Bahrain Shura approves expat driving ban
Manama, May 30, 2014
Bahrain's Shura Council has given the green light to a controversial new traffic law that will bar expatriates from driving unless their job requires it.
During an extraordinary session, council members said they would approve the disputed article despite huge reservations - because they did not want the entire 64-article law to be shelved, reported the Gulf Daily News, our sister publication.
A plea went out to His Majesty King Hamad to refer the offending article, Article 20, to the Constitutional Court to ensure it is not in breach of the Constitution.
It was parliament that first inserted the article into the draft traffic law and MPs have twice since refused to omit it, because they claim that most traffic offences are committed by expatriates, said the GDN report.
Yesterday, Shura Council approved the article, with 15 members in favour, eight against and three abstentions.
Interior Ministry legal affairs assistant under-secretary Brigadier Mohammed Buhamood said the ministry had to consider whether implementation of the article would breach the Constitution, affect equality, obstruct daily life or impede development and growth.
"The Interior Minister will have the responsibility of coming up with by-laws that will determine the expatriates who are eligible to get driving licence and at least 26 categories will be on the list," he said.
"These include judges and legal counsellors, diplomatic corps, university lecturers and company directors as well as children of eligible employees, foreign students, disabled foreigners and children of Bahraini women married to expatriates."
Brig Buhamood added that the ministry had already made plans to ensure the article, when implemented, is "practical and humanitarian".
General Directorate of Traffic director-general Shaikh Nasser bin Abdulrahman Al Khalifa emphasised that expatriates would still be allowed to drive using a licence issued in their country of origin for the first three months following their arrival in Bahrain.
"This flexibility will allow foreigners coming to work here permission to drive on a temporary basis until they get local licences," he said.
"Visitors will also be allowed to use their country's driving licences for a month until we address whether they want to stay in the country."
Shaikh Nasser said that accidents were not committed solely by expatriates, but by reckless drivers of all nationalities.
"We also have Bahrainis involved in unlicensed public transport, but we can't revoke their licences as we are by law only authorised to fine them - and everyone knows that our fines are low," he said.
Concerns that labourers and other low earners would get licences were "unjustified," Shaikh Nasser said, as employers are already obliged by law to provide them with transportation to and from work.
Minister of State for Parliament and Shura Council Affairs Abdulaziz Al Fadhel added that council members should not focus on the negative connotations of the article and should instead remember the importance of the law.
"We will treat the flaws in this article, which is only trying to enforce order," he said.
"And at least we are not like Kuwait, which bans its nationals from getting licences unless they earn a minimum amount."
National Institution for Human Rights president and council member Dr Abdulaziz Abul stressed that the kinks in the law must be worked out soon, or else it could affect Bahrain's reputation internationally.
"If the Arab Court for Human Rights, which will open in Bahrain soon, was in operation then it would have thrown out this article, because it affects human rights of Arab nationals," he said.
The 64-article law, which has been pending for seven years, includes much tougher penalties that would quadruple some punishments for motoring offences in Bahrain.
Some of the proposed punishments include jail terms of up to six months and fines of up to BD500 ($1319), or both, for deliberately jumping a red light.
It will now be referred to His Majesty King Hamad for ratification.-TradeArabia News Service