ASSOCIATION OF PARLIAMENTARY LIBRARIANS

OF ASIA AND THE PACIFIC (APLAP)

 

EIGHTH BIENNIAL CONFERENCE

NEW DELHI, INDIA

 

18-22 JANUARY 2005

 

 

 

 

 

 

SESSION 1

19.1.2005  (1000 Hrs)

 

CHANGING DIMENSIONS

OF PARLIAMENTARY LIBRARY

AND INFORMATION SERVICES

IN THE THRID MILLENNIUM

 

 

 

 

COUNTRY PAPER OF SRI LANKA

 

 

by

 

 

N.M.C. THILAKARATHNE

 

Librarian

Parliament of Sri Lanka

 

 

 

 

Sri Lanka, which had been a Crown Colony under the British, gained its Independence as a sovereign state in 1947.   The Constitution, which came into effect on 4 February 1948, provided for an adopted version of the Westminster system of government.  In 1972, Sri Lanka, which was known as Ceylon at that time, became a Republic with the promulgation of a new Republican Constitution.  Even under the Republican Constitution, most of the key features of the Westminster system of government were retained. The Legislature introduced was a unicameral one in contrast to the former bicameral one which consisted of the House of Representatives and the Senate.  The National State Assembly, the supreme authority of peoples’ representatives, was the apex institution of the country which held the legislative, executive and legal power of the people on behalf of the people as enumerated in section 5 of the Constitution, which stated:

"The National State Assembly is the supreme instrument of State power of the Republic.  The National State Assembly exercises -

a)     the legislative power of the people,

b)     the executive power of the people, including the defence of Sri Lanka through the President and the Cabinet of Ministers; and

c)      the judicial power of the people through courts and other institutions created by the law except in the case of matters relating to its powers and privileges, wherein the judicial power of the people may be exercised directly by the National State Assembly according to law."

Generally this situation is analyzed by academics as a clear deviation from the situation which prevailed under the previous Constitution. Prof. Jeyaratnam Wilson, in his work Politics in Sri Lanka, 1947-1979, stated as follows:  "Basically, it declared Ceylon's republican status, upheld the sovereignty of people and left no doubt that hereafter there would be no separation of powers in the constitutional sense of the term by the provision that all power - legislative, executive and judicial - resided only in the unicameral National State Assembly, which was held now to be the supreme instrument of state power."

Yet another constitutional change occurred in 1978 resulting in the establishment of a system of executive presidency and introducing a new electoral system in place of the hitherto familiar system, First-Past-the-Post-System, which existed from 1931 with the introduction of Universal Franchise. In the introduction of his work The Gaullist System in Asia: the Constitution of Sri Lanka (1978), Prof. Jeyaratnam Wilson elaborated as follows:  "It is a hybrid, a cross between the French and British styles of government with a little bit of United States thrown in. ...The second Republic is vice-regal in character.  Members of the Cabinet are the Executive President's lieutenants, not his colleagues.  It is an attempt at experimentation with pseudo-representation devices - proportional representation, the paraphernalia referenda, a plebiscitary presidential election, the maintenance of Parliament, though as the house without windows. "This unprecedented constitutional development made a great impact on Parliament and its Members who contribute to the role of Parliament collectively. Especially, the change of electoral system from First Past the Post to Proportional Representation widened the representative responsibility of Members. A Member, who is responsible for an electorate, has to concentrate on a whole electoral district, in which several electorates are included under the PR system resulting in more stress and bonds.

The role of Parliament has changed considerably during the past years owing to the varying requirements of the country and its people. Sri Lanka is a multi-ethnic -religious and -cultural country. The Parliament has to be alive to various aspects of these features every time it performs its functions. The outcome of this fact is multi-functionality of the Parliament. The following remarks made with regard to the role of the Indian Parliament by C.K. Jain is very much relevant in the context of the role played by Parliament of Sri Lanka as well.  “Over the years, our Parliament has grown into a multi-functional institution performing variety of roles.  Parliament today is not merely a law making body.  It performs other functions as well and these include; legitimising function - legitimising what the government does; representational functions from which follows the grievance ventilation or grievance redressal function; national integration function; and conflict resolution function and the leadership recruitment and training function."  

The working process of Parliament and the Members participating in that process requires vast amount of information as the Parliament arrives to a collective decision on every matter placed before it after debates, deliberations, discussions, etc. and ultimately with majority consensus. Thus, the need for authentic, objective and timely information for Parliaments and their Members has grown several folds at present. Apart from this, the dissemination of information generated by Parliament itself through its functional process has to be considered seriously. People must have proper access to these to judge the performance of their representatives, to make decisions at appropriative times, in addition to the usefulness of this information for the Members themselves.

A new dimension of parliamentary information system has emerged recently with the introduction of the broad concept of good governance.  Developing countries like Sri Lanka, which rely to a certain extent on foreign aid and investments for their economic development, have to be very conscious of this concept of good governance.  One of the conditions considered by the donor countries and agencies when granting aids and loans to developing countries today is the quality of good governance prevailing in these countries.  Certainly, the government is the principal actor and plays the lead role. But governance is not confined exclusively to the behaviour of government. Especially in democratic societies, the platform for governance is set by the interaction among the government, the private sector and civil society in partnership.  The ultimate test of quality of governance - good governance - is the level of efficiency and effectiveness of the interaction among these partners in achieving common goals.  Good governance is characterized by equity, efficiency, transparency, accountability, participation and predictability.

In the context of Parliament, the components of good governance have to be applied in every activity performed by Parliament and its duly established Committees. This includes more openness of the activities of important Committees with public participation, whenever it warrants.  In promoting the concept of good governance, it is essential that the whole process of governance must be opened to everyone who is concerned. In other words, an effective mechanism has to be established to disseminate information regarding governance to promote and uphold the characters of good governance.  Under the circumstances, Information Technology has not only assumed a major role in economic and social life but has also begun to permeate the process of governance. This brings a totally new as well as complex angle to the role of governance as well as the organization of its structures and processes. Information Technology and its application would increasingly become a dominant consideration in determining the further process of governance, and its structures that support such processes as also the human resources that would be required to staff such structure.

Inspired by this novel development in governance, the government of Sri Lanka, in the year 2003, embarked on a huge project that encompasses the whole country. The project - e-Sri Lanka - with the vision "To harness ICT (Information and Communication Technology) as a lever for economic and social advancement by taking the dividends of ICT to every village, to every citizen, to every business and re-engineer the way government thinks and works," is a national development initiative with the objective of using ICT to foster social integration, peace, growth and poverty reduction, to improve the reach and responsiveness of public services, reduce transaction costs to businesses,  make government more transparent and accountable and address the urgent needs of poor communities and isolated regions.

Among the sectoral projects that are embodied in this main project, notable is the e-Parliament project. The ultimate vision of e-Parliament is a more efficient, accessible, accountable and transparent Parliament for the country, made possible through harnessing ICT. Up-to-date and timely information on Parliament, its processes and decisions made will be available early in three languages to both parliamentarians and all citizens of Sri Lanka.

The pilot project, implemented in partnership with the Deputy Secretary General's office of Parliament, the UNDP, Affno and Ernst & Young, successfully developed the Parliament website and completed a comprehensive strategic study, identifying current needs of Parliament; priority projects for Phase I and Phase II of the project will now aim to implement the 11 priority projects identified (valued at US $ 1 million), utilizing funding and assistance from the UNDP and with ICTA - Information and Communication Technology Agency of Sri Lanka - set up by an Act of Parliament (ICT Act No. 27 of 2003) - acting in an advisory capacity.

Modernization of the Library of the Parliament of Sri Lanka is among the eleven priority projects identified and under implementation. The System Study & Preparation of ICT Strategy & ICT Implementation Plan in relation to e-Parliament project carried out by Ernst & Young, a consultant agency in the field of ICT, has identified the requirements of modernization of Parliament Library for efficient and speedy service.

The Parliament Library of Sri Lanka, which holds the responsibility of fulfilling the information requirements of Parliament and its Members, was established in 1927 in accordance with a request made by the Members of the Legislative Council - the then Legislature of the country. When the Legislative Council changed to the State Council in 1931, and then to the House of Representatives in 1948 and to National State Council in 1972 and finally to Parliament in 1978, the same Library, changing its nomenclature accordingly served the Members of these Houses, taking into consideration the changes in the system and the requirements of Members which varied according to the trends of the contemporary society.

The collection held by the Library housed in the Parliamentary Complex in Sri Jayewardenepura Kotte includes books and periodicals of a general nature and special materials on subject areas such as social, political, economics, environmental and legal. The collection development policy of the Library emphasizes that special attention  be paid to the above subject areas when acquiring resources and a limited number of generic and recreational materials be entertained on the request of Members. At present, the monograph collection of the Library is nearly 16,000. In addition, it contains Legislative Enactments and Parliamentary Debates of both Sri Lanka and UK, Order Papers and Order Books of Sri Lankan Parliament, Government Gazettes, Administrative Reports of government departments, Sessional Papers and Parliamentary Series, Annual Reports and Accounts of state controlled Boards and Corporations, publications of the Department of Census and Statistics and Central Bank, Government Estimates, Blue Books and current Electoral Registers. The British Hansard is available from 1861; the Sri Lanka Hansard from 1873; minutes of the Legislature from 1931; Order Papers and Order Books from 1947; Parliamentary Series from 1947; Sessional Papers from 1872; Administrative Reports from 1867; and the Government Gazette from 1920s. It also has a good collection of very valuable and rare books on Sri Lanka.  Thus, the overall collection is about 37,000 volumes.  The major part of it is in English.  The Sinhala and Tamil collections are currently being strengthened. The services offered by the Library to the Members include reference, lending and research. At present, the Library is exclusively for the use of Members of Parliament.

The need of application of modern technology in its services has been recognized very clearly by the Parliamentary Library as an essential feature for the benefit of its clientele, decades ago. It is said that the advancement of technology in the fields of computer, telecommunication and reprography and the integration of these technologies have had a major effect on the role of the Library - both favourably and adversely. It is true that information technology with the backing of supportive technologies is transforming the whole Universe into a global village as described by some enthusiastic observers.  On the other hand, this new development is posing a threat to the physical existence of the Library as predicted by these observers. However, bearing all these developments in mind, efforts are being geared to modernize the Parliament Library of Sri Lanka to meet the challenges of the future and to serve its Members more productively.

The first step taken towards this goal seems to be the introduction of automation into the whole system of Parliament. It has been recognized that the application of computer technology not only in the Library but also in the whole office of Parliamentary Secretariat would increase the productivity of its services. The computerization of Parliamentary Secretariat was therefore started on a well drawn-out plan phased over several years. A Local Area Network (LAN) was created embracing the Library and other important offices of the Secretariat such as Finance, Table, Bills, etc. with more than 50 terminals in various offices for input and output of data and a few installed in the Library for the use of the Members. The Library created most of the data bases used in the network and the other offices contributed in their respective fields. Computer technology is also used in "house keeping" work in the Library such as acquisition, cataloguing, circulation, etc. The WINISIS Library Package, the improved version of the UNESCO sponsored ISIS Library Package, and the locally adjusted "PURNA" package are being used for these purposes.

The new Millennium awaited by the entire human race eagerly has dawned directing the entire Universe into the "Information Age". In these circumstances, the dependence on information is indispensable.  All the nations across the globe, whether they are willing or not, are caught in this whirlpool of change and none can afford to escape and live in isolation. The Parliament Library of Sri Lanka has realized this trend and is concentrating highly on opportunities offered by the advancement of Information Technology, and is gearing for the development and enhancement of services of the Library to suite the requirements of the New Era. The comprehensive and new guidelines for this are set in the e-Parliament project mentioned earlier in which a prominent place has been given to the Parliament Library in ensuring the dissemination of information to Parliament and from Parliament

As the involvement of Information Technology is paramount, the first step taken towards this goal was the establishment of an Information Systems and Management Department headed by a director with supportive staff, including a System Engineer, Security and Communication Engineer, System Analyst, Web Editors and others to guide the project to success. The infra-structural facilities have been created by installing a Network/DB Server and Windows 2000 E-Mail Server both with the capacity of 40 gigabyte and 512 megabyte memory. Through the web server, it is intended to supply Internet browsing facility for Members of Parliament and senior members of the staff of Parliament. In this regard, a cyber-cafe with 10 computers with internet connection has already been opened in the Library for the convenience of Members. Also, the Network Server would be used to propagate on-line the current Order Paper, Order Book and the Hansard, the official report of the proceedings of the Parliament, with the intention of informing the Members of Parliament the business to be taken up in Parliament on a particular day and the transaction carried out on the previous day. It also would make the general public aware through Order Paper/Book the business scheduled before Parliament in advance and through Hansard the performance of the Parliament in whole and the performance of individual Member to judge them at the appropriate time. Thus, the website of the Parliament of Sri Lanka already available on trial basis at www.parliament.lk would be expanded to cover most of the activities of Parliament, promoting the concept of transparency. All the Members of Parliament and senior members of staff of Parliament have been provided with e-mail facility through e-mail server to improve communication among them cutting out unnecessary delays and ensuring security and authenticity.

The social complexity and the busy schedules in their activities have necessitated further improvements of communication facility for Members.  Members of Parliament spend much of their time outside of the Parliamentary Chambers and away from their desks. When they are out travelling or meeting people, a new system which would be capable of keeping them connected round the clock by providing them with ways to keep abreast of the latest news, political decisions and other information is needed. For this purpose, the implementation of full featured - Electronic Messaging System that would let Members check e-mail, synchronize their calendars, access the Internet and send messages in real-time just as if they were at their desks is required.

Parliament anticipates a standards-based, commercial-off-the shelf solution for the messaging system solution that will interoperate effectively with the existing and proposed applications and systems. The users of the system would range from Members, their staff, Staff of Parliamentary Secretariat to highly mobile users.  The users need a reliable, high performance system that will interoperate with frequently used operations and data resources, and also new capabilities in the areas of collaboration, workflow and calendaring.  Considering the sensitive information that may be transferred through the messaging system, users have several requirements that are best supported by a public key infrastructure (PKI). These requirements include the ability of sign, encrypt, and decode messages, and to interoperate with external messaging systems and technologies.  They also include the use of directory and public/private key capabilities to simplify and streamline access to network and information resources via single sign-on access controls.

The Parliament requires the support of two predominant types of user services - network-based and stand-alone. Users may employ each type of service in the performance of their work.  The existing users are familiar with network-based messaging services; it is the predominant method of interacting with the messaging system. Most often, users will access their messaging system accounts from the workstation or in the case of the Members, the laptops assigned to them. Typically, a user will have the messaging client's application running simultaneously with other applications so that the user can be notified when new messages arrive.

Stand-alone messaging services are mainly for the Members who travel frequently, domestically or abroad, or for the officials who have a need to obtain access during off-duty hours when they are at home. Stand-alone users will connect utilizing multiple technologies ranging from dial up, Broadband and WAP and from devices ranging from conventional desktops and laptops to mobile devices. In addition to computer based services, mobile services would also play a major role. With a mobile phone that is integrated with the Parliament's network, they are not only reachable wherever they are, but they can also use their mobiles to synchronize their calendars, obtain internet information, surf the Mobile internet and check e-mail. 

While establishing this system, the Parliament will seek to acquire a comprehensive, integrating messaging service delivered and installed that will support Members and Staff of Parliament in their numerous informational needs. It is evident that the users of the existing e-mail system have to migrate to this service which is more advanced and rich in features and a system which is not limited only to e-mail services. The objectives are to build a highly scalable, robust, easy-to-maintain service, encompassing new, but tried, technologies.

As the Parliament Library plays a major role with regard to information needed by all parties, various improvements in the existing library system have also been recognized in the project proposals. It is inevitable that the resources and the services of the Library have to be made compatible with the proposed state-of-the art and very sophisticated dissemination system of information. As the first step towards this aim, a Library Consultant with good experience in the field of Library and Information Science as well as in Information Technology has been appointed on contract basis on the recommendation and funding support of the UNDP. The main responsibility of the Library Consultant is to make an in-depth study on the existing Library and information system of Parliament and suggest necessary improvements to be made in the system bearing in mind the other proposals in the e-Parliament Project that are interconnected in the sphere of information and its dissemination.

The concept paper prepared by the Consultant suggests that the main instrument of dissemination of information to Parliament and from Parliament has to be the Library. In this regard, the resources presently available in the Library will be categorized into two according to their orientation. The first one is internal documents which include all the parliamentary literature and all forms of government publications. The other category is external documents that cover all other independent publications. When the information regarding Parliament and the Government is considered, the main attention has to be focused naturally on the category of internal documents, which may be required to be consulted not only by Members of Parliament and the concerned staff of Parliament but also by the general public. The present collection of this category is very large and some of them are in a perishable state due to their long age. This feature suggests that some kind of preservation method also has to be adopted in addition to their use.

Taking all these into consideration, it has been necessitated that the particular collection has to be categorized again into two segments according to their age and value. Active documents which are of high Library value and therefore consulted frequently for information that is current and relevant will be placed with the main Library collection. This includes all parliamentary literature and other relevant government publications belonging to the period after Independence. Active old documents with high Library value and frequently used, have to be kept under archival environment for preservation. For their frequent use, they should be duplicated by digitization and the digitized version to be stored in the electronic collection of the Library proposed to be set up. The original (paper-based copy) after necessary conservational measures should be kept in the proposed archival collection. Legislative literature prior to Independence is considered for this purpose. Inactive old documents relevant to Parliament and whose duplicate copies are not available elsewhere other than the Parliament Library, have to be added to the archival collection after conservation. As they are rarely used, it is proposed that they need not be digitized. This includes other government publications relevant to Legislature other than the literature produced by the Legislature itself. Inactive old documents relevant to Parliament of which duplicate collection is available in national organizations, are proposed to be transferred to the relevant organizations. Arrangements should be made with the holding organization to consult the documents, when necessary. Collections of old newspapers, government gazette, law reports, etc., are included in this lot. Inactive old documents not relevant to Parliament but which have found accommodation elsewhere, are proposed to be donated to suitable organizations. Inactive old documents not relevant to Parliament and not found accommodation elsewhere are proposed to be discarded.   

          The relevant aspect of digitization with regard to the resources of the Library has been considered deeply. Most of the MPs have expressed the need and usefulness of remote access to information of Parliament. This could be a reality only if the required materials were digitized. Digitization also can be used as a method of preservation in addition to its capability of facilitating quick and random access to the contents of the documents. It is a fact that all documents in the Library need not be digitized; hence, digitization is proposed only for active documents. The active old documents are to be digitized as a preservation measure as mentioned earlier. The current active documents such as Hansard, Order Paper, etc., are to be publicized through the website of Parliament very soon, when necessary improvements are made to it. Other active documents within the range of the past 10 years are being considered to be digitized for the purpose of including in the web for the facilitation of remote access. Apart from that, certain information which have their origin in the Library as well as offices like Committees are to be contained in the web. This type of information is meant for Members only; hence, the access to these would be limited only to authorized persons. With certain restrictions, information on the activities of Parliament and its Committees are to be publicized through the website of Parliament to ensure the transparency and the accountability of these activities to the interested public. Specially designed web pages containing various departments of the Parliament and their functions would be added to the web. In this regard, the category of web users, amount of information linked to the web page, the type of information made available, the levels of accessibility, method of interaction of the users, languages of presentation and queries are some of the issues that need attention.

The other concentrated area is the Research Division of the Library.  The need of the services of unbiased and subject-oriented researchers to support qualitative debates and precise decision making has been pointed out by Parliamentarians in their deliberations. The requirement of in-depth and comprehensive research for the successful completion of tasks assigned to various Committees of Parliament such as the Public Accounts Committee, Committee on Public Enterprises, etc. has also been highlighted by the Donor Agencies in addition to Parliamentarians.

At present, the Research Division of the Library is not well equipped to carry out the above types of research. It undertakes special assignments on the request of Members and accordingly prepares research reports and background papers. Apart from that, Parliamentary Practice and Procedure is a main area concentrated by the Research Division. In this regard, a file of Speaker's Rulings on Points of Order raised by the Members are maintained in electronic form for easy reference. A database on Selected Decisions of the Committee on Parliamentary Business is being maintained to shed light on the subject field. Hon. Speaker and his deputies, Members of Parliament and Parliamentary Officials very often consult this Division for the requirements of Inter-Parliamentary Union and the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association activities.  The Research Division helps to prepare papers and speeches for International Conferences for the use of the Hon. Speaker and his deputies. This Service is also available to the needy Members who participate in such events.  Index to Acts of Sri Lanka, the publication brought out by this Division, is intended to be continued. The Division has taken steps to publish a monthly Economic Review with an analysis of emerging economic trends for circulation among Members. Presently, the division is manned by four Research Officers and the cadre increase by recruiting four more Assistant Research Officers has been approved.

The present strength of the Research Division and the role played by it has been considered along with newly emerged in-depth research requirement to focus on the necessary developments to be made to the Division. It has been realized that, usually, research in a Library is restricted to bibliographic research which can be handled by the Library professionals. Subject-oriented, in-depth research which extends beyond bibliographic research has to be carried out by subject specialists as the subject knowledge of the researcher plays an important role in such research. Under the circumstances, the procurement of the services of subject-specialized researchers to strengthen the Division has been realized and a proposal to that effect has been made. Thus, a full-fledged Research Division, centred in the Library, will be activated to cater to the entire requirements of the Parliament and its Members.

The mission of the Parliament Library of Sri Lanka is to develop, maintain and preserve a comprehensive, valid and up-to-date collection of information material giving emphasis to parliamentary, government and legislative documents and utilize the resources through research and analysis to provide efficient and effective information and documentation services to the Members of Parliament, Parliamentary Committees and the Parliamentary Staff and to provide information on parliamentary matters and publications to the public, fostering the concept of accountability and transparency. Towards this mission, the Parliament Library has identified certain specified objectives to be achieved through the activities described herein which would be harnessed with state-of-the art technology for potential results. When the proposed process is activated successfully, the much appraised concept of an ideal Parliamentary Information System, i.e. information to Parliament, information from Parliament, information about Parliament and information among Parliaments as advocated by Dr. Subhash C. Kashyap, a former Secretary-General of the Indian Lok Sabha, which is valid even today, will become a reality in Sri Lanka.

 

 

 

 

 


References:

1. The Constitution of Sri Lanka (Ceylon), Colombo: Govt. Printer, 1972.

2. Wilson, A. Jeyaratnam, Politics in Sri Lanka 1947-1979, 2nd ed., London: Macmillan, 1979.

3. Wilson, A. Jeyaratnam, The Gaullist System in Asia: The Constitution of Sri Lanka (1978), London: Macmillan, 1980.

                 4. Jain, C.K., “Parliament of India and Information Management” in Library and Information Services to the Sansad, ed. by R.C. Bhardwaj, New Delhi: Lok Sabha Secretariat, 1995.

5. Wanasinghe, Dr. Shelton, Good Governance, Colombo:    Distance Education for Public Servants, 2002.

6. A National Plan to Empower its People through ICT: A National Development Initiative e-Sri Lanka, Colombo: ICT Agency of Sri Lanka, 2003.

7. Kashyap, Subhash C., Paper presented at the IFLA Conference in    Munich,1983.