SEVERAL MPs were caught by the media reciting questions from a pre-prepared list during a weekly parliamentary question and answer session. Even though the MPs claimed to be using the questions merely as suggestions for discussion topics, in a recent question and answer session they repeated verbatim questions that were written on the list, the Sme daily reported.
“There was a list of questions going around; I looked at it,” said Smer MP Anton Martvoň, as quoted by Sme, adding that while he used one of the questions, the second he posed was his own.
Yet, Sme reported that even though he tried to hide the list within a stack of papers, the journalists could clearly see that he recited the question using exactly the same wording that was proposed in the document.
Members of parliamentary committees that deal with specific issues often prepare a list of questions to help deputies with what to ask, chair of the Smer caucus Jana Laššáková told the SITA newswire.
“The PM and members of the government have nothing to do with it,” she said, adding that they have several members who are sitting in parliament for the first time, so in fact it could be considered “help from older and more experienced colleagues”.
“Perhaps the opposition MPs, their caucus or their assistants, suggest which questions their members should pose to members of the government as well,” said Martvoň, as quoted by SITA. “It is standard deputy work.”
The question and answer sessions allow the MPs as well as any people present in parliament to pose questions to members of the government, the prosecutor general and the chair of the National Audit Office, who are not required to attend every session of parliament. The question and answer sessions occur every week when parliament is in session, on Thursdays at 14:00.
Since there is only a limited time for responding to questions, the ministers answer only some of the questions selected from those that were submitted prior to the session. The first 15 minutes are usually allotted to the prime minister.
It is a standard practice, which the government attempted to explain to opposition deputies, for whom the question and answer sessions represent an opportunity for open political dialog. Yet, during the rule of the first government of Robert Fico (2006-2010) it was common for his coalition’s MPs to pose the same question in ten different ways, thereby using up the allotted session time, which eventually left the opposition parties feeling reluctant to participate, SITA wrote.
Changes to the question and answer sessions
Speaker of the parliament Pavol Paška proposed in mid April to change the whole process of the parliamentary voting, saying it should not be so strictly partisan.
“I think that the time has come to blunt the edge that has existed for 20 years, to try to reach a higher level of [multi-partisan] cooperation,” said Paška, as quoted by SITA.
During his speech he criticised the practice of deputies from the ruling party deliberately wasting time by posing several very similar questions in order to avoid discussing issues not favoured by the government. He admitted that it often complicates the role of the opposition for which the question and answer session is an opportunity to openly question the majority party.
“This change will not occur overnight, but there have been efforts to limit the repetition of one issue in the sessions,” said Paška, as quoted by SITA, adding that it is up to the opposition to accept his proposed changes.
Paška also proposed to change the general nature of the question and answer sessions, saying that “if there is a will and it will not be misused, I think it would be beneficial for the question and answer sessions to become a kind of public [dialog] in which members of the government will present themselves honestly”.
6. Aug 2012 at 0:00 | Compiled by Radka Minarechová from press reports