Ministerial Responsibility

Introduction

Individual Ministerial Responsibility (IMR) [1] is part of the wider doctrine of ministerial responsibility, which also includes Collective Ministerial Responsibility.

According to Individual Ministerial Responsibility:

• Ministers are individually responsible for the work of their departments and are answerable to Parliament for all their departments activities.

• They are expected to accept responsibility for any failure in administration, any injustice to an individual or any aspect of policy which may be criticised in parliament, whether personally or not. [2] 

Definition

Individual ministerial responsibility or Ministerial responsibility is a constitutional convention in governments using the Westminster System that a cabinet minister bears the ultimate responsibility for the actions of their  department of ministry .

In the Westminster system ministerial responsibility and the capacity of first ministers to direct the machinery of government are essential for the maintenance of constitutional government. Their importance far outweighs whatever merit attaches to the popular wisdom that the principles of ministerial responsibility are not followed in practice and that first ministers have concentrated power in their own hands at the expense of ministers and Parliament.

Ministerial responsibility means that ministers must be answerable to Parliament for the way in which the powers assigned through statute are being used. This applies to all forms of government organization. Note the deliberate use of the word "answerable" rather than "accountable [3] ." Equally succinctly, the requirement of parliamentary accountability means that Parliament must have the means to hold to account those on whom it has conferred the powers of the state, be they ministers or non-elected officials. If these two requirements can be met, one may be satisfied that the power of the state is being exercised constitutionally.

Ministerial Responsibility Act [4] 

Section 1

(21 December 1990/1222)

According to this Act, Parliament shall have the right to examine the lawfulness of the official acts of the members of the Council of State, the Chancellor of Justice and the Parliamentary Ombudsman, and of the Assistant Chancellor of Justice, the Assistant Parliamentary Ombudsman and their deputies, and to make decisions arising from such examination.

The provisions of section 2, paragraphs 1-3 and sections 3-7 of this Act concerning a member of the Council of State and the Chancellor of Justice shall apply correspondingly to the Parliamentary Ombudsman and also to the Assistant Chancellor of Justice and the Assistant Parliamentary Ombudsman and their deputies.

Section 2

When considering matters under preparation, the Committee for Constitutional Law shall, whenever there is cause for this, investigate the lawfulness of the official acts of the members of the Council of State and the Chancellor of Justice.

If another committee finds cause to complain that a member of the Council of State or the Chancellor of Justice has proceeded in an unlawful manner in an official act, the matter shall be submitted to the Committee for Constitutional Law for consideration.

A complaint concerning the unlawfulness of an official act of a member of the Council of State or the Chancellor of Justice may also be filed in Parliament. Such a complaint shall be submitted to the Speaker in writing and signed by no fewer than five representatives. On presentation of such a complaint the matter shall be sent to the Committee for Constitutional Law without discussion.

A statement submitted to Parliament by the Chancellor of Justice pursuant to section 47 of the Constitution Act, or by the Parliamentary Ombudsman in accordance with section 49 of the Constitution Act, concerning the unlawfulness of an official act of the Council of State or a member thereof, shall likewise be sent to the Committee for Constitutional Law without discussion. (21 December 1990/1222)

Section 3

If a complaint is filed concerning the unlawfulness of an official act of a member of the Council of State or the Chancellor of Justice while a matter is under consideration in the Committee for Constitutional Law, and the Committee considers that the matter is worthy of attention, or if a complaint against a member of the Council of State or the Chancellor of Justice has been sent to the Committee for Constitutional Law, the Committee shall give him an opportunity to submit a written or oral explanation within a certain period of time.

Section 4

If a complaint has been filed against a member of the Council of State or the Chancellor of Justice, the Committee for Constitutional Law shall consider whether the member of the Council of State or the Chancellor of Justice has proceeded in an unlawful manner, and shall submit a statement on the matter to Parliament, unless the complaint was filed in the Committee for Constitutional Law and the Committee found it to be unjustified.

Section 5

No fewer than seventeen members shall be present when a complaint referred to in sections 3 and 4 is considered in the Committee for Constitutional Law. If controversy arises on the question of whether or not a member of the Council of State or the Chancellor of Justice has proceeded in an unlawful manner, and the votes are divided equally, then he shall be deemed not to have done so.

Section 6

After the Committee for Constitutional Law has submitted its statement, Parliament shall be empowered to decide whether charges under this Act are to be brought against the member of the Council of State or the Chancellor of Justice in the High Court of Impeachment, or whether the matter is to be dismissed.

If Parliament does not immediately decide that the matter is to be dismissed, then the member of the Council of State or the Chancellor of Justice shall be requested to submit a written or oral explanation to Parliament. The explanation shall be submitted within ten days of receipt of the request.

Section 7

The following shall be considered unlawful acts for which charges under this Act may be brought against a member of the Council of State or the Chancellor of Justice:

-If, in an official act, he has aided or abetted manifest unlawfulness;

-If he has intentionally abused his official position to manifestly harm the country, and the abuse is to be deemed an offence in office; or

-If he has otherwise, in some official act, proceeded in a manifestly unlawful manner.

Section 8

This Act shall enter into force as a Constitutional Act. It shall not apply to official acts engaged in before 17 June 1918.

Section 9

This Act shall repeal the Act on the Right of the Parliament to Examine the Lawfulness of the Official Acts of the Members of the Council of State and the Procurator. [5] 

Bangladesh context

The Ministerial responsibility has been enshrined in Article 55 [6] of the Bangladesh Constitution of 1972 and sub-section 3 of the Article specifically provides that “the Cabinet shall be responsible to Parliament". This provision may be interpreted to mean that the Prime Minister who chooses Ministers in the Cabinet is expected to ensure that all members of the Cabinet are responsible for their departments'/Ministries' actions and if any one breaches this obligation, either the Minister concerned should offer resignation or be dropped from the Cabinet.

In recent times the Parliamentary Committee of the Shipping Ministry of the Jatiya Sangsad (Parliament) was reported to have criticized the Shipping Ministry for its failure to take necessary action to prevent launch accidents. Last year, on July 8, over 400 persons were reportedly drowned in a launch capsize at Chandpur. The Committee's chairperson Golam Mohammad Siraj is reported to have stated that, "We are embarrassed for the launch accidents." In recent days another launch accident occurred incurring loss of lives. If such accident occurs during winter time, who knows what will happen during monsoon season?

Furthermore, the Committee also noted the prevailing poor situation of the Mongla port because of corruption, irregularities and low business. The Committee's report appears to be a sharp disapproval of the Ministry's performance that in turn eventually passes on to ministerial responsibility.

Minister would deny his/her individual and collective responsibility for executive actions. Ministers subscribe to conventions and ministerial responsibility is tempered by positive morality. There is a view that if Ministers do not resign because of their purported negligence in the discharge of public duties, it undermines the constitutional morality and is often seen as contrary to political pragmatism.

Some authors have attributed to resignations as "political pragmatism" [7] . Ordinarily the decision behind the resignations depends on the Prime Minister and the Parliamentary Party. Whether a Minister resigns or not is to be first decided by the Parliamentary Party. However a resignation seldom occurs unless Prime Minister considers non-resignation of Ministers dwindles political support of the ruling party in the country.

Conclusion

Ministerial responsibility lies at the heart of our democracy, and it remains central to the way in which we are governed, notwithstanding the criticisms leveled against the continued relevance of the doctrine and despite the damage caused by excess concentration of policy and spending power in the hands of first ministers.

Responsible government and the power of the state

The Constitution is a collection of statutory and conventional provisions that govern the way in which the power of the state is distributed and exercised. In the Westminster system, powers may be distributed on a unitary or federal basis, but their exercise is governed by the common principle of responsible government.

BIBLOGRAPHY

http://www.unhcr.org/refworld/type,

http://www.thedailystar.net/newDesign/news-details.php?nid=124641

Banglapedia

http://www.highbeam.com/doc/1G1-167696382.html

Bangladesh: Constitution, Law and Justice- Nagendra Kr Singh

http://www.cpd-bangladesh.org/activities/rs_book_launch.html

Mahmudul Islam, Constitutional Law of Bangladesh

A B M Mofizul Islam Patwari, Legal System of Bangladesh

Azizul Hoque, The Legal System of Bangladesh

Abdul Halim, Legal System of Bangladesh