As we see off an eventful federal year, we welcome anew year united in our efforts and resolute in our vision to maintain security and stability. We will continue our sustainable development drive to both increase prosperity and progress and preserve our traditions, heritage and identity. It is time to look into the future with confidence and optimism. We stand on solid ground. Our people are enjoying the fruits of the development process and are becoming an essential part of it. Our country is enjoying respect and making a strong presence in international arenas and is becoming an icon for its determination to achieve success.
The UAE has made achievements in all domains. Our economy continues to flourish, registering the highest growth rates in the region, and is counted among the best performing in the world. The government's budget for 2011-13 was a major success, leading to marked improvements in the use of resources and development of government performance. The three-year 2013-16 budget, which saw a 15% spending increase, was issued, and half of its expenses have been allocated for social benefits to citizens and human development programmes, which are the main pillar for the government's policies, plans, strategies and initiatives.
In 2013, our country made the largest progress ever made in the fields of global competitiveness, according to reports by the UN and other international organisations concerned with comprehensive development, modernity, stability, prosperity and happiness. According to the World Economic Forum’s “Global Competitiveness Report” for 2013-14, the UAE advanced five positions in the total competitiveness of its economy in one year, from 24th in 2012 to 19th in 2013.
The UAE also gained advanced positions worldwide in many indices, as it came first worldwide in quality of roads, absence of organised crime and containment of the effects of inflation; and second for foreign direct investment and technology transfer, and the low effect of crime and violence on the business sector. In addition to these impressive rankings, the country was also ranked third for citizens’ trust in political leaders, government purchases of advanced technology and the quality of the country’s air transport infrastructure. Furthermore, the UAE was rated fourth worldwide in terms of the efficiency of its markets and the overall quality of its infrastructure.
Just a few days before celebrating our 42nd National Day anniversary, the progress of our country was recognised by being awarded the Expo 2020 hosting duties, following a two-year arduous journey of competition with internationally renowned cities. As our President, Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan, affirmed, our joy in the UAE was doubled by the win as it coincides with the celebrations of the 42nd National Day. This success was the culmination of a series of successes and great achievements the UAE has been progressively making since its establishment.
The success of our country is not just a product of mere chance, but is the result of our leadership's vision, planning and keen interest in serving the country and its citizens. It is a result of the continuous interaction between different generations and the unique relation of trust and allegiance between the people and their leaders. It is a result of self-development, knowledge and the ability to adapt to changes. Our success is complemented by our optimistic, forward-looking vision, which encourages innovation and promotes the belief that failure is just another experience in life and a good lesson for the next attempt. As proud as we are, we are not going to be intoxicated by our successes. They are, in fact, a warning for us to continue shouldering our responsibilities and a call to rally our efforts and continue pursuing further progress.
The future is for everyone, but only those who heed its call, speak its language and explore its options, will be able to get a fair share of it. The future knows no waiting, delay or procrastination. Therefore, our only choice in the UAE is to put the future at the hearts of our plans. We should create our future by competing for a place in it. Going by this, we launched the Smart Government initiative, whereby government services will be delivered via mobile phones and other advanced technology tools as part of a vision to provide services to clients wherever they are and at any time.
Modern telecommunication technology is infused into palm-sized devices that have become one of life's necessities, especially for younger generations. Mobile phones are now trusted devices for doing business and performing government and private transactions, as well as greatly impacting the lifestyles of individuals and the business of telecommunications firms, media, banks, commerce, services, logistics, aviation and tourism. The prevalence of mobile technology creates a challenge for governments, the private sector and societies in general. Those who want to be part of a smart future should adapt to its needs. We in the UAE prepared for the adaptation process early. The government organised a major workshop on the timely implementation of smart government. Leading this strategic process, the government is expecting the private sector to actively engage by developing its techniques and by providing training to employees. It also expects the media to play a role in spreading culture and concepts of smart government. Transformation into a smart government is essential for sustaining our economic growth, enhancing our human resources, improving excellence in government performance and continuing the climb to the top of the global competitiveness index.
After pioneering e-government, we will be the pioneers in the smart era, with affected parties working to develop strategies; make plans; draw timelines; and race to construct the infrastructure for smart technology, train employees and develop content.
We speak the same language of the future and we are ready for its challenges, without ignoring the issues of the present. At the top of our current concerns is the development of education at all levels. There are huge efforts being made in this area and satisfactory results are being achieved. The educational performance indices have improved significantly, leading the country to move up in global rankings. We are determined to achieve our objectives in education development because it is the main pillar of the nations' progress. Education will allow our population to cope with the rapid changes that technology has brought to society and adapt to the smart future we have mentioned here.
We are also working to enhance health care services in terms of both quality and scope. We are keen to maintain world-class standards for our health care facilities. Additionally, we have made tremendous achievements in providing houses to citizens. However, we look forward to doing better. Thanks to the Sheikh Zayed Housing Programme, to the president's initiatives and to housing schemes at the local level, we will realise our ambition of granting houses to all eligible applicants in a period shorter than three years from application.
We are also working on updating our legislation as part of our keenness to bolster law and justice by providing a new umbrella for simplifying litigation and speeding up commercial and general dispute settlement processes. In addition to our legal framework, we are aware of different types of challenges, some of which come with risks to our national interests. By this we mean the challenges resulting from the tense situation in the region, the transitional difficulties faced by some Arab countries, the diminishing role of the Arab regional order and the volatile international situation. All these factors reflect on the regional security and prevent world powers and the international community from taking their roles in resolving chronic issues such as the Palestinian cause and the developments in Syria. We closely monitor the developments in the region and the world, and do what we can to enhance regional security and stability in order to support peoples’ right to determine their own future.
We help fraternal countries with their development plans. While closely following up developments, we prepare for the worst, relying on our capabilities, our principles, our unity, our loyalty to the leaders and our- keenness for the security and stability of our country.
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