ABU DHABI // The new FNC yesterday signalled its intention to hold government ministers to account, and to operate to the full extent of its constitutional powers.
In a confident start to the legislative chapter, members summoned the Minister of Environment and Water to answer questions about a ship that sank off Umm al Qaiwain, and the Minister of Health will be asked for an update on establishing a federal health authority.
Dr Anwar Gargash, the Minister of State for FNC Affairs, also faced detailed questions from members appointed to this FNC after serving elected terms in the previous one.
Umm Al Qaiwain's Ali Jassim asked him when the council could exercise its power to discuss international treaties and agreements that were referred to it by the President - a role conferred by the constitution, but not implemented.
Dr Gargash said he was in talks with the FNC Speaker, Mohamed Al Mur, about drafting a law to that effect, but gave no further details.
Dr Abdulrahim Al Shaheen, appointed for Ajman) asked Dr Gargash why the FNC had not been consulted about government departments' draft budgets.
"The cabinet approved the budgets, but then they did not come to us," he said on the sidelines of the session. "This goes against the constitution, which states in article 129 that the budgets need to be passed to the FNC before the end of the year."
Dr Al Shaheen said he had hoped to see the budgets at the first FNC meeting, on November 15.
"If we had received the budgets then, we would have had one month and a half to study them," he said. "How are we supposed to question ministries if we don't know what their budgets are?"
The FNC would not be able to properly question ministries or understand their philosophy and policy unless it had budget details, he said.
Dr Gargash replied that the matter would be studied, but Dr Al Shaheen was unconvinced.
"He did not say that he will get them to us next time, this means they do not want us to see the budget," he said. "They are saying they want to give us more powers, but this is contradictory."
Seeing the budgets at the next meeting, on December 27, would not give the committees enough time to consider them properly, he said.
"At that point, three days would be left until the start of the next year," he said. "That is not enough time. We had hoped to see the budgets before they were officially announced. Last year we saw them in November."
The head of the agriculture and fisheries committee, Dubai's Hamad Al Rahoumi, asked the Minister of Environment and Water about the sinking of a ship about 11 miles off Umm Al Qaiwain.
Police said the White Whale was carrying 1,000 tonnes of diesel - more than twice as much as had been declared - when it sank on October 22. It remains on the seabed.
In his reply, the minister, Dr Rashid Ahmed bin Fahad, said it had been carrying only 450 tonnes. He said the ministry was monitoring the situation carefully and consulting specialists, and had asked the police to prosecute the ship's owner.
Mr Al Rahoumi told the Speaker he was not satisfied by that answer, so Mr bin Fahad will be summoned to appear for questioning in a fortnight.
"They threw the burden to the court," he said. "The action they are taking is not enough. What if the ship leaks, it could leak at any moment as it lies in the sea?
"The diesel could be carried to Dubai shores with wind speed and waves. They do not realise the extent of the threat this is to the environment and the increasing threat every day the ship stays in the sea."
Ahmed Mohamed Al Ameri, elected for Abu Dhabi), the chairman of the health, labour and social affairs committee, was similarly unsatisfied with the Health Minister's absence.
Mr Al Ameri had asked the minister, Abdulrahman Mohamed Al Owais, about progress towards a new federal health authority due to replace the current ministry of health. The change was decreed in 2009, but has yet to be enacted.
In response, the ministry said only that Mr Al Owais was out of the country. He now has 15 days to respond, or he, too, will be summoned.