x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

FNC protests, but approves budget

Major ministries do not have the money to carry out essential programmes like combating diabetes, members of the FNC claimed yesterday.

Obaid al Tayer, centre, the Minister of State for Financial Affairs, said the Ministry of Health alone employed 900 administrative and management staff.
Obaid al Tayer, centre, the Minister of State for Financial Affairs, said the Ministry of Health alone employed 900 administrative and management staff.

ABU DHABI // Major ministries do not have the money to carry out essential programmes like combating diabetes, members of the FNC claimed yesterday.

The Dh41 billion federal budget was narrowly approved by the Federal National Council, with only 21 of 40 members present, just one member more than the legal minimum required to vote on legislation.

Thirty members were present at the start of the session, and the departure of nine members drew objections from Obaid al Tayer,the Minister of State for Financial Affairs. He said not voting on the budget would paralyse the Federal Government.

That prompted Abdulaziz al Ghurair, the speaker of the FNC, to ask all the remaining members to stay at the session to vote for the bill.

The findings in a report by the FNC's finance committee, which accompanied the federal budget resolution, paint a picture of cash-strapped ministries and a bloated public sector in which federal authorities sometimes allocate up to 92 per cent of their budgets to salaries.

The budget discussion appeared at times muted, with little passion from members who had previously been outspoken on cuts to social services, though many still criticised the cuts.

The finance committee's report highlighted the myriad problems facing the ministries.

Yousef al Neaimi, a member from Ras al Khaimah, reeled off a list of social services that will be hurt by the budget.

"The Zayed Housing programme was completely frozen, not an extra fils," he said. "Doctors have resigned in the hundreds and there is a shortage in nurses."

He continued: "Regarding education there is a shortage of teachers and staff in schools, they are in a very bad situation and the budget is the same for them."

Abdullah al Mansouri, the chairman of the finance committee and a member from Abu Dhabi, said the federal universities faced frozen budgets despite an annual increase in the number of students.

FNC members go through "psychological trauma" every time they have to discuss the budget, he said.

The federal budget for 2011 freezes federal university spending at 2010 levels, while cutting or freezing a range of social services.

Overall spending is projected at Dh41bn for the year, while revenues are estimated at Dh38bn, resulting in a Dh3bn deficit.

The Ministry of Education's budget has been cut by 35 per cent, due to the transfer of teacher salaries in the capital over to the Abu Dhabi Education Council and an overall budget cut.

The FNC called for higher salaries for teachers and asked for a reversal of the ministry's budget cut, saying the authorities had to increase funding to attract locals and prevent teachers from "seeping out" of the ministry, which runs public schools in the Northern Emirates.

The FNC pointed out that the budget for federal universities will remain constant despite the cabinet's promise to link their budget to student costs and to the number of new admissions every year.

The measures have led to the Higher Colleges of Technology (HCT) being forced to engage in overdraft borrowing to cover their deficit. The colleges will need vastly more money than they have been allocated, the members argued.

Both the HCT and UAE University spend less than one per cent of their overall budgets on scientific research, key goals under the UAE's Vision 2021 plan, according to the report.

The Ministry of Health is losing doctors to the private sector and to local health authorities in Abu Dhabi and Dubai that are paying better wages.

The ministry does not have the cash to combat chronic diseases such as diabetes, which affects a quarter of the UAE's residents and costs the country billions of dirhams, the FNC said.

Mr al Tayer said the Ministry of Health alone employed 900 administrative and management staff, a figure he said should not be so high. The ministry runs hospitals in the Northern Emirates and one hospital in Dubai.

Despite rising medical costs due to an increase in chronic diseases and the need to renovate old hospitals, half the projects the ministry has pledged to carry out have not been funded by the new budget, which is Dh40 million less than the 2010 allocation.

 

kshaheen@thenational.ae

hdajani@thenational.ae