x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 22 January 2018

FNC debates absences at crucial budget vote

Only 21 out of 40 members were present at vote on new federal budget last week.

ABU DHABI // When the 2011 budget resolution came to the floor last week for a vote at the Federal National Council (FNC), only 21 out of 40 members were there to vote it through.

The final session of the year was packed with two pieces of critical financial legislation - a public debt law and the federal budget.

But just 30 members were present at the start of discussions - and nine left during the course of the day.

Failing to vote on the budget would paralyse the federal Government, preventing it from disbursing funds to its ministries, said Obaid Humaid al Tayer, the Minister of State for Financial Affairs.

In interviews with FNC members, several said many members missed one of the year's most crucial sessions because of: the holiday season; other obligations like conferences, or members going on Umrah; and the late schedule of the budget debate.

But others said there was a growing malaise among members as the council's term neared its end next month with no elections in sight, while some were unhappy with the handling of the budget debate, and said they felt stifled. Most members, however, said the oath of office mandated they did not abandon the chamber.

"Since we came to the session, we have to finish it," said Yousef al Neaimi, a member from Ras al Khaimah. "Is there a more important issue than the federal budget? If it is not approved, all of this would stop. The members are clearly at fault."

Mr al Neaimi said he expected members to miss more sessions in the month-and-a-half that remained of the FNC term because of the lack of clarity on the legislature's future.

"There is no clear vision for the council now," he said. "This is the question for all members - what happens after February 12?"

Many of the council's proposals, which were approved by the Cabinet, had not seen the light of day.

"As a member you are frustrated," he said. "[We] all worked hard and saw nothing."

Khalid bin Zayed, a member from Dubai who missed the session because he was attending a conference abroad, denied that members were not attending because they felt disenchanted.

"This is not correct and is illogical - as members we are going to work until the last day," he said.

Sultan al Muazzin, a member from Fujairah who walked out of the session, said he left after requesting an opportunity to speak for hours without getting to do so.

Dr al Muazzin said he was being stifled from participating in the budget debate because a month earlier he had voted to cut the FNC's budget as part of the wider cuts to the federal Government, a move that a large majority of the members opposed.

Members who opposed cutting the council's budget were the ones who got the opportunity to participate in the debate, he said. "I am not just filling a spot," he added.

If his departure had left the council without the legal minimum to vote on legislation, he would not have stepped out, he said.

Ahmed al Khateri, a member from Ras al Khaimah, said he did not attend the session because he was travelling with family. Mr al Khateri said attending the FNC sessions was a "moral duty", adding that he doubted that members would deliberately skip a session to protest against the budget.

Mohammed al Zaabi, a member from Sharjah, said any objections did not justify walking out of the session. "I do not support excusing yourself from the session," he said. "[The member] should object inside the chamber.

"Even if the budget does not satisfy us, we do not accept obstruction."