Publication: Business Day Issued: Date: 2003-05-26 Reporter: Leon Engelbrecht

What To Believe?



Business Day

Date 2003-05-26


Leon Engelbrecht, Melville

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Richard Young's letter (Parliament should query defence spending, May 21) does indeed raise questions for Parliament to take up with department of defence mandarins. But I doubt that they will have much success.

The first lesson the fictional Jim Hacker learned in the BBC political satire, Yes, Minister, was that while opposition (a parliamentary oversight, I dare say) is about asking tough questions, government is about not answering them.

While Parliament is "in charge" its task is hampered by it being kept in the dark. Briefings to Parliament by ministers and officials are halfbaked and only focus on what they want MPs to know.

Documents supporting the presentations are invariably delivered at the last moment so that MPs are not "read-in". Written questions to ministers have to be phrased in a certain convoluted way, and if an answer is forthcoming at all, it is nearly always almost useless.

Furthermore, most MPs are not experts at anything, including the cost of equipment and the defence department's actual needs.

The issue was highlighted by advocate Hendrik Schmidt (Democratic Alliance) during a portfolio committee on defence meeting last Tuesday when, according to the Parliamentary Monitoring Group, he commented that the committee did not have a proper understanding of what the budget should be and what funds were actually required from the side of the department.

Officials and other experts should be able to tell them this but with vested interests all around, who and what can be believed? 

Leon Engelbrecht, Melville.

With acknowledgement to Business Day.