Sunday, 31 May 2009

Former Iraqi Minister held after Dubai flight drama

From 31 May '09

Imagine it, his last meal as a free man was airline food.
Former Iraqi trade minister Abdel Falah al-Sudani has been arrested after his plane, en route to Dubai, was dramatically ordered back to Bagdhad as he tried to flee the country in the wake of a graft scandal.

Sudani was on board a flight to Dubai, which authorities turned back to the capital so that he could be arrested, said Sabah al-Saedi, head of parliament's corruption and integrity commission.

"The minister was trying to escape from justice and was headed to the United Arab Emirates (UAE)," said Saedi. "After some phone calls were made to judicial authorities and the airport, the airplane was turned back and the minister arrested," he said.

On Monday, Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki's office announced that Sudani had resigned amid allegations of corruption and embezzlement linked to the nation's food assistance programme.

"An arrest warrant was issued against the minister under the charge of corruption," said Saedi. "He is the main person responsible for corruption in the ministry."

A commission official later told state television that on Sunday "procedures would be taken according to the law" against Sudani.

The trade ministry operates a nearly six-billion dollar annual budget that provides a monthly public food distribution programme for Iraqis. It also manages the import of grain, seeds and construction materials.

A security official told AFP Sudani was on Jupiter Airlines PHW604 over the southern Iraqi city of Basra when Saturday's drama unfolded.

"At 1pm the minister took the plane going to Dubai but representatives from the commission arrived at the airport with police shortly after," said the official on condition of anonymity."They contacted the plane and forced it to turn back. When it landed security personnel arrested the minister.

"Sudani, a member of Maliki's Shiite Dawa faction, had already been questioned by parliament over claims relating to imports for the food rationing programme.Maliki vowed to root out graft in the government, after Sudani, who was accused of importing expired commodities, mainly sugar; procuring illegal contracts and failing to fight corruption in his ministry, quit.

"We will institute reforms ... and we will search for the truth," Maliki told reporters on Wednesday after talks with senior trade ministry officials.

"We will not stand with arms folded in the face of corruption. We will pursue those who are corrupt and bring them before the courts," Maliki said, while placing the ministry under his authority.

Maliki stressed on Wednesday he was immediately instituting measures to fight graft in Iraq.

"We will recruit new executives to replace those who are not qualified and we urge those in charge of purchases to sign contracts with large global companies directly rather than through intermediaries," he said.

The Commission on Public Integrity, tasked with fighting corruption in Iraq, announced on Wednesday that 997 officials are being investigated for alleged graft, including 53 people ranked as directors general or higher.

It said 120 Iraqis were arrested for corruption in April and May.

Watchdog group Transparency International ranked Iraq in 2008 as the world's third-most corrupt country behind Somalia and Myanmar.

Iraq's food rationing system was established in 1995 as part of the United Nations oil-for-food programme following Iraq's invasion of Kuwait in 1990.

The public distribution programme has been plagued by mismanagement and corruption since the 2003 US-led invasion.

Held to account

First to explain, "DEWA" stands for Dubai Electricity and Water Authority, its Dubai's power board and water supply board rolled into one. So, here's the scenario:

  • "S" is a long time DEWA account holder who has, up to the present time, received DEWA bills electronically to his email account.
  • He moves house and wants to settle the final DEWA account for the previous house and open an account for the new house.
  • Just as an aside, "S" has moved round the corner to a house that's the same size and quality as his previous home but the rent is AED70,000 p.a. cheaper, but that's another story........
  • He goes into DEWA to pay the final bill and is told, firstly, to go away and write a letter formally requesting discontinuance of the power and water supply at the old address - heaven forfend that people could just walk into the DEWA office and disconnect their power on the spot. Secondly, as he is now at a new address, DEWA requires "an authorization Letter from your Company & ID Copy" before he'll be allowed to receive bills electronically. This despite DEWA having made the bills available in electronic form every month since the e-service started.

Its just a method of distributing bills for heaven's sake. What does a letter from the employer achieve? Would someone need a letter from their employer to receive the same DEWA bills by regular post? How about a letter from Empost guaranteeing they'll deliver the bills on time to the correct address?

If its a new policy, then why didn't DEWA ask for such a letter when the electronic service started x number of years ago? If the account is in the individual's name, what has the employer got to do with it? No doubt they are thinking to protect themselves from people "skipping" but the employer won't pay any outstanding bill in such cases.

A transmission from Planet Denial

From Reuters. The only comment is "the evidence proves otherwise...."
The UAE's real estate problems have been exaggerated and the country is not diversifying its foreign currency reserves away from the dollar, according to the governor of the central bank.

Speaking about the Emirate’s property sector Sultan Bin Nasser Al Suwaidi said: "There are reports exaggerating the problems of the sector but we are okay."

"We are not diversifying our foreign currency reserves. We are sticking to the dollar,” Al Suwaidi said on the sidelines of a finance conference in the Moroccan city of Marrakech.

Within the UAE federation, Dubai's economy has been hit hard, with many construction projects held up. The emirate has outstanding debt of around $80bn.

The central bank bought up $10bn of a $20bn bond scheme issued by the Dubai government in February, the second tranche is due later this year.

"We are not worried about deflation. The United Arab Emirates economy is very competitive," Suweidi said.

The UAE minister of economy said in March inflation in 2009 would be in the range of five to eight percent. Inflation claimed to record highs in Gulf Arab countries last year but falling oil revenues and the global downturn have helped bring it down.

The UAE, which has the second largest Arab economy, hopes to remain the biggest recipient of foreign direct investment in the Gulf region, accounting for 50 percent of capital inflows last year.

Thursday, 28 May 2009

UAE removal firms see big rises in expat departures

Some time ago I spoke to a Dubai moving company, not one of those mentioned in this article, who told me that they were already fully booked and the earliest booking they could take was the second or third week of July.

Its not usual for families to leave the UAE at this time every year as its the end of the Northern hemisphere school term, most have been returning to the home country for several months' holiday but this year the indications are that the number of families departing permanently are far larger than usual. Expats of all ages here are farewell-partied out.

As the article below discusses, removal firms are fully booked, Dubizzle, the UAE online classifieds site, is awash with furniture, cars and white goods for sale - often listed as "Entire Household" and there's a definite drop in the number of cars on the road (unless you're going to Sharjah of course). Whether the departure numbers will prove to be an "exodus" as such won't been seen until September when the children should return to school here, though there are already anecdotes of school classes where only a handful of pupils have expressed an intention to return for the new term.

A friend in Arabian Ranches says so many people have moved out of his street that its become a wasteland. He's waiting for tumbleweed to start blowing down the road like a scene from a Western movie.
UAE-based removal companies said on Thursday they are overwhelmed with bookings next month amid growing evidence of an expatriate exodus as job losses soar.

Some international relocation firms have said they are fully booked through to the second week of July and have made contingency plans for a surge in activity in the last week of June when the schools break up - a time when many more expatriates, hit by recent redundancies, are expected to return home.

And removals experts have reported a dramatic fall in the number of people moving to Dubai with one international firm only doing an average of two moves a week, compared to same time last year when it was handling four to six moves a day.

Most international relocations from Dubai are to the UK, Australia and South Africa - countries which make up a large percentage of the western expatriate population in Dubai.

“The rise of people leaving the country has been on a tremendous scale,” said Jason Tom James, sales manager of ISS Worldwide Movers relocation department.

“Most of the people have lost their jobs. For the month of June we are already full because that’s when the schools close. This year we have seen tremendously large traffic moving out of the country, we can’t accommodate [the flood of business] even with the strength of our staff numbers,” he added.

The UAE's population is expected to contract 5.5 percent this year due to expatriate lay-offs, with Dubai's forecast to shrink 17 percent, Egyptian investment bank EFG-Hermes said in March.

ISS said relocations out of Dubai, or exports, far outstripped imports. A year ago the firm was dealing with four to six moves into the emirate a day, now they are handling a maximum of two a week.

“Not many people are moving to Dubai. The proportion is very imbalanced,” Tom James said.

Although ISS said it was doing roughly the same amount of international moves a day compared to this time last year - about 10 to 15 - the number of relocations was double in the first quarter of 2009 than the first quarter last year.

The company, which is a subsidiary of Inchcape Shipping Services, the world’s largest independent shipping group, said it did an average of 10 to 12 moves a day in the first quarter of 2009, compared to five to eight in the same period of 2008.

It said it had 300 reservations for June alone and was fully booked until the second week of July.

“The end of June is a very busy time- particularly busy because we will have to work on Fridays, which we usually try to avoid,” Tom James said.

800 Storage and Movers, another Dubai-based removals company, said it is currently doing two international shipments a day. In May last year it was handling an average of three shipments a week. The company said approximately 60 percent of the moves were to the UK with the rest distributed across the GCC.

“There are a lot of international shipments. A lot of people are moving from the country because it is vacation time but also because many have separated from their employers,” said Armand Taleon, manager of 800 Storage and Movers, which employers 40 packing staff and has a fleet of four vans.

“The moving business is very favourable right now because of the crisis- a lot of people are moving. We have contingency plans to hire more trucks in case we need them,” Taleon added.

800 Storage and Movers are fully booked for international shipments until the third week of June.

Wednesday, 27 May 2009

DIFC courts to implement professional code of conduct

Sir Anthony Evans, Chief Justice of the DIFC Courts

A press release from the DIFC Courts in Dubai, 27 May 09. But first, some background:

Q: What are the DIFC Courts?
A: The DIFC (Dubai International Financial Centre) Courts is an independent court system set up to uphold the provisions of DIFC laws and regulations. They provide the protection of an English language, common law court system, with an internationally renowned bench of judges versed in commercial disputes, to ensure transparent and efficient justice in civil and commercial matters in or relating to the Centre. The overriding objective of the DIFC Courts is to deal with cases justly and swiftly and to help parties settle cases. Designed to deal specifically with the sophisticated transactions conducted within the DIFC, the DIFC Courts provide comprehensive legal redress in civil and commercial matters. Along with offering the highest standards in legal dispute resolution and a judicial system based on international best practices, DIFC Courts provide a small claims tribunal which is unique in the region. In January 2008, DIFC Courts appointed the first female judge in the UAE and announced that two Emirati judges had become common law International Judges. The DIFC Courts were established under laws enacted by The Late His Highness Sheikh Maktoum bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Ruler of Dubai in September 2004. The DIFC Courts are an independent judicial system which has jurisdiction over matters arising from and within the DIFC. The DIFC Courts were established under two new laws enacted by His Highness Sheikh Maktoum bin Rashid Maktoum, Ruler of Dubai. Dubai Law No. 12 of 2004 established the Judicial Authority at the DIFC and sets out the jurisdiction of the court and allows for the independent administration of justice in the DIFC. The laws establishing the DIFC Courts are designed to ensure the highest international standards of legal procedure thus ensuring that the DIFC Courts provide the certainty, flexibility and efficiency expected by the global institutions operating within the DIFC.

The DIFC Courts, the Dubai International Financial Centre's (DIFC) independent, common law judicial system, is today publishing for consultation a Code of Conduct for its professional users. This is one of the first codes of its kind in the region, which stipulates a standard of conduct with which all legal practitioners must comply. All lawyers registered with the English-language, DIFC Courts will be required to act with the upmost integrity and independence, in support of the Court and the communities it serves, or be sanctioned, per the guidelines.

The Code is another step towards ensuring the highest standards of integrity, efficiency and justice and to ensure all parties to a dispute have access to lawyers committed to professional standards of advocacy. Compliance with the code will ensure that cases heard in the Courts are conducted in a timely and proficient manor and that all parties can be sure of receiving fair and consistent representation. The rules focus on six areas: the Courts' Governing Principles, duties owed to the Courts, duties owed to clients, duties owed to other Practitioners, general duties and sanctions for breach of the Code.

Sir Anthony Evans, Chief Justice of the DIFC Courts said: "As part of the DIFC Courts' ongoing commitment to providing swift and transparent justice for the DIFC community, the implementation of the code of conduct will ensure that all cases heard at the DIFC Courts are done so to the highest international standards of professionalism, fairness and integrity."

"The introduction of this Code is yet another example of the development of justice systems in the region and reaffirms the DIFC Courts' dedication to international best practice."

Mark Beer, Registrar said: "Lawyers with varying qualifications and professional backgrounds, from a mix of up to 94 different nationalities are representing clients in UAE courts. The DIFC Courts' Code for Professional Conduct will guarantee that all practitioners dealing with the DIFC Courts operate to the highest standards to ensure transparent, swift and accessible justice."

Philip Punwar, a lawyer with at Al Tamimi & Company, who spearheaded the sub-committee of the DIFC Courts Users Committee that helped draft the code, said: ""The Code was drafted to reflect professional conduct rules that are recognised across the Civil and Common Law world.

They particularly emphasise the duties advocates and attorneys owe to the Court and to the administration of justice generally. The Code also sets out a range of duties that are owed to clients and to other DIFC Court Practitioners, as well as a range of sanctions for their breach.

Although the drafters had access to a range of previously published Codes of Legal Conduct, the present draft is wholly original and specific to practice before the DIFC Court"

The Code has been posted on the DIFC Courts website,, for a consultation period, running until June 30 2009. The public are invited to comment on the additions to the Rules during this period and all comments can be sent to

Legal firm sees sharp rise in UAE contract disputes

From, 25 May 09

This is a story to watch as there are rumours circulating in Dubai (Rumour Central of the Entire World) of huge, almost mind-boggling, amounts of money owed to contractors and construction companies by quasi-government development companies. Aside from industry publications, discussion of the level of debt owed to the companies has received little attention here, probably because its bad news so its just passed off by the media here as "a misunderstanding". The flow-on effects of the cancelled, sorry "postponed", projects and the resultant job losses, actual and looming, are the focus of many expats' attention.

How long can these companies continue to carry the debts? There is also an effect on the Dubai economy as a whole: If the big guys aren't being paid, they aren't paying their sub-contractors who then can't pay their workers who then aren't spending in the shops etc etc. Its a big circle.

If the written contracts prove to be so full of holes you could shoot pumpkins through them and attempts at reasonable negotiation fail, what options are left to the companies to recover the debt or part of it, except to litigate? Does the threat of "you'll never work in this town again" really mean anything any more or has it become, for some, wishful thinking?
There has been a sharp rise in litigation cases in the UAE resulting from contractors not being paid, law firm Al Tamimi said on Monday.

Speaking on the sidelines of an Al Tamimi seminar about financial and legal recovery strategies for creditors and stakeholders in Dubai, Raza Mithani, a senior advocate at Al Tamimi told Arabian Business: "We are seeing a huge upturn in the amount of litigation that is coming through which suggests amongst other things that a number of contractors are not being paid."

"In addition we are experiencing a significant rise in arbitration work across a variety of sectors. Presently we are dealing with a range of claims worth from hundreds of millions of dirhams to hundreds of millions of US dollars," he said.

"We are dealing with a number of truly massive claims which we believe to probably be some of the largest ever arbitrated in the UAE."

Arbitration is a legal process for resolving disputes outside the courts.

Severe liquidity conditions and a property downturn triggered by the global crisis has left many contractors and consultants in mainly the construction and real estate sectors owed millions of dirhams.

Almost $636m is owed to British consultants and engineers in unpaid fees from work undertaken in the UAE, according to the UK’s Association for Consultancy and Engineering (ACE).

WS Atkins, the engineering consultancy that designed the Burj Al Arab, said it was owed $39.7m that should have been paid in the first quarter by developers in the Middle East.

Evidence is also mounting that UAE companies who are not paying their customers are in “serious trouble”, said Gary Watts, head of the corporate commercial department at Dubai- based Al Tamimi – the largest law firm in the Middle East.

“It has become obvious that some people are tight with releasing cash, and other people are in serious trouble – they do not have the cash to release and they do not have the resources to meet their commitments,” he said.

Watts said that ‘an abrupt interruption of cash flowing around the system’ had put companies in the position of not being able to pay their contractors and consultants.

Tuesday, 26 May 2009

Arabian Canal phase two 'not cancelled'

From ConstructionWeek, 26 May 09.

I've heard from a source within Limitless that the company now has a grand total of three people working on the Arabian Canal project which, to me anyway, seems to indicate that the project is, well, um, cancelled.


Developer Limitless has denied a report in a foreign construction magazine that described the second phase of the 76km Arabian Canal project as being ‘cancelled’. The wording in International Construction magazine read ‘Limitless has cancelled Phase two of its US $11 billion Arabian Canal project.’

However, a quote from the developer’s CEO, Saeed Ahmed Saeed used in the same article seemed to contradict this, saying that the contract had simply been postponed from its original award date in March. A spokesperson from the company, speaking to PMV today, said: “Our invitation for bids on phase two of the excavation received a healthy response from local and international firms. We have contacted them all to advise them of the postponement of the award of this contract, and have reassured them that we will be in touch as soon as possible to invite them to resubmit their bids.

"We remain committed to the Arabian Canal. Work continues on phase one, and we will announce news of subsequent phases at an appropriate time.”

Excavations on phase one of the canal, running from the Waterfront near Jebel Ali through to an area near the new Al Maktoum International Airport continue, courtesy of contractor Tristar. However, the pace of work has reportedly slowed over recent weeks.

The master plan of the Arabian Canal shows a city with space for 1.5 million people, based around an artificial creek, which will skirt around the perimeter of Dubai.

UAE job losses set to continue amid recovery

From 25 May '09.
Where's this economic recovery happening? Its not happening in my little corner of Dubai where in the last 24 hours two more friends have been made redundant and will leaving the country as there's no work in construction for them. Heard all the 'green shoots' stories blah, blah, blah? You just have to look around you in the UAE to see signs that things here aren't good and they aren't going to improve in the foreseeable future. Raise this question and the response seems to be 'if you don't like it you can leave' and there are plenty of people doing just that or "It can't be that bad because last weekend Dubai Mall /BurJuman/everywhere expect Bin Hendi Luxury Avenue was packed" but how many of those people in the malls were actually buying and how many were there just to escape the heat? If even half the rumoured number of people leave the UAE at the end of the school year (June) and don't return in September, the loss of population will have a noticeable effect on the local economy.

Rents continue to fall. Unfortunately our current landlord lives in a parallel universe where rents haven't dropped, he refuses to lower the rent so we're moving out - the people in the villa next door moved out three weeks ago for the same reason and are living just round the corner at a considerably cheaper rent. We recently looked at a villa in Umm Suqeim 3 that 5 months ago was rented for AED300,000 but now the landlord's asking AED175,000 and still hasn't had a bite in all that time. At this time last year, renting a house in Dubai was a hard task, rents were astronomical and a lot of compounds had waiting lists; now, we drive around the streets and count the "To Let" signs which seem to be growing in number weekly. In the Garhoud area alone, we've looked at maybe 15+ houses, all in the AED170,000-190,000 price range. Last year every one of them would have been in the AED220,000-250,000 range.
Job losses will continue to take place in the UAE even as economic recovery takes hold, a leading economist in the region warned on Monday.

Further redundancies would happen in the Gulf state over the coming months because the jobs market lagged behind the real economy, said Marios Maratheftis, chief economist at Standard Chartered in the Middle East.

“Inevitably job losses are taking place and, in my opinion, they will continue to take place even as the economy is recovering because the jobs market is a lagging indicator of the economic cycle,” said Maratheftis during MegaTrends, Essential Strategic Insights 2009 in Abu Dhabi.

Despite the economic crisis hitting the UAE in September, it wasn’t until January that staff numbers were cut by many firms, especially those in the real estate, construction and banking sectors, he said.But he said most job cuts had already taken place.

As many as one in four expatriate employees in the UAE have either lost their job or fear they will over the next 12 months, according to a survey released in March by market research company Real Opinions.

Monday, 25 May 2009

Rising number of credit card defaulters run from the UAE

From Thomson Reuters
Some UAE banks are seeing up to 2,500 customers leave the country every month without paying off their credit card bills, a number that could rise in June, a senior RAK Bank official said on Sunday.

RAK Bank business advisor David Martin said most of those leaving without settling their credit card bills were linked to the construction sector in Dubai, the hardest hit of the seven emirates that make up the United Arab Emirates federation.

"On our credit card portfolio, in common with other banks, we are seeing increasing numbers of 'skips' - that's people leaving the country without paying their bills," Martin said.

Martin said the bank's research indicated banks in the UAE have 1,500-2,500 customers leave every month over the past six months without paying what they owe on credit cards.

RAK Bank, which has around 20 percent market share in the country's credit card sector with around 300,000 customers, has seen around half that rate in the same period, Martin said.

"The instances of skips in our bank, according to our own intelligence, is 50 percent below our competitors," he said.

"Most of the skips are connected to the construction industry in Dubai. We don't see a lot of skips in Abu Dhabi or Sharjah."

Thousands of expatriates have lost their jobs in the Gulf trade and tourism hub of Dubai since the financial crisis triggered a real estate crash late last year that ended a six-year economic boom.

Although growth in the number of "skips" has begun to level off in the past two months, Martin said, banks in the UAE could face a new wave of customers leaving with their debts unpaid as expats who have lost their jobs may wait to the end of the school year to leave.

"We could see a resurgence of this at the end of June," he said.

RAK Bank recovers around a quarter of the debt that goes unpaid as a result of one of the customers leaving the country, Martin said. (Reuters)

Sunday, 24 May 2009

Kiwis are flying home dejected from tarnished boom-towns like Dubai

From the New Zealand Herald 24 May 09
You may think its taken a while for the news of the downturn in Dubai to arrive in NZ but, hey, its the rugby season so we have far more important things to worry about. On that subject how good was the Chiefs' win? Super 14 final in Pretoria against the Bulls from South Africa who beat the Crusaders yesterday.
New Zealanders are walking away from their homes in Dubai, driving to the international airport and abandoning their cars with keys in the ignition, as the golden times suddenly end in the towering emirate.

In London, redundant bank traders - once the young Masters of the Universe - take the Underground's Piccadilly Line to Heathrow when they fly out.

Statistics NZ figures show increased numbers of Kiwis returning home (24,500 in the past year to April) though the numbers have not yet reached the heights of 1991 or 2003.

The upsurge is on the flights from the UK, China, Canada, the US and, of course, the United Arab Emirates.

The Department of Labour says this will boost the housing and construction industries. But, at the same time, it means tougher competition for jobs.

The flight home to New Zealand has been unexpected and infuriating for people like Hamilton's Nicholas Down, 43. When he started work at a Dubai real estate company last year, the first villa he sold was in the city's luxurious Palms development. The buyer paid 60 million dirhams ($30 million) in hard cash. It took three days to count, Down says.

But when the money dried up and his company hired Russian estate agents to offer added inducements - entertaining potential buyers with prostitutes - then Down objected. So his bosses gave him one month's notice.

Down, his wife and two children arrived home in December, after emptying out their Dubai apartment and leaving the car at the airport. He did, at least, mail the keys back to his former employer.

The family was lucky to own a home in Hamilton, and Down went on unemployment benefit until he was able to find work with a receivership company.

Dubai police say they have towed 3000 abandoned cars from the airport carpark - and it's not over yet. There are reportedly 90,000 one-way tickets booked out next month.

Among them are James Hamilton and his family, who will return home when the Dubai school year ends. Hamilton was made redundant from his aviation logistics job in November, but he and his Canadian wife were unable to sell their three-bedroom villa until last month.

"What has struck me most is how quick it hit," he said. "Overnight, construction stopped. People were made redundant from the big corporations, and they were gone within a week."

Hamilton, 35, still hopes to return to Dubai some day. The family is putting some furniture in storage there. In the meantime he will look for work here, using his experience to advise companies on how to trade in the Middle East.

Thursday, 21 May 2009

Barracuda Bandits: Police statement

7 Days (a Dubai paper), dated 18 May, says they called the Dubai Police and were told that as long as you have a valid UAE liquor licence and a receipt for the goods purchased you are not breaking the law by transporting alcohol home.

Abu Dhabi Commercial Bank halts loans for Hydra Village

From The National 21 May 09
Abu Dhabi Commercial Bank (ADCB) is no longer providing mortgages to homebuyers in Hydra Village, a project by Hydra Properties, which is based in Abu Dhabi.ADCB was the main mortgage provider to the project, which is facing a two-year delay.

"For every developer and project, we have a pre-decided limit on the amount of exposure we take on," said Arup Mukhopadhyay, the head of retail banking at ADCB.

"It is a case of not putting our eggs in one basket. Hydra has reached that limit, and we will not take on any new mortgage cases."

One investor said the bank had been reluctant to lend to the project since Hydra increased the price of some villas after changing the masterplan, which is why the project's completion date has been pushed back until late 2011.

The rise came as a result of villa sizes being increased, while homes that have been made smaller have been reduced in price.

"The bank said it wouldn't finance the additional charge slapped on the project," said the investor. "Most people got their mortgages through ADCB."

Sulaiman al Fahim, the chief executive of Hydra Properties, sought to reassure investors in the project yesterday following growing concerns that their homes will not be built.Mr al Fahim and his commercial director, Ahmed Khalil, met buyers to try to resolve some of the disputes that have centred on delays, payments and prices rises.

"There is no doubt that we are building the homes," Mr al Fahim said. "We all have to report to the Abu Dhabi Government and so we have to deliver what we promised, otherwise we'd be in trouble."

The masterplan was changed, he said, to "make the project better". The outcome of the meeting was fairly positive, according Karl Howard, the co-chairman of the Hydra Village Investors Group.

"They took things on board and we were happy to meet Mr al Fahim," he said. "At the end of the day, we'd like them to maybe stop payments at around 40 per cent, let's see some progress and then let's try and tie it there on to some sort of progress benchmark."

Defaulting customers have received emails and calls in recent weeks saying their contracts will be cancelled and all deposits kept by the developer unless outstanding dues are settled.

Obama approves nuclear energy deal with UAE

From Reuters 20 May 09
U.S. President Barack Obama on Wednesday approved a nuclear energy deal with the United Arab Emirates worth potentially billions of dollars to U.S. energy companies, setting the stage for Congress to decide whether to block it.

"I have determined that the performance of the agreement will promote, and will not constitute an unreasonable risk to, the common defense and security," Obama said in a statement that made no reference to recent U.S. concerns over a video showing a member of the ruling of family of Abu Dhabi allegedly torturing an Afghan man.

The administration of former President George W. Bush signed the pact with the wealthy Gulf state just days before leaving office in January.

The political climate for Obama to approve the pact became more difficult after a gruesome video surfaced showing an Afghan man being abused with an electric cattle prod, beaten with whips and a plank of wood with a nail on it and driven over by a car at a desert location in 2004.

Abu Dhabi's judicial department earlier this month said prosecutors had detained Sheikh Issa bin Zayed al-Nahyan, a brother of the UAE crown prince, pending an outcome of an investigation into the video.

The next step in the approval process for the civil nuclear deal is for U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to formally submit it to Congress. The pact would go into effect after 90 days unless lawmakers vote to block it.

Mixed response to Hydra investor meeting

From 20 May 09
Concerned Hydra Properties investors met with the company’s chairman on Wednesday but stopped short of saying it had been a success.

Sulaiman Al Fahim, the boss of Abu Dhabi-based developer Hydra Properties, met with investors to iron out a protracted dispute over imposed unit price hikes and construction delays on the company’s projects.

During the meeting Hydra Investors Group, which is made up of 185 disgruntled property buyers, called for the developer to stop demanding payments on its flagship project Hydra Village until they had received assurances the project will be completed.

Karl Howard, co-chair of the investors group, said: “The issue we are facing is investor confidence about the company situation and how much progress they have made. If they could give people that assurance it would be built and the contract wasn’t so one sided, then the problems would largely go away.”

The meetings were prompted following a live Q&A session with Dr Fahim on Arabian last week.

However, Al Fahim was more upbeat. “We’re seeing every single person who is unhappy to see what we can do. Talk to them yourself and find out the outcomes, so far we have been able to help a lot of investors. I think it is positive news,” he told Arabian Business.

One investor, Tyronne Pires, was allowed to exchange his AED1.7m one bedroom apartment at Hydra Twin Towers in Dubai for a two bedroom AED1.3m townhouse in Abu Dhabi’s Hydra Village.

“I’ve reduced my liability and exposure- frankly it’s amazing. Hats off to the guy (Al Fahim). He sat with me, he listened, he gave me options.”“Emaar and Nakheel would never have sent anyone to meet you,” Indian born Pires, who has lived in Dubai for 23 years, added.

On Tuesday the developer issued a legal notice to investors at Hydra Village threatening to reacquire units if outstanding payments were not paid.

According to reports the letter states that payments made on properties including the purchase reservation and all installments shall be forfeited if investors fail to pay the remaining amount owed.

Hydra commercial director Ahmed Khalil confirmed legal notices had been sent to a handful of defaulting investors.

Hydra Village, a large residential community development in Abu Dhabi, has been delayed by two years and is due for completion in 2011

Survey shows 50% of expats in the UAE fear job loss

From This research could be done by glancing at any expat web forum or eavesdropping on conversations in any supermarket queue. Without too much effort, one would find that virtually every expat in Dubai:

- is worried about their job security;
- knows more than 3 people personally who've been made redundant plus all the "friends of friends" who've lost their jobs;
- has stopped spending and started saving.....hard

Many members of the expat community in the UAE are worried because if they lose their job, they have 30 days to leave the UAE but if they've bought a property they're required to pay off the mortgage in full before being allowed out of the country, but if they haven't got a job they can't pay the mortgage and round and round and round...... It really isn't surprising that some people have felt overwhelmed and have "done a runner".
Expatriates living in the UAE and Bahrain are becoming increasingly concerned about job security, a new survey has found.

Research carried out by Zurich International Life revealed that more than 50 percent of foreign workers in the two countries are far from confident about retaining their jobs.

Among non-resident Indians polled, 64 percent and 61 percent in the UAE and Bahrain respectively said job security was a cause for concern.

"It is clear that the current financial crisis is having an impact on professional expats, as around 80 percent of people surveyed in the two countries feel their ability to save due to the impact of the global credit crunch has been decreased,” said Carlos Sabugueiro, Zurich’s CEO of global life emerging markets in the Middle East and Africa.

“Last year, all anyone could talk about was how to spend their bonuses and the continuing good times. Now they appear genuinely worried about losing their jobs.”

Sabugueiro added many respondents said the financial downturn had led to tighter budgets, higher expectations and reduced benefits in their workplace.

Some 41 percent of UAE expats and 32 percent of foreigners in Bahrain cited these issues during the study. On the upside, the report showed that 50 percent were optimistic about their financial futures. A further 70 percent said they were prepared to stay put until global economies bounce back, with all confident about the GCC’s long-term health.

"Professional expats are here to stay and many of those who have spent 10 or more years in the region know that the Gulf has an amazing ability to bounce back very quickly," Sabugueiro said.

GCC monetary union 'dead' after UAE pull out

From 20 May 09
The GCC monetary union is "dead" as a result of a decision by the UAE to pull out of the plan, leading UAE economists pronounced on Wednesday.

The UAE's move, which came just three weeks after a decision to base the bloc's central bank in Riyadh, was the result of a clash of egos, according to a Saudi expert, who urged Gulf politicians not to let egos get in the way of rational decision.

Dubai-based economist, Eckart Woertz, said that he was surprised by the decision, adding that the monetary union was “dead” without the UAE’s involvement.

In his opinion the decision to withdraw was due to the Saudi capital being named as the headquarters of the regional central bank, Woertz, an economist at the Gulf Research Center, told Arabian Business.

“I would guess they (the UAE) are upset at the decision to set-up the Central Bank in Riyadh instead of Abu Dhabi. There seems to be some connection.

“The monetary union is dead if the second largest GCC economy is not participating. Oman is already out, now the UAE, so it doesn’t justify the effort now and my guess it will not materialise now under these conditions," he said.

Analysts at EFG Hermes also believe that the monetary union project is now “effectively dead”, senior economist Monica Malik told newswire Bloomberg.

However, John Sfakianakis, chief economist at HSBC’s Saudi affiliate, Saudi British Bank (SABB), urged leaders of the remaining four states not to let one country “hijack” the project.

“I think that the egos and the politics should be put aside…I think the UAE should reconsider and not necessarily react in an emotional way,” he told Arabian Business.“It is unfortunate that the UAE at this point cannot join. They will be welcome to join at a later stage,” he added.

Meanwhile, Standard Chartered bank warned the withdrawal of the UAE from the GCC monetary union represented a serious setback to plans for a single currency, but added that the market impact of the decision would be limited.

It was questionable as to whether the proposed single currency would now go ahead, the bank said in a research note. The UAE’s decision to pull out follows the withdrawal of Oman from the monetary union plans in 2007.

There were growing concerns in the UAE over the dominance of Saudi Arabia in the common currency area, according to Standard Chartered.

“With the GCC secretariat already based in Saudi Arabia and with the decision to host the GCC central bank in Saudi Arabia as well, UAE concerns intensified,” said analysts Marios Maratheftis and Mary Nicola in the note.

The economic cost of the UAE’s withdrawal should be limited, with UAE trade with the rest of the GCC representing only about 10 percent of total trade, the bank added.

Simon Williams, regional economist at HSBC Middle East, said that the withdrawal of the Gulf’s second largest economy from monetary union was a major blow to the single currency project.

“However, we had long assumed that the single currency would not be launched on schedule at the start of 2010, and the UAE’s withdrawal therefore has no meaningful impact on our view on economic performance or on regional monetary policy,” he said.

Tuesday, 19 May 2009

The Barracuda Bandits

As a bit of background, alcohol can be legally purchased in hotel bars and restaurants in Dubai/Abu Dhabi but it must be consumed on the premises. If you're a resident, you can purchase alcohol and keep it at your home if you (a) are non-Muslim, and (b) hold a liquour licence issued by the Police (form to fill out, AED160 to pay). Once you have your licence you can then go along to a branch of the two authorised alcohol retailers to make your purchases.
The two companies, A&E (African & Eastern) or MMI (Maritime Mercantile International), have branches throughout Dubai hidden descretely behind unmarked doors. Interestingly MMI is a subsidiary of the Emirates Group.

Now this is all very fine but both A&E and MMI charge 30% tax on the alcohol they sell. To get around this there are a couple of places in another Emirate, where expat shoppers can buy alcohol without paying tax, thus making it a lot cheaper than buying from the authorised suppliers in Dubai and AD. The main "Hole in the Wall" (HITW) at the Barracuda Beach Resort is hardly a "hole" but a large well stocked off-licence with a wide selection of wine, beers and spirits from all over the world including the infamous Indian whiskey. The off-licence is attached to a hotel/resort (they do a really nice curry in the main dining room). On Fridays and Saturdays, the HITW is Expat Central and you're sure to meet someone you know pushing their trolley loaded with fine supplies in maybe the arak department or the Jordanian wine display.

Rumours started circulating several years ago of expats who had been tailed after leaving the HITW and making their way back to Dubai through the Emirate of Sharjah. Sharjah is 'dry', no alcohol anywhere, any time, and transporting alcohol through that emirate, even if its just one bottle of wine, is illegal. The rumours tell of the expat car being bumped by the tailing car, the occupants of which then demand money in exchange for not calling the police to arrest the expat for transporting illegal alcohol. Often the expat is escorted to the nearest ATM to withdraw the maximum amount available. I thought these stories might be urban legend until we received a call from a friend who'd just been on the receiving end of what I've just described. He was shocked and also AED3,000 poorer as that was all he had in his account.

Since then accounts of the "Barracuda Bandits" have started appearing in the Dubai press, these two stories from
7 Days:
Tuesday 12 May, 2009 from David Carter
Last week I happened to be in Umm Al Quwain for some business during the day. Part of the work involved a meeting with the client, who happened to be at one of the famous resorts in Umm Al Quwain.

As I headed back to Dubai, I noticed I was being followed by a grey Honda Accord with two lads in national dress in it.As we entered Sharjah, the traffic built up and I slowed down. The grey Honda came up behind me and nudged my car, resulting in some scratches. We pulled over to the side of the road and the two lads proceeded to accuse me of being drunk, telling me that the cops would arrest me.

Since I hadn’t touched a drink, I was more than willing to get the cops involved. Then they started to accuse me of transporting alcohol.Again untrue. The lads demanded they search my car. I refused saying that let the cops get here and if the police needed to, they could search my car. Finally the lads came to the point, asking me for dhs1,500 for them not to get the cops involved.

By this point I had had it and called the cops myself. As soon as I had done this, the two lads jumped in their car and sped off.

When the police arrived I told them the whole story and gave them the number plate of the Honda. My advice to all people returning from Umm Al Quwain, is to not fear these blackmailers. Do not let them search your car. Call the cops and of course, never drink and drive.

Sunday 17 May, 2009 from "Ben"
I too almost became a victim of the ‘Barracuda HWY Bandits’.They were waiting for me at one of the roundabouts on the road between Emirates road and the coast road in a black 90’s model Lexus with scratches and dents all over its bumpers.

As I entered the roundabout (well stocked with fine beverages), they also entered and almost touched my bumper. The driver then started flashing his lights at me and pulled in front of my car trying to make me stop. Knowing what was happening and being in a much bigger Land Cruiser, I ignored him and put my foot on the gas. He then gave up and turned around at the next roundabout to go back for the next victim. I agree with Cliff, that the staff or someone at the Barracuda is calling ahead to let these bandits know which cars to target.

My advice to anyone who finds themselves in this situation is, do not stop, even if they touch your car. Drive to a police station in Dubai if you are worried about insurance etc. (just drop your cargo off first).

UAE investors served legal threats

From Emirates Business 247 19 May 09
Abu Dhabi-based Hydra Properties has issued legal notices to some investors in the Hydra Village project saying their property will be re-acquired by the developer and the amount paid to reserve the units by the investors will be forfieted if they fail to pay their outstanding dues.

Hydra Village was due to be completed this year but the delivery date has been pushed back by two years.

The document sent to some investors by electronic mail says: "The unit/s allotment… stands cancelled and Hydra Properties has absolute and unfettered right over the said unit/s, including but not limited to re-sale of the said unit/s to any third party."

It says: "…your purchase reservation agreement stands terminated" and "the reservation amount and instalments paid… are deemed forfeited to Hydra Properties".

An investor, who along with others has joined the newly-formed Hydra Investors Group, told Emirates Business on condition of anonymity: "I was called by a Hydra executive last week and asked to pay the dues in the next few days or else they would take away my unit.

"The first time I received a call from Hydra was last year, but last week I was called twice. First they asked me about my situation and the next time they called to ask me to pay 50 per cent of the contract value or else they would cancel my unit.

"I never had any contract with them or any other communication about the project's progress. Now they ask me to sign a contract with clauses that are totally in favour of the developer. They are even not offering me time to review the contract."

Ahmed Khalil, Hydra's Commercial Director, confirmed that his company has sent legal notices to a few investors who had defaulted. "We are ready to help them and they can meet us by making appointments. We will be handling their issues on an individual basis. We have offered them revised payment plans and are even helping them to get finance from banks," he said.

Asked why the project was delayed by almost two years, Khalil said the masterplan had undergone changes and as a result the timeframe for completion changed to the fourth quarter of 2011.

Another investor said: "I was told that I would be given a contract as soon as I paid 20 per cent, which I handed over by April 2007. But I have never received any contract." He said he heard no word from Hydra until two weeks ago when he received a letter of termination and cancellation. "This is in spite of my repeated efforts over the past two years to get a contract and project update, which were never forthcoming. I did not, prior to this notice, receive either a request or demand for payment. I phoned the collections department and they said they were not interested in anything but that I had to pay first. Only then will they give me a contract and project update."

A third investor said he received a call last week from a collections department employee: "He said I was in default and that if I did not pay promptly I would lose my villa. And he offered to waive any penalties if I paid.

"He offered to send me the contract and asked me to sign and send it back to him with the money due. The contract never arrived."Graeme Perry, a spokesman for the Hydra Investors Group, said the e-mail asked investors to pay their dues and added that failure to do so by the specified date would result in a fine of Dh500 a day.

He said the group had advised members that any communication with Hydra in future should be conducted via a signed letter with a company seal and couriered so that all parties, including Hydra, were protected.

"We are not happy with mass e-mail demands whose provenance can neither be proved nor their admissibility in a court of law certain," said Perry."

Moreover, we have three different contract versions, which clearly shows the terms have become untenable. Version one and two require the client to forfeit 20 per cent should he or she default. Now the latest contract says 50 per cent.

"It would seem that this letter has been issued to many group members who paid reservation deposits more than two years ago for property in Hydra Village."

Karl Howard, co-chair of the group, said: "This letter has gone out to all interested stakeholders irrespective of their relationship with Hydra. Those who signed a contract but asked their mortgage lenders to halt payments until proof of construction had been provided have received them. In addition people who have never signed, nor even seen the latest contract, have also received them.

"Hydra maintained that a purchase reservation agreement that many buyers signed upon receipt of their initial reservation deposit allowed the developer to demand payment in full, said the group.

"In other words Hydra is demanding that people who have refused to sign Hydra's contract must still be held to it anyway, which is unacceptable," said Howard. "Without a signed contract we believe the law will always uphold the rights of individual.

"To complicate matters further a sizeable number of investors say they have never seen nor heard of the purchase reservation agreement, which Hydra alleges is legally obliging.

Perry said the group has three options – negotiating with the developer, taking the legal route and, finally, pleading their case before the Ruler's Court.

"We would like to hold direct talks with Dr Sulaiman Al Fahim, Hydra's CEO, and come to a mutual agreement. He showed an inclination to meet investors at a recent talk show on the radio. We are looking forward to meeting him.

"We are also considering pleading our case before the Ruler's Court. However, it is not that easy a procedure. We have some local investors whom we are talking to about this issue."

Perry said Hydra Village, which is now scheduled to be finished by December 2011, "has a six-month delay clause, which extends their time to June 2012."

Dead -v- Alive: A new grey area?

Often we face situations where there are grey areas, where there's no definitive answer, where there's uncertainty or different interpretations, but the question of being dead -v- being alive has been considered pretty much non-negotiable. Until now. This opening paragraph from today's 7Days in Dubai must be candidate for some sort of award:

"A Chechen warlord is still alive two months after he was murdered outside a Dubai apartment block, his brother has claimed."

Its so strange. Maybe an nominee for the Darwin Awards?

Concern as Dubai Demotes Finance Director

From the Financial Times 19 May '09
Dubai on Monday night removed Nasser al-Shaikh as director-general of the department of finance, one of the most senior officials tasked with steering the emirate through the global financial crisis.

The emirate's ruler, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum, ap­pointed as the new director-general Abdul Rahman Saleh al-Saleh, the national news agency reported.

No reason was given for Mr Shaikh's removal but his demotion to assistant director of external affairs at the ruler's court will prompt concern among the region's business elite and the bankers helping to steer Dubai out of the current downturn.

The highly regarded young official, who joined the department of finance only last year, was seen as one of the few who had grasped the scope of the economic problems facing Dubai.

The emirate's globalised economy has been hit hard: its hyped real estate sector has crashed, while business services sectors have suffered from the global econ­omic downturn.

Mr Shaikh had been leading efforts to pay off the emirate's debts of more than $75bn (€55bn, £49bn) accumulated during the boom years, forming restructuring plans for the economy and measures to address the government's cash crunch, which continues to leave many companies unpaid.

Mr Shaikh had been championing a more transparent approach to the emirate's finances as a means to help restore the city's credibility. He oversaw publication of the emirate's most detailed ever budget in January and was leading efforts to launch a sovereign rating for Dubai.

As redundancies rose and profits slumped, Dubai, once the toast of the global media, has been hit by an avalanche of bad news.

Mr Shaikh led the appointment of Rothschild as the government's adviser on setting up a financial fund to aid cash-strapped government-related bodies.

Dubai borrowed $10bn from the United Arab Emirates central bank in a bail-out loan, part of a broader $20bn bond programme launched in February. Half the funds have been disbursed to state-backed entities, such as the offshore developer Nakheel, to help them pay off contractors.

The department of finance issues the budget and oversees the finances of core government services, such as utilities and transport. Other commercial entities fall under the wing of government groups, such as Dubai World and Investment Corporation of Dubai, and the ruler's personal conglomerate, Dubai Holding.

Possible changes to the homeowner visas

When it comes to Dubai's property market, there's more than "a hole in the bucket" that can be plugged, no, the entire bottom of the bucket seems to have dropped out. Property sales have dropped and rents are also dropping. We've looked at villas that were rented for AED300,000 in December last year but landlords are now asking AED170,000 - AED190,000.
There may be further changes to the visas offered to expatriate home owners in the UAE, according to Dubai’s finance chief in remarks made at the World Economic Forum in Jordan on Sunday.

Nasser Al Sheikh, the director general of Dubai’s Department of Finance, admitted to delegates that visa laws were an issue for the federal government.

But Dubai was discussing further changes, following a sharp downturn in the emirate’s real estate market, he said.

“We have certain ideas about visa laws that have been passed on to the federal government,” Al Sheikh told the conference.

A shake-up of the visa system for property owners in Dubai is already underway, under a new ruling made by Sheikh Mohammed, Ruler of Dubai and Vice President of the UAE, earlier this month.

Starting on June 1, Dubai will issue six month, multiple entry visas for expat property owners.

Under the new visa regualtions the property should be worth at least AED1m and the owner must earn at least AED10,000 per month, or the foreign currency equivalent.

However, the visa does not give the property owner the right to work inside the country.

Monday, 18 May 2009

It's alive........

The Dubai Metro train has been doing test runs along the track almost every day and seems to be getting a faster each time. Here are a few photos taken from the office window as the train disappears between the buildings on Sheikh Zayed Road.

Sunday, 17 May 2009

Where do you stand when your Dubai contract is cancelled?

Law 13 amendment finally unveiled

From ConstructionWeekOnline, 19 April '09
The much-anticipated amendment to the Real Estate Regulatory Agency’s (Rera) Law 13, Article 11, which has caused much confusion in the industry, is soon to be enforced.

The amendment - Dubai Law No. 9 of 2009 - is expected to be published in the Government Gazette shortly and will have effect from the date of publication.

The existing law stated that in the event of cancellation of a sale contract due to purchaser default, the developer could retain only 30% of money paid, and must return the remaining 70% to the defaulter. But this provoked much concern among developers hurting from the effects of the financial crisis, and the fall in demand for real estate in Dubai.

An email sent to Construction Week by a Dubai law firm sought to ease the situation. “In light of the economic downturn with uncertainties and a drastic drop in prices in the real estate market, there were concerns for developers and purchasers in terms of their respective rights," said a spokesperson for Capital MS&L Middle East, which works closely with the law firm that has since asked not to be named.

“The amendment is significant as it alleviates much of the uncertainty in the market and clarifies the rights of developers and purchasers in the event of an agreement termination.”

The message went on to explain that if a purchaser breaches a contract, the developer may follow a procedure that involves the land department to terminate that contract. While if a developer terminates the agreement, its rights depend on how much construction has been completed.

The law will apply to all cancellations of all off-plan sales contracts irrespective of the date on which the relevant contract was signed.The email contained an attachment with a detailed break down of how the amendment will affect developers (see below).

The attachment concluded: “We expect further clarification and guidance regarding the implementation of the changes to be provided by the Dubai Land Department in due course.”

Last month Al Tamimi and Co partner and property department head Lisa Dale said of the amendment, “I understand that an amendment to the law is now under consideration.
Hopefully we will have some clarity on this issue moving forward.”

How the amendment will affect developers:

1. Before taking any cancellation action, a developer must notify the Land Department if a purchaser is in default of a contract for sale. The Land Department will then give the purchaser a notice period providing a 30 day period within which the purchaser must fulfil its obligations.

2. If at the end of the 30 day notice period the purchaser has not fulfilled its obligations, the following rules will apply.
a. Where the developer has completed construction of at least 80% of the project, the developer may retain all monies paid and request that the purchaser settles the remaining amounts. If this is not possible, the developer may request that the property may be auctioned in order to collect the outstanding monies.
b. Where the developer has completed construction of at least 60% of the project, the developer may revoke the contract and retain 40% of the purchase price stipulated in the contract.
c. Where construction has commenced but construction of less than 60% of the project has been completed , the developer may revoke the contract and retain 25% of the purchase price.
d. Where construction of the project has not yet commenced for reasons beyond the developers control, without any negligence or omission on the developer’s part, the developer may revoke the contract and retain an amount equal to 30% of all monies paid by the purchaser. Commencement of ‘construction’ is defined as meaning handover of the site by the developer to a contractor and commencement of construction works in accordance with designs approved by relevant authorities.

3. For the purposes of paragraphs b, c and d above, the developer shall return any monies due to the purchaser within one year from the date of revocation or within 60 days from the date of a resale of the property by the developer, whichever is earlier.

4. The Real Estate Regulatory Agency may cancel a project following consideration of a status report, in which case the developer must return all monies paid by purchasers and the provisions of Dubai’s escrow laws will apply.

The reason Skype is banned in the UAE

Etisalat and rival du would have to hike the cost of local fixed line calls if Skype and other VoIP based software were allowed in the UAE, the company’s chairman told Arabian Business on Friday.

“If Skype or other types of Voice Over IP (VoIP) is introduced in the UAE, that will affect the revenue not only for us, but for also for du,” said Mohammed Omran in an interview at the World Economic Forum in Jordan.

“In the UAE, quite a good portion of revenue comes from international calls and the tariffs in the UAE are still unbalanced. Local charges are much lower than cost, especially for fixed line.”

Etisalat charges private users AED15 per month for unlimited local, fixed line calls, and AED50 for business users.

“This is below cost and normally this is partly compensated with international calls. We have called several times for readjustment of the tariff to link it with the cost, so that we would be able to lower the cost of international calls,” Omran said.

The cost of line rental and local calls should be in line with other countries, Omran said.Etisalat does not know if and when VoIP software will be legalised in the UAE, he added.

Thursday, 14 May 2009

Cancellation of Dubai building projects

From Reuters

There are dissatisfied investors both in Dubai and overseas who are making payments for apartments they've purchased in buildings that have not been started or where construction has been halted. If the purchaser stops making payments they will forfeit all the money that has paid previously.

Is it true that there are 11 fully completed apartment blocks in Business Bay that stand empty because power, sewerage, water have yet to be connected?
Dubai is considering cancelling 27 projects, the head of its real estate regulator said on Monday, as the emirate's property market slumps in the global downturn.

A decision whether to cancel or not would be made by the end of the month, said Marwan bin Ghalita, the head of the Real Estate Regulatory Authority (RERA).

"The decision has not been done. They are projects all over Dubai - third party projects (sub developers)," he said.

Earlier this year, Ghalita said he believed 25 percent of projects will be cancelled in Dubai as a result of the global economic slowdown.

"It's almost the same," he said when asked if that figure had changed. The Dubai Land Department and RERA set up a committee last week to cancel projects in the emirate that are not feasible.

Real estate prices tumbled 41 percent in the first three months of the year, property consultants Colliers said in a recent report.

A collapse in property prices has already led to project cancellations in the region worth billions of dollars.

More than half of the construction projects in the United Arab Emirates, worth $582 billion, have been put on hold, Dubai-based market research firm Proleads said in February. Ghalita said on Monday the committee would cancel projects based on RERA's decision whether or not they should continue, a request from developers to cancel, or through complaints to the watchdog from project investors.

In February RERA said Dubai developers are likely to delay the delivery of about 20 percent of residential units in 2009 and 40 percent in 2010. (Reuters)

Wednesday, 13 May 2009

The end of Income Tax Exemptions for Australians Working Overseas

This is a press statement from the Australian government following the recent budget. The statement and the draft legislation is refers to seem to indicate that as from 1 July 09 all Australians earning income overseas (with 3 exempt categories) will be taxed at the equivalent rate to Australians working in Oz. Whether this applies to people earning income in non-tax jurisidictions like, umm, for example, the UAE, seems unclear, it all seems to turn on the definition of who is or isn't a "tax resident". The Treasury page is here. At the bottom of the Treasury page is a link to the proposed legislation.
The Rudd Government today announces important new measures to ensure that workers who earn income overseas do not have an unfair advantage over workers who earn income and pay tax in Australia.

The measures help improve the fairness and integrity of the tax system by better targeting the tax exemption for income earned by Australians earning income overseas.

The measures will also protect Commonwealth revenues needed to support jobs and invest in vital nation-building in the face of the global recession.

The new measures are expected to provide an additional $675 million over the forward estimates.

Currently, Australians working overseas for over 90 consecutive days are eligible for a general exemption which means they do not pay any Australian income tax on their foreign employment income.

This general exemption was provided to ensure that foreign employment income was not double‑taxed, first in the country where the income was earned and then again in Australia.

However, many foreign countries are lower tax jurisdictions which means some Australians who earn income overseas are paying much less tax than if they earned income solely in Australia.

In addition, workers can use the general exemption to lower their taxable income for the purposes of accessing a range of government benefits.

Under the new measures announced today, the Government will amend the general exemption to provide a better targeted exemption which is only available for income earned:

- as an aid or charitable worker employed by a recognised non-government organisation; or

- as a government aid worker; or

- as a specified government employee (for example, defence and police force personnel deployed overseas).

Further, income earned by an individual employed on an overseas project approved by the Minister for Trade as being in the national interest will remain exempt, as provided for by existing rules.

To avoid Australians paying double-taxation, a tax offset will be available for any foreign tax paid on their foreign employment income.

Treasury will undertake stakeholder consultations concerning the legislation and administrative arrangements for these changes.

CANBERRA12 May 2009

BinHendi closes luxury avenue in Dubai

From, 12 May '09. The closure of the Bin Hendi annexe at the Deira City Center mall isn't a big surprise is it? Don't know about you, but I've walked through that section of the mall many times simply because its a good way to get to and from the carpark. I doubt that I've ever seen a single customer in any of the shops. Why would a shopper looking for "luxury brands" go to Deira when everything they're looking for is at BurJuman? Having read the article I'm also baffled that anyone would buy from a clothes shop called "Phat Farm."

In the absence of any official comment, we must rely on the thoughts of the waitress at Noodle Hut but that's no criticism, as the waitress probably knows more than management about what's really happening.

Last thought: Maybe Toyota could move back into the space at DCC........
Luxury brand owner BinHendi Enterprises is in talks with the owners of Deira City Centre about the future of its self-named avenue, which makes up a significant proportion of the shopping mall, Arabian Business can reveal.

Visiting the mall on Tuesday Arabian Business discovered all shops in the luxury BinHendi Avenue had been closed, with only Noodle House and Cafe Di Roma open for business.

According to a waitress at Noodle House the two dozen or so shops had been closed for two weeks, but both restaurants had no plans to shut, she added.

A spokesperson for the Majid Al Futtaim Group, owner of Deira City Centre, confirmed on Tuesday that BinHendi was in discussions with the group for its future leasing plans of the avenue.

“Negotiations are going on between the tenant and the leasing department but nothing has been finalised yet,” she said.

The two-storey avenue had been home around 26 high-end stores selling brands such as Hugo Boss, Porsche Design, Phat Farm, plus a BinHendi Boutique selling luxury watches and jewellery, and dining outlets.

The avenue was opened to a huge fanfare in December 2005.In February a new BinHendi Boutique was opened in Dubai Mall, following on the heels of another store in the Burj Al Arab in June 2008.

BinHendi was not immediately available for comment.

Tuesday, 12 May 2009

The new residency visa: its not for you, mate.

From the Kippreport
The UAE government has clarified that the new property visa is not for anybody and everybody. “It is not meant for people who want to invest or work here; such people could gain residency through other types of visas,” said brigadier general Nasser Al Minhali, acting director of the Department of Naturalisation and Residency.

”Applicants for [the six-month] visas could be politicians or businessmen who wish to have a place in the UAE to live in and they cannot leave their businesses in their home countries and stay in the UAE the whole time. So rather than applying for a visa every time they come in, they have the option of the six months renewable visa,” he said.

Interestingly, the UAE’s Ministry of Interior released a statement two days ago saying “The ruling is for the good of those expatriates who have found an oasis of peace and stability in the UAE, and decided as a result to own real estate in the country. Because the ruling is also considerate of family stability and relations, it affords the owner’s wife and children the same residency privileges.”

The UAE government announced this week that visas for property owners who meet the government’s criteria will be issued from June 1.

The requirements are: the price of the property has to be AED1 million; the property has to be in the form of a house or an apartment, not empty land; homeowner should earn AED10,000 a month or its equivalent in foreign currency; and he or she has to be the sole owner of the house.

The homeowner also has to leave the UAE every six months, and pay AED2,000 to renew the visa.

Is a second wave of job cuts coming to Dubai?



Dubai is considering cancelling 27 projects, the head of its real estate regulator said on Monday, as the emirate's property market slumps in the global downturn.

A decision whether to cancel or not would be made by the end of the month, said Marwan bin Ghalita, the head of the Real Estate Regulatory Authority (RERA). "The decision has not been done. They are projects all over Dubai - third party projects (sub developers)," he said.

Earlier this year, Ghalita said he believed 25 percent of projects will be cancelled in Dubai as a result of the global economic slowdown.

"It's almost the same," he said when asked if that figure had changed. The Dubai Land Department and RERA set up a committee last week to cancel projects in the emirate that are not feasible.

Real estate prices tumbled 41 percent in the first three months of the year, property consultants Colliers said in a recent report.

A collapse in property prices has already led to project cancellations in the region worth billions of dollars.

More than half of the construction projects in the United Arab Emirates, worth $582 billion, have been put on hold, Dubai-based market research firm Proleads said in February.

Ghalita said on Monday the committee would cancel projects based on RERA's decision whether or not they should continue, a request from developers to cancel, or through complaints to the watchdog from project investors.

In February RERA said Dubai developers are likely to delay the delivery of about 20 percent of residential units in 2009 and 40 percent in 2010.

The Brothers swap seats

From Reuters and published on 12 May 09
The UAE replaced two deputy prime ministers on Monday in a reshuffle that did not affect the OPEC oil exporter's energy portfolio but promoted two influential members of Abu Dhabi's ruling family.Presidential Affairs Minister Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed al-Nahayan, the man behind Abu Dhabi's investments in Daimler and Barclays, and Interior Minister Saif bin Zayed al-Nahayan, were named deputy prime ministers, the official WAM new agency reported.

They replace Sheikh Sultan bin Zayed al-Nahayan and Sheikh Hamdan bin Zayed al-Nahayan, the agency said. All four are brothers of President Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed al-Nahayan."I think we are in for a re-energising of the cabinet," said Abdel-Khaleq Abdullah, an Emirati political scientist. "These positions have been there for so many years. Sheikh Sultan has been around for the last 30 years as deputy prime minister."

"But despite the fact there has been this change, the essentials are still there. The two new deputy prime ministers are from Abu Dhabi." Citing a decree by the president, WAM said Education Minister Hanif Hassan Ali and Health Minister Humaid al-Qattami swapped portfolios.

Sheikh Mansour is chairman of International Petroleum Investment Company, chairman of First Gulf Bank FGB.AD and a member of the Supreme Petroleum Council, Emirate of Abu Dhabi. He is also owner of Manchester City football club. (Sheikh Mansour's brother is Sheikh Issa, the maker of the now notorious torture tapes).

Monday, 11 May 2009

UAE created 660,000 jobs in just six months (??!!)

From Emirates Business 24/7 dated 7 May '09
The statements contained in this article give an opposite view to current perceived reality in Dubai. There are no facts given to show where and in which sector/s these jobs have been created.
The UAE economy has created in excess of 660,000 jobs in just six months and this shows the global financial turbulence has had little impact on the country's labour market, the Acting Director of the Ministry of Labour said yesterday.

Humaid bin Dimas said about 405,000 jobs had also been cancelled between October and March, far lower than the new jobs created in the same period.

"When we talk about the global crisis and whether if it has affected the labour market in the UAE and other GCC countries, I say yes because we are part of the global economy and Dubai and the UAE are part of the global system," Dimas told the Qatari Aljazeera satellite TV channel.

"This is natural that we are affected by this crisis but I can tell you the impact is limited... our figures show that more than 662,000 new jobs have been created in the UAE between October and March while around 405,000 jobs have been cancelled in the same period... this means there is an increase in jobs by an average 43,000 per month during this six-month period."

Dimas said the impact of the global crisis on the UAE job market was more psychological than physical, noting that many employers had frozen new recruitments although they have sufficient liquidity.

"This has not been confined to the UAE or the other Gulf states... it is a global practice in such conditions because of the psychological factor," he said.

"But let me ask this question: how can we talk about a real crisis in the UAE labour market at a time when it generated more than 662,000 new jobs?"

Dimas's figures showed there had been around 297,000 job cancellations in the six-month period before October 2008.

"This means we are talking about an average 50,000 job cancellations per month during that period compared with nearly 67,000 during the six-month period after October... this is not a big difference, so where is the crisis... I think this is natural because the UAE labour market is a market of 'job entry and job exit'."

According to a recent survey conducted by Emirates Business, the UAE has emerged as the largest job generator in the GCC, accounting for almost 50 per cent of the total new jobs.

The UAE is the second largest economy in the GCC and the Arab World after Saudi Arabia, with its gross domestic product peaking at Dh929.4 billion in 2008. It also has the second highest per capita income of Dh170,000 after Qatar.

Off plan buyers on the run

From Construction Week 10 May '09
Eighty percent of buyers attempted to ditch their sales contracts with a major developer when the financial crisis hit the region, the firm’s CEO has told Construction Week.

The figure gives some insight into the scale of the problems faced by developers since confidence in the real estate market began to evaporate last November.

MAG Group CEO Mohammed Nimer revealed that four out of five off-plan buyers notified the firm of their wish to default when it was announced that projects they had bought into had been postponed.

The developer accepted no more than 10% of a property’s value from its buyers before construction had begun on the project in question, Nimer assured CW.

“When we told our investors that the job had been postponed, 80% of the buyers contacted us in writing, quitting their intention to proceed,” Nimer said.“

(The main reason) was lack of finance. Or there were people who wanted to pay the first 10% and then sell to make a good premium.”

As a result, the firm has instigated a number of schemes to find a solution that benefits both parties, Nimer said.

They include the option to transfer the investment, at current market price, to a unit within a project that has broken ground. This option has been implemented despite the fact that prices at are now lower than they were in 2007, when sales on the now-postponed projects were launched.

Nimer said MAG Group is selling units today at 2004 prices, and has pledged to complete all of its projects that have broken ground.

Jones Lang Lasalle CEO Blair Hagkull underlined the importance of doing so. “For the long-term stability of Dubai and the region, it’s really important for those projects that have been started to be completed,” he said. Nimer also said that the group’s Dubai Marina project, MAG 218, would be complete by December despite suffering delays over the past 18 months due to material and staff shortages.

MAG Group has a property portfolio worth US $817 million (AED3 billion), with three “pipeline” projects yet to be launched. These include MAG 220 in City of Arabia, Dubailand, and MAG 230 on the Palm Jebel Ali.

Sunday, 10 May 2009

Sheikh Issa under house arrest

From ABC (US) 8 May '09
A member of the royal family in the United Arab Emirates, Sheikh Issa bin Zayed al Nahyan, has been "detained" in Abu Dhabi by authorities investigating a chilling videotape that shows him torturing an Afghan grain dealer, according to officials in Washington.

UAE officials told American diplomats the Sheikh was put under "house arrest" this week and prevented from leaving the country as the UAE Ministry of Justice conducts a criminal investigation of the incidents on the videotape, the officials said.

The 45-minute torture tape, first broadcast on ABC News Nightline two weeks ago, shows the Sheikh, the brother of the UAE crown prince, beating his victim with an electric cattle prod and a wooden plank with protruding nails. Men in police uniform are seen on the tape restraining the victim, who has sand shoved down his throat and is later repeatedly run over by a Mercedes Benz SUV driven by the Sheikh.

After first insisting the case was closed and settled privately, UAE authorities reversed course. Officials told that other individuals seen on the tape who worked for Sheikh Issa have also been detained in the investigation.

The detention of the Sheikh comes amid rising outrage in Congress and from human rights groups. The tape has been widely viewed internationally on since the original broadcast.

"I am encouraged by this news, but I'm not yet entirely satisfied," said Rep. James McGovern (D-MA), the chairman of the House Human Rights Commission.

McGovern plans to hold hearings on the UAE human rights record next week, as Congress considers approval of a U.S. plan to provide the gulf country with fuel for nuclear power plants.

"The UAE should demonstrate that their commitment to human rights and the rule of law goes beyond detaining Sheik Issa there should be a thorough, credible judicial proceeding," said McGovern.

Human rights groups maintain the videotaped incident is only the latest example of a regime that tolerates mistreatment of foreign guest workers.

"They need to address the fact that this case is not an isolated incident, but appears to be a broader pattern of police misconduct and impunity," said Sara Leah Whitson of Human Rights Watch.

The Sheikh's American lawyer, Daryl Bristow, of Houston, could not be reached for comment. He reportedly is en route to Abu Dhabi.

Out of the Pod: 10 May '09

Life's back to normal so its "Shuffle The iPod Day" and the first song for the week was a singalong number, "Falling in Love is so hard on the knees" by Aerosmith, haven't heard it for ages.

Tuesday, 5 May 2009

Home Sweet Home: Another twist

From, a quote from Brigadier Nasser Al Awadhi Al Minhali, Acting Director-General of the Naturalisation and Residency Department, during the press conference for the official announcement of the new visa:

"The multiple-entry visas may be renewed, but the investor must remain out of the UAE for at least one month. The maximum permitted stay at once is six months," he said.

So, a person pays for a property in full and is then allowed to stay for six months but during that time they're not allowed to work in the UAE. When the six months are up, the property owner has to go leave the UAE and live in another country for a month after which time they are permitted to return to the UAE for another 6 month period.....repeat ad nauseam. Does their family also have to leave the UAE for a month? How does this visa work for non-Emiratis who own multiple properties? One visa for all the properties with the owner having to leave the country only once at the end of every six months? Or will there be a separate visa for each property with the visa date set from the time of full payment of any mortgage on each separate property? What happens if a property drops in value below the set limit? As usual, more questions than answers.

The home owner visa: Starting date and the cost.

As you'll see below, a further government statement has been made regarding the new visa for expat property owners in the UAE. Of course, there's no information on where a purchaser applies for the visa, what paperwork is required (except "get the certificate of title from the local authority") or a helpful link to a government website in English/Arabic/Hindi which gives all the necessary information.

The cost of the new visa has been announced - AED2,000 for each 6 month visa. Assuming that cost is per person, a family of mum, dad and two kids and the maid will have to pay AED10,000 every 6 months when they do the visa run out of the country. Hmm, there's a thought. Can a person who holds this new category of visa sponsor their maid/driver ?

If you want/need to work in the UAE while living in your debt free property, you'll have to obtain the usual sponsorship visa through your employer. As nobody can have two visas, if you work this new multiple entry visa is not for you.

I've read about the advantages of forming a company in RAK and then registering a property in the name of the company but most ordinary people don't have the resources (financial or where-with-all) to do that. Company formation also doesn't address the primary requirement of the new visa and that is that the property concerned must be debt free.

Sorry, maybe I'm a bit slow (it has been remarked on in the past) but I just don't understand how this new visa is going to encourage a recovery in the UAE property market. If anything, it may have the reverse effect.

UAE officials said on Monday that multiple-entry visas for expat property owners meeting the eligibility criteria, will be issued from June 1.

The news follows Saturday's announcement, which marked a departure from the previous visa regime where regulations, in the absence of federal measures, were different in each emirate.To be eligible for a multiple-entry visa, which runs for six months, the property owner must first obtain the title of the property from the registration authority in the relevant emirate.

In addition, the property should be worth at least 1 million dirhams and the owner must earn at least 10,000 dirhams or foreign currency equivalent a month. The visa does not give the property owner the right to work inside the country.

Owners of empty plots of land will not benefit from the new rules, even if they can produce documents to support their ownership.

The visa will cost 2000 dirhams to renew every six months. Each time it expires the visa holder will have to leave, either to his home country or any other GCC state, before returning again to stay for a similar period of time.

While many are agreed the new rules will ease the confusion resulting from previously differing rules operating in the various emirates, the jury is still out on the likely impact of the new measures on the depressed domestic property market.

One argument says the duration of the visa is insufficient to encourage many would-be purchasers to take the plunge. Others have said that existing homeowners could fall afoul of the new rules in the event of job loss where no alternative income source is available.