x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

New UAE regulations require more communication

Even the best-intentioned and necessary of laws can discomfit people who do not know they are coming. Better communication would help.

The issue of communication came into sharp focus this week with the announcement of changes in residence visa rules. Last week, officials announced that henceforth a valid tenancy contract and recent utility bills would be necessary before a residence visa could be renewed. But on Monday, an official said the requirement had been scrapped. Then yesterday, the Interior Ministry clarified that the original rule stood, adding to the confusion.

The issue is not the law per se, although The National’s columnist Peter Hellyer argued in these pages on Monday that it would be difficult to implement.

Yet the real issue, and the cause of all the confusion, was about communication. The UAE is developing rapidly: new laws are promulgated and their effects gauged on a regular basis; new situations arise and laws are formulated to address them. This process occurs all over the world. But the UAE is developing so swiftly that new regulations are implemented frequently, but not always communicated well.

This leads to slip-ups and surprises, at best, or bureaucratic nightmares at worst. There are other examples beyond the new visa requirements: the introduction of the Emirates ID card, with the deadline for obtaining it moved repeatedly; the roll-out of Mawaqif parking regulations in Abu Dhabi, resulting in many drivers learning of the policy only once they were fined; and more.

Ignorance of the law is no defence, but government must also communicate changes broadly and in a timely manner. Changes to residency visas or parking spaces have real-world implications and affect people’s lives. In some cases, people will have structured their lives around a particular assumption – for example, commuters expecting access to a parking space at work.

Adjusting to new rules takes time.

Much of the confusion could be cleared up with regular communication through the media, press conferences and public information campaigns. This would not only help people to make better decisions, it would also offer feedback to fine tune regulations. If problems are caught early, adjustments can be made easily; when officials explain issues, they can squelch the rumour mill.

Late last night, Interior Ministry officials welcomed a journalist’s call for clarification on the issue, underscoring the desire to engage. The rapid pace of development in the country requires constant contact between residents and Government. By talking to people regularly, Government can create a deep connection and stamp out confusion.