The word “reshuffle” seems singularly inappropriate to describe the process by which a government occasionally re-organises itself. The term implies taking the existing “pack” of ministers and arranging them in a different order, like you would a pack of cards, as if randomly changing positions in a government would have any real long-term benefit.
Rather, a cabinet re-organisation, such as the one we saw yesterday carried out by His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice-President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, sends us important messages about the direction of government, and provides significant information about the government’s priorities. It is not about personalities or positions, it is about policies.
The one clear policy message to come from the new cabinet appointments by Sheikh Mohammed is this: the UAE is continuing to put an ever-greater emphasis on the business sector as the engine that will deliver the dynamic growth he forecasts for the coming decade. Rather than an old-fashioned cabinet reshuffle, this should be regarded as a regeneration of the executive team leading the diversified multi-national corporation that is UAE Inc.
The crucial departments of state that deal with the UAE’s position in the world – foreign affairs, defence and energy – have been left largely untouched, providing essential continuity in these important areas.
But where there have been significant changes, the emphasis has been placed squarely on globalisation, on commerce and on financial expertise – areas which are crucial to the development of the UAE’s strategic plan.
As evidence of the globalising trend, two of the new appointments have been filled by Emiratis with wide experience in the UAE’s Washington embassy. Reem Al Hashimi comes in as a minister of state after service as the deputy head of the UAE embassy in the United States. Her former boss, Saqr Gobash, moves from the post of ambassador in Washington to head the important Ministry of Labour, vital to the smooth running of the country and how it is viewed in the rest of the world.
Sheikha Lubna Al Qasimi, who was one of the first female members of a UAE cabinet, swaps her economics portfolio for the challenging new Ministry of Foreign Trade. For a country that lives on its trading relationships with the rest of the world, it is hard to imagine a more important role. To her will fall the delicate but crucial negotiations with the World Trade Organisation, the United States and the European Union, as well as the other great trading negotiations of the world, for trade pacts and bi-laterals.
Sultan bin Saeed Al Mansouri faces an enlarged in-tray, with industrial affairs added to the portfolio of the economics ministry.
For dealing with the cold, hard cash, there is a wealth of experience and expertise, with the appointments of Sheikh Hamdan bin Rashid, Deputy Ruler of Dubai, and Obaid Al Tayer as the new Finance Ministry team. The Deputy Ruler will be able to draw on all the commercial expertise of the Al Tayer connections, which has been at the forefront of UAE trade for decades.
The other significant appointment is the elevation of Mohammed Al Gergawi to full ministerial status in his role as Cabinet Affairs Minister. Under his portfolio also falls the responsibility for government sector development, vital for the twin policies of Emiratisation and privatisation of the government-held business interests.
The new cabinet takes up its responsibilities at a difficult time for world financial markets – but its business expertise and international outlook makes it well equipped for the challenges that lie ahead.
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