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Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 23 October 2018

A record federal budget for a brighter future

Education and community are at the forefront of the UAE Cabinet's economic plans

UAE Cabinet, presided over by HH Sheikh Mohammed, approves the UAE federal budget for 2018-2021. WAM
UAE Cabinet, presided over by HH Sheikh Mohammed, approves the UAE federal budget for 2018-2021. WAM

If evidence were needed that the government is committed to future-proofing the UAE and its citizens, it is to be found in both the sheer scale and the fine detail of the largest federal budget in the nation’s history. This week the cabinet approved spending for 2019 of Dh60.3 billion, an increase of more than 17 per cent over this year’s budget − itself a record amount. Between next year and 2021, a total of Dh180bn has been set aside.

For most of us, it is difficult to comprehend the scale of such sums, but by way of comparison Dh60bn (US$16 bn) is equivalent to NASA’s entire annual budget. It is also the value of exports from the US that China is planning to hit with tariffs as part of the ongoing trade war between the two countries.

But, as impressive as the headline budget figure for next year is, it is how the money is going to be spent that shows that the nation is well on course to achieve the goals of UAE Vision 2021. The broad aim of the plan, launched in 2010, was simple and ambitious – to make the UAE one of the best countries in the world by the 50th anniversary of the union in 2021.

Crucial to the realisation of that vision is the fulfilment of six national priorities – the establishment of world-class healthcare, a first-rate education system, a sustainable environment and infrastructure, a competitive knowledge economy, safety and security for all citizens and an inclusive, cohesive society that is proud of its heritage and culture.

It is no coincidence, therefore, that social development, education and healthcare are among the big winners in the 2019 budget. Security, too, is to receive “substantial” funding. In many of its aspects, the budget channels major funding directly into the key focus of Vision 2021: the creation of “a competitive economy driven by knowledgeable and innovative Emiratis”.

This is the foundation stone upon which all else will be built, underpinning the determination to free the UAE from dependency on oil.

Thanks to decades of imaginative domestic and global investments in a wide range of alternative sectors, that objective is well within its grasp. By 2021, it is projected that 80 per cent of the UAE’s gross domestic product will be attributed to non-oil sectors.

This is a remarkable success, all the more so for having been achieved in less than a lifetime since the black gold that transformed the emirates first began to flow. But as this historic budget makes clear, the unflinching focus now is on tomorrow. To Vision 2021 and beyond, what this nation might achieve in the next half-century promises to be astonishing.