x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 20 January 2018

Al Gharbia gives Hamdan a vote of approval

Appointment 'couldn't have come at a better time' as a Dh98bn development plan including roads, schools and resorts starts.

An aerial photograph of green and desert in Liwa, where tourism development projects are planned.
An aerial photograph of green and desert in Liwa, where tourism development projects are planned.

The government body in charge of regenerating Al Gharbia said the appointment of the new royal representative "couldn't have come at a better time". On Sunday night, the President of the UAE, Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed, named his brother Sheikh Hamdan bin Zayed as Al Gharbia's Ruler's Representative.

Mohamed al Mazrouei, the director general of the Western Region Development Council, said the community had given the appointment hearty approval amid efforts to build the region's infrastructure and economy. "The appointment couldn't have really come at a better time for us," Mr al Mazrouei said. "We're looking at a lot of big projects now in oil and gas deals, and major projects to expand roads that would connect our towns."

Roughly 120,000 people live in Al Gharbia, only eight per cent of the emirate's population. However, the area, formerly the Western Region, takes up 83 per cent of Abu Dhabi's land mass and 70 per cent of the entire country. It also has the richest oil reserves and accounts for about 40 per cent of the emirate's gross domestic product. Mr al Mazrouei said he was especially excited with the appointment because Sheikh Hamdan, the former deputy prime minister, "is intimately familiar with the places and people of Western Region".

He added: "I've been in contact with a few of my cousins - the people of Western Region - and I can tell you this: They are super happy that Sheikh Hamdan will be on the scene with us." The Government has earmarked Dh98 billion towards the economic development of Al Gharbia. Among the major projects is an expansion of the road between Al Mafraq and Al Ghuwaifat that would be completed in three and a half years, as well as an 80km road connecting Ghayathi and Madinat Zayed.

"There are huge civil projects going on," Mr al Mazrouei said. "Schools being built here, hospitals, 780 villas in Madinat Zayed which will hopefully be completed in 2010 and there are plans to put about 780 villas in Ghaiyathi and 600 in Sila'a." The council also has plans for a burgeoning tourism industry, with projects such as the Mirage Palace desert resort in Liwa and the development of the Sir Bani Yas Island nature and wildlife reserve.

Mr al Mazrouei said he admired Sheikh Hamdan's work with other organisations, such as his role as chairman of the Environment Agency-Abu Dhabi. "He has an environmental side, and if you look at Western Region's map, there are a few spaces highlighted as environmental reserves, so we hope he'll be putting his environment hat on." Mr al Mazrouei said he was expecting Sheikh Hamdan to meet residents in the region soon.

"We know through history that he's a great communicator," he said. "He listens to the people and likes to be close to them. You find there is an intimacy there." Sheikh Hamdan is also president of the Red Crescent Authority, chairman of the UAE Foreign Aid Co-ordination Office, and head of the Emirates Falconers' Club. Formerly, he was the Minister of State for Foreign Affairs until 2005 and president of the UAE Football Association for nine years until 1993.

As the new Ruler's Representative in Al Gharbia, he succeeds Sheikh Mohamed bin Butti al Hamed. "Sheikh Mohammed al Hamed also worked very hard to establish all these accomplishments," Mr al Mazrouei noted. "He was appointed in the '70s and worked very hard to establish everything we have at this stage, because basically before it was just Bedouin life." He said the role of the Ruler's Representative is to help supervise and steer the vision for development.

"The main reason he is there is to basically help all entities work together," he said. One resident of the region, Fauzi Ibrahim, 35, said people were familiar with Sheikh Hamdan and agreed they were happy he had been appointed. "This is very good," he said at an office building in Sila'a. "And I am very happy because Sheikh Hamdan helps many people from outside the country and inside as well."