x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 24 January 2018

Members of FNC raise questions over budget

A letter announcing the cuts to the budget of federal ministries and authorities, as well as of the FNC, was sent to the council last week.

DUBAI // Reducing the federal budget by five per cent could undermine the Federal National Council's agenda to improve vital services, council members said this week.

The implementation of many of the FNC's proposals, including some already approved by the Council of Ministers, relies on an increase in federal spending.

A letter announcing the cuts to the budgets of federal ministries and authorities was sent last week to the FNC by Obaid al Tayer, the minister of state for financial affairs. In addition to reducing the federal budget, the plan would also trim the FNC's budget by five per cent.

The council voted against the cuts to the FNC's budget, with members also speaking out against the broader reductions in federal spending.

The FNC has on numerous occasions called for increases in spending, or recommended measures that would require a bigger federal budget.

The council's recommendations are non-binding, but if approved by the Council of Ministers should become law.

Members say many of these policies are now likely to be slowed.

"Most of the recommendations translate into money," said Sultan al Suwaidi, a member from Dubai and chairman of the Education, Youth, Media and Culture committee.

"I am one of those opposed [to the cuts], especially to services like employment, education, health and housing," he said. "Our point of view is that the service ministries should not be touched."

The council is expected to debate the federal budget before the end of the year.

"The council does not practically have the authority to increase the budget," said Sultan al Muezzin, chairman of the Health, Labour and Social Affairs Committee.

"The budget at the moment is not enough, let alone having it cut," he said.

At the very least, cuts should not impact services like health, education and housing, he said.

"The Council of Ministers should not approve these recommendations if they plan on reducing the budget," said one FNC member, who declined to be identified. "Here is the problem: How can you say 'I accept the recommendations' and at the same time you are reducing it?"

A question, the member said, was where exactly the cuts would be made, and if they would target programmes, salaries or the day-to-day expenditures of the ministries. Mr al Tayer did not specify in his letter where spending might be curtailed at each ministry.

Nevertheless, members say the cuts will likely have an impact on services.

Many of the FNC's recommendations during the past year necessitate higher federal spending. Among them is a proposal made last week to increase the number of judges and legal aides, as well as their salaries, in an effort to deal with the rising number of court cases. The recommendation was approved by the Cabinet, as was a measure to modernise school infrastructure.

Mr al Suwaidi, citing recent recommendations by the International Monetary Fund to the GCC states, said federal spending should be increased to support the economy.