Middle East

UAE orders government shake-up as coronavirus hits economy

Government changes aimed at creating more flexible bureaucracy to tackle economic challenges as result of COVID-19.

The United Arab Emirates (UAE) has announced a broad government restructuring on Sunday for more “agile and swift” decision-making amid the coronavirus pandemic, merging government entities and appointing new economy and industry ministers.

The head of Abu Dhabi’s national oil company ADNOC, Sultan al-Jaber, was named as industry and advanced technology minister and Abdullah al-Marri was appointed economy minister.

The restructuring was announced by the UAE’s vice president and prime minister, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, on his official Twitter account.

“The aim … is a government that can more quickly make decisions and deal with changes and more adeptly seize opportunities in dealing with this new stage in our history; a swift and agile government,” Sheikh Mohammed said.

هدفنا من التغييرات الهيكلية اليوم هو حكومة أسرع في اتخاذ القرار .. وأكثر مواكبة للمتغيرات .. وأفضل في اقتناص الفرص وفي التعامل مع المرحلة الجديدة في تاريخنا .. حكومة مرنة وسريعة هدفها تعزيز منجزات ومكتسبات الوطن..

Translation: Our goal of structural changes today is a government that is faster in decision-making .. and is more up to date with changes .. and better in seizing opportunities and in dealing with the new stage in our history .. a flexible and fast government whose goal is to consolidate the achievements and gains of the country.

He gave it a year to achieve priority targets for the country, which is the region’s business, trade and tourism hub.

Changes include abolishing half of government service centres and converting them to digital platforms within two years and merging about half of federal agencies.

The energy and infrastructure ministries were merged under a single portfolio to be headed by current energy minister Suhail al-Mazrouei.

An ADNOC spokesperson said al-Jaber would retain his post as ADNOC chief executive.

The Federal Water and Electricity Authority, Emirates Post, Emirates General Transport Corp, and Emirates Real Estate Corp were placed under the Emirates Investment Authority.

The economy ministry got two ministers of state – Ahmed Belhoul for business and small and medium enterprises, and Thani al-Zeyoudi for foreign trade. Omar al-Olama was named minister of state for digital economy and artificial intelligence.

Many powerful officials kept their jobs under the Cabinet shake-up. They include the ministers of interior and foreign affairs, who hail from the ruling Al Nahyan family of Abu Dhabi, the federal capital that also controls the presidency.

“The future working environment in medicine, education and trade will change dramatically and we aim to be at the forefront of these changes,” Sheikh Mohammed said.

A woman was named to head the nascent Emirates Space Agency. Sarah al-Amiri is currently leading the UAE’s Hope Probe to Mars, which will launch this month from Japan with the goal of providing a new look at the planet’s climate and atmosphere.

Additionally, the ministries of culture and youth were merged. The new ministry will oversee the country’s National Media Council that accredits all local and foreign journalists and oversees media outlets operating in the country. The ministry will be led by Noura al-Kaabi, formerly the culture minister. 

In June, the central bank forecast the oil-exporting country’s economy would likely contract by 3.6 percent this year due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The non-oil private sector grew in June for the first time this year, emerging from months of contraction as coronavirus restrictions were lifted.

While hundreds of thousands of migrant workers in the UAE and wider Gulf who hail from India, Pakistan, the Philippines, Nepal and Egypt have appealed to their embassies for flights home due to a loss of income amid the pandemic, Emirati citizens – who number about 1.4 million – have numerous perks to cushion economic blows.

The government provides Emirati citizens with subsidised housing, free healthcare, free higher education and scholarships abroad, generous government salaries and pension plans, as well as assistance in finding work and occasional debt relief.

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