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Saturday , March 28 2020

‘Bye bye free trade zone’ – ‘Sultan brainchild in disarray’

am sure the late Jamil Al-Sultan who died of severe illness left this world with a pang in his heart because of the several government decisions which affected his dreams and his projects and one of them was the Free Zone which was confiscated from the national company he owned.

The government failed to manage it and it would have been better if the management was left in the hands of Al-Sultan. I won’t be wrong if I say this rampant administrative chaos strikes at the very heart of the economic activity of the nation.

The government signed the Free Zone agreement with the National Real Estate Company in 1998. Right from the start, the company began to rehabilitate the zone to make it suitable for local, foreign and international companies. The company even reclaimed the desolate areas of the old port which had remained unexploited for several years.

The company ‘supplied’ water and electricity to all offices and stores, built a high quality road network, carried out all the infrastructure works, and planted trees all over to make the place look beautiful. All this contributed to the prosperity of the area for a short period of time.

The progress of work was noticeable and looked pleasant to the eye in spite of the reluctance of various government agencies to cooperate with the company, putting obstacles, delaying the issuance of required documents and putting off approval decisions due to the rotten bureaucracy.

Add to this the failure of the Public Ports Authority to hand over the remaining assets to the company in clear violation of the terms and conditions of the investment contract.

In spite of all the above, the work went on very smooth and fast as a result of the vitality and insistence of management.

Suddenly, the Council of Ministers issued a decision in 2002 to cancel the contract of the Free Zone upon a recommendation of the Minister of Commerce (Salah Khorshid) under the pretext of serious violations happening in the area. The company objected to the decision, so the Cabinet decided to form a committee to look into the grievance. The committee found the violations were ‘imaginary’ and an order was issued to stop the cancellation of the contract.

However, the government continued to obstruct the company’s work and the Free Zone project, and even refused to issue licenses. Then another decision was issued by the Minister of Commerce Falah Al-Hajri in 2006 to cancel the contract for the second time. The cancellation this time gave no justifications or irregularities but transferred the management of the zone to the Public Authority for Industry (PAI) and to this day the Free Zone is cared for by the PAI following a series of judicial decisions.

We are not defending the company and the shareholders. We have no direct interest with any party. We are not interested in discussing the validity of the decision to annul the contract because the decision was issued by the Court of Cassation. However, we are interested in highlighting all this confusion in almost every area.

How did the government accept the ‘confiscation’ of the zone from the company without having the know-how or plan to manage it? Did the economy benefit from the cancellation of the contract, and did the Free Zone become better or have the violations ended or dealt with? The answer is a big ‘NO’.

The status of the Free Zone has not only deteriorated but is in total disarray if not anything else. The green areas have disappeared and the trees have dried up. Rubble and garbage has piled everywhere, the roads are damaged due to lack of maintenance and the status and condition of its infrastructure is unknown. This scenario has made the zone repellant for an investor, ‘Assalaam Alaikum’.

email: habibi.enta1@gmail.com

By Ahmad Al-Sarraf

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