Today, the MPs start will start using the refurbished Chamber. And as they embark on the first business of the day in the new state-of-the-art Chamber, they will literally have been shipped from an archaic into a digital age.
But this transition will not be easy for technologically challenged lawmakers - they will be switching from a Chamber where everything was done manually and in an archaic manner into a modern and hi-tech one.
The Chamber, which has cost the taxpayer close to Sh1 billion to modernise, will be officially be opened today by President Kibaki.
"The new-look Chamber is set to give members greater sitting space, ambiance and personal comfort, with specially designed slots for persons with physical disabilities," said House Speaker Kenneth Marende yesterday.He said the horse-shoe design is borrowed from the Germany Bundestag and the Tanzanian parliament.
Marende said the model was informed by the need to have a friendlier sitting arrangement for MPs. "Unlike the previous arrangement where members had to stand to catch the attention of the Speaker, the new Chamber has electronic buzz buttons to alert the Speaker whenever they want to contribute on any matter," he said.
Each MP will have his or her own fixed and labelled seat, a desk and a fixed electronic unit - Multi Media Digital Congress System, which among other things allows them to speak, register a request-to-speak, listen to the Speaker and vote. It also has a recording facility.
The system provides audio equalisation for all MPs' loudspeakers for the sake of those who are inaudible and shout during the proceedings.
The Speaker will, however, have a unit that allows him or her to override all other MPs. He will have LCD display providing information on who has placed a request to speak.
The electronic voting will consign to the archives the current system of oral "Ayes" and "Nays" or physical voting with a pen where MPs proceed to different sides to sign an already printed sheet of paper. The Speaker will have a special display to start, stop and suspend voting.
The system has voting buttons where an MP will press either "Yes", or "No" or "Abstain" with the voting results being sent via a control software to a numeric hall display. The new Chamber has also factored video conferencing, which will link the Parliament with several others.
MPs will have a chance to see, hear and share PowerPoint presentations with their colleagues in other countries. It will give local MPs a chance to engage presidents and prime ministers of other nations, which are already making good use of the new technology.
The Chambers will accommodate 350 MPs compared to the previous one which had benches for about 180 though it was serving 222 MPs.
Last Tuesday, Marende directed all MPs who are yet to be trained on using the new Chambers to do so. "The new Chamber has been fully refurnished and equipped. As a matter of fact, all honourble Members have undertaken training and those of you who have not, should avail yourselves to be trained on how to use the equipment that is in the new Chamber" he said.
The Sh949 million facelift of the Parliament's debating chambers has delayed for two years. The refurbishment, which started on April 6, 2010 was due for completion on April 5 last year.
The plan to refurbish Parliament was mooted in 2005 with the idea being to transform it into an ultra-modern Chamber with a state-of-the-art facilities.
Initially, Sh600 million was earmarked for the project which was later upped to Sh800 million in 2005, prompting protests from MPs who blocked the project, terming it a waste of public funds.
The then Speaker Francis ole Kaparo did not succeed in selling the idea to the MPs. His successor, Marende, however managed to convince the MPs to embrace the idea though several of them had initially opposed it.
The MPs have been using the Old Chambers, which is set to be refurbished for use by senators after the general election. Parliament in its budget for 2012/13 financial year approved Sh700 for the refurbishment project.