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Sunday, November 30, 2008 9:36:05 AM (IST)  

U.A.E. : Travel Agents Accused of Skirting Laws

NEWS FROM THE UAE
SOURCE : THE NATIONAL/BUSINESS


Travel agents accused of skirting laws

U.A.E. - NOV. 30:   A lack of oversight has enabled some travel agencies to circumvent visa laws, a senior industry professional said.

Unlike their Abu Dhabi counterparts, agencies in Dubai are not required to join professional organisations, which set codes of conduct for their members, said Leo Fewtrell, the general manager of the Dubai Travel and Tour Agents Group.

An industry insider who spoke on the condition of anonymity said several travel agencies in Dubai were under investigation by immigration authorities for issuing phoney visas.

The visas were supposedly issued to Filipinos who wanted to reduce the one-month waiting period mandated by the Dubai Naturalisation and Residency Department (DNRD) before applying for new visit visas.

Seventeen Filipinos who recently went on a visa run to Buraimi were prevented from re-entering the country after immigration officials discovered they were carrying UAE tourist visas that had been tampered with, the industry insider said.

Mr Fewtrell said: “In Dubai, once it becomes mandatory to be a part of a professional organisation, we will be empowered to monitor agents to ensure that they maintain standards. We’ll also be able to take punitive actions against agents who do not obey the laws.”

In the past, police have closed and fined agencies for violating regulations, Mr Fewtrell said. However, he did not think that the problem with fake visas was widespread.

“We know it’s a problem at times,” he said. “But so far this has been fairly isolated to my knowledge.”


The recent alleged incident involving Filipinos came after the Philippine ambassador to the UAE, Libran Cabactulan, met Sheikh Saif bin Zayed, the Minister of Interior, and Brig Nasser al Minhali, the acting director general of the Federal Naturalisation and Residency Department this month. The ambassador was briefed on the new laws relating to entry and residency for foreigners, according to the ministry.

“The most recent case of tampered visas involved four Filipinos,” said an encoder at a travel agency in Dubai, who spoke on the condition of anonymity. On Nov 19, thirteen Filipinos were also barred from entering the country after their visa run, the encoder said.

“When they came to us for the renewal of their tourist visas, we advised them to follow the immigration rules by staying out of the UAE for 30 days before coming back on a new visa.”

But the Filipinos in question were desperate to obtain new visas immediately. It is believed that certain travel agencies in Dubai changed the applicants’ passport numbers on the visa application.

“Once you change the digits of a passport number, you’ve created a new identity so their visa applications are approved within a day,” the encoder said.

Using computer software, the agencies edited the passport numbers on the visas before printing them so they matched the numbers on the original passport. The visas were then faxed to the applicants in Buraimi.

“When they were about to re-enter the country on these fake visas, the immigration authorities at the border checked the new visas against the system and noticed the passport numbers on the visas were different from the numbers on their system,” the encoder said.

The authorities sent the Filipinos back to a hotel in Buraimi, and their passports are now with the DNRD office in Bur Dubai.


“We came to know about this because they were on our bus, which regularly takes visa applicants to and from Buraimi. They have been calling us for help, but we said it is out of our hands.”

At least three agencies are being investigated by the Dubai immigration authorities, according to the travel agency representative.

“We had warned our clients against using fake visas. We’ve heard of previous reports about people, not only Filipinos, from Kish Island who were deported from Dubai International Airport Terminal 2 because their visas were not genuine.”

Mr Cabactulan said he would have to verify the reports of tampered visas. “No one has informed us about it,” he said. “But if the travel agencies had done it, they should be heavily penalised. During my meeting, I had requested the authorities to provide us with a copy of blacklisted travel agencies so the Filipinos are aware of the agencies which they have to deal with.”

The DNRD said it was unaware of any investigation into travel agencies relating to the issuing of fake visas.

 

Roads to receive new attention


ABU DHABI - NOV 30:The emirate’s road network is to be mapped with lasers and high definition cameras in an effort to identify those areas most in danger of falling into disrepair.

Early next year, Abu Dhabi Municipality will send lorries out to scour the roads and record every detail of their condition. That information will be compiled in a computer program able to predict sites where repairs will be needed most.

Engineers have warned that the network has degraded over the last decade due to poor maintenance.


“With this system we’ll be able to predict and prevent problems,” said Sameh Zaghloul, the project manager at Fugro, which has been contracted by the emirate to do the work. “We’ll be able to use preventive maintenance rather than just fix the problem, which is more costly.”

Mr Zaghloul said the work would be finished in two years, and that he had been involved in introducing a similar system in Dubai in the mid-1990s.

The program will allow officials to monitor road conditions from computer screens and create a record that could be used in traffic accident investigations. For example, if a driver is caught running through a stop sign, the program could determine whether or not the sign was visible.

It will provide maps and pictures of Abu Dhabi’s roads, marking trouble spots with red and yellow flags. Roads in good repair will be marked in green. A similar program was used in some states in the US but Mr Zaghloul said Abu Dhabi’s system would be more advanced.

There are more than 20,000km of roads in Abu Dhabi and the company said it hopes to chart 1,000km a month when its lorries arrive in January. As the road network in Abu Dhabi is only as old as the country, the maintenance programme is starting from scratch.

Roads are only built to last about 30 years and the oldest patches of the city are starting to show signs of wear. Salam Street, for example, is suffering deep ruts in the road caused by the heavy construction lorries travelling between the mainland and Reem Island.

“There are residential traffic areas in Abu Dhabi that are designed for light passenger traffic and are now being used for heavy construction lorries,” Mr Zaghloul said.

This year, Shane Dahlhelm and John Yeaman Sr, former employees hired by the municipality to create a road maintenance system, estimated the cost of improving the emirate’s roads at as high as Dh2 billion.

Mr Dahlhelm and Mr Yeaman claimed they went six months without pay and were exasperated by bureaucracy, so they took photos of the emirate’s road problems.

These included cavities under the paving, potholes the size of footballs, cracks, sunken footpaths and a tar-like substance flowing on some surfaces.

Mr Dahlhelm said lack of attention to highways was putting motorists and pedestrians at risk. He said the Mafraq bridge at the interchange of the E-11 and E-22 highways, which links Abu Dhabi with Al Ain, was in a state of disrepair for more than four years before the municipality began building a new interchange this year.

Concerns were first raised in 2004 when engineering students at UAE University warned that maintenance was needed to prevent a disaster.


Mr Yeaman said the flooding after rare days of rain was another example of a failure to maintain roads.  “Whole roads were flooded because no one cleans the drains. That’s basic maintenance,” he said.

If regular maintenance does not start soon, Mr Yeaman said entire parts of the road network would need to be completely replaced within a decade. “They keep on building the biggest and the best and they’re not stopping to see what’s going on behind them.”

Mr Dahlhelm said some of the worst conditions could be found in Al Ain. He said in five years, those roads would be unusable.

Abdulla al Shamsi, the director of roads and infrastructure at Abu Dhabi Municipality, said people would start to see improvements once the new programme was under way.

He said police had issued a decree to stop heavy lorries crossing the Mafraq bridge almost three years ago.  The municipality had begun building an expanded interchange to accommodate traffic from new residential developments, at a cost of Dh753.7 million.

“It is not only the problem with a bridge we have to reconstruct, we also have to study traffic. This bridge is used a certain amount and the city has expanded,” said Mr Shamsi. “We keep monitoring the bridge and have for a long time done routine maintenance to this bridge.

“I agree that in some areas, the level of maintenance and the cleaning is not at our expectation. We are not happy with the system that has been, so we’ve introduced a system that is totally new.”


Health officials call for trauma register

 

DUBAI UAE - NOV 30: Doctors and health officials are calling for a national trauma registry so they can measure what kinds of accidents are happening and how to better prevent and treat them.

There is no body collecting information on the nature of emergency cases brought to the individual hospitals across the UAE, although some individual health authorities collate information from those under their jurisdiction.

Dr Ruben Peralta, the head of the trauma service at Rashid Hospital in Dubai, said: “We see around 420 to 450 cases a month and I would estimate that 60 per cent of these are construction-related incidents. And the volume of construction is going up and up.”

Once the information is collected, health officials can look at creating injury prevention campaigns for the most obvious causes of trauma.


The only way to create public policy in this area is by gathering data and statistics, and although many hospitals – including Rashid Hospital – have gaps in their collection systems, the situation is improving, Dr Peralta said.

Dr Peyvand Khaleghian, the chief of strategy and innovation at the Dubai Health Authority (DHA), said he was fully supportive of a national registry. Having national data would not only help with policymaking, but also help practitioners on the front line of health care.

“In principal, the sense is that anything which provides information that clarifies the reasons why things happen is a good thing,” he said. “We would be fully supportive of a national register. For us, how we manage information is a big strategy issue. In the future we will be moving towards a system that helps providers like doctors, and patients have better access to medical information.”

More hospitals have been adopting Health Information Systems (HIS), which codify everything that happens in a facility. The system helps hospitals look at trends in the cases they receive and better manage any information, which shows gaps in care.
Qadhi Saeed al Murooshid, the director general of the DHA, announced this month the creation of a strategy and innovation department that would be responsible for all high-level health strategy in Dubai and is looking to produce a formal health strategy in the first half of next year.

Another of its major roles will be to assist the DHA in analysing health trends, issues and statistical data associated with healthcare planning.  Dr Khaleghian said the introduction of HIS is already helping to build solid statistical information.

“This is the way things are going everywhere and it does create access to a lot more information than was available in the past,” he said.

The information could have a variety of applications. If a large number of patients arrived at emergency rooms with similar problems, a case could be made to outfit ambulances with additional equipment.

“They can work so that these problems are dealt with before they come into the hospital,” Dr Khaleghian said. “The more you understand about the patients that are coming through the doors, the more you can tailor your approach to treating these patients.”

Tawam Hospital in Al Ain started a trauma registry in the past six months, incorporating data collected from Al Ain Hospital.

Dr Joseph Manna, the chairman of the emergency department, said he thought a national registry would help hospital staff learn from others’ experiences.
“We have to see who is doing a better job,” he said. “See if any of us are better at prevention methods, among many other things. I know that pre-hospital care is a problem right now.

“With regards to things such as the treatment patients are getting before they arrive at the hospital, with more information from everywhere we can potentially do something about looking into creating different policies.”

A national registry would also highlight the differences from emirate to emirate. Tawam Hospital handles a lot of road traffic traumas, while Dubai treats more victims of construction accidents, he said.

A number of private hospitals across the country also have indicated support for a national registry.

The City Hospital in Dubai Health Care City is already recording accident and emergency cases using HIS to help assess operational efficiencies.

“This information assists us in determining operational efficiencies and to prepare our clinical services for future arrivals,” said David Hadley, the hospital director.
In October the Ministry of Health announced the implementation of a Dh300 million (US$81.7m) electronic records system, called Wareed, in the Northern Emirates.
When the system was launched, ministry staff said they would be looking closely at how the system might be used on a national level.


More showers on order following damp weekend


DUBAI - NOV. 30: Weather experts have warned that Dubai’s sunshine will be punctuated by showers and thunderstorms over the next few days as temperatures drop.

The Dubai Meteorological Office said today would be partly cloudy with a chance of showers and thunderstorms. Tomorrow, showers are again possible. Tuesday and Wednesday will be partly cloudy.

Temperatures have dropped from around 30°C to 21°C in the evenings. Thunderstorms and rain showers have also plagued the nation over the last week, causing flooding and accidents.

A thunderstorm was seen developing off the coast of Dubai early yesterday morning, coming into the Marina area, but it dispersed before reaching the shore.

Light rain fell during the final day of the Dubai Rugby Sevens Tournament.


The worst of the weather was on Wednesday night, when Dubai was hit by a thunderstorm that lasted for at least two hours, and which resulted in a serious accident on Sheikh Zayed Road, causing traffic to be diverted onto the neighbouring roads.

Hailstorms hit Fujairah on Thursday. Ajman and Sharjah have seen light rainstorms.


Brian Peacock, a resident of Dubai, said he hoped the municipality had learnt from the thunderstorms that hit Dubai earlier in the year, which caused widespread flooding.

“I really hope that they’ve improved the drainage since last January when it rained, because all the roads were flooded and cars were stranded. Otherwise, I’ll have to invest in a kayak.”

November normally has cooler and wetter weather, although it has been reported that this year has been drier than usual.

 

39% call for ID card system to be scrapped

U.A.E. - NOV. 30: SCRAP IT: Thirty-nine percent of poll respondents called for the new ID card system to be scrapped.Thirty-nine percent of Arabian Business readers have called for the controversial new ID card system in the UAE to be scrapped, according to the results of our latest online poll.

A further 52 percent of respondent called on the Emirates Identity Authority (EIDA) to officially forget the Dec. 31 deadline for applications amid growing concerns that thousands of residents will be unable to register in time.

Last week, a new software application that helps people to register for the new ID card in the UAE was added to the Arabian Business website in a bid to divert traffic from the official Emirates Identity Authority website which has been struggling to cope with the huge number of people trying to access the pre-registration software.


With an estimated 700,000 Emiratis and expatriates still to register for the identity card, a large majority of Arabian Business were in no doubt about what needed to be done.

More than 50 percent of people who took part urged officials at the EIDA to scrap the Dec. 31 deadline and set a new date.

The official deadline for obtaining the card is still Dec. 31, officials say, for professionals. No extension has been made but people who do not obtain the card will not be fined immediately.

On Wednesday the UAE's Ministry of Health announced that the new ID card would replace the health card to obtain services at public hospitals.

However, those who have yet to get the ID card can still obtain medical services using their health cards, he explained.

Just three percent of respondents said they were satisfied with the system for applying for the ID card and urged others to start queuing at EIDA centres rather than complaining about the deadline.

A further six percent of people called on EIDA officials to open their offices throughout the holiday period in December in a bid to deal with the long queues of applicants.


BUSINESS.COM


 


 
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