ABU DHABI // The Federal National Council is seeking reform that makes the parliamentary body more accessible to the public and fully elected in coming years. FNC members say the initiatives are seen as core steps intended to transform the council from an assembly that suggests regulations and discusses laws drafted by other government bodies into a parliament with more direct legislative and monitoring powers.
Within the next few years, FNC insiders say, they are confident more steps will be introduced to encourage greater political participation, including the election all of the members. Members have repeatedly spoken to The National about their desire for the council to be fully elected. A number of representatives said they were positive that recent constitutional amendments - which broadened the council's mandate to allow it to discuss foreign policy and extended its term - would be a precursor for further political changes.
Since the FNC was created in 1972, the 40 seats were appointed by the rulers of the seven emirates that make up the federation. In 2006, however, half of the members were appointed while the other half were elected by an electoral college made up of 6,600 Emiratis, also appointed by the rulers. The FNC is taking steps to improve its performance and be closer to people. Dr Mohammed al Mazrouei, the secretary general of the FNC, said in an interview that the assembly would focus next year on introducing changes to its standing orders.
Under the amendment, the FNC should submit changes to the Supreme Council instead of the Cabinet. Members said that change would give them more freedom to amend its internal rules. He said the FNC would hold a series of public meetings next year in several emirates in the council's drive to be closer to citizens. However, plans to open constituency offices in the seven emirates, announced in June, have been delayed beyond this year due to "budgetary reasons".
If the FNC managed to solicit more money for its 2009 budget in the next session, the offices would be open before the end of next year. Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, Vice President of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, urged the FNC members in the opening of the new session in November to better understand people's "needs and concerns" rather than merely "holding meetings behind closed doors". The instructions were met with mixed responses by FNC members.
"Sheikh Mohammed instructed us to go the streets," said Yousef al Nuaimi, a member from Ras al Khaimah, during a recent FNC meeting. "In the streets, we will face questions about the national identity, the electricity problem in the northern emirates and Emiratisation." Another member, Abdullah al Shehi, also from RAK, said that he could not face his constituency because he would not be able to meet their demands.
Ali Jasem, of Umm al Quwain, said that not all problems could be solved through FNC channels. Members have repeatedly complained that some of their recommendations have not been met by the Cabinet, which is responsible for approving non-legislative decisions. Legislation passed by the FNC is ratified by the president. The Supreme Council, which comprises of the rulers of the seven Emirates, made this month a number of constitutional amendments including extending the term of the FNC from two to four years, starting with the current set of members. The current council had been due to expire in February.
"Gradual change is very important," Fatima al Mazrouei, a member from Abu Dhabi, said this month. "We don't want a lot of steps taken without being considered carefully." Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed, President of the UAE, made it clear in his National Day address that he was keen to continue the democratic process, "so we can bring it to the level of participation that we aspire". Sheikh Khalifa also told London-based pan-Arab daily Al Hayat this week that the constitutional amendments "fell within the scope of a comprehensive vision to develop and activate the role of the Federal National Council".
They "followed well-studied steps that take into account where we stand as a nation and the developments taking place in our country". firstname.lastname@example.org