x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 24 January 2018

Lack of oversight put Emiratis into debt

The new Debt Settlement Fund has a hard task ahead of it, the editor of an Arabic newspaper writes. Other topics: Syrian refugee relief and Yemen's water shortage.

Consumerism, greedy banks and lack of oversight left thousands of Emiratis in debt

It is shocking to learn that the number of UAE nationals in debt has reached about 250,000, commented Sami Al Reyyami, editor of the Dubai-based newspaper Al Emarat Al Youm.

"The figure is hard to believe, but it is unfortunately accurate. It basically means that the entire Emirati community is in debt, given that the Emirati workforce does not exceed 300,000 people anyway," he wrote in a column yesterday.

It is true that not all Emiratis in debt are defaulters, and it is also true that a number of them take a loan for a good reason - to build a home or start a business, for instance. But many go into debt to buy a life beyond their means.

The issue of defaulting Emiratis is such that the UAE President, Sheikh Khalifa, has ordered this year the creation of a fund dedicated to settling debts cumulated by Emirati defaulters who have been subject to court rulings or are on trial.

The cap on the loans to be covered by the Debt Settlement Fund for Emiratis was set at Dh5 million.

"There are three main causes behind such a huge number of Emiratis resorting to loans," the editor said. "First to blame [is] the sheer consumerism and the lack of awareness about the harm involved in getting a loan."

Granted, difficult circumstances can make some consider a loan as the only option, but this "doesn't explain the fact that a quarter of a million Emiratis did", he noted.

The fact is that the community at large suffers from "wrong consumption habits". Which is not really a secret, he added.

Second on the list: banks.

"Banks have a share of responsibility because they deliberately saturate the market with loan offers that they have fine-tuned over the years to make them just irresistible," the editor said.

"It was the subtle technique, the ample facilities, and the huge sums ready to be disbursed within 48 hours that lured many thousands into loans they neither wanted nor needed."

The third reason why indebtedness among UAE nationals has gotten out of control has something to do with "the lack of Central Bank oversight on banks". Which resulted in the latter taking loan facilities too far, while raising the amount of monthly deductions and interest to unreasonable levels.

The whole thing snowballed, leading some Emirati defaulters to jail. "That's when the Central Bank felt the need to intervene and regulate credit extension. But I think these measures came too late."

A hard task now lies with the Debt Settlement Fund for Emiratis as it endeavours, in coordination with creditor banks, to get defaulters out of jail and lower the high monthly instalments for non-defaulters who are, nevertheless, still struggling, the editor concluded.

Syrian refugee relief so far insufficient

The increasing number of Syrian refugees forced to flee the tragic situation in their country has been highlighted once again.

Only a few days ago, the United Nations announced that 11,000 Syrians fled the country in 24 hours and that the total number of refugees in neighbouring countries had reached 400,000. Meanwhile, some four million citizens inside Syria are in dire need of humanitarian assistance, said the Dubai-based daily Al Bayan in its editorial on Monday.

"Transforming the Syrian issue into a purely humanitarian issue requires precautions. The humanitarian aspect is only a part of the ongoing crisis. In fact, it is the result of the continued oppression of the Syrian uprising and the persistent rejection of the people's demands," said the paper.

The situation calls for additional, concerted efforts to ensure aid and assistance to Syrians, those who sought refuge in neighbouring countries as well as those who remain in war-torn towns.

But these efforts aren't sufficient, the editorial said. They must be coupled with a political solution that puts an end to the suffering of all Syrians.

Anything short of a final solution from the international community would be a waste of time and effort.

This is no time for partial initiatives that don't fit the overall picture, the newspaper said.


Yemen's lack of oil and water top concerns

Among a load of looming threats facing Yemen that usually goes unnoticed is the depletion of water and oil, Mohammed Jumeh wrote in the London-based newspaper Al Sharq Al Awsat.

On the list of real dangers facing Yemen, water and oil depletion usually factor low, the writer said.

Yet, predictions say that Sanaa is at risk of becoming the first capital in the world to run out of water in parallel with ground water exhaustion and population growth.

"In a country that depends on oil for 75 per cent of its revenues, oil depletion would be nothing short of a disaster."

In fact, Yemen's oil exports have decreased from 450,000 barrels per day in 2003 to 208,000 in 2009, to 170,000 in 2011, and might be now less than that.

The problem is that non-oil investments are disregarded in Yemen, despite great opportunities in trade, tourism, fishery resources and maritime transport, according to the writer.

The oil industry faces some real difficulties, as oil exploration companies grow reluctant to operate in Yemen due to the escalating unrest.

Yemen is also running out of water supplies while most water spending goes to Qat trees, the leaves of which are consumed by 75 per cent of men in Yemen.


* Digest compiled by The Translation Desk