Chamber WOES

June 07, 2014 - 5:04:24 am

A number of businessmen blame the malaise that plagues the electoral system of Qatar Chamber, the representative body of the private sector, on the practice of proxy voting.

 

They say the chamber’s members should not be allowed to delegate others to vote on their behalf in elections to its board.

A member should take time off from his work and turn up to vote and interact with the contestants, even if briefly. This way he would be in a better position to decide who to vote for on merit, says prominent businessman Ahmed Al Khalaf.

A former member of the chamber’s board, he told this newspaper yesterday that the practice of proxy voting in board elections should be stopped to ensure that elections fulfil their democratic purpose.

Also, since not enough businessmen come forward to contest, there is hardly any opposition and the same members are re-elected in successive polls, say other businessmen.

And these members tend to re-elect the same chairman and vice-chairman time and again, they claim.

The present chairman of the board, Sheikh Khalifa bin Jassem Al Thani, is a good example. 

He was re-elected this year through consensus for the third time in a row by almost the same members who were with him on the board in May 2006, when he was elected chairman for the first time.

And some 16 of the 17 members, including the chairman, were re-elected to the board this year having had a walkover, without facing any opposition since no rivals were in the fray.

The only post for which there was an election this time was membership to the Services Committee (which has a lone representative on the chamber’s board).

Its sitting member, Ali bin Abdullatif Al Misnad, was challenged by Abdul Rahman Al Najjar and Suhaila Rabia Al Hareb, but he won. 

“If those chamber members who voted against him were present and had not delegated others to vote on their behalf, the result of the election would have been different,” said a businessman.

Some in trade and industry say that the law should bar people from remaining at the chamber’s helm as chairman for more than two terms. The chamber’s board elects its members every four years.

According to sources, not many chamber members jump into the electoral fray because the positions one wins are voluntary and they entail a lot of responsibility.

As to why it must be mandatory for every business in the country to be a member of the chamber, Al Khalaf says that is the law.

But he, unlike many other businessmen, is not opposed to the idea of businesses paying an annual fee to the chamber. “The chamber collects the fee to fund its various activities and not for profit,” says Al Khalaf.

He, though, admits that as a representative body of the private sector the chamber is an effective body and its performance has improved in the past few years.

The chamber has, for instance, separate committees that periodically interact with various ministries and takes up for redress problems facing the private sector.

A committee, for instance, meets officials of the Ministry of Business and Commerce every month. Then, there is a committee for regular meetings with the municipal ministry and the labour ministry, says Al Khalaf.

That said, however, he maintains that there can’t be any substitute to democratic elections. 

“We need elections to pick the members of the chamber’s board and its chairman and deputy just as we hold elections for the Central Municipal Council,” Al Khalaf said.

But this is not happening due to proxy voting, so the members of the chamber’s board should not be faulted for that, he insists.

 

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