The Malta Independent 19 April 2024, Friday
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TMID Editorial: PQ deadlines needed

Thursday, 22 February 2024, 09:50 Last update: about 3 months ago

The government has a clear majority in the House of Representatives. An eight-seat lead – make that nine, given that independent Rosianne Cutajar still sits on the government side in spite of being an “independent” MP and is seeking a return to the party from which she resigned last year – gives Labour a comfortable advantage.

But this is often translated into arrogance and lack of respect towards the Opposition and, if one were to widen the argument, towards the public too.


Last Sunday, this media house carried comments made by a Nationalist MP, Julie Zahra, about the way the Opposition is treated by ministers when it comes to replying to parliamentary questions.

PQs are an essential segment of the workings of Parliament. They give the opportunity to MPs who do not form part of the Executive to seek information about matters pertaining to the national interest. Most questions are submitted by Opposition MPs, but others are also filed by backbench Labour MPs too although, it must be said, the latter bunch are hardly ever controversial.

But the point is that PQs serve a valid purpose. Thirty minutes of each regular sitting is devoted to the oral answering of such questions, but hundreds of others are replied to in written form. The great majority of them do not make it to the national headlines, as often MPs seek information which is related to their particular electoral district and do not carry too much of a news value.

We take the opportunity to highlight the fact that while going through the long list of PQs that we are provided with from the Speaker’s office, we often come across questions that are simply and truly a waste of time. In this regard, we feel it opportune to ask MPs to limit themselves to submitting questions on what is really relevant. After all, the compiling of the answers is carried out at a cost to the taxpayers, and exercises in futility should be therefore avoided as much as possible.

To go back to Julie Zahra’s comments, we are with her in the issue she raised – that there should be a clear timeframe by which ministers should be answering questions. Zahra was making reference to the way she was being given the runaround by Tourism Minister Clayton Bartolo on her questions related to the government’s expenses for the Mediterrane Film Festival. But, to be fair, Bartolo is not the first and will not be the last to adopt such tactics.

Zahra has been seeking information about the festival since July, and each time she is told that the information will be provided in another sitting. When this will happen is anyone’s guess.

It is unacceptable, she said, that we fall to such ridicule in the highest institution of the land. She said that there must be a definite, stipulated timeframe by which ministers should be bound to answer PQs.

As things stand now, ministers have no deadline and not even the Speaker of the House of Representatives can push them to do so. All he can do is urge them not to take long in giving their answers.

It is high time that ministers have deadlines.

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