Council U-Turn over Pensions
Gulf Daily News
October 27, 2008
Plans to introduce a one-off seven per cent increase for pensioners to help them cope with Bahrain's rising living costs have been put on hold after a Shura Council U-turn.
The decision to withdraw the initial go-ahead was taken yesterday by services committee chairman Bahiya Al Jishi after officials and pension experts warned it may harm the Pension Fund Authority.
Councillors were divided at their weekly session on whether to back the project or risk budget deficits in the two pension funds, which are currently being unified.
Under the proposed amendments to the current pension laws, military personnel, civil servants and private sector pensioners would have benefited.
The one-off increase would not have affected the three per cent annual increase to pensions already being given.
Committee vice-chairman and secretary Sameera Rajab said councillors' approval to the amendments was necessary considering that it would help pensioners cope with inflation.
"Today's pensions are nothing compared to the rise in prices the world is facing."
"We, as councillors, should be doing our best to ensure that Bahrainis and their families are in good financial status," he said.
"Our pensions are very low and cannot match increasing needs.
"The committee doesn't think that this increase would harm the financial status of any pension fund, since it is a small percentage directed towards a small number of contributors."
However, when Minister of State for Shura Council and Parliament Affairs Abdulaziz Al Fadhel and authority chief executive officer Shaikh Mohammed bin Essa Al Khalifa stressed that any unnecessary spending would harm the funds position, a number of councillors changed their minds.
Dr Al Jishi was then forced to withdraw the project for further discussions in the hope of coming up with an amendment acceptable to all parties.
Meanwhile, councillors were also divided on chairman Ali Saleh Al Saleh's decision to appoint the council's six committee chairmen to a special committee to prepare a draft reply to His Majesty King Hamad's speech at the opening of parliament last week.
Councillors opposing the decision said those who were not committee chairmen should be given chance to become a part of the decision-making process.
But, a tight vote ensured that Mr Al Saleh's decision went ahead.
Mr Al Saleh defended his decision, saying that chairmen have been elected by fellow councillors to their post and it would be easier to get councillors' feedback through them.
"In the end, everyone will be getting chance to give feedback on the reply, but the way this committee is structured, ensures that we do it in an easier and more organised manner," he said.
The committee, chaired by first vice-chairman Jamal Fakhro, includes financial and economic affairs committee chairman Khalid Al Maskati, legislative and legal affairs committee chairman Mohammed Al Halwachi, foreign affairs, defence and national security committee chairman Abdulrahman Jamsheer, public utilities and environment affairs committee chairman Sadiq Al Shehabi, woman and child committee chairman Dalal Al Zayed and Dr Al Jishi.
Four councillors were also elected unopposed to the membership of the Parliamentary Executive Committee - which selects MPs and councillors for overseas assignments.
The committee, chaired by parliament chairman Khalifa Al Dhahrani, also includes four MPs - Dr Al Jishi, Mr Al Shehebi, legislative and legal affairs committee vice-chairman Sayed Habib Hashim and Ms Rajab.
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