The National speaks to Mohammed al Mazrouei, director general of the Western Region Development Council, about the area's ambitious plans.
Western region a land of 'endless opportunity'
Mohammed Al Mazrouei, the director general of the Western Region Development Council for Al Gharbia, talks about the new projects coming on stream.
You are at the centre of a lot of big investments.
If you look at it, the Western Region [Al Gharbia] is more than 60 per cent of the [Abu Dhabi] emirate. There must be something there. At the moment we're getting projects by the dozen to establish resorts; more companies are having interest to come to the Western Region.
What makes the region a good site for these developments?
So many factors. I think one of the things that we have in the Western Region is the huge mass of land. Literally, you have endless opportunity.
With so many industrial projects and the nuclear plant, do residents have safety concerns?
We do have concerns. I mean, if we erect a traffic light next to my house I'll have concerns. So [the idea of] nuclear reactors within the Western Region was to some of the people - they felt that they're going to get out. But we worked with Enec [Emirates Nuclear Energy Corporation] … basically to help them meet the people. So they've done a roadshow, or majlises, where they explain the whole idea behind a nuclear reactor. So this is one of the things that we need to work on: education of the people. In Arabic we have a saying: 'A human is basically an enemy to what he doesn't know.' The more we educate them, the better support we get out of them.
There are some fears the global economic turmoil may affect oil demand. Does that threaten the pace of development?
I don't think so. One of the things that we faced was on the financial crisis, everybody was talking about projects being cancelled, projects being delayed, projects being pushed over. In the Western Region we didn't have a single project that got delayed.
It was reported ConocoPhillips had some financial issues moving ahead with Shah and had to pull out in 2010.
Yeah, but later we signed with Occidental. So this is what I'm talking about - it never was a problem of the Western Region. Most likely it was an external issue with X company because they're facing issues within their homeland and they couldn't deliver. The contractor got swapped straight away and Shah is booming at the moment.
What about non-government and non-energy business, who will come?
One of the things that we are working on is how we encourage SMEs [small and medium enterprises] to take part in the development of the Western Region. We're talking to different companies mainly to establish a criteria for government or local-entrepreneur purchasing schemes, where if you get a project in the Western Region you need to spend so much within the region. So it's sort of an offset programme within the Western Region itself.
How much would the companies be expected to spend locally?
There is no final say on how much they're going to spend. I think we should first of all ready the market for SMEs. We cannot ask an oil and gas company to give contracts to someone who's not mature to do the contract. At the moment it's on an ad hoc basis. If they find a good deal with a local entrepreneur, they will give him the deal, provided that he is a good entrepreneur.
* April Yee