This blog keeps track of significant developments inside Bahrain’s Parliament
MPs go to work on the Government Action Plan
One of the most important roles of MPs in the new Parliament is studying the Government’s Action Plan for the coming four years. There will be particular attention given to details of the Plan this time round following the past four year period when living standards came under increasing pressure with cuts to subsidies and the introduction of VAT. Many MPs have stressed the necessity of ensuring that benefits and entitlements for citizens are protected, with particular attention likely to be given to areas like public sector pensions.
Nevertheless, ministers and MPs have emphasized the importance of Parliament and the executive branch working together flexibly in order to end up with an Action Plan which addresses all their respective priorities. Ali Zayed (Parliament second deputy chairman, Al-Asalah) is set to lead the committee responsible for discussing the Action Plan. In 2014 the Action Plan committee, under Ali al-Aradi, took several weeks to debate the Plan, involving a long process of shuttling between ministers, officials and the committee in order to address queries and reach agreement on the final draft.
In late December MPs voted to delay the implementation of VAT by a year, putting Parliament at difference with the Government which sees VAT as a necessary route to increasing revenues and balancing the budget. Parliament Minister Ghanim al-Buainain claimed that the vote violated the constitution because it was based on a private bill put forward by MPs, rather than a formal legal bill. However, many deputies claim that VAT would violate pledges by the Government not to increase hardship for citizens who have experienced rising costs of living from a variety of sources.
MP Isa al-Qadhi demanded that big businesses absorb the increased costs imposed on basic goods, without higher prices resulting from VAT being passed on to consumers. However, in reality VAT is likely to have an impact on the income of companies and private citizens alike.
Parliament committees & senior roles
The eight positions of the Parliament Administrative Bureau have been filled accordingly:
Fawzia Zainal – Parliament chairwoman
Abdulnabi Salman – Parliament first deputy chairman (Democratic Progressive Tribune)
Ali Zayid – Parliament second deputy chairman (Al-Asalah)
Mohammed al-Sisi al-Buainain – Chairman of the Foreign Affairs & Defence Committee
Ali Ishaqi – Chairman of the Finance Committee
Hisham al-Asheeri – Chairman of the Legal Committee
Ammar Qambar – Chairman of the Services Committee
Abdulrazaq Hattab – Chairman of the Public Utilities Committee (Al-Asalah)
Fawzia Zainal makes history as being Bahrain’s first female head of Parliament, also setting a regional precedent for a woman taking such a senior role. Holders of the chairperson position tend to be politically neutral and be primarily responsible for the smooth-running of parliamentary procedures and ensuring that the legislature plays an effective role within Bahrain’s political system. However, Fawzia is known to have strong views on women’s rights, improving standards of living and other major issues, so it will be interesting to see how Fawzia redefines the role. Previous heads of Parliament have tended to be experienced deputies, so as a new entrant Fawzia also faces a particular challenge in getting to grips with the complex rules and procedures, while ensuring that MPs respect her leadership.
Several commentators have noted the particularly strong position of the Salafist society, Al-Asalah, with two members, Ali Zayed and Abdulrazaq Hattab being selected for leading roles. MPs are also going ahead with constituting permanent committees for Women and Children; Youth and Sport; Human Rights; and Assisting the Palestinian People. There have also been calls for constituting an investigative committee to look into employment issues; particularly for investigating the actions of the authorities to impose Bahrainization measures for boosting national employment.
Political blocs in Parliament
MP Ibrahim al-Nafeei is in discussions with colleagues Bassem al-Maliki, Khalid Bu-Anq and other MPs about establishing a new political bloc inside Parliament. As yet, no name or clear agenda has been announced. Other existing blocs include members and allies of the Salafist Al-Asalah society (notably; Abdulrazaq Hattab, Ali Zayed and Ahmed al-Ansari). The Democratic Progressive Tribune society includes Abdulnabi Salman and Sayed Falah Hashim.
A new “Bahrain Bloc” is also taking shape, reportedly including Ahmed al-Saloom, Ahmed al-Amer, Hamad al-Kooheji Abdullah al-Dhawadi, Ammar Al Abbas, Ammar Qambar, Mohammed al-Abassi, Mahmood al-Bahrani, Mamdooh al-Saleh and Hesham al-Asheeri. This latter bloc would be by far the largest parliamentary entity, including many younger MPs and a diverse range of Sunni and Shia figures.
Investigating the audit report
In mid-December MPs received the annual report into issues of corruption and wastage of public funds from the Financial Audit Bureau. The report has already received substantial media coverage looking into issues raised from various government departments. Health Minister Faeqa al-Saleh has already faced questions from MPs about misdemeanors cited in the report concerning her department.