Chief Govt. Whip point man for absconding ministers

by - Research Team posted over 8 years ago in Analysis


Written questions provide MPs with a vital tool by which they can ascertain information from government ministers and hold them accountable for their actions. It is therefore essential that a minister is well prepared., through analysing its unique parliamentary data, has found that almost one fifth of written questions are answered by one person, the Chief Government Whip, Dinesh Gunawardena.

Bearing the heavy load: 47 of 66 Ministers and 24 of 39 Deputy Ministers have answered at least one written question over the 12-month period, September 2013 to August 2014. However, Dinesh Gunawardena alone has responded to a staggering 19% of all written questions (Exhibit 1).


Palming off of written questions: The data illustrates a significant palming off of responsibility by some ministers. Only 14 out of 141 questions (10%) answered by Dinesh Gunawardena are related to his duties as Minister of Water Supply and Drainage. The remaining 90% are matters in which he answers questions due to the unavailability of the relevant subject minister.

There is however a significant variance in Dinesh Gunawardena’s involvement depending on the topic in question (Exhibit 2). Whilst he has not had to answer a single question on Planation Industries or Fisheries, he has answered over the half the questions on Local Government and Provincial Councils.

A jack-of-all-trades: The responsibility of answering written questions is vitally important. However, when the Chief Government Whip has to answer these questions, he has to do so with limited knowledge of the respective ministry. This is particularly relevant when he answers undisclosed supplementary questions, which by their very nature require in-depth knowledge.

At times the need for the Chief Government Whip’s response is essential, as seen with questions on Defence. The President does not attend Parliament to answer Defence related written questions and there is no Deputy Minister for Defence. However, in other subject areas, especially where there are both a Minister and Deputy Minister, the reasons for palming off become less compelling.

There are however many who have not shied away from their ministerial responsibilities. A particularly note worthy contributor is Lalith Dissanayake (Deputy Minister of Health), who has answered 28 out of 37 questions on Health (76%) over the 12 month period.

Systemic failures: has previously uncovered the few ‘gladiators’ in the opposition, who made use of procedural frailties to flood the system with written questions. The over reliance on the Chief Government Whip is a further illustration of a systemic failure in holding the government accountable.

Are some Ministers and Deputy Ministers not stepping up to the plate? Or does the workload of the Chief Government Whip align with expectations? Your thoughts and questions are welcome at; over Twitter @manthrilk, or by text to the hotline: 071-4639882.


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