Zaid Al-Qubati: “National capital should be invested in Yemen, not abroad.” [Archives:1997/49/Business & Economy]
Mr. Zaid Abdu Mohammed Al-Qubati is one of Yemen’s most ambitious entrepreneurs. Having made his fortunes in Saudi Arabia, to which he had emigrated in 1971, he returned to Yemen to help in shaping a better future for this country. Al-Qubati, 45, returned to his native Yemen in 1988, and for the last ten years, has embarked on highly diversified business ventures such as construction, civil works, tourism, real estate development, and other activities. On the 10th anniversary of the return of Al-Qubaty to Yemen, Bin Sallam of Yemen Times talked to him about the present state of economic affairs and his future plans. Excerpts:
Q: What are your current local and foreign projects? A: At this time, we don’t have any projects abroad. We closed down our businesses in Saudi Arab after the 2nd Gulf war. As for our projects in Yemen, there is currently a giant tourist project in Hadhramaut we are implementing with Saudi partners. There are also two projects to build luxury villas in Aden and Sanaa. Also in Sanaa, we are now implementing projects to construct a factory of ready-made concrete structures and apartment complexes, in addition to a 20-storey tower building to house our main offices.
Q: I also understand that you will start a few more projects soon? A: God willing, we’ll be renovating the Ghamdan Palace in Sanaa to be in its same old style and glory. You remember that this was a tower palace of pre-Islamic Yemen. Our vision is for a project which will be one of the greatest establishments in the Middle East. The 23-storey Ghamdan Palace will consist of 360 rooms and suites, 3 large convention halls each accommodating nearly 3,000 persons, and a number of gardens and other facilities. The construction and renovation costs will be around $55 million. In addition, there will be the cost of refurbishment and facilities.
Q: You have recently participated in the MENA conference held in Doha, Qatar. How have you benefited from your participation? A: I took part in the conference at the invitation of our Qatari brothers. It was a good opportunity to meet with representatives of Arab and foreign companies. We invited a number of very important international companies to be our partners in joint ventures in Yemen. The major fields of mutual interest include heavy-industry projects such as iron and steel, aluminum, cement, tourism and construction. Our Ghamdan Palace project received quite an enthusiastic response from both Arab and foreign investors and companies. We offered 60% of the project’s outlay.
Q: How do you assess Yemen’s present economic conditions? A: I am very optimistic. The World Bank is now pushing more economic and administrative reforms in which a lot of progress has already been done.
Q: Citizens have not seen much change. The progress you mentioned seems to be official media hype. What do you think? A: Great efforts are being made by the government and the World Bank, but some time will have to pass before a visible positive outcome is achieved. There is no magic wand to change a backward country overnight. We must all remain optimistic. The World Bank is moving in the right direction vis a vis Yemen. All people must support and encourage the work being done by the government and the World Bank.
Q: Is the current economic climate advantageous for investing in Yemen? A: I believe that whoever invests in Yemen at this time will benefit a lot. If there are some bureaucratic obstacles or frustrations, then they are really negligible in comparison with gains to be made by investing in this country. However, I sincerely hope that comprehensive reforms be conducted within all government organs so as to improve the country’s image for potential investors.
Q: How do mean that people investing in Yemen now will benefit a lot? A: We are now experiencing an increasing openness to the outside world. Much of Yemen is still as yet undiscovered, and a lot of natural wealth is still buried underground. I strongly disagree with the claim that the country in unsafe. It is true some incidents do take place, but, compared to a country like the US, such incidents are very few and far between. However, I call on the authorities concerned to be active in solving security problems such as the kidnapping of foreigners.
Q: Do you have any projects for the Aden Free Zone? A: We submitted some proposals to the relevant bodies, but we have not been successful up to now.
Q: What are the most strategic industries that should soon be introduced into Yemen? A: The raw materials necessary for establishing strategic industries in Yemen are readily available – iron and aluminum ores. We made many proposals to international companies at the Doha conference for joining us in partnerships to help exploit these ore metals. We also proposed the establishment of a paints factory, the raw material of which is quite abundant in our country. The cement industry – a strategic one – is already flourishing. I really hope that other construction materials such glass, electric cables, etc, be manufactured in Yemen. We must also not forget Yemen’s great fish wealth on which we also made some joint investment proposals to international companies.
Q: How do you see Yemen in ten years time? A: I hope to see Yemen really happy and prosperous. I will work with other businessmen to attract foreign investments and capital into the country. We’ll be more active in the future. The recent Doha conference has given us an appreciable push in the right direction.
Q: Some Yemeni businessmen tend to deposit the money they earn here in foreign banks abroad. What do you think stops them from investing national capital in national strategic industries? A: I advise all those who smuggle their money out of the country to reconsider. Yemen can only be built with the efforts and wealth of its people. They really have nothing to fear, the country is quite safe. Many indications prove my point. I believe that national capital should be invested within the country, which is far more beneficial than when foreigners come to exploit the country’s resources primarily for their own gains. If national capitalists do not take part in building the country, then we must not pin much hope on foreigners to do that for us. They will not come if they feel that the citizens themselves are refraining from investing in their own country. ýSo people who take their money abroad are really destroying the country’s economy and its image as a safe place for investments.
Q: The Island of Socotra is still a mysterious region, and many people wish to visit it. Do you have any plans for tourist projects on that island? A: I hope that I will have the chance to do a project or two on that island, but there is not enough information on the place’s available resources and potential for tourism. Moreover, the relevant authorities have not yet invited anybody to consider the possibilities of investing in Socotra. It still remains a closed and inaccessible place. I think the Ministry of Planning and Development should really start to do something about Socotra. Despite all that, we are planning to visit the island soon to gain first-hand knowledge of its potential for investment. This will be facilitated by the building of a sea and air ports which the government is currently doing.
Q: Do you have any last comment? A: I call on business people in the world, Yemenis included of course, to participate in investing in Yemen and help build a strong industrial base for the country. There is adequate legislation to govern the process and protect the interests of the investors. So there is really nothing to fear. Foreign investors are no longer obliged to have Yemeni partners in order to invest in Yemen. There are also numerous customs and tax exemptions and other facilities provided to make investing in Yemen a very attractive prospect. During his recent visit to France, President Ali Abdullah Saleh announced that he will personally work on modifying the Yemeni investment law so as to accommodate the requirements and needs of foreign investors. He also promised to work as best as he could to remove all obstacles that will likely face investors.