By David van Vuuren, DA Chief Whip in the Free State Provincial Legislature:
The DA caucus in the Free State Legislature today walked out in protest after Speaker Mamiki Qabathe failed to provide a ruling relating to the refusal of Members of the Executive Council to reply to written questions as well as their non-attendance in sittings to respond to oral questions. Two sittings ago, the Speaker undertook to undertake an investigation in this regard and report back to the House.
MECs have blatantly refused to answer questions in writing, with some, like MEC Tate Makgoe and MEC Benny Malakoane, stating that they would only reply to questions orally.
The Leader of Government Business, MEC Makgoe, reaffirmed this during today’s sitting. MEC Makgoe further went on to say the reason why MECs do not wish to answer questions is because their replies get published in the media and this is proof of the agenda of the DA to embarrass the ANC-led government of the Free State.
We reject these allegations.
If the replies by MECs embarrass the ANC-led government it is not by the DA’s questions, but rather by the actions of the MECs in government and their politically appointed officials.
DA members of the legislature, as elected representatives of the people, have a constitutional mandate to conduct oversight over the actions and programmes of government.
The words of Helen Suzman ring true today. To paraphrase, it is not the questions submitted that embarrass the government, it is the answers that cause embarrassment. Suzman’s words are as relevant today under an ANC government, as decades ago under an NP government.
MECs do not have a choice in whether or not they should answer questions. They are obligated to do so in terms of both the Rules and Orders of the Legislature and the Constitution. Members of the Legislature had several pertinent questions to MEC Malakoane, MEC Leeto and MEC Khompela on the order paper today, all three of these MECs failed to attend the sitting.
The DA urges Speaker Qabathe to familiarise herself with the Standing Rules and Orders and communicate to the Premier and MECs that they are constitutionally accountable to the legislature. She should also take action against MECs that continuously break these rules. The Speaker is quick to impose rulings against opposition members who question her motives in delaying rulings, but she is silent about the blatant disregard of the principles of transparency, oversight, and accountability.