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Crunch talks set on new social welfare scheme

Bahrain News
Fri, 29 Jun 2018

A MEETING between the government and legislators on the new social welfare scheme will be held next Wednesday.

Shura Council first vice-chairman Jamal Fakhro, who heads the technical assessment committee, told the GDN yesterday that the government was willing to meet legislators halfway on disputed issues after talks stalled on Wednesday due to a number of disagreements.

Mr Fakhro chaired the meeting at the National Assembly and later issued a statement calling on the government to compromise on some issues.

“I know that next Wednesday is not the end but it will speed up negotiations as the government meets us halfway on the new structure,” he said yesterday.

“We have to reach a consensus on a scheme that is applicable for at least two years.

“They know that and we know that, and it is illogical to come up with something that one party forces on the other because it will mean we will be negotiating in a loop for God knows how long.

“The government initiative is good and will help us push forward.”

Sources previously said that disagreements exist over the government’s plan to exclude 12,953 retired Bahrainis from additional support.

Currently those retired receive BD150 extra if their pension is below BD700, BD125 if it is between BD700 and BD1,500, and BD75 if it is over BD1,500.

There is also disagreement over government plans to exclude 1,558 Bahrainis from disability support because they are either well paid or have minor disabilities.

The number of Bahrainis registered as disabled is currently 11,144 and the government wants new categories for disability benefits, which are currently paid at a flat rate of BD100 to those who qualify.

It envisages the most severe cases qualifying for BD200 a month, those with medium disabilities receiving BD100 and the least severe cases collecting BD50 – although those in the latter category earning more than BD500 a month would be ineligible.

Meanwhile, the government has been requested to submit another proposal for housing allowances, with legislators unhappy with its plan to pay a monthly rent allowance of BD100 to anyone on waiting lists for social housing schemes.

Those living with their parents would receive BD50, while the current rule states anyone on a waiting list for more than five years should receive BD100 monthly.

There has been partial agreement on regular payments to Bahraini breadwinners, with those earning BD300 or less qualifying for monthly benefits of BD150, those earning BD301 to BD700 receiving BD100 and those earning BD701 to BD1,000 collecting BD70.

However, the National Assembly wants a fourth category that includes people on higher incomes – especially since it has agreed to scrapping an allowance of BD50 to BD100 for all Bahrainis to compensate them for meat subsidies being axed in 2015.

Implications for expatriates and high-earning Bahrainis remain unclear, with negotiations over the new social welfare scheme tied to an overhaul of the government’s subsidy system.

Parliament and Shura’s four-year term is officially over on Sunday, but committees can continue to meet until a month before the next election.

This means that the new-look welfare system will not be voted on in the National Assembly, but will instead be ratified directly by His Majesty King Hamad once ongoing negotiations are concluded. It has been under negotiation since January, but has been repeatedly delayed due to disagreements between the government and the National Assembly.

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