x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

Deficit and electricity top concerns for FNC

A national Dh3 billion deficit, cuts to social spending and a lack of electricity in Fujairah are all to be discussed by the FNC at the last budget debate of its term.

ABU DHABI // A national Dh3 billion deficit, cuts to social spending and a lack of electricity in Fujairah are all to be discussed by the FNC at the last budget debate of its term today.
The chamber will also debate a public debt law, seen as a possible precursor to issuing federal bonds.
The debate follows weeks of calls from the chamber for health, education and social affairs to be spared cuts and budget freezes revealed by the Cabinet earlier this month.
Members have called instead to raise the salaries of such professionals as teachers, doctors and judges - a cause the council has championed for years. Without these incentives, they say, professionals will "bleed" out of the public sector.
Concerns over the levels of debt at federal ministries and federal universities are also expected to arise.
The budget of federal universities has been frozen at 2010 levels despite pleas by FNC members and university officials.
Records released this month show the Higher Colleges of Technology in 2009 engaged in overdraft borrowing, while Zayed University owed Dh33 million in electricity and water bills to authorities in Abu Dhabi and Dubai.
The public debt law under discussion would establish a public debt management office, a ceiling on public debt and regulations to cover the issuance of federal bonds. Such a law would be crucial if the government were to issue federal bonds at some point.
Government officials have said they are keeping their options open on tackling the federal budget deficit.
Meanwhile, the Minister of Energy, Mohammed al Hamili, is expected to explain in writing why some areas in Fujairah are without electricity, despite waiting for years to be connected.
The Federal Electricity and Water Authority (Fewa) attracted criticism from FNC members two weeks ago, when it was revealed that while hundreds of homes and businesses in the Northern Emirates remained unconnected, the authority had run a budget surplus of Dh800 million.
"Tens of hundreds of locals have been waiting for three to four years to get electricity," said Abdul Raheem al Shaheen, a member from Ras al Khaimah, in a preliminary budget session this month.
"How can an agency have a surplus of close to Dh1 billion and nationals do not have electricity in their homes?"
Sultan al Muazzin, the chairman of the health, labour and social affairs committee and a member from Fujairah, questioned why more recently established businesses had not experienced similar delays.
"I want to know the reason for this favouritism," he said. "Banks are demanding they pay back their loans, and what is the fault of the regular citizen? The principle of equality and equal opportunity should be the same for everyone."
Some areas had started receiving electricity, said Mr al Muazzin, but many were still without.
 
kshaheen@thenational.ae