Ministers who ignore questions weaken Parliament, says opposition

2014-07-22 17:58

Opposition parties have blasted Parliament, accusing it of failing in its mandate to hold to the executive to account.

Speaking during Parliament’s budget vote in the National Assembly, DA Chief Whip John Steenhuisen gave grim statistics of ministers who skip answering oral questions asked by MPs as an example of how the legislature has been weakened.

Out of 294 questions asked by MPs to ministers in 2013, only 50 (17%) were responded to in the House. Seven ministers did not attend a single oral question session, while seven other ministers only replied to questions once in the National Assembly.

“There is no doubt that the role of Parliament has been weakened over the past 15 years as the executive seeks to stamp its authority and dominance on the policy and lawmaking process,” Steenhuisen said.

Meanwhile, the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) has threatened to challenge in court Parliament’s medical scheme, which the party insists its MPs should not be forced to belong to.

The party has also suggested amending the Constitution so that retired judges, and not representatives of political parties, are made presiding officers in Parliament. The party argues that choosing the speaker and other presiding officers from among the MPs, as is stipulated in Section 52 of the Constitution, should be done away with because such presiding officers are often biased towards their own parties.

“Their rulings often favour the political party they belong to,” EFF MP Hlengiwe Maxon said.

She said her party was against being forced to belong to Parliament’s medical scheme, Parmed. She said MPs should be allowed to decide to which scheme they wanted to belong. Those who are covered by medical schemes of their spouses should be allowed to opt out of belonging to Parmed.

If Parliament ignores this request, the EFF would challenge it in court, Maxon said.

ANC deputy chief whip Doris Dlakude warned parties represented in Parliament not to rush to the courts to seek intervention on matters that should be decided upon in the House.

“We can’t be referring matters to the courts that should be residing and decided on in Parliament,” she said.

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