A $1bn joint investment fund between Qatar and the Philippines is expected to be finalised over the next year, according to Philippine Ambassador Crescente Relacion who said that the joint venture was an indication of the strengthening of relations between the two countries.
The fund’s establishment will depend on the signing of a memorandum of understanding regarding the mutual protection of funds, but Relacion explained that negotiations were ongoing, and subject to the agreement being adopted, Qatar had committed to investing the money.
An initial agreement on the fund was made following the visit of the previous president of the Philippines, Gloria Arroyo, in 2008, and the ambassador hoped the joint investment fund would be signed and completed in the next year.
Relacion said that Qatar was looking at four sectors in which to invest, including tourism, agriculture, mining and energy.
He welcomed the prospect of more investment in the Philippines, and also expressed his hope to see more Filipino companies coming to establish a presence and involve themselves in projects in Qatar.
Following on from president Arroya’s trip, Relacion said the Philippines was hoping to welcome HH the Emir Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani for a visit in the near future.
The Filipino community in Qatar has grown tremendously over the past few years, reaching a peak of 200,000 compared to only 35,000 in 2006. People from the Philippines now make up the third largest foreign community in the state, after expats from India and Nepal.
With a number of major projects completed in recent months, a large number of engineers and other workers have left the country, meaning that the community has been somewhat reduced.
“Right now we have seen a decrease because of the completion of a number of projects, especially in Ras Laffan,” said Relacion.
But he expects this trend to reverse over the coming years, explaining that the Qatari government has removed all restrictions to Filipino workers coming here in a bid to encourage more skilled workers to the state.
“For the coming year and subsequent years we expect the number to increase again.”
Most members of the community work in the engineering and healthcare sectors, with Filipinos filling the majority of nursing roles at a number of local hospitals.
The Philippine School of Doha is the embassy-supported community school and its enrolment of 2,600 students is an indication of the large number of families now living here. Added to the students at the Philippine International School in Qatar’s 1,300 and the newly-opened Asian Integrated School’s 400 students, the population of young Filipino students in Qatar continues to grow.
Relacion said the Emir had granted to embassy a piece of land on which to construct new premises for the Philippine School of Doha in Abu Hamour.
A large number of Filipino expatriates are employed as domestic workers in Qatar, and Relacion explained that there were still a number of issues related to the mistreatment of such workers. He said the embassy offered a “halfway house” for Filipino workers needing assistance.
“To keep this in perspective, Qatar has the lowest number of problems compared to other countries in the region,” he said, explaining that the complaints were usually related to non-payment of salary, maltreatment, verbal and physical abuse, overworking or sexual harassment.
Relacion noted that the Qatari authorities had helped to support the “expeditious” repatriation of expatriates in these cases, and said that although the situation was yet to witness a marked improvement, the problems remained constant as opposed to being on the rise.
The growth of the Filipino community in recent years, and the strengthening of ties between Qatar and the Philippines leave Relacion looking forward to an even brighter future.
“We have an excellent relationship with Qatar, with a number of bilateral relations signed,” he said, adding “the next five years will see a high demand for workers in the lead up to the World Cup in 2022, and the Philippines wants to be a part of this, in terms of both workers and companies.”
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