Bhutan: Bringing parliament to people - virtually

 

RESULTS:
The Virtual Zomdu programme was officially launched at the National Assembly and the National Council of Bhutan in 2015.
The videoconferencing facilities have been installed in 47 Community Centres around the country.
Community consultations have been conducted in Samtse, Trashiyangtse, Bumthang and Dagana. During the consultations, more than 65 members from each Gewog attended.
All 13 community members who took part in the prototyping during summer of 2014 were “extremely satisfied” with the sessions they took part in and believed that it would positively benefit their community.

 

  

   

 Left: UNDP Resident Representative Christina Carlson and Right: National Assembly Speaker Jigme Zangpo launch the Virtual Zomdu facility

“This will be an unforgettable moment for us”, said the overwhelmed and excited Gup from Gangzur gewog in Lhuntse as he video conferenced with the Member of Parliament in Thimphu during the launch of the Virtual Zomdu facility at the National Assembly on August 19, 2015.

Supported by the Global Innovation Fund through UNDP Bhutan, hence forth, Virtual Zomdu will commence in 47 community centres across Bhutan.

By the end of the year, all Members of Parliament will have used Virtual Zomdu to connect, at least once, with their constituents.

 

Mountainous Land

 

In Bhutan, the topography of the Himalayas pose a mountain-sized obstacle for the elected members of parliament in engaging with the people they represent. While almost 70 per cent of Bhutan’s population lives in rural areas, many parliamentarians may take over a week to visit the remote areas of their constituencies, due to the mountainous terrain and limited road access.

Take a look at the few photos to understand the difficulties in Bhutan:

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Developing Virtual Zomdu

 

Bhutan is a young democracy where the concept of active democratic citizenship is still new,  while the Bhutanese tradition of meeting among residents of villages or communities are referred to as 'Zomdu'. Regular meetings between parliamentarians and constituencies are developed on the basis of these zomdus.

 

Virtual Zomdu uses the existing infrastructure in the Community Centres which have now been established in 205 locations across Bhutan and fibre optic connections will allow high definition videoconferencing in 136 centres.

It will carry meetings with videoconferencing facilities, in order to enable citizens across Bhutan to meet with their parliamentarians virtually and frequently. This will provide an opportunity for constituents to find out about the work of their representatives in parliament and share their views and priorities.

 

The timeline below shows the achievements of the UNDP Bhutan innovation team in the early stages of the project:

   

First Success

 

The first parliamentarian to test the Virtual Zomdu was the Speaker of the National Assembly, Jigme Zangpo. The advantages for the parliamentarians were obviously shown in terms of the time and costs saved for traveling. The testing also showed an increased engagement from villagers, which was a positive indication that such form of regular communications between the constituents and parliamentarians may contribute to enhanced accountability and transparency of the government. See the below to learn more about the pilot Virtual Zomdu session: 

 

   

Future Plan

 

A cross-agency project team is now on the brink of testing the Virtual Zomdu in all 47 constituencies across Bhutan. Eventually, the meetings could be held at all 205 Community Centres (CCs), utilizing a government fiber-optic network, and will be open to everyone regardless of literacy, gender, social status, or whether they have access to the internet. 

To ensure sustainability of the project, UNDP Bhutan will also support training for Community Centre staff (like this one), maintaining infrastructure, and developing guidelines for Virtual Zomdu conferences.

Parliamentarians will be therefore connected with their constituencies between twice-yearly constituency visits, and the disconnection between the Parliament and those at risk of being left out will be hopefully prevented. Meanwhile, the Virtual Zomdu is expected particularly to improve women’s participation in political discourse, especially in rural areas.

 

Page last updated: Jan 30, 2016

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