x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 20 January 2018

Federal National Council defends its role in the face of UAE critics

Members of the FNC defend their work as critics question if there is a point in having the council.

FNC member, Dr Abdul Rahim Al Shahin, speaking at the Political Awareness Forum held at the UAE University in Al Ain.
FNC member, Dr Abdul Rahim Al Shahin, speaking at the Political Awareness Forum held at the UAE University in Al Ain.

AL AIN // FNC members say greater awareness of the council's work is needed and any changes to its mandate need to be gradual.

UAE University students and educators yesterday grilled FNC members and political-science experts at a forum aimed at explaining the council's role.

One Emirati professor said the FNC had no role, and the turnout to its elections were low because the council was pointless.

Members said the council was doing everything within its power but needed to be given greater responsibility if it was to have a greater effect on political life.

"Do not judge based on what it doesn't have in power," said Dr Mohamed Al Marzouqi, the secretary general of the FNC.

"We get complaints and questions from nationals and we cannot answer because they are to do with local, not federal authorities.

"Then they say the council is not doing its role. No, it does, this is just not in its [mandate]."

Dr Abdulrahim Al Shahin, a council member from Ras Al Khaimah, agreed.

"We must look at the council's mandate," said Dr Al Shahin. "The members do their role based on what is in the constitution."

Dr Al Mazroui said the council's current role was legislative and supervisory. He said between 50 and 60 per cent of bills passed to the council were amended.

"The council has also refused many laws, and the result meant the Government had to take away some and amend them and present them in a different form," he said.

Dr Al Mazroui added it was the duty of all Emiratis to follow the FNC and familiarise themselves with its work.

"How many come to the FNC?" he asked. "And from teachers? No one comes. And [they] feel the council does not represent them.

"If someone educated does not communicate with us, do you think others will?"

Dr Al Shahin said he felt the council was not ready to be given more power, or to be wholly elected. He said universal suffrage was not yet appropriate.

"I think it is not the time yet for electing all 40 of the council members or to give full power to the council," he said.

"Gradual steps are something needed. This is out of my experience - we are not qualified to elect the 40 members."

He said at present, some appointed members were better at their jobs than some elected members

"If all members are elected, it does not necessarily mean it would be better," Dr Al Shahin said.

Others, including Dr Mohamed bin Huwaiden, head of the political science department at the UAE University, agreed the nation was not ready for drastic political change.

Dr bin Huwaiden said gradually empowering the FNC was the next step and he would like the council to be able to come up with bills and not have to wait for the Cabinet to refer them.

That way it could work all year without needing a break.

Audience members claimed that low public turnout to FNC sessions was a result of low awareness.

Dr Al Shahin agreed. He said the Ministry of State for FNC Affairs needed to work more, and not only during elections, to capture the public's imagination.

Tariq Lootah, the under secretary of the ministry and member of the National Election Committee, said a new department had been established to raise political awareness and development.

"We hope to expand this role and be more active in this field," Mr Lootah said. "We hope next year to expand our activities."

Students at the forum said they often shied away from politics out of fear.