GULF VIEW

 

FINGERPRINTS MANDATORY FOR ENTERING SAUDI ARABIA

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May 16 - 22, 2005
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Fingerprints of the people entering Kingdom will be taken on arrival as a new law is likely to come into effect in the near future. According to reports carried out in a section of the press, the new law has been approved and will be implemented soon in coordination with Saudi embassies.

Reasons behind the decision of fingerprinting is said to be security-related.

The expatriates having criminal records in the Kingdom sometimes return to the country under the cover of a different name and passport. One may get a new passport, ID number to get rid of the track records, however, it was not possible to get a new fingerprint or get rid of your existing one.

Another problem faced by the government is that some foreigners, especially from Africa, get rid of any form of identity papers as soon as they enter the country. And when they are deported without documents, their countries won't accept them and they are sent back to the Kingdom.

Recently, a number of raids conducted at different areas where thousands of expatriates were found over staying in the Kingdom besides other criminals have been arrested.

Since Chadians were on top of the list of the arrested, the Saudi government made a decision not to renew their iqamas or grant them new visas.

FREE FLOW OF CAPITAL

Saudi Arabia has called for the elimination of barriers that prevent free flow of capital and investment, and for giving greater role to developing countries in the decision-making process of global financial organizations.

"The Kingdom also stresses that the reforms covering international financial systems must include adequate tools to prevent and manage financial crises," Foreign Minister Prince Saud Al-Faisal said at a summit of South American and Arab countries in Brasilia.

"In the world of globalization and information technology, we must take the opportunities to develop our joint economic capabilities. This means in the first place, the elimination of barriers that prevent the free flow of capital and investment projects," the Saudi Press Agency quoted the prince as telling the conference.

In their first regional summit, ended last week, South American and Arab leaders endorsed a declaration condemning the Israeli occupation of Palestinian territory and calling for trade liberalization to lift the planet's poor out of misery.

"For me, this meeting marks the beginning of a new historical moment in our relations," said Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, the summit's host. "The relationship between South America and the Arab countries will never be the same again," he said.

Banding together in an event aimed at dampening the dominance of developed countries, the summit leaders voiced their commitment to strengthening their political and economic ties. They also condemned terrorism, denounced US sanctions against Syria and supported moves to give developing countries greater weight on the international stage.

Prince Saud, in his key-note address, referred to the Kingdom's economic and political reforms. The new foreign investment law "provides a full list of assurances and incentives that enable the investor to keep pace with all modern changes and developments," he explained. The world financial system must be changed in order to support the efforts of the developing countries to achieve economic growth along with social equality. He also reiterated Saudi Arabia's firm commitment to stabilize world oil market.

He said Saudi Arabia had provided about $83 billion in foreign aid benefiting 73 developing countries around the world including South American states. "Despite the fact that Saudi Arabia is a developing country with increasing financial needs, it still finances the developmental, economic and social projects in the developing countries," he pointed out.

Saudi Arabia also took the initiative to contribute its full share in the fund initiative for reducing the debts of the poor countries that are burdened by debts to the International Monetary Fund. The Kingdom waived the debts of a number of poor countries before the launch of this global initiative, he said.

He expressed Saudi Arabia's appreciation of the Brazilian government for playing host to the summit, adding that it would help strengthen cooperation between the two groups. He underscored the long-standing relations between South American and Arab countries. "The history of the relations between the Arab world and the Latin American countries goes back to more than 500 years," he said.

Prince Saud called for strengthening business ties between the two regional groups. "Despite the intensive Arab presence in this part of the world, the size of the trade exchange and investment between the Arab countries and Latin American countries is currently not up to the level of the available resources and capabilities of both sides. In 2004, the volume of trade exchange stood at $10 billion representing 1.13 percent of its total external trade and this is not in harmony with the ambitions of our peoples," he said and hoped the summit would help correct this bleak scenario. "We should encourage and support the flow of investments, exchange of expertise and the transfer of technology as a response to global changes," the prince said.

Prince Saud also called for the settling of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, stressing on giving equal opportunity for all Iraqi people in the political process and wished a bright future for Lebanon, maintaining its "distinguished relations" with its neighboring country Syria.

 

 

He described terrorism as the most dangerous phenomenon the international community was facing. "In order to fight this phenomenon, which does not have a religion or nation or nationality, Saudi Arabia took the initiative to hold an international counterterrorism conference in Riyadh last February," he said.

Prince Saud emphasized the importance of cultural exchange between the two groups. "There is a need to enhance programs of cultural exchange and the interaction between intellectuals," he said and stressed the importance of protecting the cultural diversity of countries.

QATAR FINANCIAL CENTRE

A financial and business centre, the QFC has been designed in Qatar to attract and provide a business platform for international banks, financial institutions, insurance firms and multinational corporations. HH the Prime Minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Khalifa al-Thani inaugurated the QFC at a ceremony held at the Ministry of Economy and Commerce.

QFC will be temporarily located at the ministry and will move to its own building at the West Bay this summer.

It will focus on project finance, private wealth management, insurance, Islamic finance and wide range of investment, corporate and private banking products.

Businesses operating in the QFC will be entitled to a 100% ownership and full repatriation of profits. They will enjoy a three-year tax holiday until May 1, 2008, after which a corporate tax of 10% will apply. Qatar issued legislation on March 9 enabling the establishment of QFC. It will have a commercial authority (QFC Authority) and an independent regulatory body (QFC Regulatory Authority).

The QFC Authority will be the commercial and administrative body responsible for driving the commercial strategy and for developing relationships with the international corporate community and key institutions within and outside Qatar.

A fully independent Regulatory Authority will oversee business conduct and grant licenses to operate in the QFC. It has a broad range of regulatory powers to authorize, supervise and if required, discipline regulated firms and individuals. Both the QFC Authority and the Regulatory Authority will have their own boards of directors.

Speaking after the QFC opening, the Minister of Economy and Commerce Sheikh Mohamed bin Ahmed bin Jassim al-Thani said the independent QFC Regulatory Authority had confirmed it was ready to receive license applications from businesses who wish to take tenancy at the centre.

He said the QFC would comply with the global best practices and deliver high standards with minimum bureaucracy. The regulatory framework and the commercial intent will provide opportunities for institutions to do international, regional and local business.

"There is an extensive breadth of business that may be undertaken at the centre, but the strategic and commercial focus will be to encourage institutions that can develop new and genuine revenue streams, thereby creating value for themselves and bringing complementary assets and skills to Qatar and the region," Sheikh Mohamed said.

Qatar Financial Centre Authority's chairman and chief executive officer Philip Thorpe said the QFC will follow a unique model, wherein it is built around the quality of institutions and businesses.

"We are not concerned about the number of institutions that are coming in. All applicants will be under close scrutiny. We will be focused on bringing in the right institutions and businesses," he told Gulf Times. Thorpe said QFC legal and regulatory regime had been designed to deliver high quality regulation and certainty in operation and to generate confidence in QFC licensees and users alike.

Asked whether institutions at the QFC would be allowed to sell retail products within Qatar, he said: "Retail products will not be considered now. But they can do corporate business within the QFC framework". With the launch of the QFC, Qatar has reinforced its intention of providing an open yet robust financial environment that will prove attractive to institutions and investors alike, Thorpe added.

DOHA BANK

Deriving strength from a successful three-year restructuring plan launched in 2002 Doha Bank has now launched a five-year strategy aimed at positioning itself as a regional leader in all segments of modern commercial banking. In line with that strategy, Doha Bank said it is augmenting its resources, setting up a balance core card system besides drawing up financial objectives.

"We clearly understand globalization, regulations and local competition. We are now reinventing and redefining our bank to attain maximum efficiency which in turn benefits the national economy, bank's customers and shareholders alike," says Doha Bank acting general manager R Seetharaman.

He said the bank had done a clear asset allocation model with a view to maximizing its resources, returns, operational efficiency and productivity.

The three-year bank restructuring kicked off in 2002 was finished in 2004 one year ahead of schedule after meeting all the declared objectives. "This has prompted us to launch a five-year strategy aimed at taking Doha Bank forward," he said. Doha Bank, Seetharaman said, did not believe in size. The bank's concern is to maximize the return on its assets.

The bank has had the best performance ratios among commercial banks in the entire region in 2004 and in the first quarter of this year.

The bank grew 158% in the first quarter. The asset expansion was around 27%, he said. And in 2004 the bank's earnings per share (EPS) of QR8.96 was the highest in the Qatari market. The rate of return on assets of 3.66% posted by Doha Bank in 2004 was also among the best in the Gulf region.

The return on average equity of 38% achieved by Doha Bank in 2004 was way ahead of the competition. Doha Bank's return on assets last year increased to 3.66% from 2.61% in 2003, up 40%. This compares very well with the best competing commercial banks, which averaged less than 3.1%.

The return on average equity was 38% in 2004, an improvement of 19% over previous year. "Our principle commitment is to grow organic not over do or under do. This will lay the proper foundation to take the bank to a very professional level," he said.

Seetharaman said one of the factors behind Doha Bank's success was its correct priority vis-a-vis asset allocation. The bank lends money to virtually every sector- not just real estate. "We have brought in a very balanced mix into asset allocation. We are in retail and syndication as much as we are in real estate," he said. Besides asset allocation, the bank has also been prudent in providing adequate asset coverage, which now stands at around 104%. This has brought down the risks to the bare minimum.

He said Doha Bank had also reduced the cost-income ratio to well below 30%, an industry standard.

Commenting on why Doha Bank and other banks did not figure in the financing of major projects including the multi-billion-dollar New Doha International Airport (NDIA) Seetharaman said even the combined capacity of the local banks would not be sufficient to take care of them.

"We don't have that kind of finance. We cannot venture into a project that outweighs our basic equity. Also, we have the single borrowing limit set by the Qatar Central Bank," he points out.

He said Doha Bank was not concerned about the entry of specialized financial institutions into Qatar with the opening of Qatar Financial Centre today. They have a specific role to play, especially in project financing. "The retail market is ours. We have a loyal customer base, which was built over a period of 26 years," Seetharaman said.

Seetharaman said Doha Bank would eye both the regional and international markets for expansion. "We do have clear plans on this. We have been successfully running a branch in New York for the last 20 years. It is a successful model. We may replicate it elsewhere," he said without giving more details.

Doha Bank, he said, would come out with the Islamic banking division this year itself.

"My chairman has already declared our intention to design and market Islamic banking products. I believe the market is ripe enough to take them. I also believe they can optimize my resources," the acting general manager said. Doha Bank, Seetharaman said, would open eight more branches this year. Six of them will be e-branches.

SAUDI STUDENTS IN THE US

The US Federal Bureau of Investigation has denied reports that Saudi students in the US were grilled by security agents in their homes and deprived of access to legal aid. Replying to a question from Arab News, FBI Director Robert Mueller denied that there were any such cases.

The FBI chief was addressing a press conference at the Riyadh Air Base following his audience with Crown Prince Abdullah, deputy premier and commander of the National Guard.

Mueller said the US travel advisory concerning the Kingdom might be reviewed in the wake of significant progress in disabling Al-Qaeda over the last few months. However, he insisted that the terrorist threat was real and that no country was immune to terrorism.

Mueller said he and the crown prince had discussed joint measures taken by their countries to combat terrorism in the Kingdom, the Middle East and around the world.

"We also discussed the exchange of terrorists' fingerprints and also better ways of identifying those who have crossed borders," he said, stressing the need for speedy exchange of information on terrorists.

On the question of US visas for Saudis, he said the issuance of visas is being streamlined to minimize inconvenience. He pointed out, however, that there have been cases in which "the persons were interviewed. But they are isolated."

The FBI chief's statements seemed to contradict an earlier report published in Arab News (July 12, 2004) according to which Saudi students spoke of shocking treatment at the hands of FBI. They complained of discrimination once they had identified themselves as Saudis.

The FBI chief paid tributes to the Saudi security forces for their crackdown on terrorists. Mueller attributed the success in the war on terror to the ongoing cooperation between the two countries. "We understand that addressing terrorists is not just the function of one agency or the function of a single country. It is a necessity for every civilized nation in the world today."

Mueller reserved his special thanks for the Saudi people who, he said, understand that the killing of innocent men, women and children serves no legitimate purpose. He called on them to extend their continued cooperation to the security forces that have made significant progress in the war on terror.

(Inputs from PAGE sources & Press reports)