What is the point of a facial recognition attendance tracking for MPs in Parliament?

MP Darryl David speaking on the Women's Charter (Amendment) Bill in Parliament on 4 November 2019.

The Parliament Secretariat, which supports the speaker of Parliament, is looking to introduce a facial recognition attendance tracking system for MPs to replace the current manual tracking approach.

Right now, the attendance of MPs in Parliament sittings are recorded in the official minutes such as the official reports and votes and proceedings. Also, a staff of the Secretariat will have to be present in the chamber to record to the attendance of MPs as they enter the chamber at the beginning of a sitting. Once the attendance is recorded, no further notes are made to list, for example, if an MP leaves the chamber during the sitting.

According to a tender document on the government procurement site GeBIZ, the new facial recognition system will include software and hardware that will enable Parliament to keep track of how many MPs are present during any sitting in realtime as well as which MPs are present.

“During any sitting day, an MP will not be required to attend throughout as not all issues will concern him/her. As such, attendance needs to be tracked throughout the entire sitting and not just at the beginning or end of sitting day,” the tender document noted.

Apparently, the system will also allow the public to look up the attendance of MPs in any sitting based on the date and time.

So really, this isn’t a simple project.

This raises the question of why a new system is even required. Has the current system failed in recording the actual attendance of MPs during Parliament sittings for the past 50 odd years?

This system would make sense if MPs are required to be present for more than 50% of a sitting as that would almost impossible to track manually under the current approach. However, given that an MP now only needs to be in Parliament for more than five minutes for their attendance to be counted, what is the point of this facial recognition system?

It’s unclear if the Parliament has any intention of providing a detailed breakdown to the public on how much time an MP has been present in parliament, given the detailed systems and process requirements specified in the tender.

According to the requirements listed in the tender, the new system should be able to generate reports on the numbers of MPs present, names, attendance records, as well as when and how many times an MP has been absent in any given period.

So with the implementation of this new system, will the parliament reports go into more detail in terms of MP attendance? Or is this an attempt to fix the opposition again and counter the general public opinion that PAP MPs tend to be absent for parliament sessions.

If the parliament intends to start initiatives under the banner of being a ‘SMART NATION’, it should first provide live-streaming of its parliament sessions. This can easily be implemented with minimal effort as it’s something the mainstream media has already been doing for years.

Of course, there could be many reasons why live-streaming Parliament sessions might not be an attractive solution. In a previous TOC article (2017), we posited that live-streaming a parliament session hasn’t been implemented before because it would expose the poor attendance records of MPs, reveal poor debating skills of ministers, and show how opposition MPs are often prevented from replying to a statement or accusation.

Also, the 13th Parliament has sat for 144 sessions since January 2016. That’s about 29 sessions a year. In those sessions, there are only 101 MPs to be monitored including 89 MPs, 2 NCMPs, and 9 NMPs.

So again, what is the point of a facial recognition attendance tracking system?

Unless the records are to be publicly available, this initiative benefits the incumbent’s party whip who will be able to have a clear record on the 82 MPs in the party and discipline any MPs who have a poor attendance record.

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