One of the key pillars of Dubai’s developmental blueprint, Dubai Plan 2021, is the creation of a forward-looking, proactive government that is in touch with the desires of the people, with whom its dealings are characterised by transparency and fairness. The largest revamp in the federal government’s history, announced by Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, ruler of Dubai and prime minister of the UAE, is an important step towards the realisation of this ambition. The ministerial changes represent the biggest shake-up in the federal government’s history, but the novelty was not confined to the appointment of new personnel and the establishment of ministries. One of the most interesting aspects of the governmental reorganisation of 2016 is the manner in which it was first relayed to the public.
Phase Of Change
Sheikh Mohammed broke the news via Twitter in February 2016, following up the initial announcement with a detailed letter on networking platform LinkedIn. In doing so he appears to have opened up a useful channel of communication with the populace, and one which citizens in the UAE and much further afield have taken to readily. Sheikh Mohammed’s post quickly went viral, becoming one of the three most engaging posts by a political figure on LinkedIn, with the US, UK and Canada among the top-five countries to have viewed it. Also in February 2016 Sheikh Mohammed took to Twitter again to mark the occasion of the first post-reform meeting of the Cabinet, describing a government “going through a phase of change,” and one that is “seeing the future with positive energy and youth’s optimism.”
In keeping with its announcement on Twitter, the government is putting transparency and public engagement to the forefront of the plan’s implementation strategy. “We have set in place a comprehensive implementation framework that instills accountability and promotes transparency for those involved in and impacted by Dubai Plan 2021,” Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, chairman of Dubai’s Executive Council, told OBG. “The aim of these reports is not only to reinforce transparency, but also to engage the public on the future of their city, and provide them with a platform to share their creative ideas and contributions.”
The changes Dubai’s ruler referred to in his Tweet are considerable. The reformed federal government includes eight new members, five of whom are women. It is also a more youthful body than that normally seen in the region; the average age of new ministers is 38 years, with the youngest ministerial appointee in Dubai is just 22 years of age. However, the change is more than cosmetic. The February 2016 announcement revealed a new organisational structure for government, comprising completely new ministries, as well as fresh mandates for some of those already in existence. One of Dubai Plan 2021’s key concerns has been addressed by the creation of the Ministry of Happiness, headed by Ohood Al Roumi, who also retains her position as director-general of the Prime Minister’s Office. The new ministry’s goal, according to Sheikh Mohammed’s Twitter announcement, is to “align and drive government policy to create social good and satisfaction.”
Its efforts in this regard were given further direction with the endorsement by the Cabinet of the National Charter for Happiness and Positivity, which commits the government to creating an appropriate environment for the happiness of individuals, families and the community. While happiness may be something of an abstract concept, the UAE has a means to measure the success of its new framework, courtesy of the UN’s World Happiness Report, the first of which was published in 2012 in support of the UN’s High-Level Meeting on Happiness and Well-Being. In 2015 the UAE was ranked the world’s 20th-happiest nation, above the UK and below Belgium. Building on this success will be a key goal over coming years.
The creation of a new minister of state for tolerance is another important development in an emirate that has successfully accommodated a broad range of nationalities, ethnicities and religious traditions. The new tolerance position has been taken on by Sheikha Lubna Al Qasimi, who is also president of Zayed University and studied computer science in the UK, US and Japan before returning to the UAE to become one of the first Emirati computer engineers.
As part of the reorganisation, a number of ministries have been renamed and given new roles. The Ministry of Cabinet Affairs, for example, has been rebranded as the Ministry of Cabinet Affairs and Future, a move which reflects its new objective of preparing for the UAE’s post-oil future. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs, meanwhile, has merged with the Ministry of International Cooperation and Development. This rationalisation is part of a wider drive to streamline government, which will also see the outsourcing of more government services to the private sector. According to Sheikh Mohammed, future governments in the UAE will be characterised by “a smaller number of ministries and more ministers to deal with national and strategic issues.”
A number of these strategic issues will be addressed directly by a range of newly formed councils, details of which emerged after the first meeting of the new Cabinet. The Education and Human Resources Council, which is chaired by Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed, who is also minister of foreign affairs and international cooperation, will work to align the education and human resources policy of the UAE with the needs of business and industry. The new Emirates Scientists’ Council is chaired by Sara Al Amiri, who is also deputy project manager and science lead at the UAE Mars Mission, and held its first meeting in March 2016. The body’s chief goal is to foster a generation of researchers, scientists and academics, and it has started by looking at ways to boost cooperation between the public and private sectors, and outlining its role in providing scientific advice to decision-makers in the government on scientific and technical trends. The Emirates Health Services Corporation has been established to operate the nation’s hospitals and health centres, while the Emirates School Education Corporation will supervise and regulate schools across the federation.
In the context of Dubai’s long-term commitment to harnessing the potential of its young population, the EYC is a particularly interesting development. The council’s members are made up of some of the most dynamic young people in the nation. The average age of those sitting on the council is 23, and the chair is the 22-year-old Al Mazrui, herself a testament to the success of the UAE’s ongoing effort to provide top-level education to its citizens. A product of the influx of global educational institutions to Dubai, Al Mazrui graduated from New York University Abu Dhabi before becoming the UAE’s first Rhodes scholar and obtaining her master’s degree in public policy with distinction from the University of Oxford. Since then she has worked as a public policy analyst with the UAE Mission to the UN and as a ministry policy analyst at the Prime Minister’s Office. Before taking up her new ministerial role, she also worked at one of Abu Dhabi’s sovereign wealth funds.
Government advisors hope that by gaining a prominent public position at such a young age, Al Mazrui will have a galvanising effect on the UAE’s youth. Speaking to local daily The National in early February 2016, Saeed Al Remeithi, a member of the Federal National Council, a partially elected body that advises the government, said these changes as a whole will provide “a big motivation for the youth to engage in the politics, to have a role in the government and the Cabinet, to have an international presence.” As well as lowering the median age of the Cabinet, Al Mazrui forms part of a group of successful women who are radically altering the gender balance in the government. Women now account for a third of the UAE’s federal Cabinet positions, heading up the EYC, the Ministry of Happiness and Ministry of Tolerance.
A government reorganisation of this scale is only worthwhile if it brings results, and therefore the prime minister’s message to the reshuffled Cabinet at its first meeting was unambiguous. His first request was for all ministries to produce a 100-day work plan, alongside which he gave a clear signal of the government’s desire to bring new momentum to the nation’s ongoing process of reform. “Our goal is to expedite progress. Today, countries and governments are measured not by size but by speed. I want you to be in the field with the people, addressing challenges and hammering out solutions and making a real change in government work,” he told the assembled Cabinet members during the body’s first meeting. Given the emphasis on quick results, the next few years are likely to see a range of policy initiatives aimed at turning the nation’s ambitious development goals into reality.
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