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People will have governance role

posted on 18/06/2003: 734 views

The appointment of Sheikh Saud bin Saqr Al Qasimi as Crown Prince of Ras Al Khaimah on June 14 was not a mere change of duties for the man who has been the Chairman of the Emiri Court for more than 20 years, but it came as a jolt to the traditional system of transferring power. The post was occupied by Sheikh Khalid bin Saqr Al Qasimi, the eldest son of His Highness Sheikh Saqr bin Mohammed Al Qasimi, Member of the Supreme Council and Ruler of Ras Al Khaimah, since 1968.

In an exclusive interview with Gulf News, the Crown Prince says he is not happy about the rift being created between him and his brother over Sheikh Saqr's decision, but he is ready to accept his father's order and the trust reposed in him. He feels he has a lot to do for the emirate and citizens. He is ready to assume the responsibility. He states Ras Al Khaimah's focus will be on building its economic base on the pillars of tourism and industrial endeavours, while creating the right atmosphere for investors and private businesses, and striving to offer nationals a good quality of life through providing suitable employment and housing.

Interestingly, Sheikh Saud also visualises Ras Al Khaimah establishing an executive council, to be followed by a consultative council, in order to "give people more participation in the decision-making process". There will also be "no contradiction" on the islands issue with Iran, or on the support of Arab and Palestinian causes.

The full text of the interview follows:

Gulf News: His Highness Sheikh Saqr bin Mohammed Al Qasimi, Member of the Supreme Council and Ruler of Ras Al Khaimah, has issued decree No 10 of 2003 appointing you the Crown Prince of Ras Al Khaimah. How do you view this assignment and what are your broad plans?

Sheikh Saud bin Saqr Al Qasimi: We have been following the clear path set by President His Highness Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan and his brother Sheikh Saqr bin Mohammed Al Qasimi. We will follow their policies and try to imitate them. Sheikh Zayed today is a prominent international figure because of the economic and social development he has achieved and the care he gives to his people. The development we have achieved is a result of their sincere policies, and I will continue to serve the people, develop the country, ensure justice among people, recognise good work and honour good workers. Our country is rich in resources, its leader and its people. I'll follow the leader's policies and place myself on the right path.

Gulf News: You have a strong academic and practical background in business and economy; what are your plans for the development of the emirate?

Sheikh Saud bin Saqr Al Qasimi: I have big plans for the emirate and I am confident of achieving them. Ras Al Khaimah has a unique geographical position and the most important factor is the support and the care we receive from Sheikh Zayed who will spare no effort to develop the emirate and enhance the living conditions in this part of the country. My plan is to change the economic atmosphere in the emirate to lure investments. Our brothers in Dubai have succeeded in their endeavour. My brother, General Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Crown Prince of Dubai and UAE Minister of Defence is a pioneer in modifying the system of economic performance in Dubai. He has changed the setting of the government to be in service of investors and to promote economic growth in the emirate. We will try to follow them.

Gulf News: Do you have a specific plan?

Sheikh Saud bin Saqr Al Qasimi: I am planning to focus on tourism that has proved to be a very successful industry in the UAE, with millions of people visiting the country from all over the world to enjoy its tourist features, and the industry is growing steadily. Ras Al Khaimah has unique tourist features. It has mountains, desert and beautiful beaches, and the government will capitalise on these aspects. We are planning to develop the mountains to become a popular destination for tourists from the UAE and all over the Gulf. On the other hand, I am planning to open up the industrial sector to local investment. Today, industries in the UAE have proved to be a success in terms of quality. The establishment of more successful industries in Ras Al Khaimah will help the emirate and will contribute to the overall growth of the UAE.

Gulf News: You are the chairman of two successful establishments in the UAE, Julfar and RAK Ceramics. Do you have plans to expand industrial activities in the emirate and attract investors from other emirates to invest in Ras Al Khaimah? You have stressed the development of tourism. In my opinion this development cannot be achieved without cooperation from the tourism sector in Dubai – similar to the cooperation between Emirates airlines and Fujairah. Do you plan to have such an agreement?

Sheikh Saud bin Saqr Al Qasimi: We will emphasise cooperation between Ras Al Khaimah and other emirates. We are one country and it is about time we cooperate at all levels. Our cooperation will be for the benefit of Ras Al Khaimah, Umm al-Qaiwain, Fujairah, Ajman, Sharjah, Dubai and Abu Dhabi. We all are trying our best to build the country that we are proud of. All of us can take pride in this. Our main asset in this endeavour is the leadership of Sheikh Zayed who has promoted the nation to its current status. He has drawn the right path for us to follow.

The speed of achieving our targets is not a target in itself, the crucial point is the correctness of our direction… there is no point in moving fast without being on the right track. My main target at this stage is to set the priorities of development in the emirate and move in the right direction to achieve the plan.

Gulf News: The decree did not specify the Deputy Rulers. Who are they?

Sheikh Saud bin Saqr Al Qasimi: Sheikh Khalid and Sheikh Sultan will remain Deputy Rulers. I have total respect for my elder brother Sheikh Khalid and at the same time I have to obey my father's decision.

Gulf News: Did the decree come after consultations with the President and the Rulers? Or was it the decision of your father Sheikh Saqr?

Sheikh Saud bin Saqr Al Qasimi: The Ruler is duty-bound to work for the benefit of his nation. He is like the judge who sometimes issues decisions and is not comfortable issuing them. Sheikh Saqr felt that the decree will benefit the people of the emirate. He consulted Sheikh Zayed and got his blessings.

Gulf News: You were recently appointed Crown Prince of Ras Al Khaimah, but you have been an active participant in government work in the emirates over the past 20 years. Have you ever seen a tendency from businessmen from Dubai and other emirates to invest in Ras Al Khaimah?

Sheikh Saud bin Saqr Al Qasimi: I strongly believe that capital investment and money are like birds. They land wherever there is water and food. Governments should offer quality services to ensure investments pour into their economies. This is our project: Transforming Ras Al Khaimah to become a hub for investments and investors.

Gulf News: The quality of infrastructure is still the emirate's main problem. We came to your palace from back roads and noticed that the road network in the emirate still requires heavy investment. This will be necessary to pursue your plans, and I presume that this might not be available to the emirate at this stage. What are you going to do to overcome these hurdles?

Sheikh Saud bin Saqr Al Qasimi: I don't agree... I think that the emirate's infrastructure is undergoing permanent development. Electricity and water are provided by the federal government and there has been great development in these two fields. There are some road projects underway and we are looking for more improvement.

Gulf News: So, you will not ask the federal government to help you in your development programmes?

Sheikh Saud bin Saqr Al Qasimi: The federal government has supported us in the past and will continue to do so in future, we will ask them for more. Frankly speaking, I have never felt that our leadership has denied the people anything. Anything that makes the UAE national happy, Sheikh Zayed will not hesitate to do. I am optimistic. If we put the emirate on the right path and support nationals to take part in the development of their own country by offering them opportunities, I am sure they will play a positive role in development.

Gulf News: Are you planning to issue a law on investment in the emirate?

Sheikh Saud bin Saqr Al Qasimi: Of course, there is no doubt about the importance of setting the ground for investment. This is the prime duty of the government; what is more important is following up the implementation of the law. We don't lack the legal framework, what we lack in my opinion is the spirit.

Gulf News: You spoke about tourism as if it will be the main source of income for the emirate. The tree that will bear fruit quickly. Four years ago, your brother Sheikh Khalid spoke about some agreements to explore mineral activities in the emirates including seismic surveys for the exploration of oil. What has happened since then?

Sheikh Saud bin Saqr Al Qasimi: Look at Singapore, it has no oil but is still a rich country. I am optimistic of finding oil in the emirate, but this is not crucial for our development. We are living in the country of Sheikh Zayed who always shares the country's wealth with all emirates. Regarding economic development in the emirate of Ras Al Khaimah, we must see the private sector taking part and steering activities. We have to encourage the private sector. Our nationals have great initiatives in Ras Al Khaimah and Dubai, and imitating good practices is always good. It can come up with great results.

Gulf News: Where do you see the possibility of sound development in the industrial sector? Is it in the building material sector like ceramics and cement factories in the emirate? What is the most profitable sector for investment... a sector that will lure investors?

Sheikh Saud bin Saqr Al Qasimi: You cannot give feasibility studies to investors or direct him to do this or that. He should have the initiative and select the most profitable idea. The government has to help him execute his idea or his project and destroy all hurdles that he faces. The logic is to avoid entering a business that will lose money.

Gulf News: You have stressed the need to overcome hurdles. What kind of hurdles are you talking about and how will you help in solving investors' problems?

As you have said earlier, investors need roads, electricity and water. These are the basic requirements for investment anywhere in the world.

Sheikh Saud bin Saqr Al Qasimi: Roads linking emirates are developing and the electricity grid has become a reality. This is encouraging me to go ahead with my plans. What remains are small things here and there. It surprises me that sometimes more rules are not necessary, instead there should be fewer to cut down bureaucracy. We will train our officials in government departments to facilitate an investor-friendly atmosphere. We will train our employees to help investors and cut red tape. We will look into the development of our rules whenever needed.

Gulf News: You mean supporting the private sector will be your priority?

Sheikh Saud bin Saqr Al Qasimi: Yes. Certainly. We will support the private sector. A rich country is a country where people are rich.

Gulf News: Are you planning to open full ownership of projects to foreign investors?

Sheikh Saud bin Saqr Al Qasimi: We work within the framework of the UAE, and with full respect to the Constitution. We will always review our laws for the best benefit of investors.

Gulf News: Let us say we meet one year from now, what will be your plan and how will we be able to measure your achievements?

Sheikh Saud bin Saqr Al Qasimi: A balance sheet you mean?

Gulf News: Exactly.

Sheikh Saud bin Saqr Al Qasimi: Okay... I want to speed up offering services, offering nationals suitable housing.

Gulf News: What about unemployment?

We will create new industrial areas and new areas for tourist investment, we will work hard to market Ras Al Khaimah, and that will create more jobs. I promise every citizen that the emirate will be the land of justice. We will improve legal institutions.

Sheikh Saud bin Saqr Al Qasimi: This is essential for economic development. It will be up to nationals to benefit from this development and grab the opportunities offered to them. We will support everyone willing to contribute with genuine efforts.

Gulf News: Are you planning to put your local justice department under the federal umbrella?

Sheikh Saud bin Saqr Al Qasimi: We will try to develop it in accordance with our requirements. There is no specific plan. We will study the situation and come up with the best solution.

Gulf News: There were some issues that became the centre of your brother's political activities in the past – the islands, the support of Arab and Palestinian issues…

Sheikh Saud bin Saqr Al Qasimi: There will be no contradiction. Regarding the islands they are in the mind of every national citizen, they have become a national issue, and the government of the UAE is pursuing the issue with our brothers in Iran through peaceful means. I hope we will manage to convince them. I also want to assure everybody that Ras Al Khaimah will continue to support Arab issues and Palestinians everywhere. Sheikh Zayed once said: 'Arab oil is not dearer than Arab blood.' We cannot say more to express what he has said. Jerusalem will remain in the heart of every Muslim and Arab in Ras Al Khaimah, and everywhere in the world.

Gulf News: What about the establishment of a consultative council to expand people's participation in the decision-making process? Are you going to continue supporting this issue while targeting economic development?

Sheikh Saud bin Saqr Al Qasimi: I think our brothers in Dubai, Sharjah and Abu Dhabi have created a sound system for people's participation. We will evaluate these and will soon come up with our own system. We are open to all experiences and will see what will suit us. We are planning to have an executive council, to be followed by a consultative council. We need people to participate in the decision-making process and shoulder the responsibilities of their nation. This is necessary while opening up the economy. (The Gulf News Exclusive Report)


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