x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

FNC serves vital watchdog role on state finances

The FNC has refused to approve the federal spending report. By scrutinising federal spending, the Council is breaking new ground in governance and accountability.

Early this year, Dr Harib Saeed Al Amimi, head of the UAE's State Audit Institute, told The National that some federal ministries and agencies did not give audit findings the respect they deserved. When questions and suggestions got no response, issues tend to persist year after year.

Dr Al Amimi's comments were duly recorded, but they appeared to have little effect. On Tuesday, however, the Federal National Council took up the same issue, refusing to endorse the official annual report on federal spending and sending it back for further review.

This news is a remarkable sign of the growing focus on accountability in government. As a consultative body, the FNC lacks the statutory power to make binding decisions on federal spending, but the scrutiny is a dramatic step towards fixing irregularities in financial administration; it is also an invigorating step in the development of national institutions.

In any organisation, public or private, auditors exist to verify the efficiency, probity and effectiveness of spending and revenue flows. An essential part of that role is following up with officials involved, to confirm that a problem, once identified, is tackled and finally resolved.

The recurring irregularities cited in the audit report, while not enormous, are legitimate reasons for concern. The federal court in Umm Al Quwain, for example, has long been sending fees it collects not to the federal court as it is supposed to do, but rather to the emirate's government. A change in the accreditation procedure for doctors, mandated by a 2008 law, has somehow not yet taken effect. And so on. Particularly eye-opening is the refusal by the Ministry of Financial Affairs to even let the auditors into its offices.

After some procedural discussions, the FNC and Dr Anwar Gargash, the Minister of State for FNC Affairs, agreed that committee members would go over the spending report again, in detail, with officials from the ministries concerned. The determination shown by many FNC members may well prompt the officials to make progress on the problems raised.

The amazing pace of growth of the UAE has challenged the capacity of many institutions; naturally, public administration has experienced growing pains. But it is equally natural that those problems should be addressed.

Clarity, efficiency, responsiveness and transparency are the hallmarks of sound administration. The process we saw this week is a welcome step towards that goal.