Bahrain’s Parliament has approved the Government’s Action Plan for the next four years. This is a significant development and the relative ease with which this legislation moved through Parliament is a positive signal about the future working relationship between the legislative and executive branches. There was near unanimity in the Parliament, with only MPs Kaltham al-Haiki and Sayed Falah Hashem voting against the Plan.
The highlight of the Plan was agreement for the building of 25,000 new housing units, a particular priority given the continuing lack of available homes for lower-income families. The 2014-18 Action Plan similarly committed to the construction of 40,000 homes.
One of the principal reasons for the smooth passing of this bill was a commitment by the Government not to impose any additional fees or taxes, or reduce benefits to citizens. The Deputy Prime Minister was widely quoted, stressing that citizens would not carry any additional burdens as a result of this plan. We can expect to see a strong response from MPs if any future proposed legislation appears to go back on these pledges.
Main themes of the Action Plan were creating jobs for Bahrainis, attracting investment and achieving fiscal balance. However, MPs have been quick to demand additional detail about proposed initiatives for achieving these goals. Kaltham al-Haiki criticized the Action Plan, as she stated that it was just a number of vague goals, without any detailed outline to the programmes that will be implemented. Hence, her calling on MPs to reject the Plan.
As with the previous Parliament, Bahrainisation will remain a major subject of attention, in the context of raising the proportion of Bahrainis in the workforce vis-à-vis foreign expats. Statistics from the Ministry of Labour, tend to reflect unemployment as being between three and four percent. However, there is a particular challenge for fresh graduates in finding careers commensurate with their skills. MP Yousif al-Dhawadi recently stated that every household in Bahrain had a graduate who is unemployed, which reflects the widespread perception that this is a national challenge. Dhawadi stressed that the agreed Plan would continue to be the principal reference point for the coming four years of the Parliament in holding the Government to its promises.
The passing of the 2014 Action Plan was widely seen as being a protracted and chaotic process, with delays caused by MPs individually bombarding the Government with questions and observations, and a range of drafts passing between the various parties. Under the chairmanship of Fawzia Zainal, the passing of the 2018-22 Plan has appeared to be a considerably smoother and quicker process. However, as many MPs were quick to point out, the determinant of success is not in the Plan itself, but its implementation and the positive impact for the public.
With the Action Plan out the way, MPs will soon have to be examining the budget for the coming two years which will help clarify sources of funding for the Action Plan’s aspirations. Another priority will be looking at the conclusions of the recent annual audit report. Many MPs were outspoken on corruption and wastage of government funds during their campaigns, it is now time to see whether they are serious about taking a zero tolerance approach to such issues.