Editorial

For the record

  • Institutional memory is central to the pragmatic task of governing

Oct 29, 2018-

Rotation of elected leaders is a regular feature of any democratic governance.  This has never been truer than in our case where we have had eight prime ministers in the past 10 years. With all the changes, the organisational change is bound to follow naturally. Ideally, civil service is expected to act as the repository of received wisdom about past policies. In order to avoid making the same mistakes, one needs to know what happened in the past and what its effects were hence, making record keeping an important activity of public administration. 

A protracted period of political transition is finally over and the country is expected to have a stable government that promises to usher prosperity. Parliamentary committees have been tasked with the important role of helping Parliament on deliberating laws that need to be crafted. Yet, even after three months of the committees taking shape, there is no audio record of the communication between the lawmakers in the National Assembly. Records provide a reliable, legally verifiable source of evidence of discussions and decisions. We often neglect it, but institutional memory is central to the pragmatic task of governing and for maintaining accountability. 

There are four committees in the National Assembly—the Sustainable Development and Good Governance Committee, Legislation Management Committee, Delegated Management and Government Assurance Committee, and National Concern and Coordination Committee. Currently, 339 Acts need to be reviewed to see if they are in line with the provision of the constitution. Quite naturally then, lawmakers have been indulging in serious discussions regarding the laws, but according to government officials, there are no audio records of the meetings owing to lack of recorders. Until now, 16 laws pertaining to fundamental rights have already been passed in Parliament but there is no audio record of any discussions on them. There are minute, but that alone will not suffice because it records only the final decisions. 

Audio recordings can attach an added value to the conventional archiving practice of textual documentation. Most countries practice it, too. Every deliberation, every discussion needs to be recorded in a physical format. Audio records serve as a strong means of accountability mechanism—something that one can always go back to and corroborate should any contradictory views arise. For the effectiveness and efficiency of the public service across the range of government functions, the availability of and access to information held in records will be key and to that end, audio archives cannot be overlooked. The government needs to pay heed and install recorders at Parliament at the earliest. We have been dealing with bureaucratic amnesia for long which has squarely had an impact on the institutional memory. This practice needs to change. 

Published: 29-10-2018 08:05

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