things? Virtual meetings are cost effective. Physical meetings are social outings and sources of income through allowances. People that are serious with preserving resources for organisations will embrace the culture of virtual meetings as the new norm.
Those that are motivated by the culture of allowances and plunder will resist virtual meetings.