Interview: Sultan Abdullah bin Hadda Al Suwaidi
How did Sharjah support the business community during the Covid-19 pandemic?
SULTAN ABDULLAH BIN HADDA AL SUWAIDI: The government’s economic response to the Covid-19 pandemic was swift. Preventive measures implemented to mitigate the impact of the health crisis on the economy included a 10% reduction in utility bills for a three-month period, the adoption of 50 fiscal incentives to stimulate business and consumer activity, and the implementation of a campaign aimed at improving economic readiness, during both the health emergency and the recovery period.
Sharjah’s crisis-management plan allowed essential services such as grocery stores, pharmacies, and factories producing sanitiser and medical supplies to remain open 24 hours a day. Restaurants were also permitted to offer delivery and pick-up services around the clock. A consumer-protection plan aimed at safeguarding citizens against unscrupulous retail practices was also implemented. Under the plan, price speculation could result in fines or even licence termination. Moreover, 83 commercial officers were appointed to enforce rules and prevent possible violations of precautionary health measures. These actions enabled Sharjah’s economy to maintain a healthy level of dynamism, while at the same time meeting the population’s immediate needs and laying the foundation for a robust economic recovery.
What role has investment in infrastructure and the workforce played in economic development?
AL SUWAIDI: Sharjah’s economic development was driven by significant infrastructure investment in 2019, with the transportation and storage segments in particular experiencing growth. Sharjah Sustainable City was the first clean energy project in the region and is an example of this focus on infrastructure. ICT, science and technical services also saw notable expansion over this period. Moreover, the pandemic saw health and social services take on greater economic importance, given that their share of GDP stood at 5.5% prior to 2020.
In this context of economic development, the protection of workers is paramount. Towards that end, the SEDD has encouraged the Sharjah Labour Standards Development Authority to establish principles of humanitarian and professional empowerment within the framework of economic growth. The 3% wage increase in the manufacturing sector in 2019 can be seen as a major indicator of the increasing production capacity and profitability of the industrial sector. To maintain this expansive trend, Sharjah plans to adopt a number of measures that aim to stimulate investment, such as the issuance of new types of business licences, the simplification and digitalisation of application processes for all commercial licences, and a reduction in the requirements to set up a business. This will facilitate activity while reducing costs.
To what extent has digital transformation ensured business continuity at both the government service level and in other economic sectors?
AL SUWAIDI: Sharjah leveraged a variety of digital transformation processes during the pandemic. The SEDD had obtained a 100% digitalisation rate before Covid-19 reached the emirate, which ensured minimal disruption to the department’s activities during the crisis period. During this time the SEDD offered more than 100 digital services in order to speed up transactions, improve cybersecurity when accessing business services and enhance remote communications with partners to ensure customer satisfaction. These digital offerings led to improvements in service quality and usage during the pandemic. For example, the issuance of e-licences grew by 200% in 2020.
Meanwhile, the uptake in smart investor services – which experienced a 66% increase in 2019 – expanded again in 2020. The emirate is also fostering the modernisation of local factories, with an emphasis on green models. These changes will not only attract foreign capital, but also bolster Sharjah’s competitiveness.
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