Demographics high on FNC agenda

The demographics of the UAE and its labour system are among issues legislators hope to discuss in the coming months, as the new session of the Federal National Council opens.

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ABU DHABI // The demographics of the UAE and its labour system are among issues legislators hope to discuss in the coming months, as Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, Vice President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, opens the new session of the Federal National Council today. In the next three months the FNC is also expected to discuss rising commodity prices and legislation regulating media activities.

As the council prepares to sit today, a long-serving member said the body must become more effective and make changes that affect the lives of UAE citizens. Ali Jasem, the second deputy speaker, said he was not satisfied with the council's performance. He said it should be more specific in the recommendations it makes to the country's leaders. In his opening speech, Sheikh Mohammed is expected to outline some of the Government's policies and its expectations for the FNC. Today's session follows the council's summer break, which lasted for nearly five months.

Some members are hoping that more powers will be given to the FNC, with the expectation that the council could be extended for two more years. It would be the first extension since the legislative body was created in 1972 and would require a constitutional amendment. Some members expect such an amendment to be made during a meeting of the UAE's Supreme Council - made up of the rulers of each emirate - which could sit as soon as next month.

The 40-member council is otherwise scheduled to dissolve in February. Although half of FNC members were elected in 2006, the UAE does not have an electoral law. Instead its members are chosen by a hand-picked group of Emiratis, who vote from a list of candidates. The other half of the members are appointed by rulers of each emirate. Mr Jasem said if another election were to be held, legislation to regulate the process would be necessary.

He added that the council needed to do more to ensure it was effective. "As the longest-serving member of the council, I don't think the current parliament has achieved any tangible things that we can see on the ground, that can serve our citizens." Other councils, he said, had brought to being programmes such as the Sheikh Zayed Housing Programme and the Marriage Programme. "The current council was not even able to increase the budget of the housing programme and the value of the loans."

The Government today will respond to a set of recommendations on housing passed earlier this year by the FNC. Some of these called on local authorities to provide land for housing projects. Mr Jasem added that no significant achievements were made in areas such as health and education, rising commodity prices or the issue of the population imbalance He said the way recommendations were formulated had to be changed. "There are many recommendations," he said, suggesting it could have been easier for the Government to handle fewer and more specific recommendations.

Another drawback, he said, was that the FNC had not been empowered. "If the council is not given more mandate, it will not make any tangible changes, such as suggesting new laws and approving the budget. At present, the FNC can only suggest changes and vote on laws drafted by federal ministries and bodies. The President gives the final approval. The council is only informed of the state budget, without having the power to suggest changes.

Mohammed Zaabi, a member from Sharjah said the work of the FNC should be evaluated by external parties such as parliamentary experts and the media. He added, however: "Personally, I think the performance was good. Given its mandate, its treatment of the different issues was balanced and reasonable." He said the council had discussed and passed several laws with changes made by the members. One of the most controversial recommended by the FNC was legislation banning the use of frozen embryos for fertility treatment.

"According to my information, the Government has reacted to our recommendations," he said. Dr Anwar Gargash, the Minister of State for FNC Affairs, will today hand more than half a dozen letters outlining the Government's position on issues the council earlier this year discussed and passed recommendations on. One letter advises the council not to discuss the jurisdictions of the federal government.