Today is the dawn of a new era of public accountability and transparency in the affairs of the House of Representatives.
The new Standing Orders will come into effect from today - the start of the fifth session of the Tenth Parliament- and will usher in a new way of doing business in the elected chamber. The Senate, which is still in the process of examining and reviewing its standing orders, will continue under the old rules.
The following are some of the important changes which would take place in the House of Representatives:
1) All statements by Ministers would now have to be submitted to the Speaker in advance of their delivery in Parliament. These statements are also limited to ten minutes and must be on government policy. This would prevent abuse of using the statements to deal with all kinds of issues.
2) There is also now a prime ministerial question time on the second sitting of every month. During this period the Prime Minister can be asked questions on current matters of national importance or on the general performance of the Government by any member of the Opposition. The question time would be 30 minutes long.
3)There is also now something called “urgent questions”. These are questions for which just one hour notice is required (as opposed to the 28-day notice period which previously applied to all ministerial questions). These questions can be asked of any minister on any matter deemed by the Speaker to be “urgent” and “in the public interest”.
4) The rules also allow the regular questions to ministers on matters not deemed to be urgent and for which the normal 28 day notice is needed. Under the previous rules there could have been any number of deferral on these questions to ministers.
5)There is a motion on national policy issues where once the House approves a matter by way of a motion, the Cabinet is required to act on it.
6)The length of speeches has been amended. Where previously all speakers had a total of 75 minutes, the new time limit is 30 minutes, with an extension of 15 minutes.
7)The big area of oversight under the new Standing Orders lies in the committee system. There are now 12 standing committees in all. Previously there were five standing committees. All of the seven new committees are oversight committees which would monitor actions and decisions of the Government.