Opinion: What is reasonable?

POSTED: 09/27/12 12:30 PM

The opposition United People’s party is quite right to sound the alarm about the way things are going currently in the parliament – and that is, in our opinion, only part of the problem that needs a sturdy shake-up.

That ministers seemingly drag their feet answering questions from the opposition is a well-honed tactic that brings up memories of the old Executive Council and the Island council of years gone by. The devil is however as always in the details, and in this case it is an article in the country’s state regulation (or constitution) that regulates MPs’ right to pose questions to a minister. These questions have to be answered within a reasonable period of time, article 62 says.

The term reasonable period of time is a nice escape hatch for ministers, because what is reasonable? The constitution does not contain a definition for this term. Is it five days? Ten? Two weeks? A month? Is it possible for a minister to ask for an extension of the term?

All this has not been regulated in the constitution and therefore it is now a source of trouble.

It makes therefore sense to define the term, and there the opposition and the ruling coalition will go at loggerheads. While the opposition may want to see answers to its questions appear within a week, or even shorter, ministers might easily argue that such pressure disrupts their daily work and that it is unreasonable. Two weeks, three, or even longer could be what any ministers prefers.

Let’s say parties meet somewhere in the middle and decide that two weeks is a reasonable term. They would then also have to regulate what needs to happen in case a minister exceeds the term. Or if a minister simply does not answer the questions and comes up with one excuse after the other. Like this, the book of rules, the book of do’s and don’ts becomes thicker and thicker.

We don’t see much in such a solution, simply because putting rules on paper does not mean that they will have practical value.

It takes two to tango, and this is also true for the partiers that mould our democratic process. If a minister wants to frustrate the opposition, he will leave no stone unturned to make the best of this intention. That is not the way to build a healthy democracy – just look at Curacao to get an idea about what we are hinting at here.

So maybe the best solution is to leave that darn article 62 alone and to call on the common sense of our politicians and our ministers. As always, there are two sides to each story. Especially opposition MPs have a tendency to as endless questions, whereby even objective observers start to wonder what they are all about.

A  minister who gets bombarded by a hundred questions from one MP and notes that half of them are garbage, will be less inclined to answer them in the shortest possible time than a minister who gets two or three pointed questions about a specific subject.

In other words, the discipline has to come from both ends. Parliamentarians have to put a bit more thought in the questions they ask, and ministers have to make a bigger effort to answer them, indeed, within a reasonable period of time.

An information-driven democracy will yield better results than a model wherein parties are constantly yapping at each other over procedural matters. That, ladies and gentlemen, is not in the interest of the citizens you are supposed to be serving.

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