The House of Representatives and a grip on digitization

The House of Representatives and a grip on digitization

2020-06-07 De Tweede Kamer en grip op digitalisering.jpgFriday 05 June 2020

The Temporary Digital Future Committee (TCDT), which included MPs from various political parties, has looked at how parliament can get a better grip on digitization. The final report was recently delivered and provides some interesting insights and recommendations.

The final report can be downloaded here (in Dutch), a summary (in Dutch) is also available. 

The TCDT first notes that in recent decades digital technology has become increasingly important in all aspects of social and economic life and is more often on the agenda of the House of Representatives. It is also noted that too little attention is paid to digitization topics in connection with this and often by members who are specialists in another subject, such as healthcare, the economy, safety, social security, etc., without having sufficient insight into the specific issues that come with digital technology. At the same time, the number of MPs with sufficient insight into this digital technology is limited and many relevant regulatory frameworks are set at a European level. This means that the House cannot play its role sufficiently. 

The TCDT therefore provides a number of recommendations for organizing this differently. An important starting point for this is the following passage in the final report:

'In this respect, digitization can be compared with finance or European policy as a subject: it is a specialist subject and it plays an important role in every committee, but it also has themes that rise above the separate committees because of broader and deeper issues that arise somewhere in coherence should be discussed.’ (*)

The recommendations made by the TCDT are as follows:

  1. Install a standing committee for Digital Affairs. 
  2. Draw up a Digitization Knowledge Agenda.
  3. Provide substantive support to other parliamentary committees.
  4. Ensure a sound legal framework and supervision.
  5. Extra attention for European Union legislation.

The proposed standing Parliamentary Committee must supervise the responsible minister. It is noteworthy that there is no such minister with a coordinating responsibility for digital affairs yet, various ministers are responsible for digital aspects within their own portfolio. In addition, this committee must keep an eye on transcending themes and issues and inform and support other committees, for example for healthcare, the economy or security. In doing so, this Digital Affairs Committee should take the lead in ensuring an integrated approach to digitization issues in the House of Representatives and act as a point of contact for this theme for both the government and society. 

These recommendations seem to me a big step in the right direction. A step that is also visible in the ICT function of the national government (**) and has already been or is being taken by many companies. In that respect, the TCDT follows a logical path. Digitization has a major impact on what we do and how we (can) do it, and it is of the utmost importance to consider that impact broadly. At the same time, knowledge of digital technology is scarce and the available knowledge and experience must be shared or brought together with knowledge and experience of the context or the process in which that technology is applied. Whether in healthcare, logistics, education or any other environment. Collaboration and knowledge sharing is the key, also for the politicians in the House of Representatives. 

If the House of Representatives approves and implements these recommendations, this would mean the necessary structural, and to a certain extent also the process-based, frameworks are put in place. That is important, but not enough. After all, this also concerns the human component. Will there be enough MPs with the right knowledge, experience, background and will to delve into digitization? 

Here too, a comparison can be made with other organizations in business and government. There, members of the Supervisory Boards are increasingly attracting members with some digital savvy. People who can properly assess whether the course of the organization is right, including digitally, and who can ask the right questions to help the executives take the right decisions. The same applies to Members of Parliament in the House of Representatives. They too need to be digitally savvy. And in continuing this comparison with the rest of civil society, the MP’s need to keep up with the rapidly changing possibilities of technology. One has to keep up to stay relevant, also in politics. 

It’s up to the political parties to make sure they put sufficient digital savvy candidates in eligible positions when compiling their electoral list, so that the House of Representatives in its post-election composition will be able to properly monitor the Cabinet and play its role in optimally introducing the Netherlands into the digital future. And it is up to those same parties to continue developing their MPs and the advisers behind them in digital skills, risks ánd opportunities.


Ronald Verbeek
Director, CIO Platform Nederland




(*)
See: https://www.tweedekamer.nl/sites/default/files/atoms/files/eindrapport_tijdelijke_commissie_digitale_toekomst_tweede_kamer_der_staten-generaal.pdf page 30 (Dutch).

(**) See: my blog about the letter from Minister of The Interior and Kingdom Relations of December 20th 2019: 'The government is taking good steps towards improved IT governance' (only for our member - behind login). 

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