Deon de Lange

Political Bureau

PRESIDENT Jacob Zuma and his cabinet members are once again thumbing their noses at Parliament by failing to respond to written questions from MPs within the time frames prescribed by the rules of the National Assembly.

This is despite repeated assurances over the years from Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe that ministers and their deputies would be encouraged to improve their compliance with parliamentary rules.

The latest report from the National Assembly indicates that 535 questions had not been answered when Parliament rose for its mid-year recess last month.

Motlanthe, as leader of government business in Parliament, co-ordinates the relationship between the executive and the legislature.

He must ensure that ministers comply with parliamentary rules and prescripts.

His office has said that ministers are informed at every cabinet meeting of the number of questions yet to be answered and are required to explain any delays. But this system appears to be having little effect in ensuring compliance.

The rules require members of the executive to respond within 10 working days to written questions from lawmakers. But the latest figures show that some unanswered questions date back to the start of the parliamentary calendar in February. These include questions to the Presidency.

Since last month, ministers have replied to more than 100 of these, in what opposition parties call “question dumping”.

This practice results in hundreds of replies flooding the parliamentary questions office at the last possible moment, making it difficult for MPs to track responses.

To avoid a recurrence of this phenomenon this year, DA chief whip Watty Watson has written to Motlanthe asking that the issue be raised once more at the next cabinet meeting.

“Action must be taken to ensure that a repeat of last year’s question dumping does not happen again,” he said in a statement yesterday.

At the end of last year, 327 replies were received in a flood in the last week of the parliamentary year, while 261 questions – some of them dating back to the start of the year – remained unanswered.

Questions not answered by the end of the year automatically fall away and must be resubmitted the following year.

Watson said he would also call on National Assembly Speaker Max Sisulu to “issue a formal appeal to the executive to ensure all ministers meet their constitutional obligations and respond to all questions within an acceptable time frame”.

This year, the worst offenders have been the ministers of social development (67 outstanding responses), Home Affairs (39), basic education (37), and public service and administration (32).

Comparing the number of replies with the number of questions posed, the worst performers have been the ministers of sport (73 percent of replies outstanding), the Presidency (65 percent), public works (62 percent), transport (56 percent) and public service (49 percent).