MPs to get Apple iPads
Wednesday, September 5 2012
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TECH-SAVVY: Apple iPads, similar to this one, will be given to the nation's 41 Members of Parliament in a move to make representatives of the people m...
ALL MEMBERS of Parliament — including Senators — are to have sleek Apple iPad tablets before the end of October, Speaker Wade Mark said yesterday, raising the prospect of a bill estimated at a minimum of $260,000 for the State.
MPs will have full use of the devices, and would be able to take them home, but would have to pay “a nominal fee” in order to keep them beyond the Parliament term. That fee would not relate to cost price, but rather depreciated values.
Mark made the disclosure at a media briefing called at a Parliament committee room, International Waterfront Centre, Wrightson Road, Port-of-Spain.
“We are seeking to revolutionise our business processes in the Parliament: how we do business–electronic Parliament,” Mark said. “Shortly, all members of Parliament, in the next couple of weeks, will now be provided with iPads where they can do their work electronically. They will receive their documents electronically. And where we will be able to reduce the amount of paper that we have to distribute at the level of our Parliament.”
He said all members of the House of Representatives (41) and the Senate (30) would have the iPads possibly in time for the next Budget debate, but no later than the end of October. MPs who currently own iPads and bring them to the chamber will also get new iPads, because the Parliament does not want to “discriminate”.
Apple iPads have already become popular with some Ministers. They are slim, flat personal computers which operate with a touch-screen which also doubles as a monitor. The computers retail from US$400, but there are also other charges such as customer care, cases and software which pushes the unit cost to about US$556 (TT$3,600). This places the total cost at around $260,000, though some experts say if MPs get the latest models (equipped with WiFi and mobile phone connection) the cost could be as much as $460,500.
MPs already have access to Sony Vaio and IBM Think Pad laptops which were approved for their use in the chamber in 2008, but laptops are rarely seen at Parliament sittings.
Mark said the move was part of a series of measures being introduced, “in order to strengthen the institution of Parliament and make it more democratic, autonomous, independent so that we would be able to at least carry out our duties and responsibilities in a much more serious manner.”
The aim he said is to have, “a stronger, more robust Parliament in which the principles of transparency, accountability and accessibility becomes the hallmark of how we do business.”
Asked by members of the media for the cost of the iPads, Mark said, “there is no price to pay for democracy. Democracy is priceless, and therefore we are committed to strengthening the Parliament, and in so doing we are building and strengthening our democracy. That is a matter that cannot be compromised. I am not too sure what allocation will be made to Parliament in the 2013 Budget, but we are certain that all our Parliamentarians in the both Houses in the next few weeks will be provided with iPads.”
Senate President Timothy Hamel-Smith said there would be a “cost-saving” by introducing the technology to Parliament, but he could not give any figures, or estimates.
“You are looking at the cost side, but there is a significant saving in terms of paper generated that will no longer be used; in terms of time spent in Parliament,” he said.
“In fact, the introduction of this technology can be a cost-saving. There is an initial capital outlay but ultimately it can be a cost-saving device.” Hamel-Smith described an iPad as “one of the cheapest of all the technologies around.”
Asked how the iPads would be procured, or bought, Mark said he did not have “those details” on him.“As soon as I get those details I will make it available to members of the media,” he said. “We will be transparent as a Parliament, accountable and accessible. As soon as the computers are acquired I will make the cost available for the entire media.”
Hamel-Smith said, “an iPad is far less obtrusive. At some stage we will have introductory workshops with Parliamentarians, but I think the iPad is more cost-effective; is lighter and it is more likely that people will use it, and it will support the functions of Parliamentarians.”
Asked if MPs who already have iPads would get one, he said, “I don’t think we could discriminate between one Parliamentarian and another. They obviously have it for their own use and I am sure people have their own laptops as well.”
Mark said the iPads would become property of the MP, but they would have to pay a “nominal fee” upon the expiration of their term if they wish to keep the device.
“It will remain property of the Members of Parliament, but members at the end of the period if they wish to return an iPad they can, if they wish to return the iPad there is a fee or price they have to pay. I do not recall the actual number,” Mark said.
The briefing related to the Parliament’s plans to commemorate International Day of Democracy, September 15.
Hamel-Smith took the opportunity to appeal for reform of the salaries and terms of conditions of all MPs, stating that the time has come for them to be paid full-time salaries given the fact that they often work around the clock.
“What the question of the iPad going home reveals is the amount of time which our MPs apply to Parliamentary business,” he said. “It is really a seven-day week job yet many are paid part-time salaries.” He said MPs who are not Government ministers get paid “part-time” salaries.
Ordinary non-Cabinet MPs get salaries of $14,000 at the House of Representatives and $10,500 in the Senate. Government MPs who have posts in Cabinet, or are non-Cabinet ministers, Parliamentary Secretaries, or Deputies of the Houses earn between $14,700 to $48,000.
A Parliament code of ethics stipulates that ministers must give up their private practices. MPs however, are allowed to remain in employment, but in practice the time devoted to constituency work limits private practice to an extent.