Public service, surely, is a privilege. Turning up must be the bare minimum requirement for the job. What to make, then, of the draft law by the Federal National Council that would make it obligatory for members to attend committee sessions?
The draft law highlights a problem that the FNC has long wrestled with: the lack of attendance by some members. The debate on Tuesday in the chamber was heated and the issue clearly stirs up strong feelings, even beyond the FNC.
Let’s start with an acknowledgement that attendance at the FNC is not a reflection of the commitment of individual members. In other elected bodies, for example parliaments, attendance is generally not even noted. Rather attendance is inferred from the voting records or from those attending specific committees. There is a recognition that members may spend a great deal of time working for the people who elected them, but not always in the chamber.
And yet politicians must not only do their work, they must be seen to do their work. Especially in a country developing so rapidly, FNC members need to put forward their best efforts. Members have in the past complained that ministers they have called to attend have failed to turn up. What sort of example does it set if FNC members themselves don’t show up? The UAE’s system of government, like any system, can only work if all parts pull together.
A draft law won’t help in that respect, since it only records attendance not engagement. Far better to publish records of attendance, committee membership and questions posed by members. That way, any member of the public can see what their FNC representative is up to – and, if they have fallen short, get rid of them at the next election.
After all, serving the country is a rare privilege (and one that FNC members are well-compensated for). If individual members find the task too taxing, then – as the number of candidates who putthemselves forward for last year’s election shows – there are others who would be happy to take their place.