Two staff members from the Parliament of Sierra Leone’s Department of Official Reports, editor of debate Musa LA Foullah and stenographer Patience C Brown-Dawson, have completed a two-week secondment to Tynwald’s Hansard team.
Their study visit was sponsored by the Westminster Foundation for Democracy (WFD), established to help to strengthen parliamentary democracy in developing countries, and came after a workshop and needs assessment session was delivered to the Parliament of Sierra Leone’s Department of Official Reports by the Clerk of Tynwald Roger Phillips and WFD’s programme officer for Africa Charlotte Egan, which determined there was scope for Tynwald’s Hansard team to offer assistance.
The secondment was to provide training in the production of Hansard reports and use of digital recording equipment, explore how best to exploit IT opportunities, establish regular dialogue with Tynwald’s Hansard team and develop systems which, in the long term, will ensure the Parliament of Sierra Leone is able to proceed with reporting without external support.
Ms Egan, who accompanied Mr Foullah and Ms Brown-Dawson to the opening sessions, said: ‘This is a long-term programme for the WFD. We see Tynwald as a good fit with Sierra Leone because the capacity is similar. The delegates are receiving practical, on-the-job instruction, so that by the end of the two weeks they are fully trained in the use of equipment and can take back proposals for how to improve processes and structure teams better to deliver a swifter turnaround of reports.
‘The support Tynwald is providing as part of our programme is about strengthening parliamentary democracy, accountability and raising public awareness by providing timely and accurate records of proceedings.’
Mr Foullah said: ‘While the stages in Hansard production are largely the same in Sierra Leone as they are in Tynwald, the main difference is that we do not have the technology to produce transcriptions as swiftly as Tynwald, where Hansard reports are available so quickly online.’
Mr Foullah added that as the country was developing, the amount of committee work had increased. ‘This is creating a greater sense of urgency among Members for reports to be available quickly,’ he said.
He continued: ‘Were reports available more swiftly it might spark greater public interest in parliamentary matters. At the moment only national issues of great importance tend to generate requests for sight of Hansard reports.’
The delegates expressed particular interest in Tynwald’s website. Mr Foullah observed: ‘To be able to view Members’ remunerations and allowances online is excellent for parliamentary transparency and definitely a recommendation we shall make on our return.’
Ms Brown-Dawson said: ‘It has also been extremely valuable to learn about developing Hansard templates, which will help simplify the transcription process greatly.’
Mr Foullah concluded: ‘Everyone we have met has been very helpful and eager to share their knowledge with us. We have learned much from our secondment and are looking forward to applying our new-found knowledge and building on our relationship with Tynwald.’
Tynwald’s Head of Hansard Ellen Callister (pictured below with Musa Foullah) said: ‘This two-week programme of Hansard training was another first for Tynwald and has proved extremely worthwhile for staff from both our parliaments to participate jointly in this way. We have enjoyed sharing our knowledge and experience while also learning about Sierra Leone and its parliament, and our visitors have come to understand the importance of teamwork and collaboration in revitalising their working practices.
‘We look forward to continuing to assist the Sierra Leone team in reducing their backlog of work so that they can go on to produce much more current and, therefore more relevant, official reports of parliamentary debates, which in turn will play a key role in the further development of the democratic processes in their country.’
Patience C Brown-Dawson and Musa LA Foullah, back row with Head of Hansard Ellen Callister. Front row left to right are Deborah Smith, Deborah Pilkington, Lottie Ray, Pat Blackburn, and Louise Trimble from Tynwald’s Hansard team.
Photos: Paul Dougherty, Tynwald Seneschal