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'We have to go up a gear'

Mohammed Ali Al Hashimi, executive chairman of Zabeel Investments sits down with Conrad Egbert to shed some light on a few issues that have been topics of debate in the UAE.

Al Hashimi feels that the construction industry in the UAE is not moving as fast as it should. (Valeriano Handumon/ITP Images)
Al Hashimi feels that the construction industry in the UAE is not moving as fast as it should. (Valeriano Handumon/ITP Images)

Mohammed Ali Al Hashimi, executive chairman of Zabeel Investments sits down with Conrad Egbert to shed some light on a few issues that have been topics of debate in the UAE.

What projects is Zabeel Investments working on?

There's the Tiara residence, which is under construction right now on the Palm Jumeirah. It's being developed over an area of about 46,450m2, and Arabtec is the main contractor. We are also doing the American resorts and hotel at Bawadi in Dubailand.

In addition to these we have a number of upcoming developments in the pipeline. We are looking at developing a luxury hotel on the crescent of the Palm Jumeirah.

Is Zabeel Investments looking for opportunities outside Dubai?

At this point in time our focus is mainly the UAE, and Dubai in particular. We are a young company and have been around for about a year. We are first establishing ourselves here before we begin to look elsewhere.

What do you think is one of the biggest challenges in the construction industry right now?

It's the lack of quality contractors to develop projects on time.

We recently tied up with Sembol Construction of Turkey after assessing its background thoroughly. It is fantastic with delivering on time, and that is the most pressing concern at the moment. The ability to go to the market first is what the game is all about. Being that pioneer is extremely important. Time is money.

But more often than not, time does not equal quality. Where is quality on your priority list?

Quality is of prime importance to us. And investors will only go to developers that develop well and show good end results. If you produce a poor product it will hinder your progress in the future.

Sustainability is crucial. It's a combination of quality and time that we're after. You don't want to build something in six months that is of low quality but then neither do you want to take five years to build something, which is of high quality.

This is also the reason why we're not starting a construction company of our own. We'd rather have qualified and specialised people.

There has been constant speculation about the construction boom in the UAE and whether it will last. What are your thoughts on this?

If I didn't believe it was going to last, I wouldn't have tied up with Sembol for example. I don't think things are slowing down. We're at a challenging stage now - to be able to deliver. On the contrary, I don't think construction is moving fast enough. We're at a stage where inflation is an issue, supply is a problem, rents are catapulting, and you can't find office space.

The risks are creating opportunities for other people outside. If they can't find office space or they can't afford the rents in Dubai, they're going to go elsewhere. This is the challenge that we're facing today. We're not moving fast enough. The key is how we're going to bridge that gap. The question is not if the boom is on its way down, but are we really up to the challenge? We have to go up a gear.

What do you think about the labour situation in the country?

All contracting companies need to realise that the people working for us are a reflection of the company. People are your assets, whether they are CEOs, MDs or labourers working on site. In fact, the labourers are the ones who are actually building what you are developing. Nothing could exist without them. They are our biggest asset. We are human beings and we have to treat people with respect and dignity if you expect them to work for you from their hearts and dedicate themselves to you. It shouldn't matter where they're from or what their economic stature is.

How do you feel that what was your playground, is now a construction site?

In the whole aspect of development and change, we look back and think are we better off now or were we better off then? So that answers the question. Look at where we are today and how we've progressed as a country and as a city. People know Dubai now. If you give me a choice to go back I wouldn't.

There is ample amount of desert still available if you want to go back and feel like the old days. But now you just go out a bit further than you used to.

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