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Excerpts from UAE Dailies

Expats fall victim to rate-fixing by Money Exchange Firms

Dubai - 10 Sept.: Expatriates using quick-cash remittance services are reportedly being taken for a ride by some money exchange houses, which allegedly offer them manipulated exchange rates, Emirates Today has learnt.

Expatriate workers from India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, the Philippines and Sri Lanka who remit millions of dirhams every month are apparently deprived of thousands of dirhams in this manner, without their knowledge, industry sources revealed.

It is believed that a great amount is misappropriated from illiterate labourers who earn between Dh500 and Dh800 a month.

“I go to an exchange house in Bur Dubai to remit money for my family. Every time I have noticed that its exchange rate is about 50 fils to 75 fils higher than the rate offered by other exchange houses in the area. There are many illiterate customers who are not aware of the exchange rate mechanism,” said a regular customer who wished to remain anonymous.

“In some cases, different customers are offered different rates on the same day.Two quick-money remittance serv ices offered from the same company have considerably different rates,” he added.

The manipulation is common on the draft rate and instant or speed money transfer schemes. Instant money schemes involve service charges of Dh15 and Dh25.

Money exchange industry sources admitted some exchange houses do manipulate the rates and the practice is rampant on Fridays or public holidays when a large number of illiterate customers, mainly workers, use the facility.

“On Fridays, the exchange rate displayed on the screen is manipulated more because employees believe no officials will inspect their outlets. I think the authorities should inspect these money exchange houses on Fridays and Saturdays,” a source said.

Money exchange companies employ agents to visit the sites of construction companies and labour camps.

“We go to labour camps to help workers remit money to their families. Most of them don’t know anything about exchange rates,” one agent told Emirates Today. “Illegal hawala operators are luring these workers by offering better rates than those offered by the money exchange houses,” he claimed.

A random survey of exchange rates displayed by various exchange houses in the city yesterday revealed that rates do differ by 50 fils.

The manager of one exchange house said: “On Saturday afternoon, a new exchange centre in Bur Dubai is selling an Indian rupee draft of 1,000 for Dh79.50, another exchange house in the same area offers the same draft for Dh79.93 – a difference of 43 fils. An average worker who sends at least Rs8,000 a month would be losing more than Dh3 on exchange rate manip ulation. In addition, he pays an additional service charge to the company.

“We decide the exchange rate on the basis of Indian currency market rate and London Inter Bank Offered Rate. These market rates keep fluctuating,” he added.

A Dubai-based financial expert said: “Exchange rates differ slightly from one bank to another or one exchange house to another. However, these differences are minor. If there is considerable difference, customers can go to another exchange.”


Hefty charges keep patients away from govt, pvt hospitals

DUBAI — 10 Sept. :Over the past few years, the common man in the UAE has witnessed a sudden surge in healthcare charges.

Already struggling to make ends meet as the cost of living escalates by the day, people now are just short of crying out aloud that the health sector in the country has become a lucrative commercial business.

The government’s decision to change the healthcare fee structure in 2003 came as a shock to many expatriates who had earlier been enjoying ‘free’ hospital visits, even to the extent of inviting their relatives from their home countries to enjoy quality and affordable medical care in the UAE.

On the other hand, private health businesses bloomed with the sudden surge of a huge expatriate population preferring private to government medical facilities since the costs incurred were similar.

During an earlier interview with Khaleej Times, Shaikh Majid Al Qassimi, managing director of Al Zahra Hospital, while referring to the government’s implementation of the new fee structure in 2003, said “since the government increased the fees for its healthcare sector, the private healthcare businesses hiked their costs by about 150 per cent”.

“Healthcare in the UAE has definitely become a ‘lucrative’ business since healthcare costs have increased dramatically over the years,” said P Raman, a resident of Sharjah.

“There is no relief in sight because the government and private hospitals both charge the same amount. There is no option but to depend on what is being offered. Either this, or spend on travelling back home which is unsatisfactory and expensive in some cases as well,” he opined.

“I have seen people get disappointed and never return for their follow-up visits since the government increased the healthcare fee. Only visits to  the emergency section are free and that too if the patient has a valid health card,” said a doctor working for a local government, on the condition of anonymity.

“If people think that their illness could take a back seat for a while, they never turn up again at the hospital. People are afraid of a huge medical bill that they may have to cough up. They do not have that kind of money anymore,” she added.

“We can only sympathise with them because, we too, despite being health professionals are not entitled to discounts,” she added.

According to a 2006 World Health Statistics report, in 2003, the out-of-pocket private expenditure on health was a staggering 70.40 per cent.

Out-of-pocket spending is the direct outlay of households including gratuities and payments in-kind made to health practitioners and suppliers of pharmaceuticals, therapeutic appliances, and other goods and services whose primary intent is to contribute to the restoration or to the enhancement of the health status of individuals or population groups.

It also includes household payments to public services, non-profit institutions or non-governmental organisations, excludes payments made by enterprises which deliver medical and paramedical benefits, mandated by law or not, to their employees.

The government’s total expenditure on health as percentage of gross domestic product, 2003 stood at 3.3 per cent.

The private sector, on the other hand, have a free hand to charge as much as they wish.

“We have to trust them because they are the experts. If they say that a person needs a particular treatment to survive, then we are ready to pay up whatever they demand even if it means taking loans,” said Fazeel Khan, who recently paid Dh50,000 as Intensive Care Unit charges for a loved one in a private hospital.

“I have no health insurance, all I have done is taken a loan and used up my credit cards. Saving the life was more important. I have no idea how I will clear my loans,” he added.

As part of the government’s plan, in 2003, the Department of Health and Medical Services (Dohms) introduced a new fee list for gynaecological and maternity services.

“Even then it was a shock to the expat community as all the government announcements were very sudden. Till that time, I have never given preference to a government hospital because I have to pay for myself, therefore, it does not make any difference if I pay to a private hospital or a government one. Both charge the same amount more or less,” says Shanti Sudhir, a housewife.

Pregnant women have to pay Dh2,500 as registration fee, other than the payment schedule for the delivery itself. The fees for the Health Care Programme for Natural Delivery is Dh2,000 for a sharing room and Dh3,000 for a private room. The charges for a caesarian section are much higher. Private hospitals are charging the same amounts, and in return are offering better ‘packages.’

A conclusion of the WHO report published in the East Mediterranean Health Journal, which was based on the views of arguments and points in favour of the current health care system, states: “Why is it that the perception of people remains that the health care system is not as good as it should be, that the quality of care in its facilities leaves much to be desired and that it needs a major overhaul? Why is it that patients prefer to be treated abroad, despite the difficulties associated with treatment abroad? Why is it that patients seek the private health care sector of the UAE in increasing numbers?”

The report has been an attempt to provide the reader with an overview of the main health care indicators in the UAE. The somewhat unusual demographic situation has been described, the mortality indicators have been reviewed and the utilization indicators of hospitals, health centres, health facilities and programmes analysed.


Bank customers still a target of criminals

SHARJAH — 10 Sept: Despite the awareness campaign launched recently by Sharjah Police warning the public to be cautious after visiting a bank, crimes such as theft, mugging of bank customers by unidentified people continue to be reported around some banks in Sharjah.

Sharjah Police hoped they had curbed the phenomena following the recent arrest of a gang of three Asian members involved in a series of robberies of bank customers during the past four months.

However, two more cases took place after the Asian gang was busted, indicating that the police still needs to take stringent measures to combat such phenomena.

The two cases reported recently include a robbery of a Dutch resident who had Dh40,200 stolen from his vehicle immediately after he had withdrawn cash from the bank located on King Faisal Road.

Another victim of the crime was an Asian woman who had Dh10,000 stolen from her car while she stepped away from her car briefly to talk to a friend after placing the packet of money inside the vehicle.

The police said that they are currently investigating the two cases, hoping they can arrest the criminals and return the money to return to its legal owners.

Naeema Khamees Al Nahi, a UAE national working at the Al Qasimi Hospital, disclosed she was one of the ATM card theft victims.

“I had kept my ATM card in a wallet along with my mobile phone in which I had saved my PIN number when a thief at a shopping centre picked my purse and withdrew around Dh7,000,” Al Nahi said.

Commenting on the campaign launched by Sharjah Police to warn bank clients to be alert and careful after leaving banks with cash, Brigadier Sultan Al Nuaimi, Acting Director of the Criminal Research centre at Sharjah Police, told Khaleej Times that the number of cases involving robberies of bank customers, in addition to thefts at ATMs and credit cards had increased due to the negligence of customers themselves.

Brig. Al Nuaimi said that the money withdrawn by thieves from bank accounts of customers’ ATMs and credits cards reached around Dh200,000. The robberies of bank customers are reportedly carried out by gangs following customers till they leave their money in the car and then break into the vehicle. Most of the offenders who commit such robberies and are arrested by the police hailed from Asian, African and Latin American countries after entering the country on visit visa.

He said Sharjah Police are very concerned about these crimes. As a result, the department decided to organise this campaign to educate bank costumers to protect their money and prevent themselves from being robbed.

The police organised such a campaign to provide tips for money safety and protection to bank clients after they leave the bank. 

The customers were warned by the police not to put money in an uncovered places inside the vehicle and leave it for any reason.

The police distributed campaign leaflets to the customers of all banks in Sharjah to follow safety instruction.

He stressed that the negligence of the customer is one of the reasons for the increase in such kind of thefts. Most of the customers leave their cash inside the cars, while some leave their pin numbers along with ATM cards in the vehicle or at ATM machines, and sometimes even allow others to see their pin number. As far as the police efforts are concerned, Al Nuaimi said that the police had succeeded in arresting many of them. But some cases need further investigations. However, the police is responding to all complaints lodged by the public regarding thefts and robberies, he said.

Suhail Abu Hijla, Director of Bank Operations at the Sharjah Islamic Bank said that there were no cases of such robberies reported by his bank customers.

“However, I am aware that such cases were reported in some banks in Sharjah.”

He pointed out that the bank had contracted with security companies to refill money in ATM machines, and at the same time to inspect the machines regularly to ensure that its CCTV cameras placed at ATM machines are functioning properly.


Maternity service units told to shape up or shut down 

Dubai: 10 Sept: Health authorities are cracking the whip on hospitals with maternity services to ensure that they improve their current level of care for newborns by the end of this month or risk a shutdown of the unit.

A statement from the Department of Health and Medical Services (Dohms) said the hospitals have three months to apply the approved standards, which include improving the equipment, training and staffing of the neonatal unit.

"Otherwise, Dohms will withdraw maternity services at such hospitals until they comply with the approved standards," it said, adding that the newborn, or neonatal, care units of some hospitals are sub-standard.

An official at Dohms said some private hospitals were taking cases that they were not equipped to handle due to the lack of neonatal care standards.

"Our hospitals are overloaded with transfer cases. We need the private sector to improve and provide the necessary services," he said.

According to the new guidelines, hospitals are required to provide up to three levels of special care for newborns to correspond to the level of difficult pregnancies and deliveries the hospital can handle.

The first level, or special care, involves necessary and basic services as well as the facilities to transfer the newborn to a specialised hospital, equipped to handle the case.

The second level, or high dependency, deals with cases that require mechanical ventilation and incubators for babies weighing more than 2kg at birth, born after 34 weeks of gestation.

The third level, or intensive care, requires hospitals to have a Neonatal Intensive Care Unit which can handle very complicated cases, including babies which are extremely premature and have extremely low birth weight.

The new guidelines affect seven private hospitals in Dubai that provide maternity and neonatal services.

Dr Ahmad Bakr, head of the neonatal unit at Welcare Hospital, said the hospital was equipped to deal with Level 2 cases as well as borderline cases, such as babies who are slightly below 2kg and born at 33 weeks.

"We are meeting the standards and providing even better service," he said.

However, this did not mean that the hospital was applying for a Level 3 specification.

"We're not going for Level 3 because that means we will have to accept babies born at 25 weeks," he said.

Dr Devjit Sharma, registrar at Belhoul Specialty Hospital, said the NRP training requirement had the biggest impact on the staff.

"All our staff are already trained in the Neonatal Advanced Life Support, but Dohms wants them to be certified in Neonatal Resuscitation Programme," he said. "It will done in time."


Agent dupes 22 professionals 
Dubai: 10 Sept:
Twenty-two Indian professionals who claimed they were left in dire straits by their agent have urged their consulate to either help them get jobs or send them back home.

The men came to the UAE after paying a significant amount to their agent who brought them here two months ago with promises of finding them employment according to their qualifications. The agent, according to consulate sources is currently serving a sentence after cheques issued by him bounced. The workers are presently housed in a small room that was used by the agent as his office in Deira.

"We have not come here to sit idle and have food. We are here to work and we need a job," said Shahnawaz, one of the stranded men.

"I want to go home. I am not interested in a job anymore. My wife and children are worried and want me back," said a teary eyed Rajan.

"I would be glad if the consulate helped me get back a part of the money that I paid to the agent," he said.

Among the men are qualified graphic designers, accountants, electricians, plumbers, mobile phone technicians and tailors.

"A couple of consulate officials had visited us. But so far there has been no improvement in our state of affairs," said Kannan.

The consulate has arranged food and water for them from a nearby hotel and promised to arrange for their repatriation. K. Kumar, convener of the Indian Community Welfare Committee, yesterday told Gulf News that he had spoken to the hotel owner and the supply of food will not be stopped.


Crackdown on bogus companies 

Dubai: 10 Sept: The Ministry of Labour is cracking down on 'paper establishments' that were set up earlier, and is working on preventing such companies from being set up again.

"We are working on cleaning up problems from bogus companies," said Dr Ali Bin Abdullah Al Ka'abi, Minister of Labour, adding that the companies being dealt with were not set up recently.

'Paper establishments' are those companies that are not operational and often engage in selling work permits. Such companies charge large sums of money to provide work permits to expatriates wishing to work in the UAE.

Many workers purchasing labour permits from such companies stay in the country illegally following the expiry of their permits. Since their stay is illegal, they are forced to survive with low salaries and cannot claim rights or compensation if injured.

In an effort to crack down on bogus establishments, the investigation unit at the ministry visits company sites to conduct inspections. If offices are found to be closed and employees not present, inspectors revisit the sites several times and call on the registered owner before designating them as 'bogus establishments.'

According to Dr Al Ka'abi, the Ministry of Interior will no longer re-register companies in their databases unless they are approved by the Ministry of Labour.

"We want people to understand that there is no point in opening bogus establishments since the Ministry of Interior will no longer register companies unless they can prove that their applications at the Ministry of Labour have been completed," said Dr Al Ka'abi.



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