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Chaired by the President, the Bureau is the supreme body of the National Assembly but its modest size (22 members) means it must delegate some of its powers.
The Questeurs are the members of the Bureau who, under its authority and thus under the authority of the President of the National Assembly, carry out the administrative and financial management of the National Assembly
In particular they draw up the budget of the National Assembly, manage the funds allocated to the Palais Bourbon and decide upon expenditure.
The position of Questeur illustrates the principle of administrative and financial autonomy of parliamentary assemblies set down in article 7 of the Ordinance of November 17, 1958 relative to the running of parliamentary assemblies.
I. – THE QUESTEURS: A COLLEGIAL BODY
1. – Composition
The Questeurs are three M.P.s elected by their peers at the beginning of each term of Parliament, and then every year at the beginning of each ordinary session, except that which precedes the renewal of the National Assembly. In practice there is quite a large amount of stability in the function of Questeur.
The Questeurs are a reflection of the political make-up of the National Assembly. Since 1973, two of the Questeurs have been members of the parliamentary majority and the third Questeur has been a member of the opposition.
Disputes between the Questeurs are usually resolved as the problems dealt with are rarely of a political nature. The fact of having Questeurs from different political parties means that a consensus can be reached between the political groups on decisions of an administrative nature and this avoids such issues being exploited for political reasons.
2. – Working
The Questeurs meet every week during session with the two Secretaries General to discuss all the questions which fall within their remit.
The decisions of the Questeurs are taken collegially. The collegial nature of decisions is somewhat tempered by the existence of the notion of ‘delegated’or ‘lead’ Questeur. The latter is chosen by his colleagues to act in their name. Each of the three Questeurs carries out this responsibility in turn for a one-month period.
The General Secretariat of the Questure prepares the meetings of the Questure and in collaboration with the different departments draws up the files to be put before the Questeurs, writes up the minutes, records the decisions and assures their implementation and communication (in particular via the intranet site of the National Assembly).
After each meeting of the Questure, the Secretary General of the Questure and the Director General of Administrative Services, bring together the heads of departments to inform them of the decisions taken and to establish the practical aspects of their implementation.
II. – POWERS OF THE QUESTEURS
1. – The questeurs and the budget of the National Assembly
a) The Preparation of the Budget
The financial autonomy of the parliamentary assemblies allows them to fix their draft budget without the executive power intervening. The draft budget is thus prepared and settled by the Questeurs (aided by the departments). It is then presented to the Bureau, which is accountable of the entire process.
The amount of the annual allocation provided by the State to ensure the running of each parliamentary assembly is drawn up by the ‘joint committee in charge of deciding credits’ which is made up of the Questeurs of the two assemblies and is chaired by the president of a chamber of the Court of Accounts, aided by two assessorial judges acting as rapporteurs. The report drawn up by the Questeurs presenting the budget guidelines as set down in the previously described conditions, is then referred to the Chairman of the joint committee.
A report signed by the seven members of the joint committee and drawn up by its chairman and the assessorial judges accompanies the request for credits and outlines the reasons. It is reproduced in its entirety in the budgetary booklet for the “public powers” mission which is annexed to the year’s finance bill.
The joint committee merely sets down the amount of the allocation requested. It is the task of the Questeurs, after the passing of the Finance Act in which the allocation is included, to freely distribute the credits between the various chapters and expenditures.
b) Implementation of the Budget
The Questeurs are empowered with a general delegation regarding financial and accounting matters. Expenditure may only be authorized with their agreement, except when the amount of such expenditure is relatively insubstantial. In such cases the agreement of the Secretary General of the Questure by proxy is sufficient.
Expenditure is examined before being approved by the Questeurs. Such files are prepared by the various departments of the National Assembly. If the files deal with building work or the provision of goods or services, then tenders are issued in accordance with the provisions of the code of public procurement.
The procedure of approval of such expenditure illustrates the financial autonomy of the assemblies as the Questeurs approve the expenditure without the agreement of a financial inspector, the civil servant who represents the executive power.
c) Monitoring the Implementation of the Budget
In the same way, the auditing and the balancing of the accounts are matters for an internal body of the National Assembly: the ad-hoc committee in charge of auditing and balancing the accounts, set up by article 16 of the Rules of Procedure of the National Assembly is made up of 15 members appointed to proportionally represent the political groups. It is renewed each year at the beginning of the ordinary session The members of the Bureau and thus the Questeurs may not sit on this committee.
At the end of the financial year, the Questeurs draw up, on a proposal of the Secretary General of the Questure, a report for the ad-hoc committee on the implementation of budgetary operations, the technical preparation of which is the task of the Financial Affairs Department.
The Questeurs appear before and answer for their management to the ad-hoc committee which is in charge of granting them discharge and of definitively approving the accounts for the financial year. The committee also gives discharge for his management to the Treasurer of the National Assembly. In the performance of its duties, the committee has substantial powers of oversight: its members may examine all payment orders and accompanying invoices and may question the Questeurs orally or in writing, in particular at the moment of the examination of the management of the financial year which has just ended. The Chairman of the ad-hoc committee draws up, every year, a report on the accounts of the previous year. This report is made public and is published on the internet site of the National Assembly.
In the framework of the certification procedure for the general accounts of the State introduced by the Institutional Act of August 1, 2001, concerning finance acts, a specific procedure has been implemented so as to reconcile the technical requirements of this certification with the autonomy of the parliamentary assemblies. The High Council of the Order of Chartered Accountants is thus tasked with carrying out a contractual audit of the accounts of the National Assembly with a view to declaring their true and fair nature in the sense of accountancy norms. The High Council is completely independent in the carry-out of this task. The certification report which is drawn up at the end of the work, including the results, the final account and the information annex which are the subject of the certification, is transmitted to the Chairman of the ad-hoc committee who passes it on immediately to the Court of Accounts. It is reproduced in its entirety in the aforementioned report on the accounts of the year which has just passed.
2. – The general administration of the National Assembly
The Questeurs are expected to be aware of problems arising from the general administration of the institution. Each of the following areas partially or completely fall within their remit, under the authority of the Bureau: personnel management, social security systems, pensions, the maintenance of the Palais-Bourbon, its grounds and attached buildings, the car pool, the catering facilities, the provision of material means to their colleagues.
a) Personnel Management
The President of the National Assembly and the Questeurs are together in charge of personnel management (with the exception of the porters and temporary staff who fall entirely within the remit of the Questeurs alone). Within this area, they are in charge of all the provisions concerning the recruitment of civil servants by competitive examination, their promotion, their secondment, their leave of absence or their retirement as well as those provisions concerning disciplinary action. The Questeurs decide upon salary increases due to seniority but the Bureau is the only body which decides upon the salary index scale of the staff.
b) Powers of the Questeurs Regarding Social Security Matters
This element of the remit covers M.P.s and former M.P.s, as well as retired or present staff. The Questeurs are in charge of the pension scheme and are members, by right, of the Social Security Management Committee for M.P.s and former M.P.s. They have the same powers of administration for the Social Security system of the staff.
c) Security, Control of Access and Movement in the Palais Bourbon
According to article 3 of the Ordinance of November 17, 1958 and to article 13 of the Rules of Procedure of the National Assembly, the President of the National Assembly is in charge of overseeing the internal and external security of the Palais Bourbon and all the other premises of Parliament. He decides upon the size of the military force he deems necessary and this force is under his command. The President of the National Assembly may, if he so desires, delegate certain of these powers to the Questeurs.
d) Powers Concerning the Working of the National Assembly
The Questeurs are also in charge of certain tasks directly related to the working of the National Assembly. In particular, at the beginning of each term of Parliament, they are responsible for the distribution of offices and meeting rooms for the secretariats of the political groups and for the M.P.s.
In addition, the Questeurs do all within their power to help the M.P.s in the carrying out of their office (transport, telephone, office equipment).