x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

FNC wants six-month reserve of staple food

Final session will also call for curbs on banking charges

ABU DHABI // The FNC is expected to call tomorrow for the creation of a six-month reserve of food staples to protect against shortages.

In its final session before its term ends on Saturday, the council is also expected to urge curbs on unregulated bank charges and a ban on young people under 18 leaving full-time education to take jobs.

An FNC committee will debate food-security plans amid worldwide concern over rising prices. The UN says the cost of food staples is the highest since tracking began in 1990. "Food security is an important issue for any country," said Khaled bin Zayed, the committee's chairman. "The UAE seeks to provide all kinds of security for anyone living here."

The FNC wanted to ensure the availability of food products at reasonable prices at all times, Mr bin Zayed said.

The UAE, which imports 85 per cent of its food, "should use its financial resources to bring in food from a large number of countries", he said.

Political instability and uncertain climate conditions had created food shortages, Mr bin Zayed said, which required the UAE to build up its local food production industry and to set up a strategic food reserve.

The reserve would include food staples, would be continuously replenished, and should last for six months, regardless of cost, he said.

“We have to look at it strategically,” he said. “We need a vision for all circumstances, whether wars, climate or greed.”

Mr bin Zayed’s committee will present its findings at tomorrow’s session.

In other issues to be discussed, a senior member of the finance committee complained that banks levied unregulated charges for providing 170 different services.

“Banks have exploited the lack of regulation and the lack of accountability,” said Yousef al Neaimi, a representative from Ras al Khaimah and a high-ranking member of the committee. “Banks now are taking money for any activity.”

He said most banks even charged if customers visited a bank more than twice for simple transactions such as withdrawing or depositing money. “For a poor person, Dh25 can make a difference,” he said.

Without warning, banks were also charging a three per cent fee for credit-card transactions outside the UAE, said Mr al Neaimi.

“People need credit cards when they are travelling, instead of carrying cash and possibly getting robbed,” he said.

Mr al Neaimi also said that when employees were enrolled in the Wage Protection System (WPS) for less than a year, banks charged their employers Dh250 for each worker. “There are no regulations,” he said. He pointed out that the Ministry of Labour had not told companies they would incur these fees when the WPS was introduced.

The WPS requires companies to pay their workers through banks to ensure that they receive their wages.

Mr al Neaimi called on the Government to regulate banking services and curb the freedom of banks to charge consumers whatever they liked. Obaid al Tayer, the Minister of State for Financial Affairs, is expected to respond in writing.

The FNC will also hear calls that the Ministry of Labour ban young people under 18 years from working, whether Emirati or expatriate.

“The UAE is a rich country,” said Sultan al Suwaidi, a member from Dubai. “How can you tell the youth to leave their education and start working? We need an educated youth that can serve the country.”

At tomorrow’s final session there may also be an announcement on the future of the FNC, the country’s half-elected legislature.

No plans for elections or an extension of the term of the current members have been announced so far.

The FNC is an advisory body that can amend legislation, and has the authority to formally question government ministers.

kshaheen@thenational.ae