Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Midday rule flouted by 10% of companies

Ten percent of construction companies are endangering the lives of their workers by ignoring the midday break rule.

Since July 1 when the rule came into force inspections were carried out at 2,100 companies and 210 were in violation of the law.

The only good news aspect of the story is that violations are down from 30% - 40% last year, but it's still far from good enough.

Amazingly the tabloid 7Days concentrated on that rather than slamming the violators. Headline and opening para are:

Violations are down
The Ministry of Labour has announced a drop in the number of companies flouting the midday break rule this year as compared to last year.

We have all the talk about 'name and shame' yet the names of violators are not publicised, and we have the press trying to put a positive spin on it.

The reason most gave for violating the rule is as predictable as it is unbelievable...they didn't know about it.

The only people in the country who are unaware of the rule are the construction companies!

Heatstroke kills people. The midday rule is there to protect the health and safety of the labourers.

One company not abiding by the rule is unacceptable, let alone ten percent.

Read the stories in
Gulf News.


Dubai, where the streets are paved with gold.

In Gulf News the story immediately beneath the midday rule violations article tells us that 500 construction workers have stopped work to demand a pay rise. Their current salaries range from Dh 500 to Dh 700 a month. For those of you outside the UAE that's US$140-190 or £66.60-93.30. A month.

Details are here.

Monday, July 30, 2007

Spite and malice for Dr. Haneef

I have to talk about Australia again.

Of the many unpleasant features of John Howard's governments, two are in the news again over the Dr Haneef saga.

One is spite & malice, especially from the Immigration Department. That's been a feature of the department under successive ministers.

The second is childish stubbornness, particularly on the part of the Prime Minister himself.

I've posted two pieces on the saga over the last few days so I won't repeat myself with the details of the misuse, the abuse, of the terrorism laws by the government and its agencies. That of course is my point and my concern about the laws. That they would be misused, they would be abused by government. To believe otherwise is naive in the extreme.

In the first spiteful move Immigration Minister Kevin Andrews cancelled the doctor's visa immediately after a magistrate had released him on bail, so that he could be kept in detention.

Having eventually been exonerated, released without charge, we have a whole catalogue of spite and malice from the government.

Firstly, Dr Haneef will not have his Australian visa restored.

Then Kevin Andrews is continuing with the slurs, saying that Dr Haneef is "highly suspicious", that he, Andrews, has "secret information" and of Dr Haneef's perfectly understandable desire to leave Australia immediately he was released: "If anything that rather heightens, rather than lessens, my suspicions."

The 'secret information' can't be revealed says the minister. As William Maley points out in The Australian today: "...it seemed he still could find a lot to say: his press conference was simply the starting point in a frenzy of media activity, with Andrews doing separate television and radio interviews with Sky News, Seven News, Sunrise, 2GB, ABC 774, 3AW, ABC News Radio, ABC Radio National, 4BC, 2UE, 6PR and 2SM.

Virtually all these interviews were replete with insinuations against Haneef, augmented by the minister's claim that he would have "failed the Australian people" if he had not acted.

Only months out from an election, it is little wonder some observers smelled a rat."

It's no surprise to learn that Howard and the dreadful Phillip Ruddock, Attorney General, were part of national security committee reviewing the case before the visa was cancelled. They obviously gave the go-ahead for the visa to be cancelled, in what is blatant political interference in a legal matter.

True to form, John Howard is refusing to apologise for the treatment of Dr Haneef. There will be no apology.

He also insists there will be no official enquiry into the whole shameful episode.

And of course, he plays the terrorism card: ""When you're dealing with terrorism, it's better to be safe than to be sorry."

But we're not dealing with terrorism are we. We're dealing with a monumental cock-up, we're dealing with false evidence being presented to a court, we're dealing with a man who has in effect been deported after being exonerated of any crime, we're dealing with the cancellation of a perfectly legitimate visa, we're dealing with political interference in the legal process.

It won't be long before he's telling us 'the Australian people have moved on' so that the whole thing can be shelved. He's done it so many times in the past.

There's a third feature of Howard's modus operandi that's reappeared with the Haneef situation; win the election at any cost regardless of any standards or propriety. He's done it prior to previous elections, pushing the the fear factor with lies about asylum seekers, about terrorist attacks, about interest rates...this is transparently another of his pre-election tough guy acts, but this time it went pear-shaped.

Oh, and in a final example of the style and charm of our government ministers here's Foreign Minister Alexander Downer when asked about a government apology:

"What do you expect them to do - fall on the ground and grovel, eat dirt? I mean, get real," he told reporters at Sydney airport.

They're all class.

If you're interested in the details, the story is covered in the Sydney Morning Herald, The Australian, the BBC,

New zoo true

It looks as though one of the stains on Dubai's reputation is about to be removed.

A new zoo, so long promised to replace the appalling zoo in Jumeirah, is, according to a Gulf News report, going to be replaced and the animals relocated "by the end of this year."

At first glance and with the limited information given in the drawings the new zoo looks good, with plenty of room for the animals on the 350 hectares (864 acres) site in Dubailand. There's no indication of how the animals will be housed, although the overall design would seem to indicate that they'll have suitable enclosures.

Dubai Municipality/Gulf News

It's said that construction of the new zoo will begin in August and the core zoo will be built in three months, while the rest will be built in stages through to final completion by early 2009.

An interesting additional comment was that there will be chalets for ovenight stays in the zoo.

The story and drawings of the new facility are here.

Saturday, July 28, 2007

The sordid tale of Dr Haneef continues...

Update to my last post on the abuse of its own terrorism laws by the Australian government and its agencies.

The case against Dr Haneef has been dropped and he has been released.

Sort of.

The delightfully named DPP Damian Bugg had his spokesman, the even more deliciously named Alan MacSporran, tell the court that his review had revealed errors in the prosecution's allegations.

After more than three weeks in custody, most of which was without being charged, the eventual charges are shown to be false. 'Errors of fact' were put before the court. That's a polite way of saying the prosecution presented false evidence.

So, no charge. The DPP's office can't make a case against him, however hard they try. Innocent.

But in behaviour which stresses the point I was making about the abuse of the law by government, the Immigration Minister is sticking to his increasingly controversial decision to revoke the doctor's visa and confiscate his passport. He was put in 'residential detention', which means that although he can move about freely in the community he must report regularly to Immigration authorities. That is until his passport is returned to him, which will not be until his immigration status is decided.

Immigration Minister Kevin Andrews, after consulting Prime Minister Howard and other ministers, cancelled Dr Haneef’s work visa immediately after a magistrates decision to grant him bail, ensuring that Dr Haneef was kept in custody. They were all party to the injustice.

True to the way in which the government under the guidance of PM John Howard operates, they're all running for cover and blaming everyone else. That's been a feature of Howard's governments over the years.

Immigration Minister Kevin Andrews and Federal Police Commissioner Mick Keelty are playing the game. It's reported that the AFP are privately blaming the minister, saying that his decision to revoke Dr Haneef's visa complicated and inflamed the case. So it was his fault not theirs.

Mr Keelty said the AFP had acted on the advice of the DPP that there was sufficient evidence to charge the doctor. So it was their fault not his.

Mr Bugg said the AFP had provided his office with 'incorrect material', so it was their fault not his.

John Howard ran for cover as usual. The Prime Minister said it was up to Mr Keelty and Mr Bugg to explain. It was their fault not his.

Keeping his head well below the ramparts is the appalling Phillip Ruddock, Australia’s Attorney-General. He hasn't even popped up to blame anyone else, he's just trying to be invisible. He obviously doesn't want to comment on the fact that he laid into leading lawyers who highlighted serious flaws in the arrest and continued detention of Dr Haneef, describing their statements as 'regrettable'.

The leader of the Opposition hasn't come out of it well either. Kevin Rudd has been conspicuous by his silence, by not slamming the continued detention and harassment of Dr Haneef.

And a final twist in the story. The doctor was left homeless - his apartment had been trashed by police, 'rendered uninhabitable' in the official parlance. And to make sure: His landlord said that Dr Haneef’s lease had expired because he had failed to pay rent while in custody.

"He’s officially no longer a tenant here," Steve Boscher, manager of the apartment block, said. "I don't want to seem like some kind of arsehole but his lease has run out here."

Let's leave the final words with our deservedly highly criticised Immigration Department. Immigration Minister Andrews has said Dr Haneef would be allowed to leave Australia tonight but the Government would not reinstate his work visa - his passport would be returned to him but his visa remained cancelled.

Immigration made it a condition of his return to India that he did not participate in any media photo or interview opportunities, his lawyers said. They expressed disappointment that he was prevented from publicly thanking Australians who supported him during his detention.

What a sordid story this is. Not for the first time during Howard's reign, I feel I need a shower.

Stories in The Australian here, in the Sydney Morning Herald here.
And in The Times here and here.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Abuse of terrorism legislation.

Bear with me, this is long and complicated but important.

There's been much comment and criticism of various countries' terrorism legislation, in particular I'm aware of the US, the UK and Australia. I have been and continue to be a critic.

The criticism centres around the erosion of rights, the removal of checks and balances that have been hard won over centuries of struggles to advance human rights, to have a (reasonably) fair system of justice. Lady Justice's double-edged sword, scales and blindfold.

Those in favour of the laws typically deride critics as left-wing bleeding heart liberals, as traitors, as terrorist sympathisers.

The concern of critics is that the very foundation of our justice systems is being eroded. The very real fear is that government and government agencies will misuse or abuse the powers.

There's a case going on in Australia at the moment that proves we are right to be concerned.

Mohammed Haneef is an Indian doctor working in Australia, one of a group of doctors detained by police in connection with the recent failed bomb attacks in London and Glasgow. He was arrested at the airport in Brisbane, capital of the state of Queensland.

Dr Haneef was arrested on July 2 as he 'was trying to leave Australia'. Sounds sinister doesn't it, those words used in the reports. "Trying to leave Australia" with its suggestions of fleeing. His wife in Bangalore had just given birth to their baby who was very ill - the report could have equally well have said "as he was on his way to visit his wife and new-born daughter".

I've talked about the power of words before. The deliberate choice between using benign or sinister phrases depending entirely on how the subject is going to be depicted. In this case, early in the saga, the media decided that Dr Haneef should be presented in a bad light. Not for the first time, that changed as what was really going on became more apparent.

Dr Haneef was held without charge for eleven days, the police applied to extend his detention, then decided to withdraw the application. Australian anti-terrorism laws allow 24 hours of questioning of a suspect. After eleven days in detention Dr Haneef had only been questioned for twelve hours.

That's a major concern with the laws on both counts. One, the length of time someone can be held without charge. Two, that the time allowed for questioning can be spread so thinly over so many days.

Now we get to July 14. After twelve days in custody without charge Dr Haneef is charged with 'reckless support to a terrorist organisation'.

When Dr Haneef left Britain in 2006 - repeat, in 2006 - to work in Australia he left his SIM card with his second cousin Sabeel Ahmad.

It was alleged by prosecutors that the SIM card had been found in the Jeep rammed into Glasgow airport. They said that Ahmad had passed it to his brother who was alleged to be the driver of the Jeep. In fact it never had been, it was still with Ahmed hundreds of kilometres away in Liverpool where they arrested him - he has not been charged with terrorism but with 'withholding information'.

As the ABC commented: "It seems the facts were not as they were presented in court."

Stuff-up or something more sinister?

(When we visited Cairo recently, Mrs Seabee asked her company's agent there to buy me a SIM card so that we would have communication when we were out & about at different places. He'd never met me, but he handed over the card unquestioningly).

Now onto July 16, charged and finally in a court of law. The magistrate ordered Dr Haneef be released on A$10,000 (Dh32,000) bail, saying he had no known links to a terrorist organisation and that police were not alleging his SIM card had been used in the British terror plot.

Now we get the government doing just what all we bleeding heart liberal lefty terrorist sypathisers had been warning would happen. The government decided the law wasn't doing what it wanted it to do, so it over-rode the magistrate's decision.

Within hours of the court's ruling Immigration Minister Kevin Andrews said he had cancelled Dr Haneef's visa and ordered him placed in Sydney's infamous Villawood immigration detention centre.

Just look at this: "I reasonably suspect he has or has had an association with persons engaged in criminal activity, criminal conduct, namely terrorism in the UK," Andrews said at a news conference. He said Dr Haneef had failed a "character test" and had used his powers under migration law to cancel his visa."

So much for fair justice for all. A magistrate in a court of law grants bail, based on all the facts before him. The government decides that isn't acceptable and throws the man straight into another jail.

Then the obviously deliberate attempt to blacken Dr Haneef's image further. Rumours were spread, picked up by tabloids, that he had been plotting to blow up a high rise tower on the Gold Coast south of Brisbane. The evidence? They'd found at his home what hundreds, maybe thousands of people have - a photo of the world's tallest occupied residential building, on the Gold Coast. A spokeswoman for the Federal Police said "We will not confirm or deny the allegations."

To the ill-informed, to the far right, to the bigots, that's as good as saying he's guilty. Just as his detention in Villawood had done.

(I have plenty of photos of the world's newest tallest building, Burj Dubai, at home).

It was then alleged that police had written the names of overseas terror suspects in Dr Haneef's personal diary. Federal Police commissioner Mick Keelty was forced to deny those reports and also deny that Dr Haneef was being investigated for plotting to bomb the Gold Coast skyscraper.

By July 23 the press was reporting that the charges were about to be dropped. But that the government would deport Dr Haneef.

Innocent, but sentenced as guilty.

Queensland Premier Peter Beattie's description of the false evidence, blunders, rumours as making the Federal Police"look like the Keystone Cops" seemed pretty accurate to me, although it's far more serious than the link to slapstick comedy suggests.

And so to the last couple of days. Now that the true facts are being published, in many parts of the world, the Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions has announced a review of all material relating to the case. Reports from legal sources in the UK and Australia say that Dr Haneef has not been a significant focus of the British investigation into the terrorist plots and they say that his name has barely been mentioned to his second cousin during questioning.

It's all looking like panic actions, the misuse of the laws, the government overriding the law, as well as lies, false evidence, spiteful rumour spreading. Tragically that all sounds so familiar from our governments and their agencies these days.

Since 9/11 really.

And it's happened over so many issues. The invasion and destruction of Iraq, the illegal spying on Americans by their government, Guantanamo, the CIA's 'extraordinary rendition' programme, unnecessarily draconian laws which are open to abuse and misuse in the US, the UK, Australia.

I've had many debates and arguments over these laws and the probable abuse of them. Typical arguments against me have included:

'Our government wouldn't do that', a particularly naive comment.

'They (government) know things that we don't know' - I had that shouted at me when I argued against the invasion of Iraq before it happened. Yeah. What they knew that we didn't was that they'd falsified documents and deliberately lied to us.

'No smoke without fire' - those arrested are obviously guilty or they wouldn't have been detained.

And worst of all the naive belief that only the bad guys are affected by the terrorism laws. That innocent people will not be caught up in the paranoia. The reality is of course that any of us could be caught up in it. Just like the competely innocent Jean Charles de Menezes who was murdered by an out-of-control bunch of gunmen killed by eight gunshots by a team of highly trained anti-terrorist police at Stockwell Tube station in London. A completely innocent man on his way to work.

I'm not suggesting Dr Haneef is either guilty or innocent. But I am saying that he, and everyone, should be dealt with in a way that is consistent with our established values of justice, of fairness. That overly draconian new terrorism laws are open to abuse and that they will be abused.

If we allow our governments to erode and gradually destroy our established values, we're going backwards.

Arrogance & mismanagement - guess who!

Yes of course, the RTA.

The much boasted about Floating Bridge was closed yesterday during peak hours without any advance warning to motorists.

Emergency work demanding immediate action? Not according to the RTA.

Astonishingly, they say the damage to Dubai's vital commercial life, the lost productivity, the added pollution, the frustration to motorists, the chaos, was caused deliberately.

Denying rumours that there was a safety problem or a malfunction, Maitha Obaid Bin Udai, CEO of the RTA's Traffic & Roads Agency, said they had carried out tests and technical experiments during peak hours.

They not only didn't tell motorists what they planned, it seems they kept the police in the dark too. An official is quoted as saying that they were requested by the RTA to send patrols to regulate traffic but: "We do not know why the bridge was closed. We just diverted the traffic"

By the way, I loved this quote from Maitha. Pure bureaucrat-speak. "After the conduction of the technical experiment we noticed some minor issues, which were immediately tackled to reflect the RTA’s commitment to surpass all types of difficulties that could hamper the traffic smoothness."

First the water buses disappear the day after they're launched to a great fanfare, now this problem with the Floating Bridge.

I've asked many times before - when are those responsible for the chaaos and mismanagement going to be held responsible?

Full stories with Gulf News here and 7Days here.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Terrorist bloggers

Another threat to the blogging community is being reported on the BBC website.

Malaysia is threatening to use its anti-terrorism laws, which allow for indefinite imprisonment without trial or charge, against bloggers who 'insult the King or Islam'.

Their record suggests that this would be the thin end of the wedge with the danger that it would soon be expanded to bloggers who criticise the government.

As the story concludes: "With a general election on the horizon it seems the government is keen to send a signal to its online critics that it will only tolerate so much."

This story came as I was about to write of the Australian government's mishandling of its own terrorism laws in the case of Mohammed Haneef, an Indian doctor. That's another example of what many of us have been warning against - the abuse and misuse of terrorism laws. That's a more complicated story which I'll get onto later.

Meanwhile, the BBC story is here.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

"Salik increases commuting time"

Commuting times since Salik was introduced have increased by between 30 and 50 minutes. So say motorists, struggling with congestion on the alternative routes now congested by people avoiding the toll section of Sheikh Zayed Road.

Photo. Megan Hirons. Gulf News

Congestion at the intersection near Deira City Centre where the road from the Floating Bridge meets the other roads.

The stated aim of the toll was to reduce traffic on SZR by 25% and it seems to have done that.

But that was always far too simplistic, too one-dimensional.

What about the ripple effect that so many of us have talked about for months? The pressure on the alternative roads that simply can't take the extra traffic. The pressure on the other bottlenecks, which were already full to bursting?

The already jammed Shindagah tunnel and Al Maktoum bridge are having to take even more traffic. Al Ittihad, Baniyas, Al Maktoum and Airport roads are struggling to cope with all the extra toll-avoiding and Floating Bridge traffic.

There's always a bigger picture and it's far from clear that the RTA looked at this one.

It's a fact of traffic management anywhere in the world that moving traffic more quickly from one area to another simply means that it piles up more quickly at the first obstruction. Widen SZR to six lanes each way, for example, and a bigger volume is brought more quickly to Trade Centre Roundabout, with it's sequence of traffic lights. Screech! The traffic has to stop and the queue just gets longer and longer.

Move the traffic onto Al Wasl or Beach Roads - and they hit Satwa. Screech! The traffic has to stop and the queue just gets longer and longer.

Move the traffic off Garhoud Bridge onto Maktoum or Floating bridges - and they hit Deira. Screech! The traffic has to stop and the queue just gets longer and longer.

The only way around it, overseas, has been to literally go around it - build by-pass roads that avoid the towns and cities entirely. The RTA is building many more bridges across the Creek - in itself a good move but there's no emphasis on what's really needed, roads that by-pass the city and the Creek entirely between Jebel Ali/Abu Dhabi and the northern emirates.

We need more bridges for the increasing number of people who live and/or work in Dubai and need to cross between Deira and Bur Dubai. But we deperately also need more by-pass roads for the increasing number of people who don't need or want to be clogging up the city roads at all but are forced to do so because of the road 'planning'.

By the way, have a look at the driving standards shown in the photo. The lights for traffic coming from the left are obviously green because cars are across the junction going straight ahead or filtering left. Look at the number of cars that have crossed from top right and are now blocking the intersection.


Gulf News has the story of the increased congestion here.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

The heat and shoes...

A couple of months ago I reported that The heat killed my shoes. The heat of the footpath was more than the glue could take and the soles of my trainers separated from the uppers.

A friend who'd read the posting has just sent me this e-mail and photo:

"I bought a new pair of Hush Puppy boots 2 weeks ago... with rather soft soles...
I walked outside for about 20min at Festival City last weekend, entered ACE
hardware and wondered why my lovely new boots were making such a racket... the soles melted-off the heel!"

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Phantom water buses.

I spent half an hour by the Creek this morning and didn't see any of the new water buses.

Not one.

Do they actually exist?

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

RTA blames us again.

Earlier this month I posted about claims that Chaos is not RTA's fault.

The RTA was blaming the motoring public for all the faults in their Salik administration.

They're at it again today.

In 7Days there's a report from yet another motorist about faults in the accounting system. The report ends: "The RTA confirmed there have been a few teething problems with the new system - something they say has been mainly caused by people providing incorrect mobile phone numbers to Salik."

Enough is enough! Will you all please stop causing problems for the blameless RTA!!

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Floating Bridge. Why not 24/7?

The long-awaited and overdue Floating Bridge was opened for business yesterday. That makes five crossing options for the bottleneck of the Creek, so it's very welcome.

It is, according to 7Days, giving drivers "a new route around the Salik toll" and according to the RTA quoted in Gulf News it will "help to reduce traffic jams by 37% on Maktoum Bridge."

The already choked Maktoum Bridge is taking more traffic because Salik operates on Garhoud Bridge, so now some of that extra traffic has the Floating Bridge option.

But although Salik controversially operates seven days a week twenty-four hours a day, the Floating Bridge will only be open from 6am to 10pm.

There is no comment in the reports about the reason. I expect the 'journalists' did what 'journalists' in the UAE do, simply wrote down whatever they were told and didn't ask the obvious question.


On that subject there are more questions that I would have asked had I been there, too, relating to the claimed 37% reduction of traffic on Maktoum Bridge. That's old research, that percentage was reported when the floating bridge was announced.

The obvious, to me, questions are: As there is no commercial or political confidentiality involved, will the research be made available to the public? Has there been research to determine the extra traffic using Maktoum Bridge since the introduction of Salik? What is the revised figure for the percentage that will be diverted to the Floating Bridge?

But back to the main question - if the bridge is closed for maintenance I can understand it, but I don't think that can be the reason - surely it won't need maintenance every night?

So, the question is, why is it closed every night between 10pm and 6am?


If you'd like to read all about it and see the photos, Gulf News has the story here.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

'Mystery shoppers' to check on ministries

The Big Boss meant what he said about ministries lifting their performance levels.

A while ago Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid told them in no uncertain words that they had to lift their game. Now he's announced that they will be secretly monitored.

At the Cabinet meeting held in Fujeirah it was announced that, using the retail 'mystery shopper' model, there will be a team of 'mystery clients' monitoring ministries' achievements and peformance.

It was also announced that an integrated system is being developed to track the performance of all ministries.

Most telling, the team of 'mystery clients' will report directly to Sheikh Mohammed.

With him watching them so closely the odds are good that we'll all benefit from some long-overdue improved efficiency from government departments.

I do wish the RTA was subjected to the same attention.

The story is in Gulf News here.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

RTA heads must roll.

The mismanagement of the whole Salik system goes from bad to worse to utter chaos.

Apart from all the other well-discussed issues with the system chosen, the way it was implemented and the timing of its introduction, there are now daily reports of errors with the installation and management of the follow-up procedures.

We had many people reporting that they received no confirmation of their tag purchase, giving them their account number and PIN. On the other hand a lot of people reported receiving the same message from the RTA up to 135 times.

Then we had people complaining that they were being charged a toll even though they hadn't used the toll road.

One of them reported to Gulf News that he then ran into the typical Dubai customer service wall. He managed to get through to the help-line and was told to go in person to the Rashidiya Salik office - but as it's only open when he's working he couldn't go there to sort out his problem.

Most other people said they simply couldn't get through to the help-line.

An RTA spokeswoman told Gulf News:

"It is a new system and maybe there are some people who have received wrong SMSs for the credit they have.

We are trying to update the system and to make the improvements."

A brand new system needs updating and improving! A ridiculous thought I know, but maybe testing it in advance would have been a sensible idea.

To demonstrate yet more incompetence from the RTA, other motorists couldn't put more money into their Salik accounts however hard they tried.

Frustrated drivers called 7Days to say that petrol stations were unable to help them because they'd run out of receipts or the system had broken down. That was denied by the RTA but that hardly helped the motorists or solved the problem.

No point trying to top-up online of course, the recharge system isn't up and running yet. So even if you can get onto the website it's no help. A spokesperson for the RTA said: "The online recharge system is expected to be up soon. That was ten days after they started charging the toll.

I know, I know. You'd expect a basically efficient organisation to have all these things in place before they put the product in the marketplace, but this is the RTA we're talking about.

Today even more faults in the system are reported. Text messages are saying things like 'the account balance is Dh478 which is insufficient and funds must be added immediately to avoid violation fines.' Others show incorrect balances, either more or less than the correct figure. The website isn't working, the help-line is constantly busy.

All-in-all, a disaster.

It was the RTA who chose July 1st as the date to introduce the toll. With the breathtaking incompetence we've come to expect from them they obviously chose a date that was far too early even for their own systems to be in place and tested.

The incompetence is causing huge numbers of enquiries, the SMS system is faulty, the accounting system is faulty, the help-line is constantly unavailable because it's understaffed, the website isn't ready yet, the offices have inconvenient timings.

Why aren't the people responsible being held accountable?

Here are the Gulf News stories in detail:
Motorists charged toll without using gate.
More motorists report faults in toll system.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Decisions decisions.

How flattering. So much so that I'm very tempted to reply to the e-mail I received this morning:

Hi, my gentleman

My letter comes from my heart. It's time to say about my inner loneliness and strong desire to love and to be beloved!
I can't imagine myself without my soul mate. I know that if I don't meet you, MY Love, this life will lose its sense.
I feel that I will reach everything with my soul mate.
I only need to love and to be beloved and to be supported.
What can I give to you? Of course, it's endless love forever, it's deep affection and devotion, it's care and understanding.
I know the more you give, more you take. Love doesn't have selfish roots into my heart and It is impossible to feel indifference to such cute man like you.
If you feel Truth's pearl into my words, I will wait for your reply right here http://thelovingplace.net/dreamings

Looking forward to get a letter from you


How would I pronounce her name, Tatty?

Trouble is that I can't make up my mind because I have so many decisions to make thanks to my e-mail box. Which do I take advantage of, one or all of them?

In the last two days I've had a very tempting offer of several million dollars from none other than Mrs Arafat and a notice that I'd won £1 million and a new Toyota Prius.

I'm still struggling to understand the subject of two others: "Majority in the Galactic Empire; is to the argument concerning the doesn't he wasn't over you;" and "vigilant warships and he spoke about running phoney because my contribution to Anacreon the king" but as my luck seems to be running hot I'm sure they're to my financial advantage.

Struggling to understand the bureaucratic mind

Bureaucrats live in a strange parallel universe. A place where utter stupidity makes perfect sense.

Public servants, civil servants, government employees, call them what you will, regardless of their nationality they live in a different world from the rest of us.

The latest proof is in my dealings with the Australian Consulate in Dubai. I needed to renew my passport and this morning it was ready for collection.

It would not be handed over to me until I provided proof of my identity.

Think about that for a second.

A passport is the ultimate form of identity. With it and it alone as proof of identity I can travel the world, crossing borders, entering countries.

I pointed to the photograph of myself in the passport and to my face: "There's my identity. It's me".

Not enough. I quote: "The photograph could be anyone".


It was handed over to me...wait for this...only when I produced my Dubai driving licence.

My Dubai driving licence!

Just think what you have to do to get your Dubai driving licence.

So my Australian passport is not proof of my identity to the Australian Consulate, but my Dubai driving licence is.

Over the years I've had some classic examples of the bureaucratic mindset but this wins the Oscar.

I shall wait to see what response I get from the Ambassador to my suggestion that the system needs reviewing.

Monday, July 09, 2007

And on a lighter note...

Thanks to the Egyptian Mail for these snippets of news, translated from stories in the Arabic press:

Sunday, July 08, 2007

Still digging.
The last two Thursdays I've posted about the endless digging up of just-finished developments. They were about, this time, the Marina Mansions holescaping.
Last Thursday I said Yes, the road is ankle-deep in water again. The diggers will be back in a day or two. Again. Inevitably.
And here they are, this time they've tried a different place, cutting through the concrete this time...

Chaos is not the RTA's fault.

For months before it was introduced, many of us said that Salik would create problems.

The wrong toll system was selected, management of it was inept, the 24/7 toll timings were wrong, the tollgate locations were wrong, it was introduced before the alternative roads & bridges and the Metro were ready, incomplete information was given to us.

Well, the results were as we predicted. But we were obviously wrong to think the RTA was in any way to blame. Here's part of their advertisement in today's Gulf News:

See, nothing to do with the RTA. It's all down to drivers not being ready or not being able to understand what to do.

And to 'delays in opening alternative roads'. The RTA is in charge of the alternative roads. They knew, as we all did, the bloody roads & bridges were nowhere near ready. But delay the start of Salik until alternatives were ready? Not a chance with the arrogant RTA.

Then to the Hotline - and the website.

The fault is not that they didn't get it right. Like having enough tags available in time at enough outlets. Like explaining what it was all about. Like texting confirmation of account details. You know, stuff that would mean people didn't have to contact them.

Oh no, that isn't the problem. Nor is not having enough people in the call centres, not having an efficient system of texting in place. Or sending 135 identical texts to people, as detailed in letters to the papers.

No, no. None of that is the problem. The problem is 'the volume of calls to the hotline'. Our fault again.

So 'be patient and keep trying' the hotline, hanging on for hours. Or 'refer to the website'. That's been impossible to get into too.

The taxi stupidity.

By the way, a further chaos-causing decision has appeared that I wasn't clear about before. Taxis have to pay the toll and the toll cap of Dh24 a day does not apply to them. If they don't have a passenger the poor driver has to pay the Dh4 every time he passes a tollgate. So the alternative routes are clogged even more with empty taxis.


One of the worst-hit areas is Al Barsha and the flyover from Al Sufouh. And here's the sort of driving we have to contend with when we're stuck in the jams. Late-morning last week, fifty minutes to get from the ramp of the flyover from Al Sufouh to Lulu Hypermarket in Al Barsha. That would be less than 2 kilometres I would think.

Cars behind me decided to push onto the hard shoulder onto the adjoining slip road...

...then across the grass, around behind the truck illegally parked in the middle of the junction, to try to force their way back into the traffic less than fifty metres further on.

Arrogant, ignorant morons.

Thursday, July 05, 2007

Work standards

Last Thursday I was talking about the incessant digging up of just-completed projects, in this case the area outside Marina Mansions in Dubai Marina.

In the post I said "Laying some plastic pipe, some cables, is hardly rocket science is it. Even if the labourers can't get it right surely there's some supervision, someone qualified to check that it all fits as it should - and is paid to do just that - before the hole is filled in and the drive/footpath laid on top.

Well, they spent a few days fixing the water problem, they filled the new hole, re-laid the pavers, re-planted the garden and yesterday it was all finished.

This morning...

Yes, the road is ankle-deep in water again. The diggers will be back in a day or two. Again. Inevitably.

What's the latest on Dubai's zoo?

That sickening story in Gulf News about the puppy found hanged and hanging from a window in Satwa had a para about the new animal welfare law that, it says, is in its final stages.

It reminded me that we were told back in May that an official contract for the design of the new zoo in Dubailand was expected to be signed early in June. I've heard nothing about it, have you?

We were also told that "the building work will start in July or August". Again, there's been nothing that I've seen or heard since.

Meanwhile the animals continue to be kept in their appalling tiny prisons.

The two Gulf News stories are here and here.

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

The power of words.

Excellent news from Gaza that BBC journalist Alan Johnston has been released unharmed.

A news clip on radio about it once again raised something that I'm endlessly fascinated by. The way words and phrases are used to put a completely different meaning on the same thing by people with different agendas. And the power of the words to create perceptions in the mind of the listener or reader.

The phrase used was that Alan was 'surrounded by Hamas gunmen'.

Hamas won the democratic election, declared fair and valid by international observers. Yet their people are 'gunmen'.

Had they been Fatah people they would almost certainly have been described as 'security personnel'. Had they been westerners in Iraq they would have been described as 'civilian contractors'.

That last one is a new phrase too - such people have always been called 'mercenaries'. They do exactly the same work but the new phrase removes any suggestion of guns & violence. It makes them sound like plumbers or carpenters, not the heavily-armed private armies that they are.

Israel says it has 'settlers' living in 'settlements' in the occupied territories. Very benign, soft, harmless. Others say they are 'colonists' living in 'colonies'. They're talking about the same thing but the perception the words put in the mind of the reader is very different.

We no longer have 'civilian casualties' - that phrase says innocent people are being killed. Innocent people are indeed being killed, but that's hidden in the new phrase 'collateral damage'. No death and destruction, no bereaved families there then. Just a bit of damage around the edges.

Troops are no longer killed by their own allies, we now have 'friendly fire incidents'. They're still killed by their own colleagues, the result is the same but it's made to sound so much more harmless.

What annoys me about it all is that the media either falls for it without thinking or, much more likely, is complicit in the misrepresentation to push its own political agenda.

The more the truth is obscured by the words, the more our problems will increase.

However sordid it is, we need the truth so that we can form sensible, honest opinions.

Monday, July 02, 2007

Salik's working well then.

According to the RTA salik was going to reduce traffic on Sheikh Zayed Road by 25%.

It has, by more than that I'd say, so I'm sure they'll claim it's a great success.

What will probably be ignored by them is the fact that every other alternative road is jammed solid, as predicted by just about all of us. All of us who, according to the RTA, don't know what we're talking about as we have no experience in traffic flow, unlike the RTA which does know what it's doing.

Oh yes. The evidence about whether they know what they're doing or not is all around us isn't it.

Remember the Gulf News item back in May? Headline was "Authority dispels fears of clogged Dubai roads" and it went on to quote Engineer Maitha Obaid Bin Udai, Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Traffic and Roads Agency at the RTA, as saying that the toll system would not create traffic congestion. The full story is here.

That was in response to Brigadier Mohammad Saif Al Zafein, Director, General Department of Traffic, Dubai Police, saying the new road toll system will clog traffic rather than ease it. That story is here.

The Brigadier was right, we were right, the RTA got it wrong yet again. Inevitable isn't it.