Under the decree, the 120-member council will have a two-fold set of new powers. It can now propose new laws or amend existing ones without seeking prior permission from the king. All laws will continue to be enacted by royal decree. 'Whenever the Shoura thinks there is a need to either review a law, to initiate a new law or to abolish an existing law, it can now start the process right away without having to request permission from the king,' says Ihsan Bu-Hulaiga, an economist and member of the Shoura council. 'This is an extremely important function of all parliaments.'
The Shoura council has also been given more powers in resolving disagreements with the council of ministers (cabinet). 'This is also very important because now - in case the two councils are not in agreement - the issue will be sent back to the Shoura, which is an additional power,' says Bu-Hulaiga. 'Until recently, the situation was that whenever there were different views between the Shoura and the council of ministers, then the matter would be in the hands of the king to be resolved.'
When the Shoura was created as a 60-member body in 1993, it was given a mandate to provide expert advice to the government on policy matters. The Shoura has since doubled in size. In 1997, 30 additional members were joined, followed by another 30 in 2001. All Shoura members are appointed by the government, but indications are that this is going to change in the near future. Elections for up to 50 per cent of the members are likely to be held at some stage following the successful conclusion of municipal elections.
Other changes could be on the cards too, says Bu-Hulaiga. 'The [latest] two changes are very important,' he says. 'But it seems to me that in the - hopefully not-too-distant - future, we will also see changes that have to do with the role of the Shoura overseeing the role of the executive. I can see that reforms will take place regarding this function as well.'
The latest developments come amid significant progress on the economic reform front. Earlier this year, the government approved - among others - two milestone laws aimed at reorganising the country's capital markets and insurance sectors. The drive comes as part of the kingdom's goal to join the World Trade Organisation (WTO) in 2004.
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