MISCOMMUNICATION and lack of awareness among government officials have been blamed for municipal councils under-performing, it was claimed.
Chairmen of all three municipal councils – Muharraq, Southern and Northern – said they have been facing challenges when co-ordinating with authorities about projects and schemes because officials did not deal with them as representatives of the public.
They told the GDN that lack of awareness about their role in municipal work and the political scene was one of the key reasons for setbacks faced in passing projects, along with lack of communication among government bodies and with councils.
In 2002, Bahrain had five municipal councils with 10 members each, but the total number shrunk to 40 when municipal constituencies were scrapped and unified with those of parliament in 2006 under five councils.
In 2014, the country’s constituencies were redrawn after the Central Governorate was dissolved, bringing down the number of governorates in Bahrain to four: Capital, Muharraq, Northern and Southern.
In the same year, the Manama Municipal Council was also dissolved and replaced with an appointed body called the Capital Trustees Board, meaning there are only three elected municipal councils.
Northern Municipal Council chairman Mohammed Buhamood, who is planning to contest for a seat in parliament in this year’s national elections, told the GDN that government officials do not fully understand the powers of municipal councils.
“It takes an hour just to explain our duties and responsibilities to government officials when we meet them, even then only a few are convinced and many are not as we get to the point of asking or proposing services and schemes,” he said.
“After 16 years of existence, government officials don’t know our position in decision making or our powers, and through marginalisation due to lack of understanding there has always been under-performance.
“Whatever achievements have been made were based on personal relationships or an agreement for others to take up the credit, just to ensure people are served.
“This is wrong and shows that people’s power is lost in misinformation, miscommunication and improper awareness.”
His comments were reiterated by Southern Municipal Council chairman Ahmed Al Ansari, who described councils as having powers only on paper but not in reality.
“The country’s municipal rules and legislation are stronger than any other country in the region, but this is just on paper as government officials consider us secondary compared with parliament, while we are completely different in what we do,” said Mr Al Ansari, who is also planning to contest a seat in parliament.
“We are local governance and we monitor services, we are not legislators, meaning all of the country’s schemes, development and classification, in addition to the protection of animals, agriculture and heritage comes under us.
“The question that officials always ask us is: ‘sir, can you tell us in brief, what do you do?’”
Muharraq Municipal Council chairman Mohammed Al Sinan said it was unacceptable that this ignorance of municipal work has been going on for the last 16 years, demanding a change in the way councils are perceived.
“Councillors are public representatives in services and we have every right to dictate and direct what should be done and what shouldn’t be done following technical, financial, administrative and strategic feedback,” said Mr Al Sinan, who will also run for parliament elections this year.
“Over the years, our role was seen as interference and the margin of authority has dropped significantly, don’t mistake things we are still strong, but our wings have been clipped.
“Things are still safe with councils and they are not under any threat of being a dollhouse, but with lack of awareness that could be the case a decade from now, with government officials seeing councillors as nobodies.”
A ruling by the Legalisation and Legal Opinion Commission in 2014 moved permission over municipal spending from the chairmen of the three councils and the Capital Trustees Board to the Finance Ministry, stating that it was government money and should be directly spent by it according to its needs.
However, it also ruled that municipal revenues should be only used for municipal services through consultation with the chairmen without their signatures being required.
It also stated that council employees were civil servants and should come under the Works, Municipalities Affairs and Urban Planning Ministry, not the councils as independent bodies.