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First Media e-Session with the UAE Prime Minister (1st add)

Apr 18, 2009 - 07:45 -

WAM X X X body.

The National Abu Dhabi Media Company - Matt Slater Q: The United Arab Emirates is a federation but there is a tendency, particularly in health and education, to allow individual emirates to dictate policy. Will this continue or will the federal government seek to establish a more unified national approach on domestic policy? None of the seven emirates develops its own independent health and educational policies. All legislation and policies related to education and overall health are developed at the federal level. What is happening is precisely the expansion of the decentralized planning and implementation in order to raise the efficiency of education and medical services. This is what we see in industrialized countries, such as the United States and the United Kingdom, Germany, Switzerland and others. Our experience in education foundered for many reasons, and we are racing against time to make up for what we missed and to create sustainable development in the education sector. Of course, the process of development widens then to diversify the teaching methods and to attract broad participation of the private sector.

Q: The Federal National Council has expressed concern that its views are ignored by the UAE cabinet and that, in reality, they have little power. What role do you see the FNC playing within the country's decision-making process, and in what way is the Council likely to evolve in the future? A: We never received any complaints against the government for ignoring the views of the Council; instead we always receive compliments and appreciation about cooperation. We constantly express our appreciation to the Council for its role in the decision-making process. In fact, draft laws first have to pass through the FNC for review and recommendations, and later sent back to the Cabinet for consideration and approval.

The Council is also empowered to summon and to question any Federal Minister regarding Ministry performance. We believe in the importance of the Council, and we respect its effective role in the process since its inception. The current session marked a beginning of change in the Council in the method of selecting its members. We witnessed for the first time the formation of election associations in the UAE to elect half the members of the 40-member Council, with 22 percent of members of the Council being women, one of the highest such rates in the world.

In any case, since the founding of the UAE we chose the approach of gradualism. We in the UAE do not work with a "burning stages" style. Our laws and procedures are in line with reality and our reticence. We believe that our people are satisfied with this approach that results in prosperity and stability.

I am well aware of the foreign reports that criticize the way that the UAE deals with the issue of democracy. These reports assess our system on the basis of their own history and cultural experiences, and the experiences of their countries - some of which have been democracies for more than 300 years. The easiest thing is to hold general elections and to place ballot boxes and to disseminate images and words about the greatness of democracy.

But our leadership does not look for fame, and does not import ready-made models that may be valid for other societies, but is certainly not suitable for our society. Some months ago, we celebrated National Day, our 37th. Do you know how we used to live before? Do you have any idea about the state of education and illiteracy, infrastructure and public services? Do you know the details of our society's infrastructure and how it was developed? Today, after the tremendous achievements in various fields, our people have full confidence in the process of empowerment -- empowerment of the economy, women, the administration, the and culture as well as political empowerment within our traditions and culture. The midterm elections of the members of the Federal National Council is a very important step in the progression toward what is acceptable to the interests of our people and our homeland.

The issues of labor rights and human trafficking continue to adversely affect the image of the UAE abroad. Whereas there are clear policies aimed at aligning the UAE with international best practice on these fronts, the actual rate of prosecutions of those violating rights on these fronts are generally seen to be low. What is being done to address this? I want you to look at the results of the last meeting of the International Committee for Human Rights in Geneva, and to look at reports that refer to the huge progress in the UAE with regard to these issues. Even the periodic reports issued by the U.S. State Department recognize this progress, particularly on the issue of human trafficking.

We care about the rights of workers; we care about reinforcing the freedom of people. Our aim is not to win the approval of international reports, but we are keen to promote human rights and also deepening the values of social justice and tolerance. We are keen to provide a model for Arab and Muslim countries that adheres to religious and cultural frameworks; we are keen to continue to interact with the international community. We want the respect and cooperation of all. Our religion and our values and ethics do not accept any violation of human rights and of people -- no matter where they work and where do they come from and what their belief and religion are. It's in our nature not to condone injustice, and we sympathize with victims and needy people. We have very active charitable institutions operating in a large number of the less fortunate countries. We cannot accept that any person, man or woman, would be defeated in their quest for human dignity. As for the number of cases submitted in the courts for prosecution, I would say that it reflects the reality and it is considered to be high in comparison with the number of the UAE population.

The National Abu Dhabi Media Company - Matt Slater Q: Your Highness, you are Vice President and Prime Minister of the UAE, Ruler of Dubai, founder of the famous Godolphin horse-racing stable, sportsman and poet. How do you juggle your political and non-political roles, and what do you do for fun? A: The day has 24 hours or 1,440 minutes, or 86,400 seconds. For me, this is sufficient time for work, hobbies and sports. It works if you respect time and you know how to organize your schedule. Whoever enjoys his work, it seems that you add five days to your week. I enjoy my work, which is my existence in my life: the service of my homeland and my people. My joy increases when I see the progress and prosperity of my homeland and my people. I do not work alone, I have a team whom I lead and encourage and on whom I rely. Within each human being there is an inexhaustible source of potential, but there is no human being with unlimited capacity. What is important is to know your capacities -- and how you should use them.

For fun, I spend my time with my family at the beach or in the desert. I love to read. I ride horses. My love for horses is indescribably enormous; it is part of my soul and history.

How are the Federal Government and the Government of Dubai cooperating to re-tool the development model to address what many economists predict is a permanent reduction in credit available from international capital markets Whether the available global credit declines or increases, the model of our economy is stable and is developing within the framework that we created earlier. Dubai's needs for credit tend to decline and the government's loans, which are modest, compared to the size of the economy, all concern investment in infrastructure, not current expenditures or operational budgets. The majority of our infrastructure projects are of a long-term productive nature, such as the Dubai Metro, the expansion of the power generation station, and so on. With regard to the loans of state-owned companies -- they are purely commercial in nature, and their calculations are based on the cost of the loan and the return on investment. The global financial crisis has affected the liquidity of the companies, and we believe that it is only a temporary impact. We have sufficient means to provide the necessary liquidity for these companies. I would like to stress that Dubai's economy is part of the UAE economy, and we cannot in any way deal with the situation as an independent entity. I will give you one example: We say Abu Dhabi banks, Dubai banks and Sharjah banks. These terms relate to the location of the headquarters only, since all banks operate in all the seven Emirates, and are subject to fiscal and monetary policy overseen by one body, and one central bank. In any case, credit is always available, and even a few months after the financial crisis, it had been available. Of course, this does not mean that all the available credit is desirable. This issue is a subject to extensive studies and discussions and to cost-benefit equations.

By Al-Sharq al-Awsat Daily Q: The question of population demography has been a source of worry to the UAE nationals, as it must certainly worry Your Highness. You have announced some initiatives in this regard, uncovering a few of them. Could you tell us more about these initiatives? A: This question is important because of its ramifications and interconnection of its economic, social, and cultural dimensions. His Highness the President of the UAE has defined our approach toward this question. He has said that we have a positive outlook toward the demographic structure, showing the ability of our people and state to mix this human quantity and variety in a human framework, capable of creating a model highlighting the power of human interaction in the process of building and raising our state to assume an advanced position on the level of civilization and development. Such a model will help us in gaining the respect and appreciation of local and international organizations for our human and civilized treatment of all residents in our country, providing incentives for them to take active part in the development process of the UAE.

This vision, as defined by His Highness the President, does not remove from our sight the necessity of preserving our national identity. This was the starting point which led to the formation of a high-level committee, headed by the minister of interior, to deal with the question of demographic structure. We highly appreciate the work of this committee, which drew out a number of initiatives to deal with this question and take active measures in this connection. We are preparing other measures and decisions within our declared and transparent policy for dealing with the question of demographic structure in a civilized manner, without violation of our human and international commitments, ensuring the objective of variation of the demographic structure in our country.

Naturally, our children and new generations will remain the actual solution for this question. Hence, the development of education, the competencies and capabilities of the UAE nationals will remain our main priority. We are optimistic about our youth, and proud of their spirit of national belonging, of their growing realization of the importance of self-reliance and active participation in building the homeland. I follow their activities and expect a great deal from them, and ask them to double their efforts in learning and enhancing their competencies in various fields, in orders to become a distinguished group eagerly sought after by public and private sectors. We are eager to increase the rate of Emiratization in government and private sectors. I informed the Cabinet last march that the rate of Emiratization in the ministries has not reached the targeted level, as it did not exceed 54 percent and 25 percent in the Federal Authorities. I gave directives to prepare a study to denote the reasons for such a situation in order to draw suitable programs to fill this gap.

Q: Almost a year ago, Your Highness introduced a major reshuffle in the Cabinet. You mentioned that any minister is liable to change. Is there a plan for a cabinet reshuffle soon? A: There is a fact which should not be absent from the minds of people - that is, the government is at the service of the people. A reshuffle is introduced when there is a need for it, and when we find that it suits an active handling of the need of national demands, to ensure the power of the union to achieve the objectives of its strategy, and whatever objective that may come up to meet the actual developments. I still say that any minister or a man of responsibility entrusted with him is open to replacement by another one who is more capable of shouldering that responsibility. The basic reference in any decision of this type is the criteria of performance and level of fulfillment of plans for development projects.

Q: Frankly, people outside the Emirates think there is a kind of sensitivity among the seven Emirates. With reference to the federal system adopted by the state, how do you respond to that? A: I do not understand what you mean by "sensitivity" and the relation of the word to the federal system. But I know the reason behind your question: it is the media reports which tried, in handling the reflections of the international financial crisis on the UAE, to place hurdles and fabricate differences between Abu Dhabi and Dubai. These are vicious attempts that ignored the way the UAE faced the repercussions of the global financial crisis and the superb performance of our federal entities, under the leadership of His Highness, the President of the UAE. The performance was excellent, and it presented a new proof of the capability and power of the federation to face difficult challenges. Anyhow, since you brought the subject up, it is useful to remind everybody that the seven Emirates chose the federal system, realizing that it is the most viable system to survive and develop. The founding fathers had wisdom, vision and a future perspective. Whoever knows the history of the area and its situation prior to the establishment of the union will realize the great achievement of the union in the establishment of the UAE. If the results are the test, then look at the advance and achievements of the UAE after 37 years of the Union. The UAE is a state of institutions governed by a constitution, which covers the allocation of responsibilities to local and federal authorities. Like all federal states, the Federal government is concerned with all the sovereign affairs, whether related to defense policy, the armed forces, national security, foreign policy, and financial policy, legislations related to justice, economy, labor or residence of foreigners.

Among the most important historic achievements we take pride in is the building of the national Emirati identity which did not exist before the rise of the Union state. This identity settles deep down in the souls of all Emiratis, runs in their blood-veins, and fills them with feelings of dignity and loyalty to their country, the UAE.

Every citizen and person of responsibility in the UAE puts his Emirati national sense of belonging above that of his own area. Basically there is no conflict, but integration, between the two. When a person introduces himself as coming from Abu Dhabi, Fujairah, or Dubai, he is not unlike an Egyptian who introduces himself as coming from Cairo, Asyut, or Alexandria, or a Saudi, who introduces himself as coming from Riyadh, Makkah, or Dammam.

Unfortunately, some people who do not know the Emirates and the facts of life there, pass judgment on what they do not understand. We are, in the words of my brother Sheikh Khalifa, members in one body, strong and held together. There are no sensitivities among the Emirates, but there is mutual cooperation and help within the one state, the one national identity; and at the same time, within the one state there is room for competition in the fields of good deeds achievement, excellence, and the service of the country and citizens.

Q: Do you support increasing the scope of the federal government's authorities while decreasing those of local governments towards the overall welfare of the UAE? A: There is no conflict between the local and federal authorities. There are federal and local roles which are clearly articulated by the Constitution of the UAE. All sovereign issues fall within the jurisdiction of federal government, represented by His Highness, The President, Members of the UAE Supreme Council, The Cabinet, The Federal National Council, Federal Law.

The federal government enjoys full authority to carry out its mandate articulated by the Constitution. Extended or limited scope of authority is not a theoretical issue. Meanwhile, promoting non-central governmental models and offering more authorities to local governments is now a growing trend in different parts of the world, even in single region state. Decentralization has proven quite successful in handling development requirements, enhancing government performance and increasing productivity of public organizations.

In the UAE, we are very keen on ensuring complementary roles and responsibilities among ministries and federal authorities and the local departments and establishments towards achieving highest government performance levels across the UAE.

Q: In times of crises, Dubai always comes into the world's focus. Are you concerned by international reports highlighting Dubai's economic shortcomings during the global financial downturn? A: We are completely aware of our capabilities and we don't overestimate our abilities. Dubai's success in introducing a unique developmental model has gained remarkable international recognition. As you know, success implies a certain burden that cannot be avoided. The international focus on Dubai is absolutely normal. During crises, people usually turn their attention to those who have proven a successful track record. The current crisis has brought Dubai's developmental model with all its successes into a tough test. Some have speculated that Dubai will fail this test, simply because they do not know the UAE nor what Dubai has achieved based on solid foundation of knowledge, expertise and business ties across the globe. Dubai's achievements are part of the UAE's remarkable progress. I know that some people from outside the region have wished that Dubai model will go down the river. I am fully aware that some financial and economic circles were not happy with the progress we managed to achieve on various tracks including investment, aviation industry, IT and global competition in managing and financial markets.

The UAE has proven remarkable competency in addressing difficult questions imposed by the global financial crisis. I strongly believe it won't be long before international focus will shift from what is claimed to be Dubai's shortcomings to Dubai's and the UAE's overall success in passing this difficult test.

Q: Almost a year ago, and during your visit to Asia, you warned against the global financial crisis. Why precautionary measures have not been undertaken to avoid negative impacts of this crisis on both Dubai and UAE? A: The crisis have taken the whole world by surprise and evolved in tremendous pace. During my visit to Asia, I had warned against turmoil in financial and commodities markets, marginalizing the role of international financial institutions and potentials that these institutions fall short from fulfilling their expected roles in a world where all international markets became very much related, turning into one huge global market which does not follow any international rules, regulations or supervision.

I had urged leading world economies to move swiftly and reconsider roles and mechanisms of international financial establishments and institutions, especially the International Monetary Fund -- and that what exactly the G20 summit did last month earlier this month.

Regarding the precautionary measures, I believe that no preventive measures neither in the UAE or any other country in the world, would have provided the desired immunity from the ramifications of the global financial meltdown. The UAE's solid economic structure, efficient performing establishments, adoption of a balanced model of conservative banking policies overseen by the Federal Central Bank and liberal economic approach, were the key elements that enhanced the country's ability to survive the negative implications of the global crisis and prevented any case of bankruptcy in any of the country's banks or major corporations. The impact of the crisis on our economy was significant during the last quarter of 2008, yet it was not as harsh as on other major economies.

Q: Despite Dubai government officials repeated rebuffs of bailing out some companies to Abu Dhabi, speculations in that regard have never stopped. Isn't normal for the Emirates to cooperate among themselves to overcome such difficult times? A: Cooperation among the seven Emirates has never stopped and they don't wait for crises to show this cooperation. There are several joint ventures between Abu Dhabi and Dubai. Founders and stakeholders of most of the UAE Public Joint Stock companies are from Dubai and Abu Dhabi. Abu Dhabi investors have huge investments in Dubai and vice versa. Dubai has always welcomed business and investments from across the UAE.

Regarding the speculations you referred to in your question, they will always remain just speculations. I believe they are meant to be evil gossip as part of a vicious campaign against Dubai model. These speculations were not only refuted by Dubai government officials but also by His Highness the President of the UAE last March.

Q: Do you believe that the UAE economy will contract this year? Or will it achieve certain growth? And at what percent? A: We are confident that our national establishments' abilities, combined with the economic measures undertaken by the government, will lead to economic growth this year. Yet, we expect that growth may not come at the same rate of pervious growth records we sustained over the past few years. While speculating global economic contraction of 0.5 percent, international financial bodies forecast a slight growth for the UAE economy. Other forecasts speculate a 3 percent growth for the UAE economy.

Q: Maybe every cloud has a silver lining. The financial crisis has restored balance to the markets following years of inflation which posed a threat to Dubai's and the UAE's economies. Do you see this tough correction, for instance to the real estate market, a good solution to a problem that could have escalated in the future? A: Sometimes opportunities are born from the wombs of crises. The most important thing is to focus on the future and develop appropriate frameworks that guarantee highest levels of performance on heels of the crisis. Measures undertaken by the government on both local and federal levels will ensure that we shall emerge from the global financial crisis with least damage. The UAE has proven remarkable ability in facing and overcoming previous crises. Specialized committees and task forces are closely monitoring the development of the global crisis and analyzing its impacts on our economy and subsequently propose action plans to resiliently cope with these ongoing changes.

Many rumors are targeting Dubai claiming it has turned into a ghost city and that tens of thousands are being laid off every week. Don't you feel upset about these rumors and the way the impact of the crisis has been perceived outside Dubai? Q: Actually, we don't pay attention to rumors and our response always comes in actions rather than words. As a matter of fact, Dubai visitors these days are surprised by these rumors and I've met with many of them recently and they expressed their amazement at Dubai's traffic jams, overbooked hotels and crowded markets.

Dubai's success -- which it has sustained over the past years -- is the true reason behind this type of mixed reports. Those who spread such rumors -- are they aware of the fact that global nature of Dubai makes it more subject to impacts of global changes than any other city? We totally endorse freedom of expression but we always urge responsible freedom that promotes principles of integrity and objectivity.

It is truly sad to find international publications that have usually boasted about factual and precise reporting issuing articles based on mere rumors and baseless speculations. We are fully aware of the hidden fierce global economic competition between different parties who are in the same line of business. When a city or a country decides to integrate itself as an effective international player, it should not expect an easy journey full of roses and good wishes.

Do you know how many major international airlines are closely monitoring Emirates' performance? Do you think that international port services companies are happy with the success accomplished by DP World in managing and operating dozens of ports around Europe, Asia and Africa? Do you expect international financial markets are pleased with Dubai Financial Market's success in its accusation of some of the world's most important financial markets in the world? I will tell you more. Emirates Airlines' successful model has not led only to achieving an internationally recognition but also has induced the launch of other Arab airlines that followed the same model. Emirates has encouraged many established Arab airlines to enhance their fleets and upgrade their services. This has ultimately led to increasing Arab airlines' share of the international travel market. Leading by example, Emirates has set new benchmarks for quality services not only regionally but also internationally. One can only gain world recognition by proving success and ability to take the initiative, yet this recognition may not necessarily reflect acceptance.

WAM/SA