x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 17 January 2018

The FNC offers citizens a role in federal policy

The Federal National Council, of which 20 members will be elected Saturday, has already contributed more to the UAE than many people recognise.

The Federal National Council is considered to be the UAE's fourth most significant federal authority, behind the Supreme Council, the offices of the President and Vice President, and the Cabinet. Constitutionally, this is not in dispute.

What is often questioned, however, is just what this means practically. How much can an advisory body with no legislative powers achieve?

The Constitution answers this as well. Since 1972, the FNC has been empowered to question the "Government's policy in any of the Federation affairs" on the public's behalf. This role of inquiry, with the responsibility to offer solutions, in practice means the FNC can make major contributions to the development of the nation.

In the four decades and 14 council sessions since the FNC's creation, members have written hundreds of draft laws in the name of the public good. They've posed queries to ministers, offered recommendations to federal agencies and reviewed more than 400 international treaties.

On Saturday, nearly 130,000 eligible voters have the chance to choose 20 of the members of the next council. In 2006, far fewer citizens - about 6,500 - were given the power of the ballot; before that, all 40 FNC members were appointed. The larger electoral base is in itself a major step in the political development of the country.

In the past two weeks of campaigning, we have seen both strengths and weaknesses in the system and in the candidates. Candidates have been accused of making exorbitant promises, while concerns have been raised about everything from campaign posters to paid-for votes. Meanwhile, some voters have signalled frustrations; as The National reported yesterday, hundreds of teachers plan to boycott because they do not believe that the vote will affect educational conditions.

Participation in the political process enables citizens to address their concerns, with education and health care, cultural heritage and environmental protection often mentioned. There will be complaints about the FNC's lack of decision-making powers, but that should not distract from the role it does play: to raise issues and propose remedies. At this stage in the UAE's political development, the FNC has a crucial role and is one of the best tools of citizen power.

There will be time to ponder the way forward later. For now, attention turns to the voters, the ballot box and Election Day. Candidates have invested their energy into the council; voters benefit themselves by doing the same.