9 – 14 January 2015
Debate of the draft 2015-2018 Government Action Plan has continued to be the central issue for parliamentarians, with some MPs indicating that they may vote against the Plan. Meanwhile, initiatives are being discussed for promoting the role of women and protecting women’s rights. Predictably, the housing issue also remains a central theme for debate.
Will elected MPs reject the Government’s Action Plan?
There is ongoing speculation about how MPs will eventually vote concerning the Government’s Plan, which highlights the priorities of government institutions for the next four years.
The issue is that while there is little disagreement about the general content of the Action Plan; many of the outlined priorities lack any specifics about how they will be executed, what these mean in practice and how they will be budgeted for.
The power of MPs to reject the Government’s Action Plan is a new measure included in the 2012 parliamentary amendments. So this is the first time MPs have had the chance to exercise this right. Arguably this is a very good thing for representative and accountable democracy in Bahrain.
On 13 January seven Cabinet ministers met the parliamentary committee for debating the Action Plan, headed by deputy head of Parliament Ali al-Aradi. Following the meeting, ministers asked MPs to formally submit in writing their visions for revising the plan.
Ali al-Aradi spoke positively of their discussion: “The government’s co-operation by sending a high-profile team reflects willingness to have the plan passed without any delays”, he said.
However, MPs Adel Abdulhamid and Mohammed al-Jowder said that the responses given by Cabinet members lacked precise figures and detail. Government representatives pointed out that many such details could only be confirmed after the approval of the State Budget, which is due to be submitted only after the Action Plan.
This creates something of a predicament, because many MPs clearly desire a lot more detail before being ready to approve the Action Plan. Meanwhile, ministers say that those details of specific projects and costings can only be given following the approval of the State Budget, which is being help up while the Action Plan is under debate!
However, following the 13 January meeting Minister Mohammed al-Mutawa expressed the readiness of the Government to go into much greater detail with parliamentarians about its policy proposals, stating how pleased he was to see such close coordination between the Cabinet and elected deputies in studying the Action Plan.
The more this Action Plan is subject to debate and the more effort that is made to turn its aspirations into well-defined and carefully-budgeted objectives – the better for Bahrainis and for representative democracy.
Committee member, MP Rua al-Haiki said of the Action Plan: “The plan in its outlines appears ambitious, responsive and solid… but we see a need to pause before any detailed judgment, in order to get a sense of the means of implementation.” Al-Haiki talked to the media about the benefit of making the committee for discussing the Action Plan a permanent committee that would exist to monitor implementation of Government priorities.
Influential MP and head of the Financial Committee, Isa al-Kooheji, has submitted a paper to MPs advocating a refusal of the Action Plan, saying that the plan “lacked any measures for oversight and evaluation”. Another MP spoke to Al-Ayam newspaper about the “frustration” some MPs felt towards the Plan which he said contained too many “generalities”. In his view, MPs were inclined towards rejecting the Plan.
Eighteen deputies have already submitted a letter to the Government containing 22 “observations” about the action plan and suggestions for inclusion in the plan, most notably a “roadmap for improving citizens’ living standards, by increasing employees’ wages and pensions for the elderly; and maintaining and increasing financial support to those who are entitled”.
(See the Factsheet below for further details about the 2015-2018 Government Action Plan)
Many MPs have appeared in the media in recent weeks calling on the Ministry to prioritize their local constituencies for housing provision.
Waiting lists for allocation of housing have become very long in Bahrain. As a result, this was one of the dominant issues debated in the recent parliamentary elections. Therefore, in the business of the new Parliament and Government, this issue has dominated discussion and will continue to dominate throughout the course of this Parliament. Indeed, MP Majid al-Majid, a Shia cleric, has praised the Housing Ministry on the substantial progress made in recent weeks in addressing the housing file.
Meanwhile, a dispute has emerged between the Housing Ministry and the Shura Council over a draft housing law being debated by the Shura Council. While addressing Shura members, Housing Minister Bassem al-Hamar said that there was no need for the law as it differed little in substance from the Government’s own proposals. Al-Hamar said that his Ministry also had a number of specific reservations about the draft.
The Shura Council draft includes the measure already announced by the Government for not including the husband and wife’s income together when considering eligibility for housing allocation, as well as a time limit for allocating homes and more specific definitions of who is eligible for housing.
This draft housing law has been delayed by the Shura Council for two weeks while the concerns of Shura members are discussed. Shura Council members have called for greater coordination with the Housing Ministry to discuss the draft.
Strengthening the role and rights of women in Bahrain
Parliamentary deputies have agreed on the creation of a “coordination committee for incorporating the needs of women in development”, in order to consolidate the “vital role that Bahraini women play in development and the reform programme”.
Meanwhile, the Shura Council Committee for Women and Children, headed by Hala Fayez, is seeking to ensure that the draft housing law being debated by the Shura Council (see below) contains clauses guaranteeing the rights of widows and divorced women for obtaining housing. Fayez told journalists that her committee would be prioritizing implementation of international accords concerning women in Bahraini.
Annual Audit Report
The Financial Committee of the Parliament has confirmed that the recently-published Annual Audit Report of Government performance won’t be formally discussed until after the Government Action Plan is dealt with.
Financial Committee member, MP, Nasser al-Qaseer said that six to eight weeks would be needed to properly discuss the audit, after which there would be discussion of action to be taken about parties implicated in any financial impropriety.
Al-Qaseer said that there would be “no let-up in taking tough positions against any instances of corruption in government institutions.
Government Action Plan fact-file
See Citizens for Bahrain’s profile on key themes from the Action Plan.
What is the Action Plan?
The Government Action Plan is the four-year vision of the new Bahraini Government, outlining its policy priorities in all key areas.
The Prime Minister made history on 6 January 2015, when for the first time he submitted the 2015-2018 Government Action Plan directly to parliamentarians, reflecting the increased power of Bahrain’s elected deputies to approve or reject the Government’s policies.
Why is Parliament’s role important?
The power of MPs to reject the Government’s Action Plan is a new measure included in the 2012 parliamentary amendments. So this is the first time MPs have had the chance to exercise this right.
What are the six sections of the 2015-2018 Action Plan?
· Sovereignty and rule of law
· Economy and finance
· Human development and social services
· Environment and urban development
· Government performance
What is the current situation?
After extensive discussion by parliamentarians of the Action Plan, many MPs are unhappy at the lack of detail given by the Cabinet regarding the policy proposals, making it unclear whether the current draft of the plan – if it came to a vote – would be approved by MPs.
On 13 January 2015 seven Cabinet ministers met members of the parliamentary committee for debating the Action Plan. During the four hour meeting ministers reportedly gave details of the Action Plan proposals, including how separate priorities would be budgeted.
Following this meeting, the parliamentary committee for studying the Action Plan, headed by MP Ali al-Aradi is supposed to report back to the rest of Parliament by 15 January, although at the time of writing, it is unclear whether this deadline will be delayed to give the Committee more time to discuss their meeting with Cabinet members.
The Cabinet has also requested of the parliamentary committee that its concerns and proposals concerning the Plan be submitted in writing. Parliamentary Chairman Ahmed al-Mulla has indicated that some parliamentary business may be cancelled or shelved to provide more time for discussion of the Action Plan.
What is the Constitutional position regarding approval of the Plan?
Parliament has until February 6 to vote on the Action Plan. If Parliament fails to take a vote then the Plan is automatically passed. If MPs do vote to reject the plan, the 2012 constitutional amendments provide for them voting up to three times on subsequent versions of the Plan. If the Action Plan is rejected three times it is up to the King to decide whether to dissolve the Cabinet or Parliament.
How does the State Budget fit into this picture?
Shura Council sources say they have been told by Government sources that they will receive the State Budget in early March “after confirmation of the Government Action Plan”, hinting that if the Parliament rejects the Action Plan, then the Budget will be delayed.
This Budget would normally have been submitted to the elected Council of Deputies and the appointed Shura Council in January, if not for the new parliamentary role in approving the Action Plan. The Constitution states that the Budget should be issued two months before the end of the financial year in April.
Once the Budget is submitted, it is discussed by a joint meeting of the Financial Committees of the two houses of Parliament, after which each committee must make a detailed report back to its respective chamber. The Council of Deputies then debates the bill and passes it on to the Shura Council. Either chamber may make changes or additions in coordination with the Government.
If the new Budget isn’t passed by the end of the financial year, the previous year’s Budget continues as the point of reference.
With the enhanced parliamentary role in approving the Action Plan, there is a degree of ambiguity regarding how the Action Plan and the Budget should interact.
MP Adel Abdulhamid criticized the “vagueness of the 2015-2018 Action Plan and the prospect of specific Government projects only being announced after the Budget had been agreed. He said that it made more sense for the specific policy vision to come first, after which the budget would be agreed for implementing these policies.