ABU DHABI // The Speaker of the FNC called yesterday for greater clarity from the Government on elections, as members asked for more oversight of ministries and greater legislative power.
"Strengthening the role of the national council as a leading legislative and oversight authority" is a key element of empowering the UAE politically, Abdul Aziz al Ghurair said.
The second element is a "clear and defined programme for the development of the election experience", he said.
The council is convinced that the rulers are "eager for the continuation and success of the empowerment of the council without a halt or pause, to solidify the pillars of development of our nation", the Speaker told his audience.
He was addressing delegations of government and military officials, including Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, the Prime Minister and Vice President of the UAE, who was inaugurating the new session of the FNC after its return from summer recess.
Mr al Ghurair's calls come amid mounting concern about the elections and doubts among its members that the FNC's work means anything on the ground.
Many have expressed doubt that the time left to organise and hold elections by the time the FNC's term expires in February is enough.
They have called for a comprehensive election law that would define campaign guidelines and political contributions, and enfranchise more citizens.
"Facing the challenges and continuing with reform and modernisation … requires strengthening the march to empowerment of the role of the FNC," Mr al Ghurair said.
Members expressed doubt during the session that any of their recommendations were being implemented.
Though the Cabinet approved a number of proposed reforms to the justice ministry and the telecommunications industry, members say there is no way for them to force government bodies to adopt their reforms.
"What is the difference between an approved recommendation and a rejected recommendation?" asked Abdul Raheem al Shaheen, a member from Ras al Khaimah.
"As members, how can we be sure that the Government has applied these recommendations when some of them were made three years ago?"
Dr Anwar Gargash, the minister of state for FNC affairs, replied: "That is a good point, and the picture he painted is exactly as described with recommendations that are accepted, but what is the practical mechanism to make sure the relevant ministry has followed the Government's orders?"
Yousef al Nuaimi, another member from RAK, said the Government has approved measures such as raising the salaries of doctors and altering the budget to do so, and increasing research grants, but none of them have been implemented.
The FNC's proposals are non-binding, but ought in theory to be implemented once they are approved by the Cabinet of Ministers. Members complain that there is no way for them to ensure proposals are actually enacted.
Dr Gargash acknowledged there were problems with the process, and invited the council to come up with a method allowing it to better oversee ministries and government departments.
"We are ready to discuss what is a working mechanism that we can leave for future councils as well," Dr Gargash said.
But he maintained that the council's work has directly and widely affected legislation in the UAE, and that the current council represented a "defining moment" in parliamentary life.
The Government is determined to "empower this council legislatively and in terms of oversight, through a gradual, orderly path," Mr al Ghurair said in his speech.
Modernising the nation's institutions guarantees respect for justice, rights and liberties as well as sharing points of view and participating in decision making, he said.
"Political empowerment can take the democratic experience to its real goal, especially in the area of increasing political participation," Mr al Ghurair said.
Members have previously called for greater empowerment by widening the political base.
That would mean expanding the current electoral college that chooses half of the 40 FNC members. The 6,600 Emirati members of the electoral college are chosen by the ruling families.
The other 20 FNC members are directly appointed by the ruling families.
Mr al Ghurair made the case before the Prime Minister of the FNC's contribution to Emirati society and the political scene.
The FNC is a "strong and effective voice on the Arab, Islamic and international parliamentary scene in a way that supports the policy of the country and defends its causes", he said.
He pledged that the council would continue to "carry the voice of the citizen to the government" for the last few months of its term.