Kenya’s Parliament underwent a crucial rejuvenation in August with the introduction of Africa’s most modern technology introduced in the House.With approximately seven months left before the expiry of tenure of Kenya’s 10th Parliament, legislators will no longer be shouting to catch the House Speaker’s attention; they will just use the new system by logging in with a special card.

The refurbished chamber has a capacity of around 418 members contrary to the congested old chambers, which could hardly accommodate 150 members.The refurbishment began in April 2010.

The Technology and Design

In the new outfit, members will be in a position to access state of the art technology at their seats. The renovated facility has inbuilt transistor radio and television broadcasting studios transmitting live feeds straight from the floor of the House. It has been designed in the shape of a horse-shoe with a sitting arrangement that rises up away from the centre to give Members of Parliament a better visual by being at a higher vantage point.

The visibility has been perfected by every rise towards the peripheral areas and the converging application the shape allows. It is unanimously argued that the completion of the new chambers upgrading will mark a critical development for the people of Kenya. Facilities in the refurbished chamber are expected to aid members fulfill their responsibilities to the people of Kenya more effectively.

The modernization of the chambers makes to the list of spectacular landmarks innovative engineering continues to bring to the fore in the country. The unique facility injects some ambience that is widely seen as a catalytic to motivate people’s representatives discharge their roles in the country’s governance. More importantly, it factors in the needs for members with disability for it has tailor-made accesses for such persons.

Communication Control Systems
The Sh920-million renovation, whose idea first germinated in 2004, has a key control room in which cameras and other important equipment will be operated from. In total, it will house 11 cameras that will capture the proceedings of the House in real time. Broadcast will also be relayed live selected  carefully by a tea of technicians who will be operating behind the scenes. The team will be made up of  a producer whose key function will be to preview the shots and settle for the preferred live feed at a time. A graphics expert will also be on hand to generate the necessary graphics. A different station within the same setting will be responsible for audio control.

“We are on high speed internet connection within the precincts of parliament and members can access these connections on their devices with suitable capacity consideration,” said House Speaker Kenneth Marende.

The new chamber has red reclining seats complete with armrests and a decorative symbol conspicuously showing the court of arms at the head of the backrest. Each member has a microphone which is situated at the front of their space and can be arched in all directions with a flexibility that is supposed to come in handy to be moved forward whenever a member has the floor and pulled backwards and away whenever it is idle. According to the House Speaker, the Kenya prison department was able to make the seats and deliver them to parliament at a cost of Sh77 million. Were they bought from a different place, it would have costed the House Sh168 million.

Electronic Voting System
In the new development, Members will be able to sit at any position. However, they will be required to input a special card into a system comprised of electronic voting system and computer monitors in order to log into the system to participate in debate. To operate the single-user computerized Parliament facility,  member will be required to insert the card, then input the four-digit personal identification number.

Thereafter, a Member will have to press the microphone for the PIN to be accepted. For a member to catch the attention of the Speaker, he or she should press the mic button once to request for floor. If you wish to raise a point of order or intervene press intervention button marked “int”.

According to Mr Marende, a similar refurbishment would be done to the old chambers ready for use by the senate. This will include the construction of a multipurpose office block made up of a multipurpose parliamentary annex with offices for legislators. The old chamber was modeled after the Westminster system of government in the United Kingdom.

During the opening of the new chambers, President Mwai Kibaki said the Government is committed to provide resources for the two-chamber legislature to function effectively. “I encourage the current members of parliament to seek re- election because the next parliament will be an important pillar of the government. The status and place of parliament will remain paramount,” he said. According to the designers of the new chambers, the model is heavily borrowed from German Bundestag and the Tanzanian Parliament, has more than 20 mobile seats to cater for “any extra numbers.”

The history of Parliament Buildings dates back to the inception of a Legislature in the country. The forerunner of the present Parliament, the Legislative Council first met 1907 in a corrugated, iron-sheet building along Haile Selassie Avenue, that housed Railway Institute. Currently this site, where the Legislative Council met till 1924, is occupied by the Railway Golf Club. Between 1924 and 1954, the Legislative Council met in the Memorial Hall (the present Bank of India) along Kenyatta Avenue. The renovation on the present site of Parliament Buildings began when Governor Sir Philip Mitchell laid the foundation stone in 1952 for the older portion of the current Parliament Buildings.

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Kenya Engineer is the definitive publication of Engineers in East Africa & beyond and the official journal of the Institution of Engineers of Kenya. Kenya Engineer has been in publication since 1972.

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