x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 21 July 2017

Transparency is key to building a strong union ...

A two-day Government Summit in Dubai this week provides a unique opportunity to conduct an exercise similar to the one Americans engaged on Tuesday ¿ examining the state of our union.

The conclusion of a two-day Government Summit in Dubai this week provides a unique opportunity to conduct an exercise similar to the one Americans engaged on Tuesday - examining the state of our union here in these united emirates.

Earlier this week, the two-hour question and answer session with the Vice President and Ruler of Dubai, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, offered a welcome window into the leadership's views on openness. The second day of the summit brought further examples of a government responsive to its people, from the announcement by the Deputy Prime Minister of an initiative to bridge the gap to between the working hours in the public and private sectors, to a frank speech on policy by the Minister of Interior, Sheikh Saif bin Zayed.

Taken in isolation, these elements may seem like events rather than important trends in governance. But they are in reality displays of a nation that is maturing, demonstrating a gradual turn towards greater transparency and political responsiveness. Twitter and open forums, tools increasingly used by the Emirates' leaders, are a long way from the shuttered and private majlis' of this nation's past.

Consider the issues being debated, in the open, in ways that have never before been on the public agenda:

The first is the transparent review of a law known as the Companies Law. Currently being debated in the Federal National Council, changes to this legislation could dramatically overhaul how business is conducted at home, and funds are invested from abroad. For instance, a key portion of the law would overhaul ownership provisions that currently require majority Emirati stakes.

The release of economic statistics by the Abu Dhabi Statistics Centre (carried in an advertisement in this newspaper) also represents a new type of transparency by official agencies. Such statistics are available in some western nations, but often only by hunting through websites. Indeed, if the mark of true transparency is the release of unflattering data, the statistics agency ought to be applauded for pointing out how high inflation in Abu Dhabi was just four years ago (14.9 per cent in 2008) and how far it has fallen since (1.1 per cent in 2012).

Being firm and telling people what they need to hear is an important part of effective government. This was also the case with the appearance before the Government Summit of Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed, the Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Presidential Affairs. Sheikh Mansour had a tough message for his countrymen, particularly those unwilling to work: "Employment is not something to be ashamed of," he said. "Our ancestors and forefathers travelled far and wide for work before ... Therefore, staying at home is not acceptable." Clearly, empowering people is a message leaders of today are taking seriously.

Nine years ago Sheikh Mohammed warned Arab governments that they should "change their ways otherwise they risk being changed". We've seen the wisdom behind these words during the last two years of regional unrest. The UAE began building a more responsive and united nation well before the Arab Spring. But putting all of these pieces together - as we have seen this week - highlights a clear strategy of communication, and an attempt to be open and transparent about the direction the country is heading and the role that citizens need to play in its future.

In the end, such openness from the leadership and government institutions will be an important part of today's vision becoming tomorrow's reality.