Centered on education and accessibility
H.H. Sheikh Saud bin Saqr Al Qasimi, Member of the Supreme Council and Ruler of Ras Al Khaimah, discusses with United World his leadership style and the emirate’s focus on diversifying the economic base and attracting domestic and foreign investment
Your Highness, kindly provide our international readers with an introduction to the UAE and what you would consider the most important achievements in your country’s history.
The UAE is a new country that has seen remarkable and rapid economic and social development over the course of its first 40 years. Beginning under the wise leadership of H.H. Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahayan and continuing today under the leadership of H.H. Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahayan there has been enormous investment into transforming the UAE into a diversified knowledge based economy.
What has been your main leadership style (and that of your ancestors if different) that distinguishes the role you undertake as the Ruler of Ras Al-Khaimah and what is your personal vision for the Emirate?
The style of my leadership, is modelled after my father, Sheikh Saqr bin Mohamed Al Qasimi. He dedicated his life to the service of his people and his country. He was passionate and cared deeply about the well being of each and every citizen. His goal was to help them achieve a better standard of living, and thought education was the most important vehicle to assist with this transformation. Therefore, he was committed to making sure every girl and boy, no matter the tribe or family, received a proper education.
My father also felt he needed to be personally accessible to his people in order to understand their needs. While he had trusted advisors, he firmly believed it was his obligation to hear directly from the people, in order to develop sustainable and effective solutions to problems, and thus he always made himself available.
As a result of watching my father lead his people, I also want my legacy to center on education and accessibility. It is my belief that in order to improve our emirate, and country, we need to improve our education, and listen to the needs of our people. This is how we make good policies that enable growth. Knowledge is power, and this is how we should arm ourselves for the future. It is my belief that this is how we make good decisions that lead to a better life for all.
People learn by example, and it is important that I lead by being a good example. Having role models who encourage us, and guide us, and instill in us a proper work ethic, are the building blocks of a great nation. Just as children look to their parents for guidance and support, I want the people of Ras Al Khaimah to look to me, and my actions, for guidance and support. As leaders, we must always remember that it's our actions, more than our words, that speak volumes.
What has been the main vision for the Emirate of Ras Al Khaimah?
Striking a balance and achieving sustainable development are central to the vision for the future of Ras Al Khaimah. The emirate wishes to establish itself as a robust economy with a diverse base, building on the success of existing industries including tourism, cement, ceramics and pharmaceuticals.
Economic growth must be balanced with a high quality of life for the people of Ras Al Khaimah. The generation of wealth leads to prosperity and allows for investment and expansion in services such as education and healthcare, which will bring benefits to all.
Finally the emirate must be prepared for the demands of the 21st century while preserving the local heritage and traditions of its people.
Ras Al Khaimah’s economy has undergone a complete transformation in recent years. Its growth and success are underpinned by a philosophy of governance, transparency, and fiscal prudence, in a bid to stimulate foreign and domestic investment. It has become established as a solid business ground and encouraged regional and international investors to explore development and investment opportunities in various areas such as tourism and industry.
Tourism, in particular, has been identified as a key area for growth in the economy and plays a major role in our strategy for the development of our emirate. With many historical attractions, and a combination of pristine beaches, authentic desert landscape and mountains, the emirate holds a unique position among the seven emirates. 2011 was a particularly strong year for Ras Al Khaimah’s tourism market. Data from the emirate’s Tourism Development Authority show as many as 835,200 tourists visited the emirate during the 12-month period, marking an increase of 40% upon the year before. Clear strategic goals and targets have been set to increase the total number of annual visitors to Ras Al Khaimah to 1.2 million by 2013 and government investment in the tourism sector aims to increase the number of hotel rooms to 10,000 by the year 2016, compared to just 2,500 hotel rooms in 2010.
Blessed with a variety of natural resources, RAK is also considered something of a hub for industry in the UAE. The emirate has created successful industrial icons like RAK Ceramics and Julphar Pharmaceuticals and the Union Cement Company across the industrial and manufacturing field. These have recorded robust growth despite the challenges of the global financial downturn that has faced the region recently.
The Ras Al Khaimah Ports Network is well placed for the development of the regional maritime industry. RAK Maritime City, the latest addition to this advanced ports network, has been designed to be a free zone maritime industrial park for a variety of industrial and maritime focused businesses, while Saqr Port is one of the largest bulk commodity ports in the Middle East. Fast, efficient cargo handling and reliable distribution are the key elements to Saqr Port’s reputation for quality.
The agency also noted that, “Recent ventures have met with impressive success. New hotels enjoy solid occupancy levels, with tourists up 40% in 2011 and forecast to exceed 1 million this year, a fivefold increase since 2007.”
Standard & Poor’s also awarded the emirate an ‘A’, based on continued growth and debt reduction. They reported that, “With the increase in tourism, we estimate that Ras Al Khaimah’s real GDP growth is 6% in 2011 and will remain above 5% over the forecast period.”
The UAE Investment Map is a new initiative under the Federal Ministry of Economy that aims to attract and promote the UAE to global investors through specialized reports, a new website, conferences, exhibitions and international road shows.
The UAE Investment Map is an important part of creating brand UAE and through its approach will undoubtedly help to attract investors to the UAE that had previously not considered it as a destination. Through showcasing the country as a whole, the UAE Investment Map will help potential investors identify the locations that best suit their needs while at the same time showing them what the country as a whole has to offer. Ras Al Khaimah is pleased to be participating in this and we look forward to the results in the near future.
The government of Ras Al Khaimah encouraged the manufacturing and service industries by creating infrastructure conducive to free trade and free enterprise. Due to its strategic geographical location, it has become a focal point for industry, quarrying, and manufacturing and has one of the most cost-effective free trade zones in the UAE and home to upwards of 5,000 active companies.
Foreign direct investment (FDI) is a powerful catalyst to increase productivity and competitiveness of the emirate across various sectors. It will also bring in the latest technology and create new job opportunities. Several leading global firms have already found merit in RAK’s strategic geographical location, business friendly policies and proactive government and have based their operations in the emirate.
RAK has implemented all round reform to bolster its attractiveness as an investment destination. The free trade zones and industrial zones in the emirate, under RAK Investment Authority (RAKIA) and RAK Free Trade Zone (RAKFTZ), have together brought in $7 billion in FDI to the emirate. Legal and regulatory reforms keep in mind the need to protect the needs of investors, especially in the field of property rights and ownership.
To this end, special laws govern the functioning of the free zones and the freehold property law issued in 2005 made RAK the first emirate after Dubai to open up its freehold property sector to international investors. RAK Government has also made escrow mandatory for new real estate developments. A new property regulator, RAKIA Real Estate Regulatory Agency (RERA) has been established to oversee the implementation of new escrow account laws. Increasing transparency and improving the processes to make them investment friendly is essential. We have been very successful in attracting industry as we have world-class brands that have grown out of RAK and that have come here. Tourism also plays a major role in our strategy and in the development of our emirate. The challenge today is to increase the number of hotel rooms to 10,000 rooms by 2016 to meet the high demand among tourists and the growth in the travel and tourism sector.
World-class infrastructure and business facilities compliment the emirate’s strategic geographical location. The network of seaports, an international airport with its own airline and a telecommunications network are all well placed to support investors.
Ras Al Khaimah is an ideal environment for attracting talent and investors to launch their development opportunities and to live in an exclusive destination with a diversity of landscapes, facilities and services. The genuine demand for safe and secure, affordable luxury living makes the real estate market here more resilient and less susceptible to fluctuations.
With $25 billion of foreign and domestic direct investment since 2000 and a diversified economy geared toward steady and organic growth, Ras Al Khaimah remains a stable and attractive investment destination and intends to continue in this way for the future.