x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 21 July 2017

A few suggestions for the Executive Council to consider

Peter Hellyer has a little list of things he would like Abu Dhabi's Cabinet to discuss.

The biggest news in the capital this week is the reshuffling of the membership of the Abu Dhabi Executive Council, the Emirate’s Cabinet. Chaired once again by Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed, the Crown Prince, with Sheikh Hazza bin Zayed reappointed as deputy chairman, the Council has several new members with a reorganisation of some significant portfolios. I wish it well with the tasks ahead and note with pleasure that the Council, at last, has its first female member, Dr Amal Al Qubaisi, who takes over as director general of the Abu Dhabi Education Council. Departing members deserve thanks for their sterling service.

Many have noted, with interest, the nomination of Nasser Ahmed Al Suwaidi as the chairman of the newly-created Energy Authority. The oil and gas industry and the electricity and water sector in Abu Dhabi are increasingly entwined and it makes good sense to bring them together in this way. Is the Supreme Petroleum Council now to be wound up after 25 years? And how, or when, will the new organisation act on new agreements with foreign oil companies with regards to the operation of our onshore oilfields? The topic, I am sure, is generating considerable discussion among businessmen and diplomats alike.

That, though, is a matter of macro-strategy as government pursues the goal of the Abu Dhabi 2030 Vision.

For most residents, their concerns are likely to be focused more on the way in which the Executive Council affects their daily lives – the interface between residents and government, if you like. On that, I have a few suggestions to make, or to repeat, which I hope Council members may be able to consider.

It would be nice, for example, if the Department of Municipal Affairs, together with the Department of Transport, could examine how the capital could be made more pedestrian-friendly, with fewer thoroughfares that are little better than concrete-and-glass canyons. I admire the improvement of our beaches and was particularly impressed during a visit to the Al Bateen beach on Saturday. The beaches and associated parks in the city are much improved and I look forward to a continuation of that process along with similar progress in our city streets. Besides the provision of more car parking, (of course!), can we have more greenery and the promotion of open-air cafes? In the Khalidiya district, a new, attractive piazza-style precinct is already taking shape, with pedestrian areas and a central square, shaded from the sun by buildings for most of the day. More of these would be welcome. And let’s have our street numbers back, please!

I hope the Deputy General Commander of the Abu Dhabi Police, another new Council member, will continue with the impressive process of reshaping the police and associated bodies so that they interact more effectively with the general public.

Much has already been achieved, in the streamlining of traffic and licensing procedures, for example, while my first experience of the SAAED operation recently left me greatly impressed with the speed of their response and their efficiency. Perhaps, in the cooler months at least, more policemen could patrol the streets – “bobbies on the beat”, in the British style – to engage with the public and, thereby, to enhance their role of protecting the wider community.

The Health Authority, one of the most critical institutions in terms of engaging with the public in times of need, has done much to rationalise and improve health care in both public and private sectors. Many high quality private practitioners, however, have been worried by the feeling that the focus of health care provision is too much on the large institutions, whether public and private, to the detriment of the smaller fry. I hope that this issue can be effectively and transparently debated.

There are challenges in other areas, too. As Dr Al Qubaisi will find, the education sector, though much improved, could benefit from more emphasis on the need to promote knowledge of the country’s heritage and history in all schools, while the task of continuing diversification of the economy must be a focus for the Department of Economic Development.

More reorganisation is, I suspect, on its way. After all, there are now at least two major Government bodies, the Tourism and Culture Authority and the Environment Agency, not represented on the Executive Council. Both have an important part to play in terms of achieving the goals set out for 2030.

I shall observe, with interest, as the new Council, under able leadership, sets about tackling the enormous task that lies before it.

Peter Hellyer is a consultant specialising in the UAE’s history and culture