NEWS FROM THE UAE
SOURCE : THE NATIONAL
Sponsors left holding expatriates’ bills
ABU DHABI - JAN 19: Expatriates who flee the UAE leaving a pile of debt are making the companies who sponsor them pay it, warns the man who tracks down debtors all over the world.
Ibrahim al Sukhi, the general manager of Credit Rating and Collection, said that without more strict regulations to prevent people absconding, the debt would become the responsibility of the company who guaranteed the loan, the debtor’s sponsor.
“The worst case is what happens when there is no company to take this accountability,” Mr al Sukhi said. “When companies start going bankrupt the bank will be left with nobody to chase for their money.”
Last week, Dubai Police revealed that an alarming number of cars bought on finance were being dumped at airports.
Mr al Sukhi said much tougher restrictions were needed on credit.
“The number of people fleeing the country will only rise,” he said. “The people you see leaving here now are the single people, the bachelors, but just wait. When June or July comes and the school finishes, there will be many more leaving.
“Many families have already paid for their full school year’s fees and ... will not uproot the children if they can help it, but there will be another large wave of people leaving come the summer.”
Unless measures to prevent people fleeing were implemented and harsher punishments enforced, the country will begin to suffer, Mr al Sukhi said, adding that the UAE needs more education on financial matters.
“We are doing a lot of marketing on this now, trying to educate people on managing their finances and learning the value of saving,” he said.
“Many people are leaving the country and, in turn, leaving their debts and cars behind. Unless we have the power to be involved, this will just worsen.”
Mr al Sukhi said his company, which is a subsidiary of Al Qudra Holdings, is busy but not as busy as he expected it to become.
It has links with 155 countries around the world and works with the American Collection Association to track down debtors. More than ever, he said, he needed to use his international connections.
The average debt he chases is about Dh70,000 (US$19,055) to Dh100,000 and it can take between three months and a year before a debtor is tracked down, depending on the country they have fled to.
After a year, if the case is unresolved, legal action is taken. Cases of debt within the UAE are usually completed within 45 days.
“It is very simple,” said Mr al Sukhi. “We first receive the request to collect and then make a file. We then do the relevant checks, trace the individual and then, within two weeks, arrange to meet the debtor to reach an agreement with them.
“Usually we reach an agreement between them and the creditors to reschedule the repayments. If after 45 days there has been no contact, we take legal action but that isn’t very common.”
Some debtors in the UAE just did not want to pay, Mr al Sukhi said, while others did not wish to pay on time. “The history of loans is not long here, so people aren’t always aware of the realities of repayment.”
He added that recently individuals in financial problems had been coming to him for help, mostly those who now could not afford the properties they have bought.
Much of the blame lay with the banks, whose checks on clients’ backgrounds and their credibility were not thorough enough, Mr al Sukhi said.
Painkiller abuse prompts concern
ABU DHABI - JAN 19: Health officials are concerned that prescription-drug abuse may be increasing in the capital and that addicts have little trouble getting their hands on painkillers and other kinds of pills.
Doctors at the National Rehabilitation Centre said that since November they had seen more patients addicted to pills than before, although they could not give exact figures.
“Recently, there have been more cases of addiction to prescription medication such as painkillers,” said Dr Ahmed Ali, the centre’s consultant psychiatrist and medical director.
Dr Ali said there could be many reasons for an increase in prescription-drug abuse.
One is that when addicts cannot find their drug of choice on the street, they might seek more readily available alternatives. Heroin users, for example, sometimes start using painkillers or opioids, such as morphine.
They also sometimes take medicines containing codeine, which is commonly used in the West in cold and influenza remedies but is illegal in the UAE, and anticholinergics such as Artane, which is prescribed to counteract the effects of some antipsychotic drugs.
Users might also turn to prescription drugs because they could be sent to jail for many years for using illegal drugs, Dr Ali said. “Patients who use opioids can easily abuse them. It is risky, which is why these drugs are controlled and prescribed for very painful conditions, like chronic pain or in an emergency operation.”
“Responsible doctors do not give lots of these pills out.”
He added that there had been more “relaxed attitudes” to prescribing medication in the past, but said health authorities had done much in recent years to curb the practice.
While acknowledging that doctors were still a “major source” of pills on the street, he said he believed dealers get most of their supply from smugglers.
He also warned against “scaremongering” and stressed that medical professionals should not be afraid to prescribe medication.
“The problem is an underworld of smuggling that is making the drugs more available,” he said. “The important thing is to spread information to make it more difficult to get large quantities into the country.”
The Health Authority-Abu Dhabi (HAAD) said it had seen evidence that one drug in particular, the painkiller Tramadol, was being abused.
“It was noticed by HAAD the increase in Tramadol prescriptions in the private sector and sometimes from psychiatric practices where Tramadol does not fall under their scope,” said Dr Mohammed Abuelkhair, the authority’s adviser on drugs and medical products.
“Recently there has been an increase in practice and incidents in major hospitals of morphine diversion,” he said.
“Based on the investigation, some cases are referred to police for criminal charges.”
HAAD said it regularly sends inspectors into chemists to examine their books, especially their records on sales of drugs that can be abused.
“The prescriptions suspected to be fake are investigated thoroughly and direct communications with the anti-narcotic force department in the Ministry of Interior is undertaken,” Dr Abuelkhair said.
The authority also randomly carries out “prescription trending” of specific physician practices, looking for any patterns of unusual numbers of prescriptions issued for medicines such as Tramadol.
Capt Yaqoub al Hamadi, the head of Abu Dhabi Police’s awareness and follow-up care department, said he could not comment on whether police were seeing more cases of prescription-drug abuse.
He acknowledged however that such drugs were available on the streets despite tight controls on chemists and hospitals.
A long-time addict being treated at the rehabilitation centre who identified himself as Mohammed, 33, from Sharjah, said he had little trouble obtaining prescription painkillers from dealers.
He said he initially became addicted to heroin 15 years ago, but started using a variety of drugs, including Tramadol, which is also known as Tramal, about a decade ago.
“You can get them from a small hospital, no problem,” he said. “Also on the street, it’s not hard. When there is less heroin available, people turn to other drugs.”
Mohammed said his battle with addiction began at the age of 18, when he and a friend bought what he described as psychiatric medication because they were “curious”.
Soon he was experimenting with a variety of drugs and five years later he was using heroin or prescription drugs regularly.
Even his first stint in jail and his family’s attempts to get him to stop could not persuade him to seek help.
Now, Mohammed is working to regain control of his life, but is worried about leaving the centre.
“I am afraid when I leave here, maybe I will be weak. I only want to be around people who care about me and support me,” he said.
Dubai Police to double number of speed traps
DUBAI - JAN 19: Dubai Police have installed more than 160 cameras on top of patrol cars and are to double the number of radars on city roads to 1,000 by the end of the year, they announced yesterday.
Police said the new radars would mean there is a camera or radar for every 1km to 1.5km of Dubai roads.
The police cars have been fitted with radio-controlled cameras installed on the roof that can be remotely controlled by the operations department, or by officers with hand-held devices. The cameras have night vision.
“Operators at the operations department can zoom in and out, rotate 360 degrees and conduct a live search on the database of the car’s number plate,” said Capt Ali Mohammed Belrashid, of the Dubai Traffic Department.
“The system will allow us to conduct investigations and issue fines or warning within eight hours, compared with the old system that took 24 hours.”
Video from the cameras would be sent by a wireless signal and be stored on servers at Dubai Police. The system, designed by US-based Cisco Technologies to Dubai Police specifications, will use the latest in wireless technology and be used alongside closed-circuit TV networks.
“Along with the speed guns, the new cameras can also find out how fast the motorist was going,” Mr Belrashid said.
Adil Saleh Mohammed, a police operations department officer who was at the Intersec Trade Exhibition yesterday, said the new radars would provide complete coverage.
“We will have radars on traffic lights, motorways and hard shoulders, and all of the roads in Dubai will be covered by the end of 2009, so there will be no point in driving above the speed limit at any point,” Mr Mohammed said.
Hundreds of new fixed cameras are now being installed on Dubai’s Sheikh Zayed Road, from Jebel Ali to Airport Road, to catch traffic violators.
The newest cameras are being installed at traffic signals and on motorways. Once complete, they will more than double the 232 cameras now at traffic lights and on some highways.