When The National’s political reporter Ola Salem began appearing at the Abu Dhabi headquarters of the Federal National Council more frequently, it is fair to say some members were surprised at the attention that this newspaper was paying to the chamber. Over the months, however, the view of most FNC members have changed: they now seek out Ms Salem to tell her their latest news and regularly praise this newspaper’s coverage as the most extensive of any media outlet.
High praise, but the point of the scrunity is not to win friends. The FNC performs a unique and vital role in the UAE’s system of government. As an elected branch of government – 20 of its 40 members are voted in – it is also the best way for ordinary citizens of the UAE to serve in politics.
Over the course of 2014, The National has stepped up its coverage of the chamber, profiling each member and writing about the sometimes forceful debate that transpires within it. We have written about encounters with Cabinet members, who can be questioned by the FNC. What we didn’t realise when we started was quite how much such coverage would be welcomed by FNC members and those outside the chamber.
Not everyone will agree with everything that the FNC proposes. But their views contribute to an essential public conversation about issues that matter, both great and small. In the last year, the public discussion about breast feeding, about higher pensions, and about early retirement for female citizens have all started from the FNC. Having so many members from each of the emirates means that issues from the far-flung parts of the UAE that might otherwise be overlooked can be given a hearing.
The accumulated experience of the FNC shows in its ability to deal with complex budgetary matters. That is a positive thing, as the FNC has an important oversight role and scrutinising the budget is a significant part of that. The more the public sees that FNC members have the experience to deal with difficult matters, the greater the influence the body will wield.
Next year will be the third time that members of the FNC face elections. In the run-up, and after, this newspaper will closely follow what the members propose and debate.