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28-03-2012 - The National by Ola Salem

FNC protest over financial waste

ABU DHABI // The FNC refused to pass the annual official report on federal spending yesterday, in protest at a catalogue of irregularities in government spending. Members complained that the Federal State Audit Institute, which prepared the 2010 report, found the same problems year after year, with no clear mechanism to force ministries and other government entities to follow the law.

They said there was misuse of the national budget, with money being distributed apparently at random. For instance, the federal court in Umm Al Quwain continued to send fees to the emirate's local government, notto the federal court as it has been legally required to since 1991, leading to the court's being recorded as having no income at federal level.

The Ministry of Health continued to attest certificates for doctors, pharmacists and medical technicians despite a 2008 law handing that role to the Ministry of Higher Education and Scientific Research. This cost the federal coffers more because the health ministry charges higher fees.

The General Directorate of Dubai Immigration and Expatriate Affairs charges different fees from those in its by-laws, and includes them in its own account rather than the federal Government's.

The Finance Ministry lends the Health Ministry Dh50 million a year solely on the basis of an oral agreement, and continues to collect Etisalat's profits although ownership was transferred to Emirates Investment Authority in 2008. Many ministries, including Defence and Health - overspent their budgets.

To cap it all, the Ministry of Financial Affairs itself, which supervises government spending, refused to let audit institute staff into its offices and told them to communicate by email.

"We swore to serve the people and the country, so we cannot stand by these violations," said FNC member Dr Abdulrahim Al Shahin (RAK).

The Minister of Financial affairs Mr Obaid Al Tayer, played down the problems. "If the Ministry of Health needed to purchase more medications, then we must address and help." He said most problems were in salaries or employment.

But several members pointed out that in many cases the law was clear. "Unfortunately, the minister's responses have been unconvincing to all of us in the council," said Dr Al Shahin.

The report also complained of a lack of co-operation from many ministries, including the Ministry of Financial Affairs.

"There needs to be a law, a way that ministers be questioned," Dr Al Shahin said. "Why is it that even with a violation, the Ministry of Financial Affairs still funds other entities? They should clear their violations first before they receive any funding."

He said ministers needed to be held accountable. "If the Financial Ministry itself was stopping staff from entering, what about the other ministries?"

The head of the institute, Hareb Saeed Al Ameme said some ministries had been more forthcoming. Members also complained that the report was at odds with what some ministers had told them in FNC sessions.

They also made the annual call for all emirates to contribute to the federal budget, as required by the constitution. Since the formation of the UAE, only Abu Dhabi and Dubai have done so.

Members said government entities must be fined for repeated offences. After a three-hour debate with the government officials, the council decided not to formally discuss passing the report.

Dr Anwar Gargash, the Minister of State for FNC Affairs, said this was not the council's right, since it was allowed only to offer remarks on the report, not to refuse to pass it.

But members said previous councils had done the same, and asked why Dr Gargash was asking them to pass it if they had no right to do otherwise.

Dr Gargash suggested referring the report back to the committee who would join with the legal and legislative affairs committee to discuss it once again with ministry officials.

The legal affairs committee includes many of the members who were most vocal yesterday. "Next time, we will have an even stronger report to present and argue our case more aggressively," said Dr Al Shahin after the session.

The report will be discussed again in three weeks.


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