Tribal system may be standing in the way of UAE's progress

Comment: Without proper regulatory oversight, incapable recruits will continue to place companies at risk

Job creation: The UAE Ministry of Human Resources and Emiratisation is laying out an ambitious plan for the private sector.

Job creation: The UAE Ministry of Human Resources and Emiratisation is laying out an ambitious plan for the private sector.

For many years, this part of the world has survived on a tribal system in which individuals have been awarded jobs and responsibilities by family members who were confident that one of their own would ensure the preservation of their family’s reputation.

Throughout the UAE’s history, Emiratis have vouched for family members to perform tasks for the greater good of the community. In the past, tribal pride has obligated those who have been assigned duties by their kin to accomplish any task put before them — and to do so to the very best of their abilities.

But with the UAE continuing to move rapidly to achieve sustainable progress in society and industry, nepotism is a potentially destructive obstacle.

The Oxford English Dictionary defines nepotism as “the practice among those with power or influence of favouring relatives or friends, especially by giving them jobs.” In previous generations this description did not apply to the people of the UAE as tribal recommendations have historically helped Emiratis as families were judged as a group in their responsibilities.

Yet as the country has grown, cases of incapable family members, friends or acquaintances being selected for positions of responsibility, Emirati or expatriate, are threatening to slow the country’s progress.

This is not to say that all cases of nepotism have been damaging. But nepotism does pose a serious threat. Without proper regulatory oversight, incapable recruits will continue to place companies, be they governmental or private sector, at risk.

Nepotism exists not only in this region but in every country around the world. Many who come to the UAE import this practice and in some companies, senior executives are granted plenty of latitude in their recruitment practices.

Another problem, particularly in the private sector, is the unchallenged and open practice of nepotism due to lack of proper oversight, creating ‘mafias’ of particular nationalities who have seem to have no fear of hiring their own countrymen and close relations, many times with little or no capability, to handle their new roles and responsibilities. Admittedly, perhaps the situation has improved over the years, but it is still very much alive.

In addition, due to the lack of Emiratis in the private sector, UAE nationals are being shoved up the corporate ladder with their rapid advancement encouraged and supported by expatriate senior executives.

There are many reasons for this: some are promoted to encourage Emiratisation, others to please the executive management of that particular organisation, who may be committed to the empowerment of their UAE national staff, others because expatriate managers fear for their own jobs if they are not recognised for their efforts in supporting Emiratisation.

Emiratis undoubtedly should always be trained and encouraged to move up to leadership positions but only when they are truly ready to do so. If preparation and training are provided, the risk is that a few poorly performing prominent staff members can tarnish or even demolish the reputations of many hardworking and less senior employees.

After receiving some of the best education the world has to offer, Emiratis have proven beyond doubt that they are capable of standing shoulder to shoulder with the very best of their expatriate colleagues.

Indeed, in many cases, they exceed the ability of their colleagues, due to their unique understanding of the country and region which is an invaluable quality; a lesson that cannot be taught or learnt.

However, there are still those incapable few who have managed to reach senior positions through nepotism or the insecurity of those who manage them. It is these people who risk destroying everything Emiratis in the private sector have been striving to achieve as invaluable assets to their respective employers.

The lack of commitment and incompetence of these employees leads many to believe that working for an Emirati organisation is undesirable. This is, of course, stereotyping of the most general and toxic kind, but such perceptions have become difficult to knock down. This would not matter were it not for the fact that we are at a critical time in the country’s progress, when we need only the most capable leaders in place to ensure our businesses grow in the most responsible manner.

The UAE government has proved time and again that the most qualified, experienced Emiratis of substance are continuing to lead the country to greatness. It is only through the guidance of our leadership that the UAE is now one of best countries in the world to live in. But we risk slowing our progress by the continued practice of nepotism and the “red carpet” advancement of some staff members.

The only way forward is to remove those weeds who are hiding in the shadows, clinging on to their roles and threatening to blemish this beautiful garden of development that we call the UAE.

Taryam Al Subaihi, Global Head of External Communications at TAQA.
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Posted by: Matthias

Really true article not only in UAE but throughout the GCC. This is in practice mostly within expats and recruitment agents who specify the nationality rather than work experience and qualifications for jobs. This has to be abolished.

Posted by: Guest

Dear Sir, this is a refreshingly honest piece. Thank you.

However, please do share some insight on the economics at play here. Would private sector businesses, many of which are run by expats, be able to afford the high salaries demanded by UAE nationals? In addition, many expat businessmen come to these shores with the explicit aim to make a quick buck.

Very often, to opt for expat workers is a commercial decision as opposed to any non-economic bias against UAE nationals. As costs level out over a period of time, maybe it will become less of a barrier towards opening up more positions in private businesses for UAE nationals.

There is always the option of setting oneself up in business also. As UAE becomes a more mature society with the introduction of taxes, and the development of a UAE-national middle class, the barriers to employment you speak will eventually recede. Expats could to be given some form of PR for continued commitment.

Posted by: SaudGCC

Excellent article, I am a GCC national working at one of the highest rated private businesses in MENA.

Work very hard, I hold nothing back. However, the paragraph about creating "Private Sector Mafias" resonates in my daily life, I have been sidelined throughout my career and my progress hindered in the GCC (Bahrain, KSA, Abu Dhabi, Dubai) because of the "Private Sector Mafia".

Whereas when I worked in the West, I was invited-in, felt like an important part of the machine. I recorded amazing growth within a short span.

Sometimes I wish I never came back to my REGION!

Thank you Taryam Al Subaihi

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