GOVERNMENT Chief Whip Brian Mundubile says over five million kwacha has been spent on procuring the teleconferencing equipment which Parliament will use during this session, and on training members of parliament to use it.

And Clerk of the National Assembly Cecilia Mbewe says the substantive Parliamentary sittings will resume on Friday, June 19, 2020, citing delays in receiving the teleconferencing equipment from South Africa.

Addressing journalists at Parliament buildings in Lusaka, Tuesday, Mundubile announced measures which Parliament had put in place amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

“In order to abide by the health regulations of social distancing, the House will conduct its business using a hybrid system of teleconferencing. In other words, the House will meet physically in the Chamber and remotely or virtually in the committee and other designated rooms here at Parliament buildings. In this regard, a reduced number of members will sit in the Chamber whilst the rest will sit in and participate from other designated rooms. Secondly, in order to reduce the risk of contracting COVID-19, contact hours amongst members of parliament have been reduced. In this regard, the House will sit from 14:30 to 17:00 hours from Tuesday to Thursday and from 09:00 hours to 12:00 hours on Fridays. Thirdly, in order to ensure that COVID-19 is not transmitted from one member of parliament to another though use of hard copy documents, the House has put in place electronic devices, gadgets that will allow the sharing of information and documents electronically,” Mundubile said.

“As we bring new technology that is going to be utilized this time we are doing the sitting, training had to be conducted. We started training MPs from the 9th of June and it is expected to continue until Thursday this week. So members of parliament have been run through some technology which most of them have already embraced and are doing well with and as a matter of fact, there will be a mock sitting on Thursday to just do a simulation so that if there are any challenges, they can be ironed out so that as sitting starts on Friday, all members of Parliament are expected to be conversant with the system that is coming in place. Generally, the equipment plus training [of MPs] and everything else that comes with it is coming to slightly over K5 million. So these changes will gobble slightly over K5 million and this is money coming from the treasury.”

Mundubile further announced that visits to the National Assembly and the Chambers had been restricted to spouses of lawmakers and one journalist per media institution at a time.

“Members of the public and press are requested to seek information from the House using electronic means as hard copy documents may not be available. In the same vain, allow me to state that coverage of proceedings will be undertaken under strict guidelines. For example; only one media personnel from any given media house will be allowed on the Parliamentary precincts at a time. This is because the filming of Parliamentary proceedings will be done only by Parliament TV. Media houses that wish to transmit proceedings on their channels may do so only through Parliament TV live feed,” said Mundubile.

“During this session, there will be no visits or tour of Parliament by groups such as schools. Additionally, there will be no access to both diplomatic and public galleries. Further, except for spouses of members of parliament, visitors will not be allowed entry into Parliamentary precincts, including members’ motel. These measures are not intended to shut the public out but to rather protect the members of parliament and the public at large from risk of contracting COVID-19.”

Meanwhile, Mbewe explained why Parliament business had delayed to commence.

“It is with deep regret that we advise that due to circumstances beyond the control of the National Assembly management, the substantive sitting of the third meeting of the Fourth Session, will not resume on Tuesday, 16th June, 2020, as earlier planned and notified because the equipment for use during the hybrid sitting has not been received. However, National Assembly has been assured by both the High Commissioner in South Africa, Major General Jackson Miti, and DHL management in South Africa, that the equipment will instead arrive in Lusaka on Wednesday, 17th June, 2020 at 16:00 hours,” stated Mbewe.

“In view of the foregoing, the simulation or mock sitting will be held on Thursday, 18th June, 2020 at 14:00 hours and the substantive sitting of the house will resume in earnest on Friday 19th June, 2020, at 09:00 hours. Meanwhile, virtual training for members of parliament will continue on Tuesday 16th and Wednesday 17th June, 2020, in accordance with the attached modules. We regret any inconvenience and embarrassment these changes have caused to you honourable members.”