Monday, April 23, 2007

Sheikh Mo My Hero

I've been neglecting local news recently. INWP. So what's been happening? Continuing carnage on the roads. Ram-raid jewel heist. Lots of buildings going up in smoke. The public beach beside Jumeirah Beach Hotel being closed and then re-opened at the behest of Sheikh Mo.

But the best thing to happen recently was Sheikh Mo presenting the UAE Strategic Plan for the next five years and absolutely pasting the Ministries of Education, Justice and Labour. I've had personal dealings with all these Ministries and every word that Sheikh Mo said about them is true: they are hindering the development of the UAE rather than helping it and they need a wholesale re-evaluation of what their roles should be and how they should go about doing them.

The Ministry of Education puts parents through hell if they are insolent enough to want to transfer their child from one school to another. Their current plan is to unify school term, examination and holiday dates. Well, in the government schools, yes, you can do that. But they also want to do it to private schools. These private schools follow the curricula of many countries: British, Indian, French, Japanese, whatever. They must conduct exams on the same dates as in the host countries. Therefore the preparation for those exams is scheduled so that students are ready to take them at the right time. Exactly how and why the MinEd thinks these exam dates can be changed to suit their whims is utterly beyond me.

Justice. Well, there's a lot I could tell you, but I won't. However I did bump into an acquaintance of mine a few days ago. 'Haven't seen you for a while, you been away?'. 'Yes,' he says, 'been in jail.' Now, in the real world, you'd be shocked to hear these words and you'd back away and probably not want to have anything to do with the convict. But here it is not at all unusual: farting in lifts, being drunk, gesturing rudely, swearing, can all get you a month's holiday. And apparently half the people in jail in Dubai are there for debt / bounced cheques: as the Chief of Police said - the real criminals in these cases are the banks.

In my friend's case, he was incarcerated because two labourers decided to commit suicide by running out in front of his car on Sheikh Zayed Road. He was doing somewhat less than the speed limit, and he never drinks alcohol. By some amazing twisted logic, he was deemed to be at fault. But, small consolation to him, the law was changed after his case. Anyone killed or injured while trying to cross a motorway now has only themself to blame.

The Justice system in the UAE is desperately in need of a fundamental review. Judges are not well-trained, they are often on limited-term contracts and they are not independent. The civil laws are written ambiguously and are open to misinterpretation (I'm not even going talk about Shari'a!). Judicial procedures are opaque and you really need to think twice before suing anyone - it's entirely possible that you could end up being the one in the wrong. Interestingly, Sheikh Mo mentioned that there should be an official English translation of the laws.

As for the Ministry of Labour - Sheikh Mo was criticising their approach to getting Emiratis into work. I would also say that the sooner we get rid of the sponsorship system and allow free movement of labour, the healthier the economy will be. But that's another post.

So, it's great to see Sheikh Mohammed tackle these issues, and on a Federal level as Prime Minister. Having lived here for more than a dozen years, if I've learned one thing, it's this: if Sheikh Mo wants it to happen, it will happen. And quickly.

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