NEWS FROM THE UAE
SOURCE : THE NATIONAL
ID card deadline for skilled expats
UAE - OCT 22: Half a million Emirati and expatriate professionals have only two months to obtain a national ID card or they will lose access to health care and other government-related services, the Emirates Identity Authority (EIDA) disclosed yesterday.
The card will contain face and fingerprint scans and personal information, including passport and driving licence details, address, residency status and qualifications. Registering for it costs Dh100 (US$27) for adults and Dh50 for children.
Between 300,000 and 400,000 expatriate professionals across the UAE, including doctors, lawyers, teachers and engineers, are required to register for their biometric identity card by Dec 31 – not within two years, as was previously announced. In another change, all children need an ID card, not just those above 15.
There are also 200,000 Emiratis, out of about 835,000, who have yet to register for the programme and must do so by Dec 31. From Jan 1 onward, any Emirati citizen or expatriate deemed to have a “white-collar” profession by the EIDA who does not have a card will be denied access to any business involving a government department. That means they will be unable to visit a doctor, register a mobile phone, open a bank account, enrol their child in school or buy or rent property.
Professional Emiratis began registering for the cards in January with their deadline to obtain one passing months ago. If they are not registered by Jan 1, they will face fines of up to Dh1,000. Expatriates will not face fines until 2010.
Expatriates have also been signing up for the cards for months now. But news that they only had two months – not two years – to obtain one came as a shock to some, who wondered why they were not given more notice.
“The concept is good, but that is an incredibly short amount of time to get people to register,” said Christopher Frost, an oil and gas technician from Australia.
“I had only heard this will be done in the future and was not expecting it to be so soon. And how are they going to issue identification cards to those who work on oil rigs and other off-shore facilities?”
Salama Taha, a school teacher and mother of five who is originally from Palestine, was worried about the cost of registering her family, and said she had thought the scheme only applied to Emiratis.
“I believe they have good reasons for implementing this, but where do I go and register?” she asked.
“If the deadline is January, it is too short notice to get my five children registered when I have to worry about work, schooling and holidays.”
The deadline was brought forward so that any problems with the system could be ironed out before the massive task of registering the estimated three million people designated as “blue collar” gets under way next year, said Thamer Rashed al Qasemi, the planning director of the project at EIDA.
Other than giving examples of professions that have been classified as white collar, Mr Qasemi could not explain how the categories have been defined. And although it has taken eight months to process more than 600,000 Emiratis and a small number of expatriates, he insisted the 28 EIDA centres were equipped to process half a million people in the next 10 weeks.
“Looking at the numbers that we have registered and our capabilities, we are able to register the categories we have called upon now,” he said. “In order for the ID card to be active and services activated, you need to have a good number of people registered. We are capable of handling this amount of people.”
Mr Qasemi also insisted that the scheme, which uses fingerprint and face recognition technology to prevent fraud, would not lead to personal information being lost, stolen, or shared improperly between different government agencies.
“We are not doing this to be Big Brother and monitor you; we are doing it for individuals to protect their identity. Nobody will be able to pretend to be you,” he said. “We are a civilian organisation. Privacy is a big issue and a lot of similar programmes have failed elsewhere because of problems with privacy. The issue is how to have information about you for national security without violating your privacy rights.”
In order to solve that issue, Mr Qasemi said that medical records, bank details and other sensitive information would not be held on the card itself. Instead banks, hospitals and other relevant authorities would need to confirm a person’s identity with a card to access databases and provide any services.
People requiring emergency medical attention will be cared for, whether they have an ID card or not, he said.
Some expatriates are uncomfortable with the entire concept.
“I would feel uncomfortable having all my information on one card,” said Sarah Hamdan, a sales manager from Britain. “I don’t really like the idea, but I live here, so what can I do?”
Information about the identity card, including how to make an appointment to register for one, is available at www.emiratesid.ae.<;br>
Maternity patients face long delays
ABU DHABI - OCT 22: Maternity services at the capital’s specialist hospital are struggling to cope with demand for antenatal care, staff and patients say, with heavily pregnant women often left waiting for hours to see a doctor.
A new complex computer system is leading to congested waiting rooms and frayed tempers at Corniche Hospital, as overworked staff struggle to keep up. In Dubai, meanwhile, hospital authorities admit waiting times for appointments are long and some women from outside the emirate are being turned away.
On some days at the Corniche hospital, there are more than 100 women in the waiting room. As appointment times slip, some are not seen for up to five hours.
A new computer booking system installed five months ago was to blame for the delays, said a senior member of the medical staff, who spoke on the condition of anonymity. “It is incredibly complicated. A new booking takes between 40 and 45 minutes on average to process, and I think I know the system pretty well.” The system put additional strain on a hospital already suffering from a lack of doctors, midwives and nurses, she said. Many run their shifts without taking breaks. “We’re running on dangerous levels of staff. They are very demoralised and very tired. We are working ourselves into the ground. I have people screaming at me most days.”
She said the problems had already caused some to leave their jobs and many of those left were considering following suit.
Everybody wants to give birth at the Corniche, she said. “We have a good reputation and the staff is very good. We are the best maternity hospital in Abu Dhabi.”
However the institution is under strain. “I can’t help the system – it’s not my fault. The staff take the brunt of it all,” she added.
The effect of the long, uncomfortable wait on the pregnant women concerned her. “Women have been fainting. It’s not healthy.”
A spokesman for the Abu Dhabi Health Services company (SEHA), said there were some “transitional issues that are impacting service levels and patient satisfaction”.
The hospital was in the middle of a management change, the introduction of a new insurance programme and the installation of a new health information system and centralised patient record system, the spokesman said.
“We recognise that service levels are currently unsatisfactory and we are working diligently to improve the situation. We expect significant improvements as these changes are absorbed and staff become familiar with new equipment and procedures. Creating world-class service requires significant change.”
Women in the waiting room said the waits were almost unbearable.
With more than 100 women crowding in, the hospital also quickly runs out of sundries such as food and drink, they said, adding that the plastic chairs are uncomfortable. After waiting for hours to see their doctor, the women then have to stand for up to an hour and a half to get their insurance paperwork processed.
“Hungry, tired, aching, and in discomfort for several hours is something I would equate to third world health care,” said the husband of one waiting woman. “For pregnant women in a wealthy country I reckon it’s unacceptable.
“My wife showed up at 12.30pm for a 12.50pm appointment and left the hospital after 5.30pm. This is a long time for her and hundreds of other heavily pregnant women to be kept waiting. The women are in varying degrees of discomfort, and some are apparently in pain.”
Last Thursday patients with 10am appointments were being seen after 2pm.
One of the nurses behind the desk told complaining women there was nothing she could do and that “most of the time, nowadays, it’s like this”.
“If you come at 8am you are fine but if you come at 8.30am then waiting three or four hours is normal,” said one expectant mother called Mona, who is expecting her third child. “This should not be. They know how many patients are on the day. If you don’t have the time, don’t make appointments for all these patients.”
Many had scheduled appointments around jobs, but the queues meant they were missing work.
Corniche hospital is the only specialised maternity hospital in Abu Dhabi and more than 15,000 babies are born there every year.
The long waits are causing many women to seek private antenatal services and only use the Corniche for giving birth.
People in Abu Dhabi do have other options.
Mafraq hospital, just outside Abu Dhabi, is a public hospital offering obstetric and gynaecological services.
Several private hospitals also cater for pregnant women. However queues also occur at these.
A nurse from Al Wasl Hospital, Dubai’s only public maternity facility, said it also had problems.
“Unless it’s an emergency, the wait is two to three hours,” said the nurse, who declined to be named.
Nada al Qassimi, the spokeswoman for the Dubai Health Authority, said women from the Northern Emirates often sought treatment in Dubai, but Al Wasl Hospital had been forced to turn people away because of the high demand for care.
It could not turn away Dubai residents, however, and many women had to wait instead, Mrs Qassimi said.
“We have only one hospital and there are a lot of services that we have to provide so we really have a long queue, but we try to cover it as much as we can.”
Bank lifting ATM limits after wave of frauds
ABU DHABI - OCT 22: A bank has begun lifting emergency limits it placed on customer account withdrawals after a wave of ATM fraud in the UAE.
Banks cancelled cards and urged people to change PIN numbers after a breach in security allowed overseas criminals to draw money from accounts and make purchases on cloned cards.
Many people were limited to amounts as small as Dh100 (US$27) a day.
HSBC said it had contacted customers about the initial frauds and limits, and its services were now returning to normal.
Jonathan Campbell James, the regional head of fraud and risk for HSBC, said: “We have introduced a special accelerated procedure for fully refunding affected UAE customers within 72 hours of registration, and are providing free replacement cards.”
However, one HSBC customer said he was still facing problems with his account.
Marc Peterson was told he would be refunded Dh9,900 lost through fraudulent transactions in the Ukraine within two days of discovery. However, he did not receive it for a further nine days – by which time he was overdrawn by Dh6,000.
“From the very start, this whole situation has been a disaster,” he said.
Two linked with Dubai jewel heist arrested
DUBAI - OCT 22: DNA evidence left at the scene of Dubai’s biggest-ever robbery last year has helped lead to the arrests in Europe of two more members of an international criminal gang as they were apparently planning another jewellery heist.
The two men from the Balkans are believed to belong to a gang known as the “Pink Panthers”, whose raid on a jewellery store in Wafi City last year netted goods worth millions of dirhams. It was one of a series of multimillion-dollar raids the gang has allegedly carried out in Dubai, Switzerland, Monaco and Liechtenstein.
The masked robbers made off with Dh14 million (US$3.8m) worth of jewels after crashing two cars through the doors of the mall and breaking into the Graff jewellery store on the evening of April 15, 2007. The robbery, which was captured on CCTV cameras, raised questions about the security of Dubai’s shopping centres.
Only one member of the Wafi City gang has so far been arrested, tried and sentenced – a 33-year-old Serbian businessman who was jailed for 10 years for his part in the coup. Another man was acquitted.
The latest arrests were made in Monaco last Wednesday when a policeman called to an innocuous traffic incident recognised a 27-year-old Serb and a 31-year-old Bosnian as suspects linked to a June 2007 jewel robbery in the Mediterranean principality. DNA discovered at that crime scene was found to match traces left at previous scenes, including Wafi City, which had been stored on Interpol’s global database.
A spokesman for the Dubai Police criminal investigation department said despite the gang’s attempts to destroy forensic evidence by burning the cars used in the Wafi City robbery, traces of DNA were found in the vehicles and at the scene. This was the key to tracking down the gang members after they fled the UAE, he said.
“Dubai Police have always co-operated with Interpol, and evidence provided by us helped close the net on the suspects responsible for breaking into Wafi City and robbing the jewellery store,” the spokesman said today.
“They attempted to burn the two cars they used in the robbery, but DNA evidence was still left behind.” Both the cars were stolen; one had a Dubai registration plate and the other was registered in Abu Dhabi, Lt Gen Dahi Khalfan Tamim, the head of the Dubai Police said at the time.
Christophe Haget, chief of investigations at the Monaco police force, said the latest arrests were only made possible by the “hard work of identification and analysis done at an international level”. But he added: “You could say we got lucky.”
According to police, one of the arrested men is a senior member of the gang who took part in the Dubai robbery. It is not yet clear whether the second gang member was directly involved.
The pair have been linked to at least seven robberies in Switzerland that netted US$2.4m (Dh8.8m) since 2005, and another in Liechtenstein in 2006. The gang is estimated to have cost jewellers around the world more than €110m million (Dh529m) in just under a decade.
The Dubai Police spokesman said he expected the pair to be tried in Switzerland or Liechtenstein on numerous charges of armed robbery. They are currently being held in Monaco for travelling on forged documents.
Many more members of the gang, which is thought to involve up to 200 people mainly from the former Yugoslavia, are still at large. Thirty are believed to be behind bars. Interpol set up a Pink Panther unit in July 2007 in response to the gang’s increasingly lucrative crime spree.
British police gave the gang its nickname after finding a blue diamond ring hidden in a jar of face cream, like the the Pink Panther gem in the 1963 film comedy of the same name starring Peter Sellers and David Niven.
According to Interpol, the gang carries out long-term surveillance of its targets, and adapts perfectly to the environment. In affluent areas members drive around in limousines, and in places such as Japan they ride bicycles and wear anti-smog masks.
Customers fume as bank blocks their ATM cards
ABU DHABI - OCT. 22: Some customers of the National Bank of Abu Dhabi were unable to withdraw cash from automated teller machines yesterday after the bank blocked their cards as a precaution against ongoing international fraud.
The bank began sending text messages to customers on Oct 10 telling them to change the personal identification numbers (PINs) for their Visa Electron and Cash Plus cards by Monday, or they would no longer work at ATMs from yesterday.
Some customers said they received no warnings.
“Some people got text messages about this, but I didn’t get anything,” said Denis McClan, whose card was blocked yesterday.
Mr McClan, who works at an air-cargo company in Abu Dhabi, said he had to interrupt his work to get his card activated at the bank.
“I’m really angry right now,” said Mr McClan, who learnt that his card had been blocked after his wife was unable to withdraw money from two ATMs yesterday. “I had to leave the office, I have a meeting in half an hour, and my wife needs money for shopping.”
“I mean, they could have sent me an e-mail or something. I’m really angry right now and I’m thinking of changing banks.”
Abu Baker al Sawi, an employee at a consulting company, said he was confused yesterday when was unable to withdraw enough money with his Cash Plus card to pay for airline tickets to Sudan, which he said cost Dh4,000 (US$1,100). “This is an inconvenience because I use this card a lot locally,” said Mr Sawi.
After speaking with employees in the bank branch on Muroor Road, he was able to withdraw the money.
“The cashier just gave me the cash,” said Mr Sawi.
“They didn’t say whether my card was blocked or any information about that.”
Banks are fighting a fraud that has been affecting UAE bank accounts for more than six weeks. Unauthorised people obtained PIN codes and other data, to make counterfeit ATM, debit and credit cards that were then used to make illegal transactions worldwide.
The fraud is thought to have affected all banks in the country. The Central Bank is investigating the situation. Some bankers have said that the fraud was probably the result of a security breach in a UAE-based bank.
An official at the National Bank of Abu Dhabi, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said customers whose cards had been blocked could change their PINs at ATMs. That would reactivate the cards.
Gems sets target of 300 schools
DUBAI - OCT 22: A year ago Mukund Patel was managing an £8 billion (Dh50bn) annual budget for the British government that funded the building of 500 new schools and extensions to 1,500 existing ones.
Today, as chief officer for educational infrastructure at Global Education Management Systems (Gems), his primary goal remains expansion. But this job, he said, is “fast-moving” and “much more exciting.”
His brief is to help Gems expand, and he said he would be disappointed if the Dubai-based group did not triple its tally of schools in the next few years.
Run by the entrepreneur Sunny Varkey, Gems owns and manages 75 schools worldwide. A third of them are in the UAE, with others in Kuwait, Jordan, Libya, India and England. The company also helps run 23 government schools in the GCC.
“If we don’t hit 300, I would perhaps feel we didn’t achieve what we set out to achieve,” said Mr Patel, 59, who joined Gems in March.
He finds the business environment in the Emirates much more dynamic than in London, where he worked in the Department for Children, Schools and Families (DCSF).
For one, the weight of planning regulations here is “far less” than in England, where a “huge regulatory burden” can delay projects by two years.
“In England, planning approvals take 16 weeks. Here, if it takes a few weeks, we start jumping up and down. We are comfortably able to do a school from scratch within two years. In England, if you get three years you would consider yourself lucky.”
However, unlike some – Thom Mayne, a prominent architect, recently said there was “no planning” in Dubai – Mr Patel said the rules are not lax.
“For our schools, we’re doing traffic impact studies,” he said. “We’re very keen our buildings are sustainable so we send the right message to the children about the importance of the environment.
“There’s a lot of awareness amongst the authorities that what’s going up must be thought through and is right for the context.”
Mr Patel was born in India, raised in Kenya and moved to England in his late teens. He began his career as a mechanical engineer and early on worked on heating, ventilation and alarms. Each year he would service the alarm system at the Tower of London, where many of Britain’s greatest treasures are kept.
“If anyone had kidnapped and tortured me, I would have been able to tell them how to rob the Crown Jewels,” he said.
Twenty-six years ago he joined what is now the DCSF as an engineer. He moved up the ranks until he was put in charge of the regulatory regime for school buildings, their funding and design. He remained in that job for a decade.
He enjoyed the job and had regular contact with government ministers. The one who impressed him most was David Miliband, a former schools minister who is now Britain’s foreign secretary.
“He was so engaged. He took interest in everything. He would stop in the corridor and say: ‘How is this going?’ He was friendly. I think he’s brilliant.”
There were downsides, though, including too much bureaucracy, too few pilot projects and a lack of innovation in school design. That, Mr Patel felt, resulted in excessive reliance on the traditional classroom model of a teacher at the front instructing a group of pupils.
“We should train pupils to become learners and build schools that personalise learning,” he said.
“That doesn’t mean pupils should be taught on a one-to-one basis, but it means people learn in different ways. Some learn by discussion, by talking with their friends.”
There should be more areas where pupils can just sit around together, making schools places “where pupils want to be”.
“Schools shouldn’t be somewhere you go to from nine to 3.30. They should be somewhere the whole community is proud of and the parents are an integrated part.”
Mr Patel said he is trying to use those ideas in the giddying number of new schools Gems is creating. Buildings are going up at seven sites in the UAE and there are schools planned or being built in India, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Qatar, South Africa and Singapore. That means Mr Patel has to consider the regulatory regimes and cultural preferences in several countries.
There are differences in how schools are designed in different nations, he said.
“In India, we wouldn’t dream of having a school without a cricket pitch, but in the UAE you can get away with it,” he said with a smile.