At the time of writing we are approaching the end of the Holy Month of Ramadan in the Middle East and will be shortly moving into the holiday period of Eid al-Fitr. As many will know Ramadan is the ninth month of the Islamic calendar, and is observed by Muslims worldwide as a month of fasting (Sawm) to commemorate the first revelation of the Quran to Muhammad according to Islamic belief. This annual observance is regarded as one of the Five Pillars of Islam. The month lasts 29–30 days based on the visual sightings of the crescent moon, according to numerous biographical accounts compiled in the hadiths. For everyone working and living in the region Ramadan provides the opportunity for a period of reflection, contemplation and looking forward.
In our last update the March 2018 examinations were taking place and we will again be running an examination center in Dubai to support the October examinations. Two additional examinations have been added to the list offered in October, namely;
- The Level 4 Fire Service Operations and Incident Command examination has been introduced following requests from examination centres.
- The Level 3 Certificate in Passive Fire Protection examination is being offered for the first time. Information on this new qualification which was introduced in April 2018 is available at: https://www.ife.org.uk/IFE-Qualifications-with-Syllabus-Links.
We have made positive progress with the Branch bank account since the last update, albeit this has been a slow and frustrating process, and we have now successfully amended the account signatories and a key focus will now be on obtaining local sponsorship to allow the branch to grow in line with our business plan.
International General Assembly (IGA)
The branch is now regularly participating in the International General Assembly (IGA) and it would be a good opportunity to highlight the purpose and good work being done by the IGA. The IGA met at the Stratford Hotel, Stratford-upon-Avon on the 19-20th March 2018. Along with representation from several of the UK Branches there was a very good turnout from the International Branches including, Hong Kong, New Zealand, Australia, GCC UAE, and the USA along with Malaysia (Board Trustee). The purpose of the IGA is in essence to provide a `sounding board’ with `grass roots’ input from the Branch membership up to the IFE Board Trustees and senior management.
The March meeting gave the opportunity for the IGA to meet the newly appointed CEO Graham Cory and the Board Chairman Peter Wilkinson. Part of the overall feedback and discussion focused on the current status and future role of the IGA looking at a `clean sheet mind-set’;
- What does/could the IGA look like?
- What does/could the IGA bring to the broader IFE table?
- What value for money does the IGA present?
- How does it see itself in a time of limited resources?
The group discussions focused on Opportunities, Challenges, Structure, Communication and Frequency of meetings. It is pleasing to report that in the Centenary year the IFE Board and IGA are proactively working together to create a effective structure for the IGA including better visibility through the IFE website and social media and working to define the aim, plan and strategy moving forward.
As part of his introduction to the IGA, Graham Cory highlighted his focus since joining the IFE and discussed budget deficit, high workloads placed on the members of staff, and highlighted that `goodwill’ is like a currency and they are overdrawing on the goodwill of the members of staff and volunteers. Graham has to lead work streams on issues around data protection and governance structure including re-assessing the articles of association. Graham talked about the desire to achieve a Royal Charter and that this involves some significant investment in time and resource and does not have a guaranteed outcome. Graham also highlighted that there is a current lack of diversity within the IFE board, such as no finance director, and there are certain skill sets that may be required on the board.
Graham also gave an update on the Strategic Plan 2018-2022, and associated risk register. He took us through the risk register at length looking at areas of weaknesses and issues which could cause serious problems for the IFE, at a strategic board level if not adequately addressed. The strategic plan outlines seven strategic priorities and the plan communicates with outside stakeholders and sets the vision for the internal operational plan. This gives direction to the three internal departments which then allows for the work plan to be developed. It is hoped to touch further on this in the next Branch update.
A group session focused and discussed the worth of the IGA and how it interacts with the IFE board. The session highlighted that the structure, accountability and the board decisions or feed back to the IGA needed further review/improvement. It was strongly felt there was a need for the IGA for the future development of the IFE and with the right structure, objectives and business plans the future looks positive.
Feedback from IGA break-out workshops were presented to the board members and the findings focussed on the need to improve communication lines between the IGA and the board, getting the balance between the IGA being `leaders’ and setting direction whilst the board giving aims and strategy. This highlighted the need for clear action plans and measures for knowing what success looks like.
It was agreed by all attending the meeting that both the IGA and the Special Interest Groups (SIG’s) were a fundamental part of the IFE and needed to be further supported in the future. Clarification was sought about those that had been IGA members and now sat on the board. It was highlighted board members have to represent the IFE and are elected by the IGA but do not represent the IGA. This will ensure transparency moving forward and remove any potential conflict of interest between board membership and the IGA.
The IGA meeting also gave each branch the opportunity to present key issues from their Branch Report submitted prior to the meeting and also to hear feedback from the IFE HQ team with regard to future strategies, examinations, centenary events and membership. Of particular interest was the current membership figures as at 13th February 2018 which totaled 9,447. This figure has shown a slow decline from 2011 when the total membership stood at 10,689 but it is pleasing to see the Engineering Council Registrants is increasing year-on-year with new registrants up by 71% at the end of 2017 with a total of 588.
UAE Cabinet Announcement
In the rapidly evolving business world in the Middle East I thought it would be of interest to readers to gain an appreciation of other exciting Regional news since the last update. During May 2018, the UAE Cabinet announced that it has passed a resolution to relax the onshore foreign ownership restrictions in order to spur economic growth in the UAE. This move has the potential to affect all businesses in the UAE, whether onshore or established in a free zone. This will provide further opportunities for international business in the region and having gone through the process of registering a local branch of the IFE in the UAE this initiative can only be seen as a positive move. In this short overview, an outline of the current restrictions and the possible implications of this change are highlighted.
Article 10 of the UAE Commercial Companies Law (Federal Law No. 2 of 2015) sets out the foreign ownership restriction. Any company established in the UAE must have a UAE national shareholder holding at least 51% of the capital. This position carried over from the previous Companies Law.
In September 2017, under Federal Decree-Law No. 18 of 2017, the UAE government indicated that a relaxation in this restriction may be forthcoming. Decree-Law No. 18 allows the UAE Cabinet to issue a resolution to determine the activities and companies in which a foreigner may own all or the majority of the capital.
This news suggests that this Cabinet Resolution has been passed by the UAE government. Further details are not yet available. It remains to be seen whether the relaxation will apply to all types of entity, across all sectors. By way of comparison, in Saudi Arabia, the sector determines the percentage of foreign ownership permitted, and in some sectors capital must be wholly owned by Saudi nationals. On the face of it, the news reports suggest that full foreign ownership of all UAE entities will be allowed by the end of 2018.
The announcement also contained details of new long-term visas of up to 10 years for investors, certain professionals in medical, technical and scientific fields, and students.
The UAE government has stated that it will issue a report in the third quarter of 2018 as part of its implementation plans. The details of how this change will be effected in practice will be critical in the months ahead.
Other important news was announced on the 5th May 2018. His Highness Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, the Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi, made a series of announcements by Twitter approving a Dh50 billion economic stimulus package for Abu Dhabi, aimed at accelerating economic growth over the next three years. He also launched a number of economic initiatives aimed at promoting the ease of doing business in Abu Dhabi and enhancing the work experience for UAE nationals, residents and investors alike.
To close this update, the Branch is now well positioned to expand and grow, with positive interest being shown for the expansion through groups in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and Qatar under the guidance and support of the GCC UAE Branch.
For more information, go to www.ife.org.uk/branches/GCC-UAE