War-ridden Yemen’s other frontline — the central bank

Yemeni bank tellers count money at the Central Bank of Aden in Aden on December 13, 2018.(AFP)
Updated 18 December 2018
0

War-ridden Yemen’s other frontline — the central bank

  • The Arab world’s poorest country is crippled by a humanitarian crisis
  • Many have died as a result of poverty, starvation, poor health care as the central bank is caught up in the conflict

ADEN: Cashiers sort through large stacks of money inside a ragged building that is Yemen’s central bank, another frontline in a ruinous conflict as it fights to stave off economic collapse.
The Arab world’s poorest country is crippled by a humanitarian crisis, with images of skeletal children in famine-like conditions grabbing global attention, but economic dysfunction appears to be at the heart of the problem.
Yemen is afflicted by what diplomats call a famine of jobs and salaries, with the central bank — headquartered in the government’s de facto capital Aden.
Running the economy from a building pocked with bullet holes in the southern port city, the bank is scrambling to revive a currency that has lost two-thirds of its value since 2015, exacerbating joblessness and leaving millions unable to afford basic food staples.
The central bank expects a $3 billion cash injection from Gulf donors Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates to prop up its sagging currency amid soaring inflation, its deputy chief Shokeib Hobeishy said in an interview last week, without giving a timeline.
The potential lifeline, if confirmed, would follow a $2.2 billion infusion by Saudi Arabia to the depleted reserves of a bank that appears ever more dependent on international handouts.


Hobeishy acknowledged that the bank was struggling to assert authority over its branches outside government control, including in Sanaa, which was seized by Iran-aligned Houthi militia in September 2014.
The government moved the bank’s headquarters from the capital in 2016 following suspicion that the Houthis were plundering its reserves to finance their war effort.
The relocation practically left the country with two parallel centers of fiscal policy dealing in one currency.
Yemen’s rivals reached a truce accord last week, but conspicuously absent was an agreement on economic cooperation as the Houthis rejected government calls for the Aden central bank to handle public sector salary payments on both sides, a diplomat who attended the talks told AFP.
The central bank is now “arguably the most dangerous frontline in the Yemen war,” said Wesam Qaid, executive director at Yemen’s Small and Micro Enterprise Promotion Service.
“The death toll as a result of bombings or land mines and military operations stands in the thousands,” Qaid told AFP.
“Many more have died as a result of poverty, starvation, poor health care as the central bank is caught up in the conflict.”


Yemen’s economy has contracted by 50 percent since the escalation of conflict in 2015 and inflation is projected at over 40 percent this year, according to the World Bank.
A weakened currency has diminished the purchasing power of millions and the private sector is haemorrhaging with businesses shutting down or making layoffs.
New Prime Minister Maeen Abdulmalik Saeed, appointed in October, said he was seeking to revive oil exports that once contributed about three-quarters of state revenue.
But such are the fears of insolvency that many Yemenis are afraid of putting their money in local banks.
“Banks often say: ‘We don’t have money. Come tomorrow, come next week’,” said a 54-year-old school employee in Aden.
Businesses also criticize the central bank over cumbersome processes to obtain letters of credit for vital imports — in a country that depends almost entirely on food from abroad.
In a letter sent in November to the prime minister and central bank chief, Aden’s chamber of commerce voiced concern that traders in areas outside government control were struggling to import essential goods. A central bank order requires payment in cash only.
The letter, seen by AFP, said the policy had caused a sharp decline in imports in those densely populated areas, making them prone to famine.
On the other side, businesses say the rebels are obstructing traders and banks in their areas from opening credit lines to Aden.
Central bank chief Mohammed Zemam said this month five Sanaa-based central bank employees had fled to Aden over safety fears and were immediately blacklisted by the Houthis.
“We are asking the Houthis to leave the banking sector alone,” he said in a separate interview in Riyadh.
“This is the only way to feed the people.”


Dubai property developer Damac on hunt for land in Saudi Arabia

Hussain Sajwani
Updated 18 March 2019
0

Dubai property developer Damac on hunt for land in Saudi Arabia

  • Brexit a “concern” for UK property market says Sajwani
  • Developer mulls investing “up to £500 million” on London project

LONDON: The Dubai-listed developer Damac says it is scouting for additional plots of land in Saudi Arabia, both in established cities and the Kingdom’s emerging giga-projects such as Neom.
Hussain Sajwani, chairman of Damac Properties, also said the company would look to invest up to £500 million ($660 million) on a second development in the UK, and that it is on track to deliver a record 7,000 or more units this year.
Amid a slowing property market in Dubai, Damac’s base, the developer is eying Saudi Arabia as a potential ground for expansion for its high-spec residential projects.
Damac has one development in Jeddah, and a twin-tower project in Riyadh — and Sajwani said it is looking for additional plots in the Kingdom.
“It’s a big market. It is changing, it is opening up, so we see a potential there … We are looking,” he said.
“In the Middle East, Saudi Arabia is the biggest economy … They have some very ambitious projects, like the Neom city and other large projects. We’re watching those and studying them very carefully.”
The $500 billion Neom project, which was announced in 2017, is set to be a huge economic zone with residential, commercial and tourist facilities on the Red Sea coast.
Sajwani said doing business in Saudi Arabia was “a bit more difficult or complicated” that the UAE, but said the country is opening up, citing moves to allow women to drive and reopen cinemas.
He was speaking to Arab News in Damac’s London sales office, opposite the Harrods department store in Knightsbridge. The office, kitted out in plush Versace furnishings, is selling units at Damac’s first development in the UK, the Damac Tower Nine Elms London.
The 50-storey development is in a new urban district south of the River Thames, which is also home to the US Embassy and the famous Battersea Power Station, which is being redeveloped as a residential and commercial property.
Work on Damac's tower is underway and is due to complete in late 2020 or early 2021, Sajwani said.
“We have sold more than 60 percent of the project,” he said. “It’s very mixed, we have (buyers) from the UK, from Asia, the Middle East.”
Damac’s first London project was launched in 2015, the year before the referendum on the UK exiting the EU — the result of which has had a knock-on effect on the London property market.
“Definitely Brexit has cause a lot of concern, people are not clear where the situation will go. Overall, the market has suffered because of Brexit,” Sajwani said.
“It’s going to be difficult for the coming two years at least … unless (the UK decides) to stay in the EU.”
Despite the ongoing uncertainty over Brexit, Sajwani said Damac was looking for additional plots of land in London, both in the “golden triangle” — the pricey areas of Mayfair, Belgravia and Knightsbridge, which are popular with Gulf investors — and new residential districts like Nine Elms.
Sajwani is considering an investment of “up to £500 million” on a new project in the UK capital.
“We are looking aggressively, and spending a lot of time … finding other opportunities,” he said. “Our appetite for London is there.”
Damac is also considering other international property markets for expansion, including parts of Europe and North American cities like Toronto, Boston, New York and Miami, Sajwani said.
The international drive by Damac comes, however, amid a tough property market in the developer’s home market of Dubai.
Damac in February reported that its 2018 profits fell by nearly 60 percent, with its fourth-quarter profit tumbling by 87 percent, according to Reuters calculations.
Sajwani — whose company attracted headlines for its partnership with the Trump Organization for two golf courses in Dubai — does not see any immediate recovery in the emirate’s property market, or Damac’s financial results.
“(With) the market being soft, prices being under pressure, we are part of the market — we are not going to do better than last year,” he said. “This year and next year are going to be difficult years. But it’s a great opportunity for the buyers.”
But the developer said Dubai was “very strong fundamentally,” citing factors like its advanced infrastructure, safety and security, and low taxes.
In 2018, Damac delivered over 4,100 units — a record for the company — and this year, despite the difficult market, it plans to hand over even more.
“We’re expecting north of 7,000,” Sajwani said. “This year will be another record.”