One significant step was taken for Bahraini democracy on 6 January when the Prime Minister for the first time addressed his new Government Action Plan directly to Parliament; illustrating the new enhanced role of elected deputies in approving or rejecting Government policy.
This four year plan is far-reaching and ambitious and represents the aspiration for an intense period of executive activity. Collectively, these initiatives amount to a response to the situation Bahrain finds itself in today: A challenging economic situation and high levels of public debt; continuing domestic threats from terrorism in the context of wider regional instability and the twin threats of radicalization and sectarianism.
The parliamentary elections, furthermore, highlighted a strong public mandate for change, further reforms and efforts to improve living standards and address the housing issue.
Below is not an attempt to list or summarize everything in the Action Plan. Rather we have picked out some of the more interesting highlights to illustrate issues where we can expect to see tangible progress over the coming months:
- Supporting democratization is one of the “fundamental principles” of the state.
- Supporting the role of civil society and promoting the activity of societies and NGOs; so as to “avoid sectarian and factional polarization”.
- Following up the King’s initiative for the creation of a human rights court.
- A “comprehensive media strategy” while developing the capabilities and professionalism of the official media.
- Reinforcing the “independence and impartiality” of the judicial sector, while strengthening the sector’s capacity and “human resources”.
Public sector performance
- Creating a public sector work culture more conducive to change and reform.
- Initiatives to make the public sector more “productive” and strengthening the available pool of skills and capabilities.
- Improving transparency, accountability and oversight of public sector activity and addressing corruption.
- An improvement in strategic planning and an increase in the evaluative capacity for measuring effectiveness.
- A strategy for maximizing Bahrain’s relations with “fraternal and friendly nations”.
- Prioritizing cooperation with GCC states towards the goal of a Gulf Union.
- A programme of training and preparing security forces for improving their effectiveness and raising skill levels.
- Strengthening anti-terrorism capacity.
- Ensuring a holistic capacity for responding to crises and disasters.
- Improving the effectiveness of religious teaching and sermons in promoting national unity; improving the abilities of clerics to play the role of enhancing national harmony.
- Strengthening oversight of public sector spending.
- Enhancing the diversification of the economy.
- Coherent policies to reduce and manage levels of public debt.
- Further support for small and medium-sized businesses.
- Developing the tourism and cultural domains to help these sectors contribute an increased share to the national income.
- Increased governmental and private sector investment in projects for economic development.
- Increased efforts to attract foreign investment.
Eductaion, Health, Housing and services
- Improving the infrastructure of the education system and developing teaching standards.
- Ten new schools to be built.
- Plans for six new hospitals and four new health centres.
- Improving access to health services and providing a more holistic and better-regulated system.
- Construction of 20,000 new housing units over the next four years.
- Reforming regulations for housing provision and accelerating the process, with a greater role for the private sector.
- Improving transport infrastructure and widening provision of public transport.
- Continuing the expansion plans for the airport.
- Ensuring the sustainable management of Bahrain’s environmental resources.
Considering that the above points represent just a few highlights from the Action Plan; this new Government programme represents a hugely ambitious programme of activity.
However, some of the proposals are clearer and more tangible than others. So some of the broader initiatives, like the aspiration for making the public sector more productive require strategies and work plans of their own, in order for the Parliament and public to know how implementation will go ahead and what the prospects for success are.
In this regard, we hope that the new Parliament will live up to its promises for increasing oversight of the public sector and government business; while ensuring greater transparency in clarifying how many of these important initiatives will proceed.