Interview: Abdullah Belhaif Al Nuaimi
What are the biggest priorities for infrastructure development and integration going forward?
ABDULLAH BELHAIF AL NUAIMI: Over the last 10 years, the UAE government has worked to improve performance, implementing specific deadlines and milestones for each ministry and department. Part of this process has involved developing a forward-looking strategy, rather than looking into what we have today. In the context of the Federal Transport Authority, there are two main tasks to tackle over the next few years. One of them is having our updated maritime law approved and processed by the Cabinet and endorsed by the president. That is very important because the law in its existing form is extremely old, dating back to the 1980s. What we see today is that there are a lot of activities in ports and shipping that have evolved, and we need to update the legal framework to correspond to present and future realities. This is something we – all the seven emirates and their respective maritime industries – will have to do together. The benefits of such a framework would be immense, specifically in terms of generating strong small and medium-sized enterprises, which is what we really want to introduce to the market. There are billions of dollars in the maritime sector alone – from training to arbitration to maintenance – that are not being tapped yet because the framework is not in place.
The second part is the framework around land transportation and railways. The priority here is to improve connectivity across the UAE, because it goes hand in hand with trade. While we have quality roads in place, we still see a lot of congestion as a result of mixing commercial trade with individual commuters. Once you have additional connectivity, such as rail links for freight, you can reduce the number of trucks on the roads. We have seen an example of this with the connection of Habshan via rail in Abu Dhabi. Imagine this network applied across the UAE. Once trucks are removed and transportation for industry is improved, it will reduce the burden on the government to construct new roads.
It is important to note that we are also trying to improve movement on the roads through the introduction of new systems of organisation. Data is an essential component here, accumulating figures such as the number of commercial vehicles crossing borders and truck utilisation. If you are not using big data in today’s times, you are already behind. You may be introducing the wrong model at the wrong time, which is a waste of valuable resources. We have done well here already, but are continuously trying to improve.
How do you expect the funding structures for infrastructure to evolve in the years to come?
AL NUAIMI: I have always said that we have seen big dynasties vanish simply because they were overly dependent on government income. That is not a phenomenon we want to see happen to us. Particularly in the GCC, there is the potential for a similar pattern to occur. So we have begun taking steps to ensure our viability as a nation, in anticipation of a day when the same resources will not be there.
I always believe there is more money in the private sector than the government, and this has been true throughout history. So we are looking at a way to integrate the private sector into our plans, but to enable this, we need the right legislation.
If the private sector is operating in a country without proper legislation, it would be reluctant to invest. Particularly in areas like transportation and construction, legislation has to be clear and transparent. Recently, we have been discussing a formal agreement that makes the private sector an equal partner with the authorities. Legal disputes and arbitration are included in these agreements. It is being tested in many ministries, including the Ministry of Infrastructure Development, and soon we expect to roll out our first federal level public-private partnership (PPP) arrangement. Eventually we want to see all our projects fall under PPP structures. For that the legal framework has to be there.
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