FNC members criticise Government over budget cuts

A stand-off over the federal budget escalated yesterday at the FNC, with a top government official saying the council had to show 'political sense' when discussing budget cuts.

ABU DHABI // A stand-off over the federal budget escalated yesterday at the FNC, with a top government official saying the council had to show "political sense" when discussing the budget cuts.

The statement came amid increased anxiety among the members over a proposed five per cent cut to the federal budget, and rhetoric bemoaning the council's limited powers.

The discussion began when members objected to a letter by Dr Anwar Gargash, the Minister of State for FNC Affairs, in which he stated a proposal issued by the FNC was still being studied by the Cabinet.

"All these recommendations that were sent to the Cabinet by the council are being swept in the wind," said Yousef al Neaimi, a member from Ras al Khaimah. "In three months the council's term will end and all these recommendations are just now being presented?"

Topics like Emiratisation have not been approved for discussion in the chamber, members said.

Dr Gargash defended the Government's track record. "A lot of the recommendations of the council were taken up by the Government."

But members were not satisfied, saying the Government has been slow to take up proposals and was slashing the budget even after approving costly proposals.

"The council and the Government approved measures to increase the number of teachers, doctors and judges, and at the same time the Government is asking the ministries of education, justice and health to lower their budgets," said Abdul Raheem al Shaheen from RAK.

"I don't think these proposals will see the light in this council's term which is about to end," he said. But Dr Gargash said the financial crisis was forcing governments worldwide to reconsider spending. The council needs to have a "political sense" he said.

"The council has political sense and understands the circumstances and does not leave the orbit of the Government," said Mohammed al Zaabi, from Sharjah. But the Government should tell the council if they no longer have money for proposals, he added.

Sultan al Suwaidi, from Dubai, said the confusion was because of mixed signals from officials.

"Everyone is surprised when the Government says there is no financial crisis, and then the budget for 2011 comes with a decline of five per cent, that is a big question mark on the Government," he said.

"We question the ministers and we get promises from them and we see nothing on the ground," said Sultan al Muezzin, from Fujairah.

Abdullah al Shehhi, from RAK, recalled a statement by a former FNC speaker, telling members: "You say what you want and the Government will do what it wants."