View of Singapore Parliament. Singapore is a unitary multiparty parliamentary republic, with a Westminster system of unicameral parliamentary government (Photo by Phuong D. Nguyen from Shutterstock.com).

Parliament to implement facial recognition system to track MP attendance

Members of Parliament (MPs) will soon be subject to an attendance tracking system based on facial recognition technology.

An open tender for vendors of facial recognition technology interested in building or providing the attendance tracking system was published on the GEBiz website on Thu (7 Nov). The submission period will end on 2 Dec.

According to tender documents, “attendance needs to be tracked throughout the entire sitting and not just at the beginning or end of sitting day”, as “an MP will not be required to attend throughout”, given that not all issues will pertain to their concerns.

“An MP may also ‘come and go’ several times during a sitting and there are also designated break times during sittings,” the tender documents added.

The Office of the Clerk of Parliament told The Straits Times on Thu that MPs’ attendance in Parliamentary sittings is currently tracked manually via documents such as the Official Reports and the Votes and Proceedings, which are the official minutes.

“Today, parliamentarians’ attendance at a sitting is recorded manually, requiring staff to be in the Chamber to register their presence,” said the Office.

The current practice sees the Sergeant-At-Arms in Parliament visually taking note of the attendance of the MP entering the chamber on his attendance sheet. However, the Sergeant-At-Arms does not inspect or monitor the duration of the MP’s presence in the chamber after their entry.

Consequently, the current system enables MPs to be marked as present for the entire day on the Parliament report, even if the MP is present for a short time.

TOC previously observed, as an example, that the late founding prime minister, Lee Kuan Yew, who was an MP for Tanjong Pagar, was marked as present in the Hansard on the occasions that he turned up, despite being just present for approximately five minutes after being assisted into the chamber.

The present open tender requirements dictate that the system must have the capacity to produce exportable and printable reports on the number of MPs present or absent and the names of the MPs. More specific details such as the frequency of an MP’s absence in a particular period and the times they were absent must also be generated by the system.

Around six “inconspicuous” video cameras will also be installed in Parliament as part of the system.

The Office said that a facial recognition system will increase “productivity and efficiency in the allocation of our resources during parliamentary proceedings”, as an automated system will be less time-consuming than the existing manual one.

The facial recognition attendance tracking system will provide real-time information on which MPs are present in Parliament during any sitting.

Utilising elements such as solutions development, software licence and hardware such as the server, network switch, client laptop and video cameras, the system will give users the convenience to look up or search for particulars on the attendance for any sittings online, based on specified criteria such as the date and name of the MP.

A soft launch of the system will be carried out during one of the sittings for the purpose of fine-tuning the system’s accuracy and performance under real conditions in Parliament.

The quorum for a Parliament sitting is a quarter of the total number of MPs, excluding the Speaker. Parliament presently has 88 elected MPs, three Non-Constituency MPs and nine Nominated MPs.

Article 46(2)(d) of the Singapore Constitution stipulates that the tenure of an MP will cease if said MP is absent from all Parliament sittings, or for any committee of Parliament to which he has been appointed, for two consecutive months without having obtained permission from the Speaker.