M A I N   N E W S

Question Hour lessons from Kiwis
Aditi Tandon
Tribune News Service

New Delhi , January 10
India and the Commonwealth have a lot to learn from New Zealand. The Kiwis have shown how taming the responses of ministers in the government can make all the difference to the quality of the all-important Question Hour, whose conduct remains a concern for presiding officers of Houses across the world.

By simply evolving a procedure that mandates cabinet ministers to give brief, specific answers to questions raised, and not evade queries saying "this question does nor arise", the House of Representatives in New Zealand has ensured that a whopping 72 questions get answered daily -- the maximum anywhere in the Commonwealth.

By contrast, in the Lok Sabha in India, where the question hour has been under tremendous strain, as admitted by Speaker Meira Kumar, less than 10 questions are answered daily though 20 are listed for responses.

Similar is the case with most parliaments which are struggling to find ways to maximise the gains of Question Hour, which emerged as top choice of the Speakers, as they discussed tools to hold executive accountable to the legislature, at the recently held 20th Conference of Speakers of the Commonwealth in the capital.

"When it comes to actual transaction of business, Question Hour is the most important tool. But question time to be effective needs to be gainfully used to elicit government’s responses to issues concerning the common man. Earlier in our House, a lot of time was wasted in the ministers giving detailed responses. We took up a review of the entire procedure and evolved a practice which requires ministers to be specific and not vague, and brief. Resultantly, 72 questions are now answered daily,” Speaker of the New Zealand House of Representatives Dr Lockwood Smith, who was here for the conference, told The Tribune. The move impressed all, including Speaker of Lok Sabha Meira Kumar, who, in response to a Tribune query, admitted, “What Speaker of the New Zealand House has achieved is some kind of a record. They give about 35 seconds per question and monitor response so that maximum queries are answered. As regards replies by ministers, we did discuss what forms a relevant or an irrelevant answer.”

Meira, however, added that evasion of questions by ministers was not an issue in India , but admitted that the question hour needed to be streamlined to be made more effective; she seemed open to extending the question hour’s time span.

Another country that made an interesting contribution to the topic was South Africa , with Chairperson of the country’s National Council of Provinces saying that he made it a point to cross check answers which the ministers gave to queries raised in the Question Hour.



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