In order to establish a fast and efficient legislative system, the legislative process in the UAE must become more transparent and consistent.
Legislative agenda is only as good as public access to it
Laws begin as ideas but it takes an efficient legislative process to turn that idea into a legal document. The UAE is getting better at this, but even after 40 years as a nation much work remains to be done.
As part of its effort to streamline the law-making process, the UAE has released its Government Strategy 2011-2013, which includes ideas to improve efficiency and develop high quality legislation.
The Government will focus its efforts on ensuring quality legislation by speeding up the law-making process, ensuring the quality plans, enhancing the consultation process that supports the legislative cycle, and selectively reviewing key bills, decrees and decisions.
The need to develop new laws in the UAE has increased in recent years due to the rapid development of the country. But with no legislative calendar, and no regular updates from the relevant authorities on the legislative cycles of draft laws under review, it is difficult to determine which draft laws were meant to be adopted, and which have either been abandoned or delayed.
As The National reports on its pages today, some of these very questions are now being asked about national tobacco legislation.
It is no secret that the UAE legislative process lacks efficiency and is less developed than the country's ambitious economic and social agenda. It is nearly impossible for the public to keep track of a UAE law in the making. Moreover, the legislative process is not transparent and the legislature is anonymous. A draft law may disappear from the radar unless a call is made to report on its status.
This largely explains the recent frustrations expressed by members of the Federal National Council on issues related to health care, labour policy and budgets.
Nonetheless, the year that just ended did see some welcome, and public, legislative advances.
On the labour law front and since the beginning of 2011, the UAE Ministry of Labour has announced a number of new measures to ease the legal environment for employees and employers. But the UAE's labour law is still in need of an overhaul to reflect the requirements of the employment market. We could see some movement here.
On the commercial legislation front, the Cabinet has approved a new draft law on companies. The existing Commercial Companies Law (Federal Law No 8 of 1984) shall be replaced by new legislation liberalising the market and opening it up for foreign businesses.
The revised Company Law will keep pace with the changing economic landscape. This law has been circulated to governmental authorities for comments throughout the last 15 years in no less than 10 drafts. Although there is no specific timeframe for enforcement of the new law, this announcement marks the first significant step towards passage.
After two years of work, there is also a draft bankruptcy law in the works, aimed at supporting companies in financial difficulties. If approved it would modernise the mechanism of dealing with the debt burden that companies struggle under, and proceeding with the restructuring of debt owed to creditors.
Again there is no specific timeframe for passing the law since the draft will be presented to the Cabinet in early 2012 in order for a technical committee to evaluate its provisions.
While the legislative cycle of the above laws is not yet set, FNC members are determined to question the ministers on their oversight of the process. But the real question here is how the Government intends to resolve the pending issues and define the FNC's role in the process.
It is imperative to point out that despite these and other concerns, 2011 did see some ground-breaking laws, including the decree granting citizenship to children of Emirati women married to foreigners. Laws pertaining to economic reforms, particularly to drive competition and attract new investors, were also significant changes.
But this is no time to rest. In order to establish a fast and efficient system, the legislative process must be more transparent and consistent. Legislation must also be accessible to citizens and companies that depend on it. This objective is particularly important given the constraints of bilingualism that can lead to different interpretations.
The adoption of a legislative agenda would allow citizens and practitioners to be better informed of changes that will affect their legal situation. One cannot argue that everyone is presumed to know the law, if nobody can fully be aware of the contents or amendments. The UAE has come a long way in developing a system of legal codes in the last four decades. But it has further to go.
Diana Hamade is an Emirati lawyer and legal consultant. She is the founder of International Advocate Legal Services in Dubai