Government working to reduce unanswered Parliamentary questions

Friday, March 24, 2023

A series of recent government interventions have seen a drastic reduction in unanswered Parliamentary questions.

This was on Thursday revealed by Deputy President Paul Mashatile in his capacity as leader of government business during his first Parliamentary oral reply session at the Cape Town City Hall on Thursday.

The Deputy President made the remarks while responding to a question from the chief whip of the official opposition party, Siviwe Gwarube.

She had asked the Deputy President what the details of his priorities were as leader of government business to ensure that Members of the Cabinet attend to their parliamentary duties, such as attending meetings of parliamentary committees and plenaries to answer questions for oral reply.  

Responding, Deputy President Mashatile said: “Members of the Executive have a constitutional obligation to avail themselves to respond to questions for the oral reply, appear before relevant Portfolio Committees, and attend Plenaries as scheduled by the Programming Committees of Parliament.”

In August 2021, the Speaker of the National Assembly proposed new mechanisms to monitor outstanding responses to Parliamentary questions by Members of the Executive.

“In terms of the new mechanisms, the Speaker writes to the leader of government business in Parliament, on a quarterly basis, informing us of outstanding replies by individual Members of the Executive.”

He said to this end, the leader of government business in Parliament has further introduced monitoring mechanisms wherein Members of the Executive with more than 10 outstanding responses to questions for written reply are requested to inform the leader of government business in Parliament in writing.

The said Minister would in the document, provide reasons for the unanswered questions as well as outline remedial actions to be taken to address the delay.

“This information is then presented fortnightly in every full meeting of Cabinet.

Since the implementation of these mechanisms, noticeable progress has been achieved. In this regard, we have seen a tremendous decline in the number of unanswered questions that have since lapsed in the last three years of the sixth administration,” Deputy President Mashatile said.

For example, at the end of the 2019 Parliamentary session, there were 405 lapsed questions, and by the end of the 2022 session, only 83 unanswered questions lapsed.

He conceded that much more still needs to be done by Members of the Executive to ensure they fully attended to their Parliamentary responsibilities as provided by the Constitution.

“We equally appeal to our programming whippery to ensure that the scheduling of Plenaries and Parliamentary committees do not coincide with critical Executive engagements like Cabinet, and its committee meetings. There should be collaboration and integrated planning by the various parties involved in this regard,” he said. –