x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

Don't let red tape delay needed laws

The delay between an announcement of legislative intention, and actual enforcement of a new law, can be more than two years; this is too long.

The anti-tobacco law signed two years ago this month gave shisha cafes in residential areas until this year to move to the city's outskirts.

But the law, like others, has not taken effect, because of red tape and lack of communication between authorities.

This is regrettable. The practice of announcing a law and then delaying its implementation can diminish the authority of the whole process, leading people to ignore it until they are given a fine or hear of someone being punished.

A similar delay has befallen the child car-seat law, which authorities said would be introduced by 2011. In practice even legal practitioners are often unsure if a certain law is actually in force.

Such confusion serves nobody. Authorities would do well to improve their coordination so that a law, once signed, takes effect when it is supposed to, that the public knows about it, and it is enforced properly.

The tobacco law is a good example of this. "We are waiting for the past six months," Khaleefa Al Romaithi, public health director for Abu Dhabi Municipality, told The National. "Every month, we contact the Ministry of Health. They say, 'Very soon'."

The health ministry says it has been waiting for clarity regarding a bylaw setting out details such as how far shisha cafes must be from residential areas, which ones will be licensed or shut down and what a business must do to have a smoking section.

These are tough questions, but two years have already passed. Because the details have yet to be settled or announced publicly, cafe owners cannot decide on new locations without knowing the letter of the law. This vagueness could force many cafes to close and employees to lose their jobs.

Some parts of the tobacco law could have been put into effect already. Parents, for example, should not smoke in cars with children under 12. Those who do could and should be fined. There would be no harm if some laws were implemented piece meal.

Most of these laws pertain to public health. Delays, therefore, do more than harm people's trust in the law-making process.