United World talks to HH Sheikh Rashid bin Humaid Al Nuaimi, Chairman of Ajman Municipality & Planning Department, United Arab Emirates
As we know, the UAE performed relatively well in 2011 compared to other markets around the world, with 3.8% GDP growth. It also went up on the Human Development Index, which measures health and education for example. What is your view on the general economic and social performance of the UAE over the past year?
Over the past year, it has been proven that with the leadership of His Highness the President of the United Arab Emirates that despite all the turmoil that happened here in the region, the UAE is very stable. There was good and healthy growth in 2011 and we are not looking for huge figures, because that’s not sustainable. We were lucky that our political strategy both domestically and externally was very beneficial to the UAE’s economy and business-wise we are doing very well, including the stock markets.
At present we might be witnessing the worst days of the Middle East’s recent history, so as the UAE has proven that it is stable, we are expecting very good growth rates in the next few years throughout the UAE. We have a very stable political situation in the UAE and this automatically translates to economic stability and more foreign direct investment in the UAE. Our ratings internationally are not bad, however with the changes that are happened in the region, I think that there will be good progress for the UAE in the next few years.
The UAE’s economic performance is clearly interlinked with the oil & gas sector given it holds the 6th largest oil reserves in the world, although for the northern Emirates that is not so much the case. How important is diversifying the economy in the northern Emirates specifically?
The natural resources in the northern Emirates are very low, especially in terms of gas and fuel. But we are getting a lot of support from the Federal Government. At the end of the day, we are under one umbrella in the UAE. The northern Emirates are mostly focused on tourism, real estate and cultural activities, services and industrial activities which are not really in the petrochemicals field. But at the end of the day, we are within one umbrella in the UAE and the support will always be there when it comes to electricity and fuel.
Ajman is said to have quite a strategic location. It has had a big increase in industry and real estate and even growth in its financial sector. This has all been under the leadership of your father, HH Sheikh Humaid bin Rashid Al Nuaimi, who has been ruling now for over 30 years.
It was 30 years in September.
Could you give our readers an introduction to the development that has been undertaken in Ajman over the previous years?
His Highness has a very long-term vision for Ajman. We have always welcomed international investment in the Emirate of Ajman. We started to permit foreign ownership of land in Ajman in the late 1970s before he became the ruler, but he was in charge of managing the Emirate then. This has attracted a lot of investors from the region, because they feel safe investing in Ajman. Our local rules and regulations are very flexible and supportive to investors. We have allocated a lot of land for industrial and residential development. In the 1980s and 1990s there was a lot of development in the Emirate of Ajman which helped to accommodate a lot of business. You now have industrial cities and residential areas. A lot of people used to come in and establish their business here. They own their land and houses, and this was not the case in other Emirates. Ajman was home to a lot of international investors in the UAE. They live here, work in Dubai and have businesses in Abu Dhabi, but they love staying in Ajman.
His Highness’ priorities were always sustainable infrastructure. We have built a state-of-the-art sewage network in Ajman, which was completed in 2009. It was the first PPP (public-private partnership) infrastructure project in the UAE and the first infrastructure project that we issued bonds for (around $100 million) with a rating of A-. This was the first infrastructure project that had a rating in the UAE. It was done in partnership with the biggest international company that works in the sewerage field, a French company called Veolia and a Belgian construction company called Six Construct. Today we have connected the whole industrial and commercial area and around 89.4% of the residential area. We have built a very advanced treatment plant and we are using the treated water to supply the farms in Ajman today with treated water.
His Highness has also put a lot of effort in improving the road network in the Emirate of Ajman. We have spent over 300 million Dirhams on roads alone in Ajman from 2009-2010. We have a very good road network. Today we have a 220 million road projects under construction, providing a total of around 350-400 million Dirhams worth of infrastructure projects. His Highness believes that whenever you have very good traffic circulation within the Emirate and in and out of the Emirate, you will be able to attract a lot of tourists, businessmen etc.
The Emirate of Ajman has signed a concession agreement with an international port operator called Hutchinsons, which are the third largest port operators in the world, based in Hong Kong. They started managing Ajman Port from 1st January 2012 for 10 years, and I think this will put Ajman on the global map in terms of sea freight and port management.
We are always looking at new opportunities in renewable energies and clean power generation. To tell you the truth we have not obtained certain technology, but we are always looking for cleaner technology when producing electricity. We are in negotiations with a few international recycling companies; we are trying to build a new recycling plant in the Emirate of Ajman. Because of the limited land here, we are looking for the most advanced incinerators, where we can take all the waste, recycle what we can and then incinerate the rest, as long as we know that whatever comes out of the incinerator does not affect the air quality by polluting the air.
Given that town planning can affect the efforts and strategies of other government departments, what coordination is there between the different departments to ensure there is a sustainable and investor-friendly environment?
With the executive council we were able to combine a lot of government procedures under one format, which helps end users to come and get their business done through a one-stop shop. You can come and do whatever you need to at just one counter. This is part of our competitiveness strategy with the other Emirates and we were successful in that we are a lot faster than other Emirates. We were able to please a lot more customers here and we were able to get many others from neighbouring Emirates to establish their businesses here because of the efficiency and the flexibility in work as well as the fast procedures.
Lastly before we conclude, I wondered what final comments you may have to our international readers regarding Ajman, the Municipality or even the UAE as a whole?
Ajman is a very dynamic Emirate. We are working on a lot of projects that are going to attract a lot more businesses and tourists into the Emirate of Ajman. We are developing a new destination in the Emirate of Ajman; it’s a joint venture with the Government of Ajman. From the beginning of 2011 to mid-2013 we are going to spend 1 billion Dirhams on around 800 hotel rooms (a combination of 5-star luxury and 4-star furnished apartments), three marinas, a beautiful beach club, a tourism village and a retail area. We will have international operators running the hotels. You have to visit their offices there and see the plans. It is all under construction now and will be completed by mid-2013 at the latest. It is located in the north of Ajman as if you were going to Umm Al-Quwain. Ajman will have an additional 500 rooms in 2012 and another 1,000 rooms in 2013, so this will be a very big jump in tourism development in Ajman. A lot of changes are happening and a lot of developments are taking place and we are anxiously looking forward to these developments reaching completion.