x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Communication key to introduce new initiatives

Standarising Roman-alphabet spellings of Arabic family names makes sense; but the programme should be explained clearly and fully.

It used to be either Al Mheiri, Al Mehairi or Al Muhairy. Now the English-language spelling of Hamda's family name is no longer variable: she is an Al Mheiri. When her sister renewed her passport recently, she found that the spelling of her name had been changed. Her brother, who spelt his name as Al Muhairy, now has the same standardised spelling too.

Many Emiratis who have renewed their passports in the past two or three years have noticed changes the English spelling of their names. Arabic names have always had a variety of spellings, since the language contains alphabet characters with no Roman equivalents. Now the variations are being smoothed away.

The standardisation has been welcomed by many Emiratis, but it has also come as a complete surprise to many. Changing spellings in passports will probably mean they must also be changed in other documents: education certificates, drivers' licences, travel and residency documents submitted to foreign governments, and so on.

It need not have been a surprise, however. The name-change process needs a major public-awareness campaign, to show that the change serves the public interest and to help Emiratis ensure that all of their various documents are coordinated under the same name.

The initiative began at about the same time as the new Emirates ID card was introduced in 2010, a process many may remember as riddled with logistical problems when it began. People didn't know why they needed the new ID card, nor how best to apply for one, nor what the deadlines and penalties for failure to apply would be. Delays and bureaucracy in processing the applications meant many people did not apply for one at all. But eventually there was an orchestrated outreach campaign, complete with spokesmen explaining the card's purpose, and an advertising effort and smoother operations. The result: almost every citizen and resident now holds an ID card. Few now complain about the process.

So it is, too, with the Abu Dhabi's nuclear-energy programme, in which regular community meetings are held to explain the implications of the project and its safety. Thanks to those meetings, many fears have been allayed through efforts at transparency.

The country is developing, and rules and regulations will naturally be created or amended. But the importance of communication with the public cannot be overstated.

Reaching out in good time can make the difference between a smooth roll-out and a flurry of complaints.