Coronavirus: Abu Dhabi stimulus package to offer respite in 'difficult times'

Abu Dhabi rolls out 16-point strategy to help limit the financial consequences felt by impact of coronavirus

Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, March 16, 2020.  Gloomy weather and light rain showers at the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque, Abu Dhabi.
Victor Besa / The National
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Abu Dhabi residents said a multi-billion drive to boost the emirate's economy amid concerns over the wide-ranging impact of the coronavirus will offer much-needed financial respite.

Utility bills will be cut and road toll charges waived for the rest of the year as part of a 16-point strategy unveiled aimed at supporting individuals and businesses alike during "difficult times".

The stimulus package - delivered as part of the Abu Dhabi government's Ghadan 21 scheme - will include tourism and municipality fees being suspended for the remainder of 2020 and Dh5 billion being set aside to to “subsidise water and electricity” charges for UAE citizens and businesses.

“This is a very difficult time for us all so every little helps,” said father-of-three Adnan Sharaf.

“With children off school and many of us working from home, lights, electronics and air conditioning units are switched on for most of the day so consumption rates are higher than normal.

“A reduction in charges is good support for us.”

Working in Al Ain and living in a large villa, Mr Sharaf, 48, said his utility bills this month amounted to Dh1,300 – which is higher than normal.

“The relationship between the people and government is crucial at times like this,” he said.

“As a family man, I have to put measures in place to reduce our spending and consumption to save cash, but the help from government funds is really central during such unstable times.”

On Monday, Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces, said authorities would continue to "navigate market fluctuations" to protect and maintain the national economy.

“I’ve discussed with officials in Abu Dhabi the current economic and business climate,” he tweeted.

“The existing stimulus programmes in Abu Dhabi and those launched recently by the Central Bank and local governments are the solid pillars that will support and protect the UAE's economic stability.”

As part of the newly-released stimulus package, motorists will also be exempt from all planned Abu Dhabi road toll charges for the rest of the year.

The road toll scheme was due to go live in January, only for authorities to announce a three-month grace period to allow motorists more time to register.

Under the scheme, road users were expected to have to pay Dh4 when driving through the tolls between 7am and 9am and 5pm to 7pm, Saturday to Thursday.

A maximum fee of Dh16 was levied against commuters in any one day.

For Marhaba Angel, a trainee manager in Dubai who commutes to Abu Dhabi regularly, the toll charge waiver was a welcome relief.

“I truly believe it will be a big help for many,” she said.

“These kind of [toll] charges accumulate very quickly and right now, as we face issues at home and work, financial pressures can escalate quickly.

“I was due to travel to Europe in May but it is looking unlikely that I can go now.

“I’m worried I won’t get refunded for some of the tickets and accommodation purchased, so if daily charges [in the UAE] related to bills and commuting go down, it will help a little.”

For visitors and residents in the city, the 3.5 per cent waiver on tourism fees and two per cent waiver on municipality fees - levied on bills for hotel stays - would also help save cash.

The latest announcement by the Executive Council in Abu Dhabi follows the UAE Central Bank rolling out a Dh100 billion stimulus package on Saturday to offset the economic impact of Covid-19.

Dherar Al Falasi, a member of the FNC, said such support from government is necessary during times of uncertainty.

“Most people are quite stressed out with what is going on and many people are confined to working from home,” Dherar Al Falasi, a member of the FNC said.

“This move from the government is a way to reduce the pressure and burden felt by people.

“Smalls steps like reducing utility bill charges and waiving toll fees will help people to cope during tough times.”