The Deputy Bailiff has slammed Ministers for “inexcusable” failures to answer questions from backbench politicians, which he said were “discourteous” to the States Members themselves and the Assembly as a whole.
Robert MacRae’s comments came after it emerged that at least three States Members - Deputies Rob Ward and Inna Gardiner and Senator Sam Mézec - had not received a reply to their written question within the deadline set by the States Assembly’s Standing Orders.
Deputy Ward had brought the issue to the attention of the Presiding Officer on Tuesday, after Deputy Montfort Tadier had raised concerns over the quality of the answers he had received from the Treasury Minister, Deputy Susie Pinel.
Deputy Ward said he was concerned the Assembly and the written questions were being ignored.
Yesterday morning, the Deputy Bailiff reminded that Members must comply with a set deadline to submit questions to a Minister and that Standing Orders state the replies must be provided by 12:00 on a Monday, although the deadline can be extended until 17:00 the same day.
Pictured: Deputy Ward said he was concerned the Assembly and the written questions were being ignored.
“Failure to respond in good time to questions that are properly asked puts the questioner usually a backbencher at a disadvantage,” he went on to say.
“Members will prepare for a meeting of the Assembly sometimes for debates, sometimes for oral questions without notice, by reference to the answers they’ve been given.
“It is important that Ministers comply with these deadlines and even more important now that the Assembly is meeting on a three-week cycle. It is inexcusable that at least three Members, Deputy Ward, Senator Mézec and Deputy Gardiner, did not receive replies by 17:00 on the day before the sitting of the Assembly.”
He went on to note that two of Deputy Ward’s questions had still not been answered by the time the Assembly met on Tuesday, without any explanation or reason having been provided as to why the Minister had failed to respect the deadline.
“Such a failure is discourteous to the members who ask questions and to the Assembly,” he said.
“Ministers must ensure that they and their senior staff give sufficient priority to these questions so that they are responded to within the deadline. It is not in the interest of good Government or proper Scrutiny of the executive for the executive to fail to respond to deadlines that they have agreed to pursuant to Standing Orders.”
Pictured: The Deputy Bailiff said Ministers must ensure that questions are answered in time.
Deputy Kevin Lewis, the Infrastructure Minister, apologised afterwards, saying that two of his questions had gone missing.
“I was as surprised as the Assembly when it was discovered, I had no knowledge at all of the question,” he said. “Measures have been put in place to see that it does not happen again."
The Government also came under fire for having made a late push to challenge a proposal to have the Competent Authority Ministers' pandemic meeting minutes released to Scrutiny.
Several States Members opposed their attempt to put forward an amendment so late, outside of the usual lodging period. Deputy Ward said it wasn’t a good idea and that if it was accepted Standing Orders - the rules that govern the running of the States Assembly - should just be binned.
“Are we going to say when the Council of Ministers can’t get sorted, we will just let them do that?” he said.
Senator Kristina Moore argued that, given the proposition had been published on 6 September, Ministers had ample time to prepare, but had instead “managed to cobble together a fudge”. She described the Government as “ill-prepared” and as not having their “eye on the ball”.
“They have not even brought a credible amendment that deserves any thought or consideration,” she added. “Let’s stick to the standing orders and the proper process and those people who can bring reasonable arguments.”
Senator Sam Mézec urged the Assembly to say “enough is enough” and assert itself as the sovereign body it is.
He argued the Government was “really taking the mickey with this” and that allowing a reduced lodging period would be an “abuse of procedure”.
“We are in this situation because they didn’t get their act together in time,” he said. “What precedent does it set when the Government can make no effort whatsoever and the Assembly just rolls over."
Pictured: Senator Mézec said the Assembly shouldn't just roll over for Ministers.
For Deputy Geoff Southern, the actions of the Assembly, Government and Ministers had gone “from shambolic to worse”.
Meanwhile, Deputy Montfort Tadier said the Council of Ministers had shown contempt for Standing Orders, the Assembly and the public by “not even attempting to answer questions and submit amendments”.
He said that while it was right to allow latitude on certain questions, this wasn’t one of them.
Deputy Judy Martin, the Social Security Minister, and Senator John Le Fondré, the Chief Minister, however explained the late publication was due to “an absolute genuine mistake” about the deadlines from an officer.
“I am fed up with shambolic Government comments from people who sit behind me and don’t do much - we have very busy agendas,” Deputy Martin said.
The Chief Minister apologised for the mistake, adding it wasn’t “quite clear” how it had happened. He accepted the oversight was unacceptable but said it had not been to disrespect the Assembly.
Deputy Inna Gardiner, who pointed out she was one of the newest members of the States, said she understood mistakes can be made but that she had always been “very clear” on Standing Orders and when she needed to lodge amendments.
The Assembly agreed to debate the amendment but it was eventually withdrawn by the Chief Minister.
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