Legislative Process in the Upper House of Parliament
As Bahrain searches for viable approaches to diversifying its oil-based economy, the relatively small nation, like many of its larger counterparts, is also faced with a number of engineering and logistical challenges in its parliamentary legislative process. To determine how the legislative process is being administered in Bahrain, this paper provides a review of the relevant literature to evaluate the challenges facing the legislative process in the Bahraini Upper House of Parliament known as the Consultative Council from an engineering management, a logistics of information and a knowledge management perspective. Based on this review and evaluation, a series of salient recommendations are provided, followed by a summary of the research and important findings in the conclusion.
Review and Analysis
Engineering Management Perspective
When applied to Bahrain’s upper house or Shura Council (Consultative), the engineering management approach can help discern what steps have been in recent years to develop a modern and efficient legislative process. For instance, according to Sun and Yam (2008), “Engineering management is the discipline that addresses making and implementing decisions for strategic and operational leadership in current and emerging technologies and their impact on interrelated systems” (p. 181). This definition includes the management of the design process as well as communications (Sun & Yam, 2008). Following the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 on the World Trade Center and Pentagon, Bahrain was one of just two Middle Eastern countries that designed and implemented substantive reforms which modernized the fundamental structure of their legislative systems and improved the flow of communications (Carothers & Ottaway, 2012).
Some evidence of this engineering management approach to developing a modern and efficient legislative system can also be discerned from the series of initiatives taken and royal decrees that have been issued to date. For example, in February 2002, the king issued royal decrees that implemented a process whereby the elected parliament was restored since its dissolution in late 1975 (Carothers & Ottaway, 2012) pursuant to Amiri Decree No. 13 (History of Shura Council, 2014).
Although the first Bahraini parliament lasted for just two legislative meetings during the period from December 1973 to late 1975, this first attempt at developing an upper house is highly regarded as being an important milestone for the country’s electorate that expanded participation in the legislative process for all Bahrainis (History of Shura Council, 2014). According to Diwan (2012), the first Bahraini parliament “highlighted the constitutional process that unfolded in 1972-1973 and the hopes it raised among the Bahraini people” (p. 370). These hopes were further reinforced by the framework provided by the parliament which offered a venue for the free exchange of new ideas and concepts concerning the future direction of the kingdom (Diwan, 2012).
This initial parliamentary effort and the subsequent steps that have been taken by the country’s leadership to create a modern and efficient parliament are reflective of an effective engineering management approach (Sun & Yam, 2008). For example, according to the Shura Council, “Although people felt that there were no barriers between them and their political leadership, the government believed that expanding the public participation in decision-making and freedom of expression, and consultations on matters of interest to the country, were important issues” (History of Shura Council, 2014, para. 4). As a result, on December 20, 1992, Amiri Order No. 9 for the year 1992 was promulgated that established the Shura Council (Consultative), or upper house of parliament, that was comprised of 30 members who were chosen based on “their social standing, expertise and influence” with terms of 4 years which could be extended further (History of Shura Council, 2014).
Further engineering management for a new legislative system took place on December 20, 1992, when Amiri Order No. 10 for the year 1992 on the Internal Regulation By-laws of the Shura Council was issued, followed by Amiri Order No. 14 (1992) that stipulated the first dates for assembly and recess for the upper house of the Bahraini parliament (i.e., January 16 and May 31, 1993, respectively) (History of Shura Council, 2014). The upper house of the Bahraini parliament therefore began its current legislative tenure on January 16, 1993 with an inaugural speech by King Khalifa (History of Shura Council, 2014).
The next engineering management step for the new Bahraini political system was the development of the Shura system which was accomplished by Order No. 12 for the year 1996 which increased the number of Council members to 40 from the original 30 members, a step that was intended to increase the representation of the larger Bahraini society as well as including membership that possessed the credentials and expertise needed to help shape the direction of the country in the future (History of Shura Council, 2014). The Bahraini lower house of parliament, known as the Council of Representatives, is also comprised of 40 members who are elected and who also serve 4-year terms (Bahrain overview, 2013). In addition, Amiri Order No. 12 of 1996 (Articles 2 & 3) assigned Council members more authority than was enjoyed by the previous Council (History of Shura Council, 2014).
The engineering management of the legislative system did not end there, but rather included the authorization of the upper house of parliament to possess complete legislative powers in consultation with a lower house (Carothers & Ottaway, 2012). As a result, Bahrain has been engineered to have a bicameral legislature comprised of an upper and lower house, with parliamentary elections for the lower house are held every 4 years but with terms that can be extended thereafter (The report: Bahrain 2008, 2009). Like in England (McLean & Peterson, 2011), the Bahraini prime minister is appointed directly by the king without any approval required from the upper house (The report: Bahrain 2008, 2009).
Logistics of Information Perspective
The logistics of information perspective includes investments in software and information systems that can facilitate the decision-making process by a legislative body (Bounfour, 2003). In addition, the logistics of information perspective also includes the extent of the free flow of information to facilitate communications between organizational divisions in a parliamentary government (Bounfour, 2003). Parliamentary procedures are defined as “an organized method for a group to accomplish their goals in an effective, fair, and efficient manner” (Archer, Dill & Weber, 1999, para. 2).
Parliamentary procedures are favored in legislative bodies because they provide “an orderly way to conduct the group’s business and make decisions” (Archer et al., 1999, para. 2). Parliamentary procedures are considered to be fair because they provide a useful framework in which decision can be made in a democratic fashion (Archer et al., 1999). Finally, parliamentary procedures are regarded as being efficient by focusing attention on a specific item of business that must be addressed prior to moving to the next (Archer et al., 1999). Most parliamentary procedures are based on Robert’s Rules of Order which outlines specific procedures that should be followed to conduct items of business in group meetings of virtually any size (Archer et al., 1999).
Parliamentary procedures, though, have a mechanism whereby delays can be introduced intentionally and formally for a wide range of reasons. For example, Archer and his associates report that, “There are times when there is a reason to delay the decision on a motion. Perhaps there is not enough information to make a decision. The procedure to do this is called ‘laying on the table.’ This delays a decision until another time” (1999, para. 3). Therefore, the legislative process in any parliamentary setting can be delayed intentionally by a laying on the table motion based on partisan differences or administrative need as well as unintentionally through communications or procedural delays.
The logistics of information perspective also includes the process by which the Bahraini lower house of parliament communicates with the upper house and the king (Morgan, 2009), a process that has become more efficient in recent years but which still experiences administrative delays from time to time (Bahrain, 2014). This is not unusual and a number of other countries have experienced a series of delays and challenges in the administration of their houses of parliament from time to time and over time (Sambrook, 2003), and constraints to the communication process between the upper and lower houses of parliament have been experienced in England since at least 1363 (Luce, 1935).
Moreover, the complex parliamentary procedures that are in place in most national parliaments are frequently hampered by procedural delays (Kay & Binnendijk, 2007). In fact, in some jurisdictions such as Canada and the United Kingdom, there are so many parliamentary committees and procedural rules in place that it frequently requires an inordinate amount of time to move bills from one legislative level to the next (Fenn, 2008). There are also a number of legislative levels in both houses of the Bahraini parliament (see organizational chart for the upper house in Figure 1 below) that can reasonably be expected to introduce some administrative delays as legislative issues are moved from one level to the next.