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Abu Dhabi gets tough on govt entities’ finances-sources

Strategic review has picked up pace in past month – source; Review could result in more management changes – sources; Abu Dhabi property sector, investment strategy in spotlight.

September 22, 2011 3:32 by

Abu Dhabi’s department of finance has accelerated its review of public spending by government entities in recent weeks, three sources said, a move likely to mean more changes to top management at state-run companies.

At least nine Abu Dhabi-controlled companies have already seen top managers exit this year, including investment vehicle Mubadala and developer Aldar as the government seeks to manage its vast wealth more effectively. .

The sources said a plan to centralise fundraising and crack down on undisciplined issuance in the biggest of the seven United Arab Emirates (UAE), reported by Reuters in May, had gathered pace.

“It hAs been a project for a while … accelerating now though,” said one of the sources, who declined to be identified. One other source, who is familiar with the matter, confirmed a renewed push in the last month to go through firms’ debt numbers.

“This is fresh in the sense of the way that the weight is being thrown behind the evaluation and the analysis of the GREs’ (government-related entities) debts — bonds, loans, everything,” said a third source.

“There is a massive trawling through of the Abu Dhabi balance sheet with a fine tooth comb.”

The department of finance declined to comment.

Abu Dhabi sits on 10 percent of global oil reserves and accounts for 90 percent of the UAE’s oil output, making it one of the world’s wealthiest economies.

But although the emirate has fared better than neighbouring Dubai, its investment and property firms have taken a hit from the global slowdown, forcing the government to undertake a review.

Some firms such as Aldar and Tabreed were thrown a lifeline by the government.

“Abu Dhabi has problems of its own, with the ballooning of its GRE debt and the heavy losses racked up by Aldar among others,” said David Butter, regional director for Middle East North Africa at the Economist Intelligence Unit.

“This has prompted retrenchment in Abu Dhabi with a lot of projects put on ice.”

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) estimates debt maturities of $27.7 billion for 2011-12, and total estimated debt at $104 billion.

Abu Dhabi’s Tourism Development and Investment Co (TDIC), tasked with bringing branches of the Louvre and Guggenheim museums to the city, cut its 2011 budget by 5 billion dirhams (1.4 billion) as part of a strategy to prolong its project delivery schedule amid a market downturn.           (Reporting by Rachna Uppal and Shaheen Pasha; Editing by Sitaraman Shankar)

By Rachna Uppal and Shaheen Pasha

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