Federal National Council marks 40th birthday today

Four decades ago, under the orders of the country's beloved first President, Sheikh Zayed, the Federal National Council was born. The work the FNC has since achieved is testament to the founder's wisdom.

Powered by automated translation

ABU DHABI // As the FNC marks the 40th anniversary of its first meeting today, it can look back on decades in which its members have held substantial sway over policy.

In those four decades its members have amended 470 laws.

The current FNC Speaker Mohammed Al Murr described the establishment of the council as a historic moment and "politically wise".

"[Today] the FNC will turn 40 years old - years characterised [by] continuous parliamentary work with the support and vision of the late [President] Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan," Mr Al Murr said.

Established under the orders of Sheikh Zayed shortly after the country's foundation, the FNC archive provides a vivid picture of the UAE's transformation since that time, and the issues the people have grappled with.

Some early concerns remain high on the agenda today, including housing, health and education. Others, such as the regulation of medical responsibility, have faded.

The evidence of the council's work defies frequent criticisms of its limited powers.

"The council had a big role in amending laws as members took the opinion of Emiratis in them," said Dr Mohammed Al Mazroui, an FNC member between 1984 and 1991 who has for the past 15 years been its secretary general.

"The Government needed this. The council's recommendations had a big impact on government projects. Its work has been far-reaching."

Prevailing topics in the 1970s included the need to increase the population of Emiratis in the country, the need for more nationals to work in the security and defence sector, and a shortage of medicine in hospitals.

There were also more bread-and-butter concerns, such as the need to build more housing for nationals and demands for higher pay.

By the 1980s, the housing shortage had become a crisis with the council demanding solutions. Health services have remained an issue, as have calls for greater taxation of tobacco.

In the late 1980s, the council addressed the issue of the rising number of Emirati men who were choosing to marry foreigners - a trend that continues today.

And there has been repeated frustration at the sometimes glacial pace of change. Issues such as agriculture and transport were all problems in the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s.

By the late '80s, with health care standards rising, the FNC turned its attention to preventive health and concerns about drug use.

With more Emiratis sending their children abroad for education, there were also calls for more investment in the country's schools and universities.

By the late 1990s, Emiratis' reticence at integrating into the workforce was working its way to the top of the agenda.

The council saw a special need for nationals to be employed in the media sector and in particular Wam, the state news agency.

"The community grew and problems become more complex," Dr Al Mazroui said.

"Government departments also grew and branched out and cities expanded."

As the population grew, so did its calls on the Government. When members requested the Government step up the pace of home building, the result was the establishment of the Sheikh Zayed Housing Fund.

A few years later the council was also instrumental in creating a fund to support marriage between Emiratis.

After Sheikh Khalifa became the President in 2004, he gave the council greater powers and opened half of the seats to elections.

He extended the terms from six to seven months, and the chapter from two to four years. Sheikh Khalifa also decreed that women should be allowed to sit on the council.

Members became more active, questioning ministers more often and more aggressively.

"If we notice through the past chapters until the 14th, the questions were much less than in the last two," said Dr Al Mazroui.

"Communication with the council has also changed."

He said even if communication with the community was easier before with a smaller community, now the council had fast ways to reach people through modern-day technology.

"The council cannot be compared to before," Dr Al Mazroui said.

And from the start, members had been forthright in pointing out policy missteps and facing embarrassment by asking obvious questions to help to improve life for Emiratis.

"It was an honour to serve at the council, and the Emirati is always on top of our agenda," said Rawiyah Al Samahi, a member of the last chapter.

And Ali Jassim, a member from Umm Al Qaiwain since 1993, expected the council's role to keep developing.

"The council year by year changes, but we always aim to be higher and better," Mr Jassim said.