Council rift hits Bahrain public projects
Manama, September 24, 2012
A divided municipal council has suspended its meetings indefinitely in a move that threatens to delay Bahrain’s public projects across Muharraq.
It is the latest twist in an ongoing saga at the Muharraq Municipal Council, where infighting between councillors and a stand-off with the government are undermining its role in the community.
A senior ministry official told our sister newspaper, the Gulf Daily News, that the council had not referred a single decision to Municipalities and Urban Planning Affairs Minister Dr Juma Al Ka'abi since September 1, while another council had already submitted 16 decisions since the start of the month.
The Islamist Al Asala bloc, which controls four seats on the eight-seat council, is behind the decision to suspend meetings - claiming the council is not getting the respect it deserves from officials.
It forced through the motion yesterday despite opposition from three independent councillors, who have accused Al Asala - which both the council chairman and vice-chairman represent - of trying to run the council like a dictatorship.
A fourth seat on the council remains vacant while Al Wefaq councillor Dr Mohammed Abbas challenges his suspension through the courts, giving Al Asala a majority say in all decisions.
The decision to suspend meetings centres on a complaint that Muharraq Municipality director-general Shaikh Khalifa bin Isa Al Khalifa, who is currently acting under-secretary for Agriculture Affairs at the ministry, does not attend any sessions.
Southern Municipality director-general Saleh Al Fadhala, who has been deputised to act on behalf of Shaikh Khalifa, attended the council's meetings on both September 4 and 11.
However, council chairman Abdulnasser Al Mahmeed yesterday enforced a vote taken in June to suspend activities until a permanent replacement is appointed - or until Shaikh Khalifa shows up in person.
"When no director-general is present then it is very difficult to make up our minds on whether to vote with or against a certain issue," he said during a council meeting yesterday.”
"For 30 consecutive meetings Shaikh Khalifa has never shown up.”
"He says that he is not obliged to, but we say he is. The law says he has to attend unless he decides to deputise another official while on official business.”
"We have nothing against Al Fadhala, but since Shaikh Khalifa has been assigned to our municipality then he has to attend or a replacement should be appointed to attend by Royal Decree."
However, independent Muharraq councillor Mohammed Al Mutawa - who is a member of a coalition of independent councillors nationwide - criticised the move.
He added the council's committees had still not met since the summer recess and warned the council was already falling behind in its work.
"At the beginning the council doesn't accept Al Fadhala, but then he shows up for two consecutive weeks and everyone is happy," he said.
"Then the council chairman, two weeks after he showed up, decides to indefinitely suspend meetings.”
"Other councils have already discussed a lot of things, while we have not met or discussed anything of value."
The rift between Muharraq councillors has grown since the end of summer, with Al Asala annoying other councillors by dividing up key posts among its own members.
It scrapped a plan to draw names out a hat following a row over which councillor sits on which committee, instead taking control of two committees and forcing the three independents onto a third - ignoring their objections.
The independent councillors stormed out of a meeting to decide committee membership, accusing the chairman of using inappropriate language.
Council vice-chairman Ali Al Muqla was named services and public utilities committee chairman, while his fellow Al Asala member Ghazi Al Murbati was named financial, administrative and legislative committee chairman.
The independents were forced into the technical committee, which is still without a chairman.
Al Mutawa said the independent councillors would await legal advice on whether they could be forced onto a committee they did not choose.
"Throwing us onto this committee is unacceptable because we never asked to be on the technical committee," he said.
"We have promised HRH Prime Minister Prince Khalifa bin Salman Al Khalifa that we will not resign because it will mean the council gets dissolved, with Dr Abbas' case already in court.”
"The other group (Al Asala) is pushing us in that direction, but we are strong and have no intention of doing that."
However, the council chairman argued that it was simply a case of democracy in action - since committee membership on the council reflected the will of the majority.
"In the end, in the event of a dispute, the majority determines the decision through a vote," said Al Mahmeed.
"That's the democratic system even when there is no dispute." – TradeArabia News Service