Interview: Sheikh Mohammed bin Saud Al Qasimi
What do you identify as key priorities in the government’s infrastructure agenda?
SHEIKH MOHAMMED BIN SAUD AL QASIMI: RAK’s developed infrastructure has allowed us to attract state-of-the-art industrial facilities and offer the conveniences of modern life to our citizens and residents. In an economy as diversified as ours, however, there is always more work to be done, and I’m excited about many upcoming initiatives that promise to bring measurable improvement. In the 21st century, infrastructure is no longer simply physical: it’s also digital. Our ongoing E-Government project will create an online home for the emirate’s government functions, simplifying interactions and allowing our agencies to improve their response times and data-gathering capacity. Using their computers or smartphones, citizens and residents can already file complaints, make suggestions, search for jobs, and pay traffic fines and bills. This interface is set to be completely revamped and expanded in the months to come. We are among the first governments to make such a substantial commitment to establishing an internet presence, and hope to market the final platform as a model to our regional neighbours and friends abroad.
In the longer term, there are several federal projects that will make travel and exchange with our fellow emirates quicker and more efficient. The recently renamed Emirates Road will soon be extended to include RAK, and the Etihad Rail project will eventually link all seven emirates with our GCC neighbours.
Given the growing importance of Asian economies, can we assume that RAK will increasingly be looking eastward for foreign direct investment (FDI)?
SHEIKH MOHAMMED: RAK has been doing business with our friends to the east for centuries. Indeed, our geography has always been one of our strategic advantages. Our emirate is an obvious bridge between the Gulf region and Asia – not only the Subcontinent but also places like China, Korea and South-east Asia. For Asian companies, RAK (located only 45 minutes from Dubai Airport, and boasting an international airport of its own) is easy to reach, and it is a natural place to meet with partners from Africa, the Middle East and Europe.
Setting up here means access to affordable markets for skilled and unskilled labour, modern infrastructure, shipping facilities and a regulatory climate designed to foster success. A facility in RAK opens the door to the entire region – one of the world’s fastest-growing economic zones – and promises its employees a high standard of living, with modern education, health care and recreation facilities close by. I am confident that the next generation of Asian entrepreneurs will recognise the value RAK can add to any expanding enterprise.
How much needs to be done to ensure that young Emiratis have the skills to enter the workplace?
SHEIKH MOHAMMED: The leadership of the emirates has always recognised that a country’s true wealth consists of its people. It has worked to shape this nation into an attractive home for business, without losing sight of its broader goal: allowing talented Emiratis every opportunity to compete in the global marketplace.
The key to successful competition is education. In RAK, we continue to prioritise learning at the primary, secondary and tertiary levels. We are especially excited about a recently announced initiative of the President, His Highness Sheikh Khalifa Bin Zayed Al Nahyan, which will allow us to open a number of branches of the Ras Al Khaimah Academy, our premier English-speaking private school, throughout the emirate.
Young Emiratis in RAK need a well-rounded education in order to succeed in an increasingly global business environment. We are constantly striving to make our local institutions of higher learning into world-class schools. Only a few years into operation, enrolments at the American University of Ras Al Khaimah are growing, and the Higher Colleges of Technology continue to offer programmes in engineering, business and other disciplines, which allow our graduates to make an immediate contribution to RAK’s local economy.