/ 29 November 2007

DA: Ministers fail to answer 343 questions in Parliament

Government ministers have failed to provide written answers to 343 questions posed by the Democratic Alliance (DA) and, said DA deputy chief whip Mike Ellis on Thursday, they have only got one more week in which to answer them.

“Next Friday, December 7, is the deadline for the submission of replies to all parliamentary questions posed to government departments during 2007. To date, government departments have yet to reply to 343 [or 20%] of the 1 690 written questions posed by the DA this year, in both the National Assembly and the National Council of Provinces.”

Eight of the 26 national departments are responsible for 170 of those 343 questions — nearly half of all outstanding replies, Ellis said. He added that the Department of Provincial and Local Government had 35 replies outstanding. The Department of Environmental Affairs and Tourism had 26 outstanding, while Defence Department and the Department of Safety and Security both owed 24 replies.

The Department of Health had not replied to 21 questions, the same as the Justice and Constitutional Development Department. Social development and trade and industry were sitting on 19 replies each.

“Significantly, provincial and local government, health and justice and constitutional development were the worst offenders last year when it came to submitting replies before the previous submission deadline,” Ellis said.

Provincial and local government was also the worst offender when it came to replying to written questions promptly. It had failed to reply to ten questions posed before August this year. Eight of those were posed as far back as March.

“The fact that the rules of Parliament contain no effective provisions to ensure written questions are replied to means that some government departments continuously get away with undermining the very mechanisms designed to hold them accountable for their actions,” Ellis said.

Should a department refuse to respond to a question, it is carried over to the next year.

“On face value, this doesn’t seem too bad but, in reality, they immediately fall to the back of the queue when new questions generated over the Christmas recess period are submitted in February,” he said, “and simply being carried over is no guarantee they will be answered.” — I-Net Bridge