x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 17 January 2018

Minister's refusal confounds members

ABU DHABI // Members of the FNC were left in the dark yesterday as a minister refused to answer a question - because it had not been signed by the member who asked it.

Dr Abdulrahim Al Shahin (RAK) was trying to put a question about pension and social insurance to the Minister of State for Finance, Obaid Al Tayer.

He did not sign it, leaving that job to the Speaker, Mohammed Al Murr (Dubai). But Mr Al Murr did not sign it either.

In a written statement, the minister merely acknowledged that an unsigned question had been submitted. Citing a 1977 federal decree requiring questions to be signed by the member submitting them, he asked that it be resubmitted.

That response - or lack of it - drew astonishment from Dr Al Shahin and the Speaker.

"Me, as a member, I cannot speak to the minister, I speak to the Speaker, and he speaks for me," said Dr Al Shahin. "His signature is needed, not mine."

Dr Al Shahin said he had to read the answer more than once to understand what it meant, yet he remainedconfounded. "When I read it more than once, I couldn't find an excuse for it," he added.

Dr Anwar Gagrash, the Minister of State for FNC Affairs, told Dr Al Shahin not to read too much into the answer.

"There was a misunderstanding," he said. "Don't linger over this - we will explain to him [Mr Al Tayer]. It is the member's right to call on him to answer the question."

Mr Al Murr said he was also "puzzled", as the answer went against the FNC's decree of implementation. He said it gave a poor impression of the minister.

Speaking after the session, Dr Al Shahin said Mr Al Tayer's refusal to answer was unprecedented. "It is not his [the minister'] place to decide whether the letter should be signed or not - that's the Speaker's job," he said.

Dr Al Shahin's question was about a pension law. People who quit their jobs must be at least 50 and have served 20 years to get a pension, but a law currently in passage would cut the minimum age to 40. Dr Al Shahin wanted to ask the minister why, in that case, both criteria were needed. He will have to wait another fortnight for an answer.