It's all to do with the training: You can do a lot if you're properly trained.

-- Queen Elizabeth II


Commonwealth Module - Unit 10: Ministers, Members, Staff and Public Servants


Learning Objectives:
How the Cycle of Stakeholders Interacts?

After studying this unit you should be able to:

  • Understand the responsibilities of Ministers in parliament;
  • Appreciate the way in which Members are to conduct themselves in and outside parliament;
  • Describe how parliamentary staff and public servants relate to the work of parliament.
Ministers in Parliament

In Commonwealth parliaments, Ministers are Members of Parliament and the executive is chosen from the legislature. One of the primary reasons for this is to ensure the accountability of the executive to parliament.

Accordingly, Ministers must be available to parliament to answer for governmental policy in their ministries or departments. Sometimes this is done through senior civil servants who provide their expertise in such areas as agriculture, labor, education, justice, and many other areas. Questions, issues or requests for information raised by MPs in the House or in committees must be answered in an open, transparent, and truthful manner. The extent to which a Minister can be compelled to answer may vary among legislatures. However, there may be, for instance, some security considerations that prevent a Minister from giving a full answer to a specific question, but a Minister who willfully and knowingly misleads the House will not have the confidence of that body and, in such circumstances, might have to face a charge of contempt of the House and resign when the true facts are exposed.

Senior civil servants may also be questioned by parliament, usually at a committee. There have been questions raised as to whether it is reasonable for parliament to require the attendance of a particular public official. While parliament will certainly expect persons of appropriate seniority and responsibility to be sent before a committee, the choice of who attends is normally left to the Minister. However, the Minister must accept that whoever attends is able to represent and speak for the department or Ministry and therefore, the Minister.

In a few countries there is a convention for Ministers to resign their offices if there is a disaster or scandal in the Ministry or department that may become the subject of a public inquiry. This is not necessarily an acceptance of responsibility but an assurance of non-interference with the inquiry. A Minister who observes this convention shows that he or she is taking the issue of accountability very seriously.

The concept of accountability is seen in sharpest focus in the position of the Minister of Finance. Where the parliament is bicameral, the Minister of Finance is selected from the membership of the Lower House, which is always directly elected by the People. Taxation and representation remain very closely connected in Commonwealth parliaments.


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