The Government has approved 40 remarks out of 51 tabled by the Council of Representatives in its feedback on the four-year action plan (2015-2018). "Eleven other remarks are still pending, including 7 which are deemed difficult to achieve for financial reasons linked to the state budget", Information Affairs Minister Isa Abdulrahman Al-Hamadi said in a press conference following the weekly Cabinet meeting.
The minister affirmed the joint keenness of the Government and the Council of Representatives on achieving citizens' interest in all fields, stressing the need to strike the balance between ambitions and available resources.
Chairing the weekly Cabinet meeting at Gudaibiya Palace, His Royal Highness Prime Minister Prince Khalifa bin Salman Al-Khalifa directed the Government's work-team to ensure further consensus with the Council of Representatives for the growth blueprint to be endorsed.
The minister said that the overall remarks cover the six components which make-up the Government's four-year action plan – Sovereign, economic and economic pillars, in addition to human resources, social services, infrastructure, the environment, urban development and the improvement of the governmental work performance.
The minister affirmed that discussions of the GAP blueprint would continue, pointing out that the month-long deadline would end on February 6, as the Government submitted the four-year blueprint on January 6, in compliance with the constitutional provisions.
The work-team assigned by the Government first met the Parliamentary Budget Review Committee on January 13 to discuss the four-year blueprint upon the request of the Council of Representatives. HRH the Premier then received a letter from the Council of Representatives Speaker on January18, enclosing all the remarks set by the Parliamentary Budget Review Committee.
The minister pointed out that the Council of Representatives Speaker requested an urgent meeting with the Government. "A day later, the government team held a meeting with the parliamentary review team", the minister said, pointing out that the session focused on the Government's feedback on the remark listed in the aforementioned letter.
The Government has since approved a total of 40 remarks out of an overall 51 after making amendments and redrafting some remarks. The Government then received another letter from the Parliamentary Review Committee on January21, featuring details relating to the housing, educational, health and insfrastructure projects.
The parliamentary panel insisted particularly on naming the projects and demarcating their sites, in addition to providing their timeframe and estimated costs. The minister explained that the government sent on January 22 two official replies to the committee containing all requested information about the construction projects, their locations, the estimated budget, the schedules and other additional information on the projects financed by the Gulf development.
The minister added that the replies also highlighted details of the ministries' programmes which will be carried out and other pending ones which will be approved while discussing the budget with the parliament. He pointed out that on January 22, in the evening, the government received an unofficial letter from the parliament asking for additional information including performance benchmarks, the government's plan regarding subsidies and reviewing the public debt.
The minister explained that the needed information were sent in an official letter to the parliament on the same day, except for some new remarks received by the government which will be discussed when presenting the budget. He also pointed out that on January 23, a meeting convened by the government's relevant team to reply to the rest of the remarks by the parliament.
Concerning the seven remarks which are difficult to carry out, the minister asserted that no remarks are rejected but some of them are hard to implement as they require financial funding. He pointed out that some of those remarks are related to raising the number of public health centres from 4 to 6 during the four-year government programme, constructing 40,000 housing units instead of no less than 20,000 in the same period and the annual review of salaries and pensions and increasing them.
The Information Minister stressed that there is an agreement between the government and the MPs on the need for a periodic review of salaries and pensions to keep them abreast of the economic conditions. He also pointed out the challenges posed to the whole region by volatile prices of oil and their impact on revenues.
The minister re-emphasised that the government's stance is not rejection in principle but the whole issue is linked to the public budget. Therefore, the government is currently unable to commit to the implementation of some visions as they require funding through the public budget which has not been discussed yet.
He pointed out that the MPs have the right to exercise their monitoring role before approval of the budget. He added the current phase is for discussing the programme and not the budget. The minister, in regard to increasing social security benefits and expanding number of beneficiaries from living cost allowance, said that the government has earlier announced its approval to the remarks of the Council of Representatives on the continuation of disbursing the living cost allowance, increasing the same by 50% for government and private sectors employees and the increase of the monthly allowance provided for the persons with special needs.
He added that the implementation of the MP's remarks depends on including the latter in the state budget. He said that the state budget draft will be submitted to the Council of Representatives following the adoption of the government work programme. He noted that the state budget represents an operational tool necessary for the implementation of the government work programme.
He reiterated the cooperation between the executive and legislative branches that aims at reaching high consensus on the government work programme. He told Bahrain News Agency (BNA) that most of the points have been agreed upon between the two branches are in economic, development and infrastructure areas, as well as financial aspects and projects of urban development and the enhancement of government performance and services provided to citizens, mainly health, housing and education.
He ruled out the existence of a conflict between the government work program and the Gulf Development Programme, stressing harmony between the two sides, on the grounds that the GCC Development Programme and the availability of the financial flow are important operational tools for the government work program.