Federal property authority considered

The Government may create a body to co-ordinate and oversee the work of local property regulators.

March 24, 2009 / Abu Dhabi / Sheikh Hamdan bin Mubarak Al Nahyan, The Minister of Public Works speaks to the Federal National Counsel in Abu Dhabi March 24, 2009.  (Sammy Dallal / The National)
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ABU DHABI // The Government is considering creating a federal body to co-ordinate and oversee the work of local property regulators, the Minister of State for Financial Affairs said yesterday. It was one of several items discussed at a session of the Federal National Council (FNC). A proposal to grant Emirati women married to non-UAE nationals access to housing assistance was endorsed, while council members discussed the Government's reaction to companies that produced medication containing harmful bacteria.

The first part of the session was dominated by a discussion about ways to better regulate the UAE property sector, which this year has experienced job losses, the cancellation of numerous projects and a substantial decline in housing prices. The Government does not have a federal body with powers to monitor the sector. Instead, local governments, including those of Dubai and Sharjah, have established their own regulators, such as Dubai's Real Estate Regulatory Agency. Ajman and Abu Dhabi are considering similar structures.

"We're looking into the possibility of carrying out a federal role to regulate this monitoring and co-ordinate among the institutions," said Obaid Humaid al Tayer, the Minister of State for Financial Affairs. Mr al Tayer was answering a question by Amer Abdul Jaleel al Faheem, a member of the FNC, about the Government's efforts to control local banks' "over-funding" of property projects owned by foreign investors. Mr al Faheem said several foreign property developers have fled the country with their real estate projects unfinished.

"A number of developers have started their business here without having any capital," he said. "They formed alliances to develop a number of real estate projects and then secured 100 per cent funding." When the financial crisis hit, he said, a number of them left the market and left their projects unfinished. A Central Bank resolution limits the lending for real estate projects to 20 per cent of the deposits that a bank has available for loans. Mr al Faheem said some banks did not abide by the rule.

Although insisting that the Government should monitor the real estate sector more closely, Mr al Tayer said no further restrictions should be levied on foreign investors. "We should protect the real estate sector in these difficult times," he said. "We shouldn't impose any further restrictions at this difficult time on banks or on the movement of capital. We should deal with the circumstances calmly and wisely."

Meanwhile, Emirati women married to non-nationals would be given the right to apply for assistance under a federal housing programme that has been providing loans and grants for UAE citizens for the past 10 years. The Sheikh Zayed Housing Program, a body formed to provide loans and grants to build homes, previously exempted Emirati women who were not married to compatriots. Last June, members of the FNC recommended that Emirati women married to men from the GCC states be qualified to apply for the programme. A number of members, worried about exacerbating the problem of population imbalance, suggested that the grants be given only to full Emirati families.

But Dr Anwar Gargash, Minister of State for FNC Affairs, said such "discrimination" would tarnish the UAE's human rights record. "We can't apply different standards to the citizens because they are married to foreigners," he said. The programme's budget for 2008 was doubled to Dh1.2 billion (US$327m) and will be distributed as grants for families with monthly income below Dh10,000. The proposal stipulates that only women married to foreigners who have children living in the UAE can apply for the programme. It also provides eligibility for widows who have custody of their children as well as divorcees whose former husbands cannot afford to provide for housing. Single women over 30 will also benefit from the programme.

A proposal to increase the amount of the housing loan to a minimum of Dh850,000 was dropped yesterday. The draft law said the Cabinet would decide the amount based on the economic situation and commodity prices. Also in the FNC session, the UAE Minister of Health, Humaid Mohammed Obaid al Qattami, was questioned on government measures to punish companies whose medication was found to contain harmful bacteria.

In November, the Ministry of Health ordered a recall of the non-prescription antacid Carelox, which was manufactured by Pharmacare Fze at the company's plant in Jebel Ali Free Zone. Inspectors determined during a recent inspection of the plant that the company had not conducted mandatory microbiological tests on the drug, and had falsified safety data. mhabboush@thenational.ae