Members of the UAE's Federal National Council (FNC) said this week that they wanted to expand the FNC's influence and seek a greater role in the process of government, but they are pushing at an open door, and if this session of the FNC had been more active earlier in its two-year term it could have already been seeking an expanded role.

In December 2006, indirect elections were held in each of the seven emirates to elect half of the 40 members of the incoming session of the FNC. It was the first time that any members had been elected, and there were high hopes for the new FNC and its 20 elected and 20 appointed members.

As President His Highness Shaikh Khalifa Bin Zayed Al Nahyan said when announcing the new process of electing members, the UAE needs a "bigger role for the FNC by empowering it to be an authority that will provide great support and guidance of the executive".

He also said that having elected members will "make the FNC more capable, more effective and more sensitive to the issues affecting the nation and the people".

The President was seeking a "more participatory process and the entrenchment of a policy of consultation [shura]" and to a degree this has been happening, as the FNC has continued to build on its traditional strong points of questioning ministers on specific issues and examining the draft laws that the ministers might have proposed.

In one recent session this year, the FNC grilled the five ministers of Justice, Finance, Education, Labour and Health on what was happening in the country, and what their various ministries were doing.

Another major issue the FNC has tackled this year was the demographic make up of the country, and the steps being taken to strengthen the UAE's national identity.

Major task

The FNC's major task is to revise and comment on new laws, such as the one on commercial fraud. The debate on this law was hailed by Dr Anwar Mohammad Gargash, Minister of State for Foreign Affairs, as showing new depths to the way that the FNC and the government work together.

And the FNC will frequently voice public concerns, like when it demanded equal treatment for Emiratis at US ports of entry as US citizens get when they come into the UAE, or how to control the credit explosion in personal loans in the UAE.

This debate with Shaikh Hamdan Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Minister of Finance, lead to steps to start a central credit database so that lenders can access a credit history of would-be borrowers.

But a lot of the FNC's work is tackling the smaller but often significant issues of how the executive is delivering on particular elements of legislation, and ensuring that the laws are being enforced as the government has planned.

For example, over the past few months the FNC has looked into the immediate issues to do with quarries dodging their environmental duties.

As with any chamber which revises legislation in the world, the FNC does not always get its own way. Recently it inserted a clause into the new draft law on In Vitro Fertilisation (IVF) seeking to ensure that all IVF centres in the UAE work in accordance with Islamic rules, teachings and ethics.

But this suggested clause was rejected by Shaikh Khalifa as "discriminatory and contradictory to international conventions" and also as "going against the UAE constitution which states that all persons are equal before the law, without distinction between citizens of the Union in regard to race, nationality, religious belief or social status".

But the present FNC was expected to look beyond this role and define how it might increase its involvement in the legislative process.

It is not showing much determination in this search. Its members are ready to move the process forward in a gentle manner, as both the FNC and the government develop in the way they both operate.

As Najla Al Awadhi, a new FNC member from Dubai and regular writer in Gulf News, has said when she commented on her first year as a member: "Our first term was challenging and a learning process," and she continued with her vision on where the FNC is going by saying "the FNC does have limited authority ... and our federal strategy is to empower federal government bodies, like the FNC, and to do so gradually".

Those in the UAE who have looked for quicker development, have been disappointed.

The FNC is bound to work with the government and will seek more powers in a gradual manner, and in expressing that route, the members are summing up the broadly contented feeling of their public, although they certainly disappoint those who seek a more immediate participatory style of legislative action, and more active review of government performance.