On 12 July, the pro-opposition newspaper Al-Wasat published the transcript of a roundtable discussion with a number of MPs – Ahmed Qaratah, Shaikh Majid al-Asfour, Mohammed Milad, Jalal al-Mahfoudh, Abdulhamid al-Najjar and Isa Turki. Below are some of the interesting quotes on a range themes:
Achievements of previous parliamentary year
Shaikh Majid al-Asfour: “The debate and approval of the Government Action Plan and the 2015-16 State Budget were the most significant achievements for deputies in this parliamentary term… If anyone were to compare the last annual term of the previous Parliament and the first year of the current Parliament, they wouldn’t find a major difference in performance, despite the inexperience of 30 new deputies in the current Parliament. There has been a strong usage of parliamentary questions, there have been four committees of inquiry formed and many MPs have continuous meetings with the public.”
Isa Turki: “I have to say that what we have achieved doesn’t totally fulfill my elections platform and neither does it fulfill the aspirations of Bahraini citizens who want improved standards of living. So we will need to continue working to address the desires of citizens and fulfilling our electoral programmes during the coming parliamentary cycles.”
Ahmed Qaratah: “Despite my presence in the previous Parliament for four years the most important term for our work has been this one. For the first time the Government Action Plan has been submitted for approval by the Council of Representatives, it was discussed and agreed on.”
Jalal al-Mahfoudh: “It should be noted that 30 MPs were new faces who were nevertheless able to table questions to ministers and hold open debates. The Parliament should not be judged on its first six months. This is because parliamentary work is accumulative and we are still in the first year.”
Abdulhamid al-Najjar: “We rejected the public debt bill [for increasing the debt ceiling] at first because we didn’t understand the intricacies of the issues in front of us and we were dependent on the efforts of 30 new MPs with no experience for grappling with these issues. Even the Government was unsuccessful in proposing its projects in the Action Plan, because it was submitting this for the first time.”
Expectations for coming parliamentary work
Al-Mahfoudh: “The next parliamentary cycle should be a very fertile one. Private bills should be prepared from the beginning, during the summer vacation we must prepare the questions for submission during the coming cycle, so that we are productive from the first day.”
Turki: “We look towards the coming parliamentary cycle, for us to have a tougher oversight role in carrying out our legislative duties. There are numerous ministers earmarked for interrogation”.
Qaratah: “The next Budget [2017-2018] will not be passed by MPs in the way that this Budget was passed. The Government has not produced a strategy for developing government revenues and covering the deficit. We ask about previous surpluses and where they went and the Budgets for projects which weren’t implemented… In the 2017-2018 Budget, public debt will rise to BD 10bn because the Government will have to borrow further to cover the deficit. This will take us beyond the red line”.
Relationship between Government & Parliament
Al-Asfour: “Many people think that the relationship between Parliament and the Government should be a conflict. However, the Constitution stipulates that it is a relationship of cooperation. We should complete the work of the Government, not be in opposition to it.”
Mohammed Milad: The Parliament is not led by the Government and no pressure was exerted on us. However, it should be acknowledged that MPs have their convictions on all issues and these convictions can change through engagement and persuasion. This is what occurred during our discussions on the Public Debt Bill and the Lualua Highway, in which the convictions of MPs changed during the course of the State Budget discussions.
Qaratah: “Our role must be political. Why? Because we want to send a message to the Government that we won’t accept its mistakes.”
Milad: “Regarding the Government’s dealing with the Council of Representatives; the Government wanted to be the party making the decisions, while making MPs the front for these decisions before the public. This is what we saw in the case of the four draft bills which were sent to MPs with the urgent marking in order to be approved. Thus is would seem to the public that it was we who issued them, despite the fact that we weren’t given the time to study them.”
Al-Mahfoudh: “I agree that some ministers were slow in responding to MPs’ questions. I personally found the Finance Minister to be one of those who always responded to MPs in the required time.”
Turki: “Bahrain mixes between a presidential and parliamentary system, which makes it difficult for the Council of Representatives to have a strong role for debating files; along with the fact that the Parliament has two chambers. This makes it difficult for MPs to raise the vital issues concerning citizens in the way they desire.”
Budget & Action Plan
Qaratah: “It is true that the Government is committed to the majority of projects and most of these commitments are for services. However, when the Action Plan arrives, it must offer benefits for citizens and the nation. What we got was disappointing for citizens and the benefits will be further reduced when the criteria are changed for counter-inflation payments, housing benefits and Government subsidies for the coming term.”
Al-Najjar: “Our performance was constricted by the separation of the Budget from the Action Plan. We would have wanted the Budget and Action Plan to be merged in order to guarantee the inclusion of agreed projects along with the necessary funding in the Budget.”
Qaratah: “The failure of the Government to diversify its revenues should not be borne by citizens. We confirmed this in the Action Plan. However, if we come to find that these benefits have been curbed, then we won’t accept this. There must be protected benefits for citizens.”
Milad: “Following approval of the Government Action Plan and prior to the arrival of the Budget many MPs assumed that the Action Plan was fixed. However, the Plan was the shadow of the Budget. It should have been specified that [the Action Plan] was an overview, not designed to be subjected to detailed interpretations – as the binding contract was the Budget. Therefore the Budget should have been sent first so that the Action Plan could have been aligned with it.”
Qaratah: “When the Budget arrived it was not a reflection of the Action Plan as we were promised. The Action Plan should be submitted with the Budget in order to display the financial details for implementing the Action Plan, not the other way around.”
Al-Mahfoudh: “Some committees should be modified, because there were failings in the previous cycle… There are no rubber stamps among the deputies. There will be interrogations once the Parliamentary Code has been modified.”
Qaratah: “Regarding the parliamentary committees, we find there have been gross shortcomings in their performance. These committees should be rescheduled, as in many cases they don’t have the requisite number of attendees and so files and proposals are held up. These committees are Parliament’s kitchen and so the weekly parliamentary schedules are weak as a result of the failings of the committees… I am shocked by the manner in which the Financial Committee accepted the Budget and by the public debt which will rise as a result of the Budget being agreed in this way.”
Al-Mahfoudh: “The Mumtalakat and Unregistered Workers Investigative Committees are among the most important investigative committees, and we expect that others will be formed in the coming term… I would like to see investigative committees for the Ministries of Health, Education and Finance as these are the most important ministries of state, although that is my personal view.”
Interrogation of ministers
Qaratah: “Under the current structure of Parliament, there won’t be interrogations, even in the coming cycles. However, if procedures are changed then there can be interrogations, perhaps during the third cycle… The first parliamentary cycle should be used to submit questions. The second cycle should be for forming investigative committees until we arrive at the third cycle in which interrogations take place after use of the previous oversight tools”.
Al-Mahfoudh: “As an independent MP, I am inclined to propose interrogations and work within investigative committees to fulfill my oversight role.”
Qaratah: “The existence of [parliamentary] blocs is vital for creating lobbies to exert pressure. Among independents, each person has their own individual views. As a result, there is no opposition in the Parliament. Here I mean a constructive opposition which serves the nation and the citizen… I’d like to point out here that there is a new bloc that will see the light during the coming parliamentary cycle. It will be called the National Bloc and will have 5-8 deputies.”
Turki: “The existence of a strong legislature reflects positively on Government performance. It isn’t the non-existence of blocs which limits the business of Parliament, but rather the extent of MPs’ satisfaction with the proposals put in front of them”.
National Dialogue & public engagement
Turki: “I see the Prime Minister’s call for public engagement committees as important for forging ties with the public and understanding their needs.”
Al-Asfour: “The National Dialogue must take place within the Parliament. Therefore, this must get underway and an appropriate formula for taking this forward should be found.”