Ministers must show up for their oral questions - Watty Watson

DA Chief Whip says parliamentary programme is set well in advance

No-show Ministers in contempt of question time in Parliament

The DA believes it is totally unacceptable that both the Minister and Deputy Minister of Water and Environmental Affairs will not be answering oral questions in the House tomorrow. The Minister is apparently accompanying the President on a State visit to Botswana while the Deputy Minister is attending World Water Week in Stockholm. The same situation occurred on 15 August when neither the Minister nor the Deputy Minister of Finance was available to answer questions in Parliament; both were overseas.

The parliamentary programme is set well in advance. There is no excuse for Ministers not to be available to answer oral questions and it is inexcusable for both the Minister and Deputy Minister to be absent at the same time. 

When the ANC overhauled question time in the House in 2000 (which the DA strongly opposed) it claimed that a system of rotation for oral questions, requiring Ministers to be present only when their cluster of portfolios is dealt with (every third question day), would ensure full Executive presence on each occasion. This has not transpired and it is clear that the entire system is not working.  

There were only eight opportunities for National Assembly members to ask Ministers an oral question in 2011 and each Minister was required to answer questions in Parliament on only two occasions between February and December. A similar pattern is set to be repeated this year. The reality is that Ministers attend overseas conferences and events more regularly than they answer questions in the National Assembly. This shows the ANC government's absolute contempt for Parliament.

In stark contrast members of the Western Cape Government, including Premier Helen Zille, are expected to answer questions in the House every week during session time, which includes questions and interpellations (mini debates). Every other week, members of the provincial legislature also have the opportunity to ask the Premier and DA Ministers six oral questions without giving notice. 

It is the duty of Ministers to account to Parliament for their policies, decisions and actions. The oral question system that the National Assembly has in place and Ministers' irregular attendance records are undermining Parliament's democratic role and cannot be tolerated. I will be writing to the Speaker to request that all our questions to the Minister of Environment and Water Affairs be put to her at the next oral question session in terms of NA Rule 109(3). I will also be writing to the Leader of Government Business to ask him to account for this inexcusable state of affairs. 

Statement issued by Watty Watson MP, Chief Whip of the Democratic Alliance, August 28 2012

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