x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

FNC to debate laws that jail bounced cheque offenders

The Federal National Council urges that criminals who bounce cheques should have restrictions imposed on their banking.

ABU DHABI // The UAE must reconsider jailing offenders who bounce cheques and instead restrict their ability to carry out bank transactions, a member of the Federal National Council's (FNC) finance committee says.

Yousef al Neaimi, an FNC member from Ras al Khaimah, said that after a set number of bounced cheque violations, the individual should lose his banking privileges and the Central Bank should bar him from setting up new bank accounts elsewhere.

"It is a civilised deterrent," he said.

The country's policies on bounced cheques will come under scrutiny at a FNC session today.

There have been longstanding demands for the reform of the rules, which often land offenders in jail.

Critics argue that such rules are unforgiving, and those who fall foul of the law often cannot pay back their obligations, with some choosing to flee the country rather than contend with the consequences.

Mr al Neaimi said the country's laws did not actually incorporate the concept of post-dated cheques, where the cases of bounced cheques often occurred.

Sheikh Saif bin Zayed, the Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Interior, is expected to outline the UAE’s policies on bounced cheques in a written response to the FNC.

The council is also expected to address concerns over the UAE’s demographic imbalance and the country’s strategy to deal with lopsided population figures in which UAE citizens are a minority in their own country.

Some FNC members are proposing policies that include placing quotas on certain expatriate nationalities and improving financial incentives to Emirati mothers who have more children to help solve a massive population imbalance.

“This large number of human beings on this land – I don’t think we need that many,” said Mr al Neaimi.

At the heart of the FNC’s concern is the fact that Emiratis make up a fraction of the UAE population, with several members placing the figure at a little under 900,000.

The 2010 census was postponed, making it hard to verify the exact number of Emiratis, but some estimates put the total population of the Emirates at more than eight million.

FNC members argue that the ballooning number of expatriates carries social and financial problems for the local populace.
Sheikh Saif will outline the country’s strategy in his written response to the FNC.

According to figures released last month at the council, expatriates cost the UAE about Dh55 billion annually in expenses that include health care, infrastructure, security and other services.

“For us it is a disaster,” Mr al Neaimi said.

“The problems are numerous,” said Sultan al Muazzin, the chairman of the council’s health, labour and social affairs committee.

“It has caused problems with national identity, put pressure on essential services for nationals, pressure on infrastructure, and there is no importance accorded to the Arabic language.”

Dr al Muazzin said a major solution was unlikely to be implemented because of the country’s openness and economic development, which needed expatriates. “The solution will take 30 or 40, or 50 years.” He suggested increasing the allowances that mothers received from the Government for their infant children.

Although he is against granting expatriates citizenship, Dr al Muazzin said restrictions should be placed on nationalities that are not similar or compatible with UAE culture, such as those who carried out labour strikes.

Most expatriates are labourers who live here without their families, vastly tipping the scales towards the male population in society, which members say is another problem.

Expatriates are also being hired instead of Emiratis, leading to a higher unemployment rate among nationals. Unemployment is at 13 per cent, according to 2009 figures, but is significantly higher for young Emiratis.

Mr al Neaimi argued that the country did not need so many expatriates. Thousands of labourers remained in the UAE even after their companies had completed major projects, and they should be sent home, he said. “Four companies have labourers equal to the population of an emirate.”

Mr al Neaimi also wants the UAE to consolidate the system by which it issues visas to keep better track of population trends.

kshaheen@thenational.ae