FNC urged to focus on citizens' concerns

Government provides more than a dozen responses to Council's recommendation on the environment, housing and health policies.

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Abu Dhabi // Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid yesterday urged FNC members to better understand people's "needs and concerns" in an address opening the Council's new session. "The most successful work is that which is set in practical situations and not behind doors," the Vice President of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai told the members of the Federal National Council. "We invite you to interact more with the country's institutions," Sheikh Mohammed said. "Committees shouldn't just satisfy themselves by holding meetings behind closed doors."

He said the Government had closely followed the Council's last session, which ended almost five months ago. "We look forward to more from you and believe that the Council has the potential to learn more about the citizens' concerns and convert them into programmes of work. "The people of the UAE expect much from us. They believe in the union as their destiny and they trust us. The leadership of the UAE will spare no effort in providing a high standard of living to its people."

Sheikh Mohammed added that the representatives had a major role to play in protecting the nation's economy: "We should instil confidence in the national economy and draft legislation to safeguard our economic achievements as this legislation protects our economy against fluctuation in the global markets." Abdul Aziz al Ghurair, the FNC speaker, warned in his speech that the current global financial crisis needed a "common vision to handle its negative sides and maintain the resources of our nation and the aspirations of our people".

"The decisions that have been taken to tackle the effects of this crisis came as a natural reflection of existing national programmes and plans." Following the opening ceremony, FNC members engaged in a vigorous debate with Dr Anwar Gargash, the Minister of State for Foreign Affairs, over the Government's decision not to heed some of their recommendations. "Sheikh Mohammed asked the committees to go to the streets, but what can we say to the citizens in the streets - that our recommendations are not being approved?" said Abdullah al Shehi, a member from Ras al Khaimah.

The Government yesterday handed over to the Council more than a dozen letters outlining its opinion on recommendations passed by the FNC earlier this year. Subjects included environment pollution, housing programmes and health policies. But while some members complained the Government had ignored their proposals, others suggested their colleagues should be grateful for the detailed responses by ministers and government officials.

Ahmed al Khateri, another member from Ras al Khaimah, urged FNC committees to take a second look at the recommendations that were declined by the Government and resubmit amended ones. Mr Khateri suggested that instead of criticising the Government, the members should work harder on refining their proposals. "This is the first time we have received this amount of responses. This sets a new precedent to parliamentary life," said Mr Khateri. On the other hand, Abdul Raheem Shahin, also of Ras al Khaimah, said the recommendations approved by the Cabinet were insignificant. "The Government only adopted cosmetic recommendations after huge efforts by the Council that have invited ministers and convened committees," said Dr Shaheen. "There is no justification for rejecting our recommendations. The Council should ask the Government why they were not adopted." Dr Gargash, however, did not agree that the approved recommendations were cosmetic. "The Government is keen to follow on recommendations, disapproving some of them doesn't mean it's not keen," he said. He noted that some of the council's proposals were very detailed and technical and suggested that the members try harder to simplify their language and submit fewer - but clearer - recommendations. Ali Jasem, the Second Deputy Speaker, echoed Dr Gargash's call for more refined proposals. "We need to reconsider the [nature of] recommendations and the way they are considered [by the Cabinet]," he said. But he said the Government's justifications for not dealing with the council's "wishes" were insufficient, saying that they had received responses such as "insufficient funds" and "this does not fall within our mandate". He argued that government institutions and federal bodies be treated as separate entities. Rashid al Shuraiqi, a Ras al Khaimah representative, said the committee responsible for overhauling the Sheikh Zayed Housing Programme conducted several field studies before issuing its final report, but that only 15 out of its 25 recommendations were accepted by the Cabinet. Sultan al Suwaidi, of Dubai, said the Cabinet was more responsive to the previous FNC session, saying Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed, President of the UAE and Ruler of Abu Dhabi, had often taken the opinion of the FNC over that of the Government. "Our recommendations concern the citizens, our observations are accurate. There's a negative side to the Government ignoring our suggestions," he said. mhabboush@thenational.ae