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First Media e-Session with the UAE Prime Minister (lead)

Apr 19, 2009 - 12:40 -

WAM Dubai, Apr. 18, 2009 (WAM) -- Vice President and Prime Minister of UAE and Ruler of Dubai, H.H. Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, has interacted with the media online through his website: www.uaepm.ae, answering wide range of questions from them to break a new ground in government-media relations.

Below are the full text of the UAE Prime Ministers online interaction with the media: Dear Friends in the Media: I write this in the spirit of good will to thank all of you for your interest in communicating with me through the official Prime Minister's Web site.

This is the second time that I have responded to your questions online; the first time was eight years ago, when Internet communications were still in the nascent stage -- although, I must say, Dubai and the United Arab Emirates had already made noteworthy progress in this field. During that initial online interview, my objective was to stimulate the interest of the Emirati community in the Internet when the use of the online communications was relatively limited.

Today the usage of the Internet across the UAE has come to be taken for granted; in fact, the Web has been adopted so extensively in both the public and private sectors that e-communications are the norm rather than the exception. We see that a large segment of our society, especially young people, believe that the Internet is the most important source of information, education and entertainment.

The UAE continues to lead the Arab world in adoption of information and communication technology according to the annual global information technology report released before yesterday.

Little wonder, then, that I get inundated with questions from citizens and media alike. That's why I have chosen to meet with you via my Web site. I think hosting this encounter online will allow all of you to ask as many questions as you wish. In the last few days alone, I have received hundreds of questions from several local and regional newspapers. Naturally, there was some overlapping of questions since they came from so many different sources. Hence, I have tried to consolidate my answers in such a manner that I do not come across as repetitious.

This "interview," of course, relates to questions from the media, whose work I consider especially significant in telling the story of how Dubai and the UAE are coping successfully with the global financial crisis, and how our development plans are being advanced with the resilience and determination that has always characterized Emirati society.

I have also received many questions from everyday Emiratis, and these will be answered in a subsequent communication.

In the meantime, I hope my responses will generate positive discussion about the issues and values that Dubai and the UAE care about - the strengthening of a society that's anchored in unique Emirati traditions, and the continued building of a global city to which all are welcome, a city that is well integrated in the fast changing global commons that we all must share. Dubai is not only a catalyst of change; it is an exemplar of change. And I am proud of that, just as I am proud of the economic and social contributions that Emiratis and their well-wishers have made over these years to furthering the Dubai Vision.

Al Hayat Newspaper - Shafiq Al Asadi Q: Your Highness, Dubai, the famous city known for its outstanding experience on both regional and international levels, has been recently criticized for its development strategy in the light of the global financial crisis. How do you perceive this campaign and how are you dealing with it? A: Criticism and negative statements do not really disturb me. We do not mind receiving objective criticism that helps us improving our services and methods. If there were negative aspects, then we will address them and work toward revamping them. But following the global financial crisis, what we read and heard was not in reference to the negative aspects. In fact it was a "media bombardment" targeted at the UAE as a model for a federal state, a successful and prosperous Arab country. And Dubai, the city that has set up a successful economic model at a global level, was under a daily attack by some Western media, as if they were in a race against time to harm the UAE.

As for the motives of the campaign, God Almighty knows. But it seems that the success of the Arab, whether individual or state, city or a company, is seen as unacceptable. It seems that seeing distinct images of successful Arabs and Arab countries disturbs some people. They would rather stick with the distorted images of Arab stereotypes in their minds.

I need to stress here a very important perception. We are not growing in order to be a model for its highest building in the world, best airport, and most luxurious hotel, and the largest seaport and man-made islands. These landmarks and features are unique and famous all over the world. But the Dubai model is beyond that. Dubai is an Arab city with scarce natural resources but with a clear vision of comprehensive development and social needs. It is a city that succeeded through its investments in human resources, its unique geographical location, and its trade expertise. This has enabled us to achieve unmatched growth and to become the focal connection between the East and West. Dubai has proved as well the possibility of coexistence of different cultures in an open and tolerant Arab Islamic environment.

Dubai's model, which is part of the UAE model, lies in the success of the economy's diversification, and in sparking the interest of the Arab region and neighboring countries in the information and communication technology, the e-government and the knowledge economy, and in facilitating access to the people in our region to global best practices. Our international experiences in various areas are often on display through exhibitions, conferences and other activities.

Dubai's model also lies in proving the viability of investing in the region, of investing specifically in the knowledge economy and in human welfare. It has also raised the citizens' expectations in the region concerning levels of good governance and transparency, and the quality of public services and state-of-the-art infrastructure.

Dubai is about providing the highest international standards in education and health systems. It is a city with entrepreneurial spirit that entered into international investment areas and bought assets in global ports, airports and financial markets. Dubai succeeded in building a global financial center and entering into partnerships with reputed financial institutions, and was able to compete globally in the areas of air and sea transport, and charitable initiatives that were created to help developing the less fortunate countries.

These are some of Dubai's model features, which has attracted the attention of the world, and enticed the interest of the Arab region and its people, and inspired many people and motivated them. Is this the model that our critics are targeting? I asked my brothers and myself this question and I did not expect a reply, because we are accustomed in the UAE to respond by work, not words. We believe in God and we have full faith and confidence in Him and in our people and businessmen and the many other believers in Dubai.

Abu Dhabi is also witnessing an attack since it succeeded in leading a successful Arab union and launched initiatives of a strategic and important nature such as "Masdar City.". I know that the international media have covered art initiatives in Abu Dhabi, including building an outpost of the Louvre. But one gets the impression that even in such coverage of important initiatives, there's invariably some reference or the other to discredited stereotypes of the Arab Gulf. Now the focus is on Dubai, and again the stereotypes are being brought up. It seems that any successful Arab model in economic development invites such negative treatment in the international media Q: To be fair, we read recently a few balanced articles reporting on what is the UAE doing regarding the effect of the global financial crisis on our region.

Your Highness, the media campaign has focused on pointing that Dubai is facing an economic crisis threatening the foundations of its economic development. What is the actual impact of the crisis on Dubai economically and socially? A: In fact, the campaign has gone much further than that. An American writer, well known for his extreme views, was so keen to project Dubai's alleged "failure" in the coexistence of cultures, that he went all the way stating that Dubai was a place where cultures break up and not where cultures meet. He reached that conclusion based on the fact that Dubai has jailed and deported a British couple caught having illegal sex on a public beach.

With regard to the fact that the global crisis effect threatens Dubai's growth and economy, I can guarantee you that those references constitute "wishful thinking" on the part of some people; they are illusions, not realities. The economic foundations and development are firm and stable; otherwise Dubai would not have been able to deal efficiently with the global financial crisis consequences. In addition to that, Dubai is not a city on its own. It is a member of the United Arab Emirates federation, which is strong, resilient and successful - a federation that is able to face the most difficult challenges.

Q: Your Highness, the foreign media are reporting on the "bubble burst." What would you tell the people who are endorsing this view? A: I keep hearing the expression of "the bubble" for the past couple of decades. In my opinion, this bubble is found only in the minds of those who often keep repeating it and do not know its meaning. The future will prove to them the truth.

Let me assure you we are fine, we have overcome the crisis with the least amount of losses. In our culture, we say: be virtuous and you will gain. That is why we always look at the half full cup of water, and when we look at the empty part, we do not moan over the void, instead we think of better and faster ways to fill it.

Q: Your Highness, if we were saying this is an unfair campaign against Dubai then, could you explain to us how to get out of the current crisis? A: The impact of the global financial crisis has been felt all over the world. It generated a state of panic in all developed economies. It was expected that our region would not be immune to the crisis, especially in view of the fact that it led to the credit freeze, write-downs at banks, deferral of mutual credits, and a freeze on lending in some of the wealthiest industrialized countries, such as the United States.

The crisis hit the world in September 2008, but I think that the panic phase is over now, especially after the intervention of governments in many major countries to regulate financial and banking sectors, and the allocation of large sums of money to revitalize their economies. This step has enabled the summit of the G20 that was held in London a few days ago, to agree on a package of decisions and actions aimed to revive the global economy and the organization of the international markets.

For us in the United Arab Emirates, I can safely say that we have succeeded in containing the risks of the global financial crisis in record time. This is a result of the good policies of the Central Bank, and the government's action to ensure the liquidity of banks and the protection of deposits, and other actions at the local level, such as the additional liquidity that the Abu Dhabi government pumped it into the Emirate's banks and the bond issuance of $20 billion bonds.

The crisis management in addition to the decisions taken during the G20 summit have spread a high degree of satisfaction and optimism around the world, and reflected positively on all the nations including the UAE, which has always had a strong, multi-potential and diverse economy.

Q: The Federal Government has taken swift action to deal with the crisis, but many observers say that these actions are not sufficient to help the UAE, and Dubai in particular, to be free of the crisis? A: The actions that we took at the Federal Government were really fast, well thought-out to respond to the issues and to overcome the negative effects of the global crisis. Having said that, our economy has shifted from the crisis mode to the solution. Of course, we are monitoring and following up our situation and the development of all the economic sectors through federal and local specialized committees, just as we follow developments in the global economy and international markets. We thank God; most of the indicators seem positive now and call for optimism. However, should we face future developments further actions, then we won't sit back.

Al Hayat Newspaper - Shafiq Al Asadi Q: When Dubai launched the $20 billion bonds and the UAE Central Bank subscribed in it with $10 billion, it was interpreted as help from Abu Dhabi to Dubai to get out of the crisis. How do you evaluate this action by the UAE Central Bank, and what about the second tranche of the bonds, which would another $10 billion? A: When Dubai launched the $20 billion bonds and the UAE Central Bank subscribed in it with $10 billion, it was interpreted as help from Abu Dhabi to Dubai to get out of the crisis. How do you evaluate this action by the UAE Central Bank, and what about the second tranche of the bonds, which would another $10 billion?It seems that people are not aware of the life realities in the United Arab Emirates. Well, I welcome this interpretation because it emphasizes the depth of ties among the Emirates and ensures the strength of our Central Bank and its confidence in Dubai's economy.

We have announced bonds totaling $20 billion, raised half of it as a public offering, then the Central Bank subscribed to the full amount; we will pay an annual interest rate of 4 percent annually on the five-year coupons. What we put forward, meets our needs at this stage. Should we need the second part - that is, $10 billion -- we will then announce it to the public; we know that it will be of interest to many.

Q: There are talks that Dubai would be selling few state owned companies and that Abu Dhabi will be its partner in many projects in place or under implementation. What is the truth in this? A: These rumors and speculations turned into news and headlines in several prominent international newspapers. Rest assured that between Abu Dhabi and Dubai, there is no buying and selling. Everything in Dubai belongs to Abu Dhabi and Dubai and the rest of the UAE, and all that is in Abu Dhabi belongs to Dubai and Abu Dhabi, and the rest of the UAE. Let me remind you about what The President, His Highness Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan, said last month about this matter. He said that the impact of the current global financial crisis on the national economy of the United Arab Emirates has been misunderstood and exaggerated. He said that the relationship between members of the UAE Federation has been misrepresented.

Q: "We are one strong, coherent body. As for the measures taken (at) the federal or local level, to address the crisis, they were declared and (made) clear-cut. There was no need to unleash predictions in this respect,'' His Highness said. Your Highness, do you feel that Dubai is threatened as a result of the current crisis? A: We did not at any time feel that the financial crisis is a threat. The worst is over and behind us. Since the eruption of the crisis we did not hear of any state-owned bank or company announcing bankruptcy. None of the economy sectors was snapped. We are currently implementing plans and programs of action to benefit from the lessons of the crisis and ensure the recovery of the negative effects.

Q: The recent murders that occurred in Dubai seriously raised the issue of security despite the speed of discovery of the perpetrators of these crimes. How would you respond to the statements that the prevention of the assassination should come first? A: Of course, prevention is better than cure. To prevent killing is a very valuable act. Often, people hear about the cure procedures, but they do not hear about the actions of prevention. Murders that took place in Dubai in recent months, were fewer than half of one hand's fingers -- and this is not to minimize the seriousness but just to confirm that it is an exception and the rule is that the UAE, including Dubai, is one of the most secure and stable countries, and this would not happen without having our authorities taking preventive measures of utmost importance. In any case, the crime rate in the UAE, including Dubai, is one of the lowest in the world, and we are working to remain so, and the murder of two known figures will not change the reality.

Q: With the brunt of the global financial crisis on Dubai, we noticed the continuation of most of the art, culture, media, sports, and cultural activities, in addition to the enormous financial awards being bestowed by various organizations for business efficiency, among other things. How do you explain this? A: These activities were scheduled prior to the crisis, and some of them are annual events such as the Dubai World Cup, the Arab Media Forum and Arab Journalism Award. Some new events were launched, such as the World Poetry Festival -- but I don't know why you are wondering about the continuation of those activities. In fact, it would be a strange thing to cancel them. With regards to the prizes, they remain as were previously announced. Do you suggest in your question that these awards have become a burden to Dubai? If so, I promise we are in a good shape. All our projects under implementation have not ceased, and we are paying our loans and debts on time, and all suppliers and contractors have begun to receive their entitlements.

Q: Your Highness, the media is focusing currently on the large layoffs from the companies working under the umbrella of Dubai Holding. What is the truth regarding this matter, especially that the issue is going to reach its peak in the coming months? The collapse of the global debt markets has pushed all the big companies worldwide to review their plans, expenses and strategies and urged them to restructure their managements including the human resources. "Dubai Holding" is not an exception at all. All its companies work on a commercial basis, and it is normal to lay off the employees who do not have roles to play during this situation. I am not sure why people are expecting a peak in the coming months. The whole process is a restructuring course that was well received by all Dubai Holding employees.

Q: Your Highness, Dubai was accused in the media that laid-off Arabs descend from a specific nationality, what is the reality? A: Rumors feed on human emotion. Verifiable facts, and even simple common sense, have little or nothing to do with the way a rumor spreads. I would say that due to the steep global crisis effect on domains such as PR and advertising, which employ by coincidence a large number from a particular nationality, or the construction sector which also employs a large number of architects from one nationality, there is absolutely no focus on laying off any Arab or non-Arab nationality.

Q: Your Highness, your recent visit to Russia complements your strategy in visiting the strong economic countries worldwide such as Germany and China last year. Do you think that these visits are still useful nowadays? Are you planning to continue this approach and what is the objective of those visits? What was the outcome of your last visit to Moscow? A: This is a strange question. We are pretty sure that this crisis will not last forever, and that it will end. The UAE has always had good relations with all countries around the world and especially the weighty economic countries. Our duty is to work toward developing and enhancing those relationships. In fact, during global crisis countries should broaden those visits and enhance their bilateral relations especially since this crisis may result in forming a new economic and political world construct.

Q: Your Highness, do you think that the current crisis would impose new changes on the federal and local levels in the UAE as rumors are spreading regarding a change in progress in the cabinet? A: It is obvious that things do change. Whoever does not take up the new situation and cooperate positively with it for the benefit of the nation and nationals would be incompetent. However, it is you who's saying that there are rumors that a change in the cabinet is under way.

Q: Your Highness, people who are aware of the relationship between Dubai and Abu Dhabi say that there is no need to worry about the effect of the crisis on Dubai because it relies at the end of the day on the financial strength of Abu Dhabi, which owns the biggest sovereign fund in the world. What would you say? A: Those people know well that they can't bracket the relationship between both Emirates into just a financial relation. The money element is a very minimal component in a superior relationship built on family ties with a unity soul, with "tolerance" essence and foundation concurred by both Sheikh Zayed and Sheikh Rashid on 18 February 1968, when they met and issued a historical statement announcing the establishment of a federal union between Abu Dhabi and Dubai and called on their brothers in the neighboring emirates to join the union. Do you know what it meant for us to stand few days ago with His Highness Sheikh Khalifa at the "Union House" under the UAE flag, and in the same place where our ancestors stood the day of the UAE announcement? Would you be able to appraise our feelings at that moment? These are moments that you cannot ponder easily. They are priceless.

Those who know the truth about the Abu Dhabi and Dubai relationship and all the other Emirates, are well aware that the federation of the UAE is a choice of wise and liberated people who are guided by their heart, beliefs and wisdom. They are people who God Almighty described as ready to sacrifice their souls for others. Again, I remind you of what His Highness Sheikh Khalifa said. "We are one strong, coherent body.

--MORE-- WAM/SA

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