FNC vows to engage more with Emiratis

ABU DHABI // As the Federal National Council prepares to resume in the coming weeks after the summer break, some members have predicted that its discussions and recommendations will have a greater impact on the lives of Emiratis.

Nearly 36,000 Emiratis went to polling stations a year ago this week to vote for the 40-member advisory council, half of which is elected.

Faisal Al Teniji, a member from Ras Al Khaimah, accepted that there was a lack of integration between the council and society as a whole, but he said it was possible Emiratis were not as interested in the past year as most of the council's work had been on legislation.

"In the second year there will be a lot more general topics discussed," he said. "Last year around 50 to 60 per cent of committee meetings were dedicated to studying bills, which only transfer to Emiratis in the long run. But now all the topics we have asked to discuss have been passed by the Cabinet, and will lead to a lot of recommendations."

He said one of the first topics they discuss this year will be the Ministry of Health's policy in developing health care. The Marriage Fund and education will also be on the agenda. "These things affect Emiratis directly," he said.

Marwan bin Ghalita, an FNC member from Dubai, said Emiratis need to be better informed of the work of the council and how they can raise issues with its members.

"We have communication through Twitter and Facebook," he said. "The FNC sessions are open to the public, and our personal email addresses are listed on the FNC website. I think what is needed is a lot more awareness on how people can communicate with the council."

Emiratis should still follow the work of the FNC, he said, even if candidates they voted for did not win, as members were duty-bound to represent the whole nation, not just those who voted for them.

"This is the oath we took, we represent the whole country," he said.

Dr Mohammed Al Mazroui, an FNC member between 1984 and 1991 and its secretary general for the past 15 years, has said the current council was "more accomplished and more competent" than that of previous years.

Abdullah Ahmed, an Emirati from Dubai, said the leaders of the UAE had "already provided nationals with everything needed" and so there was no need for a council. After his favoured candidates failed to win, he lost interest in the FNC's developments, he said.

Mr Ahmed admitted he had heard of topics such as calls to reduce the price of petrol, but he was unaware these issues had been discussed in the council.

Another voter, Gaith Al Thery, 30, who works for the Dubai Executive Council, said he too did not follow news from the FNC as the candidates he voted for did not win.

He said: "None of the people I voted for won, and I haven't been following their news because I haven't seen anything in the papers."

Voters also noted a drop in the number of women on the council - from 22.5 per cent to 17.5 per cent, or seven of 40 members.

Ranya Abdullah, 34, from Abu Dhabi, was a voter and a candidate in last year's election. She said a smaller representation of women might mean fewer topics affecting women and children would be discussed.

However, the FNC has kept women and children issues top of their agenda, particularly since two of the women on the FNC are school principals and another two are from the Dubai Foundation for Women and Children.

Male FNC members have also pushed for early retirement for women, and new rights for abandoned children.

Some nationals, including Noura, a medical intern from Sharjah, said the FNC was known to her and her colleagues after they helped to push the Health Ministry to pay them for their work.

She said dozens of Emirati physicians were now grateful to the council for helping them. She found some of the members through Twitter and was then able to contact them.

In the past year, many council members have made themselves more available to Emiratis through social networks, taking note of the issues they raised and bringing them to the attention of ministers. Such issues include drought-hit farms, high interest rates, a nationwide dress code, removing products bad for people's health or offensive to Islam, and addressing a shortage of doctors and medications.

Noura A, a 30-year-old mother of three, said a more vigorous screening process was needed to select candidates.

The lack of one, she said, led to wide scattering of votes as there were 450 candidates.


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