x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 21 July 2017

Settle your debts on the way out of town

An electronic system could soon allow anyone prevented from leaving Dubai because of unpaid bills to settle their debts at the airport.

DUBAI // An electronic system could soon allow anyone prevented from leaving the country because of unpaid bills to settle their debts at any of the city's airports. The idea, officials said, is to keep people from being detained and pulled into the court system over potentially small sums of money. "If a person has a court order from any emirate, and his or her name is present on the immigration list, the person would be detained and transferred to the concerned authority; until that point, no action could be taken by the person concerned," said Mohammed Rustum, chief prosecutor of the Airport Prosecution and the Bur Dubai Second Public Prosecution. The project was proposed by the Visions customer care programme of the Dubai Public Prosecution. Officials could not confirm how many people were held for outstanding utility bills in the city every year or how many fled with outstanding debt. "When you have an outstanding bill, you will be either detained at Dubai International Airport or any police station if it flags up. But with this system, instead of a person being dragged through the system, we want to facilitate immediate payment," said prosecutor Shoaib Ahly, a member of the Visions committee. The committee, which receives public suggestions and complaints, confirmed that a feasibility study is under way to evaluate the requirements. "Dubai Government is electronically linked, all the government departments have paperless connections, but we are communicating with airport, police immigration and the various departments to receive their input," said prosecutor Ahmad al Attar, head of the committee. "The Public Prosecution's Information Technology section is working on the project at the moment and it will be implemented once it's finalised." According to Dr Ali al Jarman, a senior partner at Prestige Advocates, when a government department acknowledges a fine or outstanding bill, a certain grace period is given for payment, which differs from department to department. After the grace period, the file is transferred to the legal department, which assigns a lawyer to take it up in court. When the file reaches court, a subpoena is issued and if the person concerned does not answer it - either deliberately or simply because they have not received it - there is a 30-day break before a verdict is issued. The file is then transferred to the execution section, which issues a court-ordered payment notice. That is the point at which the person's name would be placed on the immigration list. "If the bill or fine is not paid, then the person would be placed on the airports immigration black list," Dr al Jarman said. The black list means authorities could freeze the person's assets in the country. HB, 37, recalls his situation a few years ago with an outstanding Etisalat bill. The Syrian advertising firm director said he was returning from a business trip in 2003 and was asked by an immigration officer at Abu Dhabi International Airport to go to the police office. "I was told that I had an unpaid bill to pay, and I had to wait for a while before I was told it was a Dh13 (US$3.50) bill that accumulated over a year or so from an old number that is unused," he said. "After I regained my composure and paid off the bill I had to sign a promissory note and was let go." No timetable for implementation of the system has been announced. newsdesk@thenational.ae