x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 19 January 2018

FNC members happy at mid-term progress

Despite a few ministerial tiffs, success in the promotion of Emiratisation and in the push to secure better pensions, housing loans and early retirement for women left the FNC pleased with its progress. Ola Salem reports

ABU DHABI // As Federal National Council members reached the midway point of their four-year terms in office, they reflected on their finest achievements.

Work has intensified since the members convened in November, with longer and more regular sessions being held than in years past. Members have also become more vocal in discussions after having had a year to settle into their seats.

"There is a big difference this year compared with last year," Ali Al Nuaimi (Ajman) said. "In productivity and participation. I think this year was great for the whole council."

Over the past eight months, 14 ministers were summoned to answer questions before the council, some more than once. Members directed 54 questions at them - five more than the total last year.

"As the last term was the first trial for some of the members, including me, this term, members' thinking progressed and became comprehensive," Marwan bin Ghalita (Dubai) said. "Discussions and amendments reflect the members' increasing knowledge of the FNC's work."

Apart from their quarrels with some ministers, members were able to secure a number of rights for Emiratis and pushed for others, particularly in efforts to promote Emiratisation.

Those included removing a clause allowing majority foreign ownership from the Commercial Companies Law, pushing for larger housing loans and asking for higher pensions and early retirement for women.

The state of Government hospitals, particularly those in the Northern Emirates, was also scrutinised, leading to the Health Minister, Dr Abdul Rahman Al Owais, promising members that conditions would improve. Members also insisted on full health insurance for all Emiratis.

"The council has discussed a shortage in medications, and how they should be permanently available, and there has always been concern and involvement from the Government," Salim Al Ameri (Dubai) said. "And so the medication is now constantly available in hospitals."

A powerful moment took place this term when a number of members called for the sacking of Mohammed Saleh, director general of the Federal Electricity and Water Authority, for allowing water and electricity shortages.

For all residents, the council called for regular health checks, asked for a dispute-resolution panel in Dhiad, questioned the protection of consumers and protested against food price increases.

Following criticism of the country's image internationally, members lobbied to form the council's newest panel: the Human Rights Committee.

Discussions led to immediate approvals from ministers as problems came to light at public sessions. Some members also pointed to problems of which ministers had said they were unaware.

When council members debated the state of the media sector with Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed, Foreign Minister and head of the National Media Council, a number of proposals put forth by the council were immediately adopted.

"Discussion of the National Media Council was one of our most important sessions," Dr Mona Al Bahar (Dubai) said. "Truths came out and recommendations were adopted straight by the minister." She cited the example of a training academy and media attaches at embassies.

The Minister of Public Works, Abdullah Bal Haif Al Nuaimi, also took on proposals.

"I mentioned the right of women to get land," Dr Al Bahar said. "We got a good response from the minister. I gave him a list of names without appropriate living conditions. And the ministry communicated with them straight away. I see this as a huge accomplishment."

But for many in the FNC, the greatest achievement was passing the Commercial Companies Law after a marathon four-day session, followed by another session to conclude discussions.

Dr Mohammed Al Mazroui, the council's secretary general, said the Companies Law was one of the most important pieces of legislation discussed in the council this year.

"I think a lot of members participated in the law discussions, which is a big development," he said. "In comparison to the first year, the second year saw more participation and depth of discussions were greater."

The council will convene for its third year in October.


* With additional reporting by Ayesha Al Khoori