“A true leader thinks of his people as members of his own family. He cares for them and looks after them at all times.” This quote by the UAE's Founding Father, the late Sheikh Zayed, reflects a unique philosophy that adds a further dimension to the concept of leadership as commonly defined in the social sciences. The quote also reflects a special relationship between this country's rulers and its Emirati citizens. Examples of this humanitarian approach can be seen in the initiatives taken in recent years by the UAE’s wise leadership that have aimed to serve Emirati citizens, particularly the initiatives that relieve them of financial and social burdens.
My columns have often focused on the initiatives taken by the UAE’s wise leadership and the ways they have made history in the region. However, this article cannot cover the entirety of initiatives that have reflected the humanitarian attitude of our leaders in addressing the concerns and ambitions of Emirati citizens. Therefore, I will content myself with mentioning certain significant initiatives—primarily the one taken by Sheikh Khalifa, the President, to establish the Dh10 billion Debts Settlement Fund to assess and resolve UAE citizens’ unsettled loans.
The fund aims to settle personal loans in co-ordination with the UAE Central Bank and other creditor banks in the country, once again reflecting the compassion that the wise leadership shows its citizens. They sensed the difficulties that their people were facing and moved to urgently address these issues. They took into consideration the persistence of these problems, while revealing a keen desire to solve them to lessen the hardships of citizens, especially the psychological suffering that unsettled loans and debts can cause.
The Debts Settlement Fund is divided into two levels. On the first level, it addresses citizens with limited income who face difficulties in settling loans of up to Dh1 million. On the second level, it addresses debts of up to Dh5 million, for citizens who are either in custody, with pending investigations, or who have already been convicted. The fact that the focus is on those who are convicted of loan defaults as well as those who are in custody underscores the profound humanitarian dimensions of this initiative. This is a noble gesture that truly confirms the constant willingness of our wise leadership to ensure family and social stability for citizens, inspiring them with hope and encouraging them to effectively engage in the national development agenda. The President’s initiative to settle the debts of citizens with limited income is a manifestation of a deep understanding of the negative effects of this problem at the social, economic, and demographic levels, affecting both the family and social life of Emiratis.
The prompt action to deal with this issue and limit any ensuing negative effects certainly has produced significant results. First, on a social level, the fund helps ensure stability for families by bringing their members together, paving the way for them towards new horizons and liberating them from the burden of debt. This humanitarian initiative also takes into account the reasons behind the citizens’ failure to pay their debts, which are mainly related to ignorance about bank loan regulations and/or failure to successfully manage investments for reasons beyond their control. Thus, the fund provides them with a new chance to reintegrate into society, resume their careers and reconnect with their families.
Second, the initiative helps instil a culture of saving and ensures that all citizens, not just the ones in debt, are made aware of the risks of excessive borrowing as well as the importance of maintaining a balance between spending and income levels. This has helped disengage citizens from the culture of consumerism, which in most cases is the reason they fail to settle their debts in due time, thereby reducing the demand for unnecessary loans. Third, on an economic level, the fund helps the banking sector in the country by providing them money to settle dubious and bad debts, thus consolidating the banks’ available liquidity. This creates a healthy banking environment, which subsequently serves the interests of the national economy by providing greater funding for development projects and advancing the UAE’s economic agenda in the forthcoming period.
The Debts Settlement Fund is just one example of how the wise leadership actively helps citizens overcome their problems and concerns. Another initiative is the Khalifa Fund for Emiratisation Empowerment, which was launched in 2011 to provide financial resources to enhance programs and policies that encourage Emirati citizens to join the labour market, especially in the private sector. In addition, there is the Absher Initiative, launched in 2012 with a five-year timeline of implementation, which integrated 20,000 Emirati citizens into both the Government and private sectors. This initiative was described by Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, Vice President and Ruler of Dubai, as “a distinguished and great initiative that aims to serve national cadres”.
At the social level, the President issued a decree in 2011 granting citizenship to children of Emirati mothers married to foreigners, as well as an initiative to integrate children born overseas to Emirati fathers and foreign mothers into the Emirati society. Indeed, the wise leadership, under the guidance of the President, has numerous activities that address the needs of UAE nationals overseas, such as sending private planes to retrieve Emiratis with health conditions. Moreover, the wise leadership has adopted numerous policies to encourage various sectors including education, health care, employment and others to entrench social security among citizens. This is a vital component of the empowerment phase launched by the President, which aims in its essence to serve, develop, and support UAE nationals, while providing them with a decent standard of living at all levels, ensuring social and economic stability.
The wise leadership’s initiatives help UAE nationals to actively contribute to the development and progress of the country at all levels. The initiatives distinguish the UAE as a model of good governance and wise leadership, which upholds the interests of the citizens, the country’s most important asset. Referring to the wise leadership as compassionate and humanitarian did not come out of the blue; it is based on a long record of initiatives and activities that revolve around honoring the people and ensuring their happiness, whether they are inside or outside the country. This approach traces back to the late Sheikh Zayed, who instilled humanitarianism in UAE domestic and foreign policies. This has made the country a model of compassion and generosity, extending beyond geographical, cultural, racial and religious boundaries to reach out to the needy and contribute to the development, stability and peace of the world.