22 – 28 January 2015
For a third week, debate of the Government’s 2015-2018 Action Plan has dominated parliamentary business. For that reason, the below summary will concentrate entirely on this single issue, including a timeline illustrating how progress on the Action Plan has proceeded.
Yet another extension
On 27 January a vote for extending the work of the Action Plan Committee by four days showed how divided parliamentarians are on strategy and tactics for addressing the 2015-2018 Government Action Plan.
Members of the Committee addressed their colleagues about the need to continue discussing the details of the Plan with Ministers. Meanwhile, several MPs were critical of how long the process was taking and a small number of deputies questioned why the Committee bothered to continue discussing issues arising from the plan, in the absence of detailed information about budgets, timelines and specific projects.
Some MPs expressed their doubts whether Ministers were seriously cooperating with the Committee, while others like Abdulhalim Murad were categorical in affirming the Government’s full cooperation.
In fact, on 26 January the Prime Minister publically urged Government ministers to do their utmost to coordinate with parliamentarians in order to bring about the success of the Action Plan. He praised the cooperation between the two sides so far.
Vote deadline approaches
After two extensions, the work of the Committee will now have to end on Saturday 31 January, after which they will submit their final report to MPs. Thus, Parliament is expected to vote on the Action Plan on 3 February ahead of the deadline stipulated in the Constitution of 6 January (see the timeline below).
Given the very tight timescale, and the fact that the Action Plan encompasses all areas of policy for the coming four-year period, it is not surprising that tensions are rising and major differences are emerging between those who think that the current draft of the action plan with a few further amendments is the best that can be achieved – and those MPs who say that in the absence of a full and detailed breakdown of each of the Government’s pledges, the entire process is a waste of time.
Arguably, those who have been uncompromisingly opposed to approval of the Action Plan probably represent a minority. A wider group of MPs have consistently been demanding more details, but may eventually vote for the final draft, if the Committee’s report recommends this. It was notable from most of the comments from deputies during the 27 January session that although many were critical of the Government and/or the Committee, hardly anyone expressed a clear indication of which way they would eventually vote.
Information Minister: 40 proposals accepted
During a press conference this week, Information Minister Isa Abdulrahman Al-Hammadi clarified that 40 of the proposals formally submitted by parliamentarians had been accepted by the Cabinet for the Action Plan, and a small number of other matters were still under discussion. Meanwhile, seven proposals were “on hold” due to concerns over how these could be budgeted for.
The Information Minister noted that all sides wanted to see their efforts “come to fruition… but the Government cannot agree to something that it knows it does not have the budget for”.
The key issue of contention is the desire of MPs to see a clause guaranteeing progressive increases in public sector wages in line with inflation – something the Government is understandably cautious about committing itself to at a time of decreasing oil revenues.
Government Action Plan time line
6 January 2015: The Prime Minister made history 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.
7-12 January: The Parliamentary Committee began debating the Action Plan, but it became clear that many MPs were unhappy at the lack of detail regarding policy proposals; making it unclear whether the current draft of the plan would be approved by MPs.
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.
18 January: The Prime Minister received a list of “final observations” concerning the Action Plan from head of Parliament, Ahmed Al-Mulla.
19 January: Cabinet ministers held a second meeting with the Parliamentary Committee for debating the Action Plan. Ministers gave further details of the Action Plan proposals, and agreed to many of the suggestions submitted by MPs.
20 January: Parliament voted for a 12 day extension for studying the Action Plan before it is put to a vote.
21 January: Further queries were submitted by MPs to the Cabinet concerning housing, health and infrastructure and financial estimates.
22 January: The Government provided further responses the queries submitted by Parliament.
26 January: The Information Minister holds a press conference clarifying the Government’s responses to MP’s queries and proposals.
27 January: Parliament has once again agreed a four day extension to the work of the Committee for debating the Action Plan. This gives the Committee until Saturday 31 Januaryto complete its work. The Committee has now met 14 times to discuss the Action Plan.
28 January: A final meeting has been requested by the Committee with Ministers to discuss the latest round of proposals for the Action Plan.
1-3 February: The committee of MPs responsible for studying the plan must present its evaluation of the Action Plan to the entire Parliament. Parliament is expected to vote on the Action Plan on 3 February.
Parliament has until February 6 to vote on the Action Plan. If Parliament fails to take a vote by this date 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.
The Parliament is expecting to receive the 2015-2016 State Budget in early March “after confirmation of the Government Action Plan”.
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.