Prime Minister’s Questions needed in Parliament
The phone hacking scandal in the United Kingdom involving the now closed tabloid News of the World (NoW) has dominated world news the past few weeks. It’s really the perfect scandal. It involves money, power, the media and politics. The only thing missing is sex. And who knows, as fast as this scandal is evolving, that may come too, soon.
The actions of NoW have led to police investigations, criminal charges and parliamentary inquires. British Prime Minister David Cameron has been under fire because he hired a former NoW editor, Andy Coulson, to be his director of communications. Coulson has stepped down from this post because of questions about his role regarding the scandal while at NoW.
The opposition Labour Party has questioned Cameron’s judgment in hiring Coulson. Opposition Leader Ed Milliband has challenged Cameron for weeks in the House of Commons on the issue at Prime Minister’s Questions.
The weekly question period is a delight, and an important part of the democratic process. Every Wednesday the prime minister answers questions from the dispatch box beginning with questions from the opposition leader. These are wars during which the PM takes heat from his constitutional rival, giving the same back in return.
The questions are usually topical and the PM is pressed to answer even when he prefers not to. After the leader of the opposition is finished other MPs ask their questions. The question period lasts for about 30 minutes.
In the Westminster system PMs are the country’s CEO. As chairman of the cabinet, he is charged with ultimate responsibility for the actions of the government. Therefore, via Questions to the Prime Minister the government is held in the dock to account in Parliament for decisions made every week Parliament meets.
Alas, there is no system of questions to the prime minister in our parliament. There is almost no question system at all in practice. Opposition day is supposed to be every second Wednesday in the month when the House of Assembly meets.
On this occasion, the opposition is supposed to be able to pose questions. However, clever governing sides simply do not meet on this day and if the opposition does not push, there could be no opposition day for a long time.
It is sad that many of our politicians are so Third World in their mentality that a governing side would attempt not to have to answer questions and an opposition would be so pathetic that it would let its rights be violated.
Rules need to be adopted in Parliament to ensure that the PM has to take questions on a weekly basis as is done in the UK. If that is too much for our politicians then we could adopt a hybrid system through which questions are posed to the government in general on a weekly basis. The member most capable could answer those questions.
For this to work, though, both sides would have to respect the sacrosanctity of Parliament, its rules and conventions. Leaders should want to answer questions. Why? Well, because it proves that they are tough enough, smart enough and in charge enough to withstand any assault from rivals.
Conversely, the opposition should want to ask questions to prove it is better able to run the affairs of state and to weaken the position of the governing side.
The contrast of these two positions should create beautiful intellectual wars in the legislature. It is still a joy to watch old clips from Margaret Thatcher at the dispatch box taking questions from her rivals.
When independence was granted by the British to its colonies, there was a fear that may were not ready for self-governance. The concern was that an elite segment of some of these native societies simply wanted to be in charge knowing little of, and having even less respect for, the traditions and conventions of Westminster governance.
Our parliamentary process needs improvement. We simply touch on one thing that needs reform in this piece. Other problems include the non-existent committee system; members reading from texts they did not write rather than debating issues they studied; and the slow process of relevant legislation coming forward.
We condemn in the strongest terms the myopia of all of the majority rule and post-independence governments for not building a new parliament. The inadequate buildings currently being used are more than 200 years old. We need not explain again why they are inadequate. One needs only to visit to see why.
Focus is needed on reforming our parliamentary process. The legislature is one of three branches of government. Let’s start with a simple thing: schedule questions to the prime minister. If they can’t figure out how to do it, our politicians should just go online and print out a copy of the British process. It’s been going on for quite a while.