The decision by the Federal National Council to set a deadline for every bill it approves is an important step to speed up the legislative process and avoid often unjustified delay. The tendency of legislation to drag on for years, or even decades, has serious implications for public health, economic development and individuals and society.
As The National reports today, FNC members have said they will set deadlines for ministries to publish laws after they are enacted and to draft the regulations needed for implementation. This is a response to complaints that publication of the official gazette takes longer than is permitted by the constitution. After a law is passed by the President, it is supposed to be published within two weeks - but members say that in practice publication often takes much longer.
An inefficient legislative cycle often causes confusion over whether a certain law has been implemented, delayed, amended or entirely abandoned. Delays are mostly caused by red tape or a simple lack of communication between authorities.
The step is hugely important to streamline the legislative process but it is certainly not enough on its own. There is no guarantee that authorities will comply with these deadlines. Dr Abdulrahim Al Shahin, a member from Ras Al Khaimah, said government bodies that do not comply will be held "responsible". But what will ensure this responsibility?
It is important for the Government to come up with an enforcement mechanism to oblige authorities to comply with such deadlines.
The FNC has demanded deadlines before but there was little follow-through. In 2009, for example, the FNC gave the Ministry of Economy a three-month deadline to draft regulations for a federal law criminalising the widespread business practice of using UAE citizens as "fronts" for establishments owned by foreigners. An FNC specialist committee said the anti-concealment law, drafted three years earlier, would result in billions of dirhams a year in national income. But the law is still on hold.
Laws banning smoking in some areas or making childseats in cars compulsory are clearly significant for health and safety. Yet they are being delayed despite calls from experts and promises by authorities.
Improving the process is essential to match the country's rapid development. Part of the Government Strategy 2011-2013 is to improve the efficiency of the legislative process. We hope the Council's concerns about delayed laws will be considered in this strategy.