Plans for facial recognition system to track MPs' attendance in Parliament shelved

The Parliament Secretariat had intended to implement a facial recognition attendance tracking system to replace manual tracking, in a tender called in November 2019.
The Parliament Secretariat had intended to implement a facial recognition attendance tracking system to replace manual tracking, in a tender called in November 2019.ST PHOTO: LIM YAOHUI

SINGAPORE - Given the ongoing Covid-19 situation and safe distancing measures introduced during Parliament sittings, plans for a facial recognition system to track MPs' attendance in Parliament have been shelved.

Responding to a query from The Straits Times on Wednesday (Jan 20), the Office of the Clerk of Parliament said real-time developments, including the Covid-19 situation, have impacted how technology could be better deployed to complement the physical functions and operations of Parliament.

It said: "For instance, with safe distancing measures introduced for Parliament sittings, the changes in chamber seats for the MPs, who are now also occupying the galleries, have affected the placement and number of recognition devices needed.

"In view of this, the Parliament Secretariat has determined that the project requirements and specifications for this tender are no longer current and optimal in terms of fit for purpose and value for money."

According to tender documents on government procurement portal GeBIZ in November 2019, the Parliament Secretariat had intended to implement a facial recognition attendance tracking system to replace manual tracking. The closing date for the tender was Dec 2, 2019.

The secretariat, which oversees the organisation of parliamentary proceedings, supports the Speaker of Parliament.

Currently, MPs' attendance at Parliament sittings is reported in documents such as the Official Reports and the Votes and Proceedings, which are the official minutes.

The quorum for a sitting is one-quarter of the total number of MPs excluding the Speaker. The present Parliament has 93 elected MPs and two non-constituency MPs. Nine new nominated MPs were announced on Jan 14.

Under the Singapore Constitution, an MP will be stripped of his seat if he is absent from Parliament sittings, or any Parliament committee to which he has been appointed, for two consecutive months without prior permission from the Speaker.

Parliamentarians' attendance at a sitting is recorded manually, requiring staff to be in the Chamber to register their presence.

A facial recognition system, including the installation of an estimated six video cameras in Parliament, would have automated this process and enabled Parliament to determine how many and which MPs are present during any sitting in real time.

It would also have allowed users to conduct searches on the attendance for any sittings online, based on specified criteria such as the date and name of the MP.

Given developments over the past year, the tender will no longer be awarded, said the Office of the Clerk of Parliament.

It added: "We thank the companies which had expressed interest in the tender and would welcome their participation in any future tenders.

"Like all government agencies, the Parliament Secretariat is reviewing all projects in light of the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic and making adjustments as the situation evolves."