One year on, Ghadan 21's ambitious plans are becoming reality
The Crown Prince announced Dh50 billion reforms for Abu Dhabi last June
June 5, 2018 was when an ambitious plan was put in motion to alter the economic course of an emirate.
It is a year to the day Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces, put government officials to work and formulate a stimulus plan for the economy inside 90 days.
The result was Ghadan 21 – translated as Tomorrow 21 – a Dh50 billion package of major reforms that will transform doing business in Abu Dhabi, featuring 50 initiatives across four key areas.
These were business and investment, society, knowledge and investment, and lifestyle.
The proposals included allowing people to legally run businesses from home for the first time, 10,000 new jobs and improved social benefits that would help low income citizens, and more parks and sports facilities.
The reforms can be seen in the wider context of Abu Dhabi and the UAE’s future in a world that is moving away from hydrocarbons as an energy source, and which underpinned the country’s prosperity for decades.
About a quarter of its gross domestic product (GDP) comes from the oil and gas sector. Ghadan 21 signals the UAE’s intention to move forward post oil and gas to a country that is more diverse and inclusive, not just economically but also socially.
In September 2018, three months later when Ghadan 21 was officially revealed, the Crown Prince announced dozens of initiatives, and many more have been added over the past 12 months. Here are some of the key announcements:
This March saw the creation of Hub 71, with Microsoft as a strategic partner to support technology startups and directly linked to Ghadan 21.
Hub 71 will offer cloud services and technology to businesses and will be based in Abu Dhabi’s Financial District. It will be supported by Mubadala, the Emirate’s sovereign wealth fund, with the aim of creating 100 companies in five years. One billion dirhams has been allocated from the Dh50bn package.
The Ghadan Ventures Fund was launched last month, with more than Dh500 million in capital to support new businesses.
Managed by Abu Dhabi Investment Office (ADIO), the fund has two programmes. One will support businesses in the early stages, while the other will match capital raised through the private sector, dirham for dirham.
To attract more overseas investors, the UAE has slashed or abolished fees for more than 1,500 government services.
Tajar Abu Dhabi is an expansion of the licensing system with a “golden package” that is now open to all residents and GGC nationals.
It means companies no longer need a physical office to trade here, a significant saving in outgoings.
Sweeping changes to immigration rules were also made in September. Key professionals and their families, including doctors and engineers, are now eligible for long-stay visas of up to 10 years, compared to the previous limit of two or three years. Those with significant investments will be given 'golden cards' for permanent residency. On Monday, Indian businessman Yusuff Ali became the first golden-card holder, the first of 6,800 investors under the initiative.
A five-year retirement visa was also created for residents over 55 with a property worth at least Dh2 million, savings of Dh1 million, or a minimum monthly income of Dh20,000.
The number of loans to Emiratis to build new homes in 2019 has doubled this year under Ghadan 21.
The first instalment of 2,000 loans, which includes government homes and residential plots, cumulatively comes to Dh3.4 billion.
In 2018, more than 12,000 loans were granted, including Dh16 billion for housing, Dh1.41 billion for residential plots and the distribution of nearly 1,000 government homes, worth Dh79 million.
Income levels will now be taken into account when calculating repayments.
It is not just citizens who have benefitted from the changes, with important reforms made to property purchases made by residents.
Only last week, Jordanian Sami Ghadour, who also holds a five-year retirement visa now, was given the freehold to his new six-bedroom villa on Saadiyat Island, the first resident to receive this after changes that expanded property ownership from the previous 99-year leasehold.
To complement the housing industry, one of the promises of Ghadan 21 is a Dh3-billion budget announced last June to improve social facilities for both citizens and residents in the city’s suburbs of Khalifa City, Mohammed bin Zayed City, Shakhbut City and Mina Zayed.
Airport Road and the Salam Street or Eastern Ring Road are two key transport arteries for Abu Dhabi. They have served the city well, but need updating to meet the growing demands of the 21st century.
A key section is the area around Mina Zayed, where the Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Highway from Saadiyat meets the Sheikh Zayed Tunnel. A new project will create a five-lane tunnel that will join both roads to the Corniche. Construction to widen the Salam Street began in April and is being done at a fast pace to meet an October 1 deadline.
Improvements to Airport Road, with sculptures and other street art, will focus not just on improving traffic flow but will recognise the traffic artery’s history as the first road out of the island. The emphasis will be improving the urban environment, with more walkways and other changes to reduce the impact of cars and lorries in a city centre.
The Abu Dhabi Department of Urban Planning and Municipalities said in April that it would create a network of up to 50 water taxis to connect the city to its cultural attractions.
Ghadan 21 also recognises that play is as important as work, and in April we got the first glimpse of what this might look like.
According to the Abu Dhabi Department of Urban Planning and Municipalities, there are 300 initiatives planned to improve the quality of life, including 177 in the capital alone.
These include upgrading 11 of the city’s parks and creating three new themed parks, with a Heritage Park on the Corniche. The improvements will include climbing walls, cycle and exercise parks and playgrounds. To beat the heat, more trees will be planted, with better shading and even breeze machines in some areas.
Updated: June 4, 2019 01:57 PM