x Abu Dhabi, UAE Thursday 20 July 2017

FNC raises alarm about budget costs

Politicians say salary increases for teachers are out, and worry over effect on northern Emirates, with fears over cuts in 'social spending'.

The FNC’s Sultan al Muazzin says pay raises for teachers are unlikely. Above, pupils at the Emirates National Schools.
The FNC’s Sultan al Muazzin says pay raises for teachers are unlikely. Above, pupils at the Emirates National Schools.

ABU DHABI // Members of the FNC have raised alarm that “social spending” by the ministries of Education, Health and Social Affairs, all already suffering from tight finances, will face even more trying times under new budgets, and say those budgets should be protected because they provide key services to Emirati nationals.

FNC members say the budget rules out the possibility of raising salaries for teachers and doctors – something they see as vital to retaining staff – and question the effect of the cuts on education in the northern Emirates.

“We have to focus on the service ministries because there is a deficiency in their services, the services of the health, education and social affairs ministries must be improved,” said Sultan al Muazzin, the chairman of the health and labour committee.

According to the government’s budget resolution, provided by the Cabinet and released at the FNC last week, spending by the
Ministry of Education is projected at Dh4.63 billion in 2011 – a 35 per cent reduction of its Dh7.2bn projected spending for 2010.

According to one politician briefed on the budget, the difference is because Abu Dhabi will now foot the bill for a greater proportion of the capital’s education costs. However, it was unclear if the cuts would affect the money allocated to public schools in the northern Emirates.

Either way, FNC members said services would suffer.

“Students increase, schools increase, and you are reducing the budget, so there will definitely be an effect,” said Sultan al Suwaidi, the chairman of the FNC committee in charge of education.

The Ministry of Education oversees all public schools but it has also been pushing for more control over private schools. It also runs Madares al Ghad, an experimental school programme for which it has hired many expatriate teachers.

The FNC has repeatedly proposed raising the salaries of teachers and doctors in particular, saying such raises were needed to stop the flow of professionals leaving government institutions for the more lucrative private sector and neighbouring Gulf countries. The highest salaries for public schoolteachers are estimated at about Dh16,000. FNC members say that the salaries and benefits are too low, driving away potential recruits from the profession, males in particular.

But salary increases now seem unlikely, according to Dr al Muazzin.

He said the council’s job was to relay the views of regular citizens to the country’s leaders, who would ultimately decide. “I say it is wrong to cut back the budgets of the service ministries, but the solution is not with us,” he said.

Other bodies categorised under social development have had their budgets frozen or slightly cut.

The Ministry of Health’s budget declined from Dh2.79bn to Dh2.66bn, while projected spending for the Ministry of Social Affairs declined by Dh8 million to just over Dh2.5bn next year. The Zayed Housing Programme, one of the country’s signature social
development projects, has had its budget frozen at a little over Dh1bn.

Overall spending on social development, which includes federal universities whose 2011 budgets are frozen at 2010 levels, is Dh15bn, down from Dh17.8bn last year.

Federal spending for 2011 is projected at Dh41bn, a six per cent cut from 2010 levels. The UAE will run a budget deficit of a little over Dh3bn next year.

Dr al Muazzin said the cuts in federal spending were reasonable, as other countries were running much larger deficits in the wake of the financial crisis.

Still, hospitals in the northern Emirates would suffer, he said, with the Ministry of Health unable to hire doctors at the same competency level as the private sector.

“The Ministry of Health will be affected greatly, and I expect health services to be worse than what they are at the moment in the northern Emirates,” said Dr al Muazzin.

Meanwhile, Mr al Suwaidi argued that the government should avoid austerity measures.

“You want to invigorate the economy, so government spending should be increased, not cut back.”

kshaheen@thenational.ae