x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

FNC offers chance to comment on new laws

Interested groups already participate in some legislation discussion, but now citizens can offer a view on laws via website.

Abdul Aziz al Ghurair, speaker of the Federal National Council, takes questions during a press conference.
Abdul Aziz al Ghurair, speaker of the Federal National Council, takes questions during a press conference.

ABU DHABI // The often mysterious world of legislation has become a little more transparent as the public has been given a say in the creation of laws that affect them. In last week's unprecedented move, the FNC posted on its website a draft law to regulate the Marriage Fund. The site allows people to suggest changes before the law is discussed in the FNC's chamber.

Anyone can make a comment, but the feedback area is only available on the Arabic section of the site. "There are some laws that directly affect the citizens and we want to involve them and know their opinions on the draft laws," said Abdul Aziz al Ghurair, the speaker of the Federal National Council. Mr al Ghurair said only legislation that affected major parts of the population would be posted, such as laws related to government housing programmes.

FNC committees are not entitled to propose new laws. Instead, government ministries draft bills and refer them to any of 10 permanent committees. The committees can then suggest changes or even introduce new clauses. In most public discussions, the council debates the law in the presence of a government representative. Both sides usually suggest changes and make compromises before passing the legislation, which then has to be rubber-stamped by the Supreme Council, made up of the rulers of the seven emirates, to become law.

"The council has several means to stay in touch with those concerned," Mr al Ghurair said. "If the law was related to sport, we invite sports clubs and listen to their opinions and this happens always." He said that when laws were more specialised or pertained to smaller constituencies, experts, officials and practitioners were usually invited to committee meetings, where their opinions were heard by committee members.

Last week, for example, a law related to financial tools was referred to the FNC. In that case, some 20 senior bank officials were invited to discuss the proposals. Some of those invited to comment on draft laws have, however, criticised the council for failing to adopt many of their recommendations. When asked about this criticism in February, after the FNC had passed the draft media law, Mr al Ghurair said the council had fulfilled its role. "We've invited chief editors, journalists and the journalists' association," he said. "We asked them to come to discuss the draft with the committee, and we've taken their views."

The move to increase public participation in the process of crafting federal bills comes after Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, the Vice President of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, urged the 40-member council last year to be closer to people by conducting more field visits, rather than merely meeting behind closed doors. There has been an upsurge of committee field visits since. In March, a committee with the job of studying the policies of the Ministry of Social Affairs made a one-day visit to a number of federal rehabilitation and community centres in Fujairah.

Dr Sultan al Moathen, a council member from Fujairah, had said during the visit they were on a mission to "convey the real picture and the needs and the suffering of the citizens in the UAE to our leadership so that they can utilise all that's available to serve them". When committee members scrutinise the policies of federal bodies, they propose a number of recommendations to the government. FNC members have criticised government organisations on several occasions for giving a cold shoulder to some of their recommendations. Some even questioned the need to be closer to the people if their proposals then went unheard. Dr Anwar Gargash, the Minister of State for Federal National Council Affairs, has told disgruntled members in the past that they need to draft their recommendations properly, arguing that they need to be more precise and achievable. The site is at www.almajles.gov.ae

The Federal National Council (FNC) is the UAE's assembly, the fourth tier of government after the Supreme Council, the President and the Cabinet, and plays an advisory role to the other three. It was created in 1972 and has held 14 sessions, including the current one. Sessions previously ran for two years by default but could be extended. As of last year, the standard duration of a session is four years. Until 2006, the rulers of the seven emirates appointed all 40 members. Since then, half have been appointed, and half chosen by an electoral college consisting of 6,689 Emiratis, including 1,189 women. This college is nominated by the seven rulers. The Constitution allows each emirate to determine the mechanism by which its appointed FNC members are chosen. There are nine women on the FNC, one of whom, the outspoken Dr Amal al Qubaisi, is an elected member. The Constitution empowers the assembly to examine and propose changes to draft bills, summon and question federal ministers and officials and discuss the federal annual budget. It can also debate, among other things, jurisdictions of federal ministers and governmental bodies and the creation of federal organisations. mhabboush@thenational.ae