26 Mar – 1 Apr 2015
This week’s parliamentary session was brief and “chaotic” due to the failure of key ministers to attend to discuss the Financial Audit Bureau report. However, MPs had a lot to say on the issue of Iranian interference in Yemen and supporting Saudi Arabia’s leadership in the joint Arab intervention. Meanwhile, the ramifications of the previous week’s vote on the debt ceiling continued to be felt.
See Citizens for Bahrain’s guide to the activity of each of the 40 MPs: Know Your Deputy.
Cancelled audit debate
MPs vocally criticized the failure of ministers to attend the session dedicated to reviewing the cases of corruption and other violations cited by the annual audit report. There was particular anger at the non-attendance of the Finance Minister. As a result, MPs voted to postpone the discussion to a later session, although some MPs voiced the concern that this might waste even more parliamentary time if ministers failed to show up for a second time.
Head of the Finance Committee Isa al-Kooheji bemoaned the absence of the relevant ministers, noting that for “more than 300 hours” his committee had been working on preparing their response to the report.
Prior to the session, Al-Kooheji told the media that his committee had dealt with the audit report without “any reservations” and that MPs’ approach to this report differed fundamentally from previous years. Al-Kooheji cited the “enthusiasm” of his committee members about the transparent approach of addressing all the issues raised and “holding violators to account”.
MP Mohammed al-Ammadi said that there was attempt to “flee from responsibility – we will not accept this”. MP Mohammed al-Maarifi warned that the audit report would not be passed by Parliament without ministers attending to respond to questions.
Numerous MPs stood up during the weekly Parliament session to denounce Iran’s interference in Yemen and praise the Saudi-led intervention.
AbdulrahmanBu-Ali – one of the advocates of parliamentary statement supporting the Arab intervention – praised the “brave” GCC forces fighting in Yemen and “defending our nations… We say to the world: It is our right to defend our existence”. Jamal Dawoud noted the widespread support he had received from constituents for military action.
Mohsinal-Bakri said that Arab states had been in “the most shameful situation. They have now regained their confidence in their leadership”. Jamal Buhassan said the intervention had been too slow “because Iran wants to undermine security and cause divisions”.
Abdulhalim Murad thanked the Saudi King for his intervention. He condemned Iran’s role and pledged to support military spending in the upcoming budget.
Khalifa al-Ghanim said that “the hands which seek to meddle in Arab affairs should be stopped”. Abdullah Bin-Huwail praised the “honorable” Saudi position which “cut off the hand that does wrong to the Arab nations”.
Cuts in services?
MPs reacted furiously to rumors that last week’s Parliament vote not to increase the public debt ceiling would result in cancellation of several recently-agreed benefits packages to low income families.
Six MPs – Ahmed Qaratah, Abdulrahman Bumajid, Ali Bufursan, Ibrahim al-Hamadi, Mohammed al-Jowder and Fatimah al-Asfour – issued a statement condemning rumours that the decision to limit the debt ceiling would result in cutting services like housing benefit, inflation support and support for pensioners.
These MPs noted that the Prime Minister had committed himself to increasing standards of living and the Government had committed itself to the pledges of the 2015-18 Action Plan. They noted that Parliament’s judgment on the National Debt was in line with the National Bank’s recommendations that borrowing shouldn’t exceed 60% of GDP.
The Prime Minister subsequently pledged that there would be “no infringement on the attainments [muktasibat] of citizens” – a promise that was very warmly received by parliamentarians and the public alike.
Al-Wasat newspaper interviewed some of the MPs in constituencies where calls for a boycott had been strong. The interviewer asked how this affected the interaction of MPs with constituents.
MP Jamila al-Sammak (12th Northern) stressed the close cooperation between her and local people. She said it was untrue that there was an effective boycott against local deputies, noting that “on the contrary there have been numerous requests and files submitted to me personally from local people. We are working on these in our efforts to address the desires of citizens”. She cited the large number of pressing issues which concerned local people, like housing, infrastructure, employment and social problems.
MP Majid al-Asfour (8th Capital – Sitra) acknowledged that sometimes interaction from local people was “less than would have been desired”. He said that he respected the views of people who advocated the boycott, but noted that there were pressing issues which needed addressing. Al-Asfour expressed his hope for an increase in levels of political awareness, noting a lack of understanding of the significance of the role of Parliament.
Al-Asfour said he was pleased at levels of social media interaction with constituents, although he noted that sometimes there wasn’t the “time to absorb the huge number of requests from people” on a diverse range of issues.