DUBAI // The Federal National Council should have greater legislative powers, said Lt Gen Dahi Khalfan Tamim yesterday, echoing comments he made in a newspaper article that sparked debate and discussion among Emiratis.
In an editorial in the Arabic-language daily al Khaleej, the Dubai Police chief said he believed the FNC needed to be stronger, making it a true representation of the people and a bridge between citizens and the Government.
"We need the FNC to discuss all subjects concerning the public and to be able to take action," he said. "Take education, for example. Why should all the decision power be in the hands of one person, the minister?
"Issues should be raised and debated in a parliamentary fashion and researched before decisions are made, which will be more beneficial for the public."
Gen Tamim said that without such authority, there is no benefit from the FNC, even if more people can vote.
"The problem is not in increasing the number of voters, but the lack of powers that the council has - their current powers mean nothing to us as the citizens," he said in the editorial. "If we meant a national assembly that has the elites of the nation representing citizens, it then means a national council that is 'national', not in the sense of our past councils that do not solve, move or do a thing."
The editorial was met with wide acclaim in some circles.
"Gen Dahi Khalfan was speaking on behalf of the nation - and in our national interest," said the former FNC member Sultan Saqr al Suwaidi. "Everything he had called for has been discussed within the FNC in previous years, in his calls for reform and in the need for more freedom of speech. And he was absolutely right to call for performance reviews of ministers, and for checks and balances of the governments activities."
Several former FNC members urged caution, noting that the process of empowering the consultative body must be gradual.
"Most of what he's said, we've already called for," said the former FNC member Yousef bin Fadel, of Umm al Qaiwain. He added that a democratic culture must develop among citizens first.
"The article as a whole is good - for the FNC to have full authority and a genuine mandate, as well as the ability to set the agenda. But what's more important is that a democratic culture will take time to flourish and develop; it's really about demonstrating trust in the will of the majority."
Najla Al Awadhi, another former member, said the nation would move naturally towards democracy.
"People in the Arab region do not lack the desire for self-determination, and I believe with access to education which has been granted in the UAE since the inception of the union, citizens have become more aware of their rights and their responsibilities and are inclined towards wanting to have a say in the future of the country," she said.
In his articleon Wednesday, the police chief called for the FNC to have the power to discuss any topic related to citizens, the country and federal affairs. He said the Government should not prevent action after the council votes to discuss it.He also said the council should be able to hold ministers accountable, annually review performances and withdraw its trust in them if they are found lacking in performance.
Gen Tamim also said the council should have control of national spending, as the funds belong to the citizens.
"The Government should not hold any strategic, industrial, commercial, real estate, investment, financial or military contracts that involve large sums, unless otherwise agreed by the FNC on behalf of the people in order to preserve public wealth," he said.
The FNC might need more time to get to that stage, said its former member Jamal al Hai.
"I agree with the ideas in principle, but we need at least eight more years to reach that stage," he said. "We should move slowly and move from one level to the another - not jump from the ground to the penthouse. There are some parliaments that are 140 years old that are still struggling to govern their nations."