The FNC held its approval of the 2009 federal budget until the Government agreed to a 65 per cent increase in its own budget.
Federal budget approved, with strings attached
ABU DHABI // The Federal National Council held up approval of the country's 2009 federal budget yesterday until the Government agreed to a 65 per cent increase in its own budget. The move came during a tense debate in which the transparency of FNC spending was called into question. Members eventually approved the overall federal budget of Dh42.2 billion (US$11.5bn), an increase of 21 per cent on 2008. The original proposal for the FNC budget for 2009 was Dh80 million, which is equal to this year's, but council members asked for an additional Dh52m. "The increase you ask for is approved," said Obaid Humaid al Tayer, the Minister of State for Financial Affairs, during the morning FNC session. He added that the additional money would be deducted from elsewhere, though it was not immediately clear from where. The total FNC budget will be Dh132m. But some FNC members were not happy about what they referred to as a lack of transparency in FNC spending. At one particularly tense moment during the session a member asked the Speaker to resign and call new elections. "I suggest you step down and call for fresh elections because you've clearly caused a split in the FNC," said Dr Sultan al Moazen, a member from Fujairah. The Speaker, Abdul Aziz al Ghureir, replied by saying: "Thank you for your kind words. You're known for making precipitous comments." At the heart of the conflict is what Mr al Moazen called a lack of transparency in FNC funding "while we're asking for more money". He added that the "main commitment of the FNC is for improving the quality of life of the people", and that he and some other members have received little support when they tried to investigate the extent to which promised services had been delivered in places such as Ras al Khaimah and Fujairah. Other members voiced concern during the session about the lack of electricity and water services in many parts of the country, especially in the northern Emirates. One member asked for a revision of the way the federal budget is calculated. "What happens in the UAE is the opposite of what goes on in the world," said Abdul Rahim al Shahin, an FNC member from RAK. "Here we determine the revenues of the year then the ministries are told how much they can spend. Yet in the rest of the world the process goes in reverse. First you determine your expenses and then estimate your revenue." When considering its own budget, the FNC argued that any increase should be based on all the money allotted to it during the year, not just on the initial budget set last January. "The FNC budget for 2009 should be the sum of its total budget allotment for 2008, which was Dh80m plus an amount of Dh37m, which was given to the FNC during the year as an adjustment to the initial budget," said the FNC in a written statement. "An additional amount of Dh12m shall also be granted as allowances for FNC members as per [the law]." firstname.lastname@example.org