The Singapore Parliament’s Secretariat has dropped plans to implement a facial recognition system to track the attendance of Members of the House, nearly two years since an open tender was called for vendors keen on setting up such a system.
The Office of the Clerk of Parliament on Wednesday (20 January) told The Straits Times in response to a query that the COVID-19 pandemic and other real-time developments have influenced how such technology can be used to complement the physical functions and operations of Parliament.
“For instance, with safe distancing measures introduced for Parliament sittings, the changes in chamber seats for the MPs, who are now also occupying the galleries, have affected the placement and number of recognition devices needed.
“In view of this, the Parliament Secretariat has determined that the project requirements and specifications for this tender are no longer current and optimal in terms of fit for purpose and value for money,” said the Office.
The now-scrapped facial recognition system plan aimed to provide real-time information on which MPs are present in Parliament during any sitting. This would have entailed the installment of around six “inconspicuous” video cameras in the House.
The Office of the Clerk of Parliament previously told ST told on 8 November 2019 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 during sittings, despite being present for around only five minutes after being assisted into the chamber.
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.
The present Parliament has 93 elected MPs and two non-constituency MPs, alongside nine new nominated MPs slated to take up their oaths next month.