Wednesday, July 30, 2008

"UAE tops in providing luxury to expatriates."

That won't ring true to Dubai's boys in blue, the thousands of labourers building the city - and the cleaners, retail assistants, drivers, gardeners, teachers, nurses, office juniors and all the others who keep it going.

But, mainly because the UAE gets a high ranking, HSBC's survey of expats has been given a lot of media coverage.

In what's claimed to be the world's largest expat survey, they had response from 2,155 expatriates across four continents about the opportunities and challenges that come with a life away from home.

What I can't find is who the respondents were.

Pretty obviously though, the results are referring to western, management-level expats and as we know in Dubai that's a tiny sample of the global expatriate population.

According to the results, while half of expats spend more on food, shopping and socialising in their new country of residence they also save and invest more than they did in their country of origin.

While I was reading the reports an e-mail arrived from a friend about the effect of Dubai's inflation at street level. It also shows how unrepresentative the much-publicised survey is of most expatriates.

Ten years ago my friend started using an automatic car wash, where 5 guys dry and vacuum your car afterwards. In 1998 it cost Dhs 15, in 2001 it went up to Dhs 20 where it stayed until 2006 when it went to Dhs 25. Because of Dubai's rents my friends moved to Umm Al Quwain and hadn't used the carwash for a while. Yesterday they did and the price is Dhs 35.

I'll just quote the e-mail:

I commented to Suresh (one of the cleaners that has been there since 1998 at least) about the high price.

He tells me "Yes, madam. Everything too much expensive now. After Diwali this year I will return home to my family. There in India I can work as a driving instructor and earn a better salary than I earn here (at the car wash he earns a basic salary of Dh950, with approx. Dh200 in tips every month) and I only work 8 hours (and not 12 hours like in Dubai) and my family is there.

I need to make savings for my children's education and I cannot do that here in Dubai. Now with the new visa laws, it will also be very difficult to bring them here, even if I stay and get a better job."

She related this to a colleague. He had a similar story.

From when he arrived in Dubai three years ago, cleaning and ironing a shirt cost Dhs 7. When he picked-up his shirts yesterday he was told that they now cost Dhs 11. The friendly attendant who knows him well apologized and said that next month they'll be Dh13, and not surprisingly "customers are leaving us now".

He went on:

"For me also, there is no more reason to stay in Dubai. I am going home to Bangladesh, there I will work in a call centre, I earn the same salary as here (Dh1,400 a month) but I only work 8 hours a day (and not 10 to 12 hours at the dry cleaners). There, I can live with my family and make many savings."

And my friend makes an interesting point:

Everyone talks about the "Brain Drain" in the GCC… of highly educated Arabs seeking employment in the West. What about the "Muscle Drain", i.e. all the service staff like waiters, delivery drivers, store attendants, etc. etc. etc. who can no longer afford to stay here?

Dubai is far from unique in becoming too expensive for the essential lower-paid people to live in, cities around the world are struggling with the problem. But we need so many more than most cities because of the frantic construction and expansion, so solving the problem is more urgent here.

Back to the survey and a sample of the headlines: "The United Arab Emirates is the most luxurious place for an expat to live" and "UAE tops in providing luxury to expatriates" and "High salaries pull in expats".

Unless you're a highly paid western managerial expat, you might want to treat them with some scepticism.

Expats enjoying Dubai's luxurious lifestyle...

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

There's always a moron.

We still have the morning traffic gridlock in Dubai Marina, for the third day,

It brings the morons out of course.

We're on a narrow residential two-way road in a construction zone, edging forward at snail pace in an orderly queue.

Except the moron.

Suddenly he's going at high speed down the wrong side of the road, the wrong way round a roundabout and forcing his way into the queue.

I like the idea of lynching morons from the nearest tower crane.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Traffic chaos rant.

Yesterday the RTA created gridlock most of the morning in Dubai Marina.

Over the weekend they closed a major road with no warning. No no new signs were erected. No 'Changed road conditions' signs.


So motorists went the way they've been going for a year and found this:

The only sign warning drivers of this is a couple of hundred metres from the blocked road. A small temporary sign, black on yellow, which is easy to miss in all the construction clutter and the dangerous traffic:

By the time they reach this sign it's too late, the narrow, local, residential roads, already choked with construction traffic and parked cars, are jammed solid. With more and more vehicles coming up behind plus hundreds trying to leave the buildings in the area.

People were trapped in their vehicles for three hours or more. It was the first item on radio news reports, so it was well publicised.

Seeing the problem they'd created and the simple cure for it, erecting signage, the RTA took immediate action to make sure they fixed the problem and avoided a repeat. Didn't they?

If they gave a damn they would have.

Being the RTA they did absolutely nothing.

They simply let the gridlock happen all over again this morning.

The concierge in our building came around before 7am to warn us that traffic was jammed outside our car park. Too late, we couldn't get out so we got on with work on our computers at home.

At just before 10am he came back to let us know the traffic was clearing.

Three hours of gridlock again.

The original fiasco is an example of the incompetent management we've come to expect. The lack of action to correct their mistake is an example of arrogance and a don't-give-a-damn attitude.

They call this management?

The whole management of the roads is a disaster. They can't get even the simple things right.

Just take this one small area I'm talking about. When you drive along Al Sufouh Road towards Jebel Ali/Abu Dhai there are very few signs to those destinations.

Eventually there is one - it directs drivers past the obvious last connection to Sheikh Zayed Road at the completed Interchange 5 and on to Dubai Marina.

That was always a breathtakingly stupid route to direct drivers along.

When you're into the beginning of Dubai Marina there's another sign to Abu Dhabi, easy to miss in all the construction clutter. If you happen to spot it, it tells you to go back the way you've come, so many people tend to ignore it and go straight ahead.

For about a year that's been the way to Jebel Ali/Abu Dhabi for hundreds, probably thousands, of vehicles.

Then with no warning the road is closed.

How long are these people going to remain in their jobs, causing by their incompetence such huge chaos, pollution, financial losses?


By the way, well done to Dubai Police.

When eventually, after 10am, we were able to get out, a lone traffic cop was standing in the sun, in the heat and dust, doing his best to get the traffic moving. He was over-riding a red signal which is always a bottle-neck, when it was safe to do so, waving the traffic through.

To the anonymous cop, well done and thank you. You saw a problem and took action to solve it. Give me your name and I'll vote for you to be the new boss of the RTA.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Deliberately caused road chaos.

I'm stuck at home. Can't get out of the carpark. Three hours so far, and counting.

There's deliberately caused gridlock in Dubai Marina.

Deliberately caused?

Oh yes.

At the Jebel Ali end, where the new Interchange 5.5 is being constructed, there's an unannounced, unsigned major change to the roads. As a result hundreds, possibly thousands, of vehicles are in gridlock.

To recap for a moment...

In an example of crass stupidity, Dubai Marina was designed with only one entry/exit.

Based on that design the roads were completed. Then someone in a position of authority realised that there needed to be an entry/exit at both ends, so the roads were dug up.

For perhaps a year, traffic going to Jebel Ali & Abu Dhabi has been directed through narrow, local residential roads. Those roads are also clogged by construction traffic & work plus people double parking. Not ideal but it's been sort-of working, in the context of Dubai's laughable traffic management.

Now to the cause of today's gridlock.

A couple of days ago, overnight, the way through to Sheikh Zayed Road on to Jebel Ali/Abu Dhabi was closed.

No advance notice was given.

No signs have been erected anywhere to warn of the closure until the closure itself.

The road signs telling drivers that this is the way to Jebel Ali/Abu Dhabi are still in place.

Guess what?

Hundreds of drivers are doing what they've been doing for a year, following the same roads, following the same signs.

Then they reach the red & white concrete barriers that have closed the road.

So we have hundreds of cars trying to get back to find another way, plus hundreds of drivers living in the buildings trying to join them.

It's unnecessary, could have been avoided, should have been avoided.

It's all so simple. Signage.

I'd be interested to know who's in charge of this fiasco. He and his 'management' team need to be removed from their positions and replaced by people who actually kow what they're doing.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Bureaucracy gone mad.

To continue on yesterday's theme, there's an article in Gulf News today under the title "A few things to note before changing jobs".

Before I get onto it, let's set the scene.

We're talking about the free-wheeling, tax free, hard-nosed business centre of Dubai. The city which makes doing business easy and profitable because it's pinned its very future on its commercial success.

Dubai depends on businesses setting up here. Businesses which can attract talent to work in them.

I can do no better than simply print the words in the article, by Alice Johnson. She's writing about expatriates who want to change their job.

Change your job? Simple isn't it - you give the required notice to your employer, they throw a goodbye party on your last day, everyone wishes you good luck and next week you start your new job.

Not in the free-wheeling, tax free, hard-nosed business centre of Dubai.

OK Alice, off you go: aware that the visa transfer/issuing of a new residence visa and labour card is a complicated process...

...To transfer a visa, the new employer needs to gain permission from the previous employer, after gaining approval from the Ministry of Labour.

Residence visas are usually issued for a period of three years. The UAE's free zone visas can usually be transferred from one employer to the next. However, the previous employer needs to agree to the transfer and may need to provide a no objection certificate (NOC). The NOC may need to be provided in Arabic, on headed notepaper, signed by the local sponsor.

If you have a non-free zone visa, it will need to be cancelled before a new visa can be applied for.
You will need to sign a document instructive of a six-month work ban. This ban, however, can be lifted with the NOC from a previous employer.

If a non-free zone visa is cancelled, the new employer may have to pay a fine for the duration of the remainder of the visa, if the employee has not completed a specified period of work. This period is one year for Masters and PhD holders, who can transfer sponsorship an unlimited number of times. It is two years for Bachelors degree or equivalent, and are allowed to transfer twice.

Other categories of employee with lower qualifications are allowed to transfer once during their tenure in the UAE, and must have been working for at least three years for a current employer.
The one-year clause can be exempted under certain conditions, including approval from current sponsor, minimum qualification of a high school certificate, approval from the Minister of the Undersecretary and payment of certain fees.

Under certain rules, labour categories are exempt, provided employers pay Dh3,000. These rules include a company announcing bankruptcy or if the Ministry of Labour cancels a company's license.

You can bet that's just the tip of the iceburg too. Delve into it and there are bound to be many more inclusions, exclusions, educational rankings, that's-not-allowed-but-you-can-if-you-pay-a-fee clauses...

How do they come up with this stuff?

So many unnecessary obstacles thrown in your path when you try to do anything. And so many fees, the tax that dare not speak its name.


I'm not making it up, you can read Alice's article in full here.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Mind boggling bureaucracy

Red tape isn't unique to Dubai by any stretch of the imagination. But as New Dubai is being built from scratch we have the opportunity not to make the mistakes others have made. We can look around the world, we can see what the problems are, we can see the very best as well as the worst. We can reject the bad and take & adapt the best of the best.

But all too often we don't.

Two stories in the news the past couple of days illustrate the problem. Car pooling and visas.

Car pooling is something that is an obvious tool in the battle against congested traffic. We don't have a viable public transport system so by necessity private vehicle use is high.

On their Sharekni website the RTA lists ten excellent reasons for encouraging car pooling, indicating that they understand the problem.

So what do the authorities need to do about car pooling?


Well just one thing. Taking the lead from other commuter cities around the world, make a transit lane available only to cars which are full. The lane operates with the traffic flow morning and evening during the appropriate timings, with the police out to ensure compliance.

Apart from that there's nothing that needs to be done. Just let people get on with it, resulting in all the benefits the RTA itself lists.

So having now decided that car pooling is legal and A Good Thing is that what happens?

No, we have a huge, complicated, unnecessary system installed.

People wanting to car pool have to register on the website. Name, gender, nationality, employer's name, contact numbers...the usual red tape. They have to record the vehicle, the driver's details, the passengers' details. If they take it in turns to drive each other to work they all have to register as driver of their own car and as passenger in each of the other cars.

The permission is valid for six months and all drivers and passengers must renew the permission before it expires.

The obvious question is why complicate a very simple issue?

Then to the new visa regulations.

If they've decided that the visa renewal runs to Kish, Oman etc are to be stopped, if they want to reduce the number of people coming on a visit visa and looking for a job, I'm not querying that.

But increasing tourism is an important element in Dubai's future. So is industrial & commercial expansion, with its demand for more workers. Making it harder, more complicated, more costly to come to Dubai hurts those vital parts of Dubai's future.

And why on earth introduce so many different types of visa, so many different costs, so many restrictions, so much bureaucracy?

As part of the changes announced yesterday we were told that the 34 nationalities previously given a free 60 day visa on arrival will from July 29 have to pay Dh100 for a 30 day visa and Dh610 for a 30 day extension.

Today we're told that this fee is 'on hold until the correct mechanism is in place'.

Introduce a system, put a start date on it, then realise that you forgot to put a mechanism in place to actually operate it.

Well done.

Everyone arriving, except the 34 nationalities, must pay a Dh1,000 refundable deposit.

Who will collect the deposit? Travel agent, airline, Immigration desk at the airport?

Think of the bureaucracy it'll take to collect and give receipts for the money.

And, worse, how will refunding it be handled?

Do visitors have to go back to their travel agent or airline? Will it be refunded at the airport after they've checked in for their outward flight? A super-jumbo full, over half a million dirhams to be refunded per aircraft, all queueing up somewhere with receipts to be checked, money to be counted.

The information we have is vague at best.

Everyone arriving, except the 34 nationalities, must have health insurance.

Apparently, health insurance was necessary because: "People could be involved in a traffic accident or get a health problem."

Fair enough but, errr, doesn't this apply to citizens of the 34 countries too?

Anyway, moving on...the list of visas now available is multi-entry, long term, short term, education, medical treatment, exhibition, conference, festival, tourist, service, transit plus a whole list for 'complimentary', embassies, GCC. They range from a validity of 14 to 90 days, costs from free to Dh2110.

Tourist visas can only be applied for by hotels or licensed travel agents, residents cannot sponsor friends. Question. What about visitors staying with friends who do as airlines encourage us to do and book with them direct online? There are thousands who fall into this category, helping our economy by spending money while they're here.

An over-complicated system, far too much bureaucracy and, it would appear either not thought through properly or not communicated properly.

Probably both.

Sharekni is here.

Visa reports are here and here.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

"RTA announces the legality of carpooling in the Emirate of Dubai"

That's what the new car pooling website tells us.

The system is all overly bureaucratic, unnecessarily so I'm sure. And car poolers have to re-register every six months. But in spite of all that it's a huge move in the right direction.

Press reports say that getting rid of illegal taxis is behind the move, the RTA sort-of tells a different story.

The ten reasons they give don't mention illegal taxis and actually make sense:

1. Reducing overall traffic congestion on the roads of Dubai
2. Reduce peak hour congestion
3. Reducing single occupancy car trips in Dubai by implementing car pooling system.
4. Promoting alternative modes of transport.
5. Improve parking in areas that are experiencing parking congestion
6. Save money by sharing the cost of driving one car.
7. Reduce number of cars in the road.
8. Reduce pollution and carbon dioxide emissions.
9. Reduces driving-related stress for participants
10. Provide social connections in the society.

Take note of No. 6. Sharing costs has been something that's been debated for a long time, many people saying it wouldn't be allowed.

The illegal taxi concern obviously is in the RTA's mind because it does pop up in the background. If you go to the FAQ section you find:

Q3. Will there be any permission issued when carpooling the family members and friends?

A. No, because this does not run counter to the rules of fighting the illegal taxi practice.

Q5. Is the permission a must when carpooling the coworkers?

A. Carpooling the coworkers does not run counter to the rules of fighting the illegal taxi practice...

So they actually answer some of the criticisms about the whole scheme, in saying that car pooling is especially for commuting to work and that permission is not needed when car pooling with family and friends.

The true test of course will be how many groups of people in cars are stopped and questioned by RTA inspectors and the way they're treated by the inspectors.

One thing I found astonishing was the survey they're running.

The question is "Do you think Dubai will benefit from car pooling?"

Amazingly to me, when I looked, 35% said 'no'.

The website is here.

Over 80% of Dubai's warehouses and factories a fire hazard

After a succession of fatal fires around the city a month long inspection was carried out of warehouses, factories and workers' accommodation.

It's no surprise that over eighty percent are a fire hazard.

Major General Rashid Thani Al Matroushi, Director of Dubai Civil Defence, said most common violations in warehouses included random storage, lack of fire alarm and fire-fighting systems, and change of interior design without permission.

He said most factories lacked fire alarm and fire-fighting systems, storing goods near fire-fighting equipment, and blocking exits and corridors.

There's not much else they could be doing to endanger lives.

Inspections were made at 1,176 establishments, of which over 900 were not abiding by fire safety standards.

And a quote from Maj. Gen. Al Matroushi sums up the responsible attitude of the people involved. Only three of the violating establishments rectified their situations during the inspection period.

The danger they were creating was pointed out to them, they were obviously told what the problem was.

The urgent action taken to protect lives and property was a shrug of the shoulders.

Fortunately, it seems that some action may now be taken.

Many of them did not respond to civil defence procedures ... we will implement legal action starting from fining them until closing down the establishment or referring the violators to the public prosecution," Major General Al Matroushi said.

Once again it's reactive rather than the proactive action that's needed so badly in so many areas of Dubai's society. But at least it seems some kind of action may be on the cards.

Here's the Gulf News report.

Monday, July 21, 2008

This happens far too often...

Photo by Gulf News reader Tatiana Djabulu

Another crash, another vehicle bursts into flames.

I've said it many times before, vehicles crash - including at high speeds - in other countries but they don't seem to burst into flames as they do here.

Do we not have adequate regulations about fuel tank safety?

And on the road safety subject, statistics reported by Dubai police show that our road deaths are going up. There were 147 people killed in the last six months, an increase of 8% over the same period last year.

Think about it, it's person being killed almost every day.

The stats also show that 1,688 were injured in 1,914 crashes in the last six months. That's about ten a day, every day.
Plenty of talk, plenty of hand-wringing, plenty of promises, but the situation is getting worse.

The stories are here and here.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Yet another planning fiasco

Surely, being given an 800 hectare plot of empty desert and the opportunity to design a whole new city from scratch must be the dream of every town planner.

What an opportunity!

The plot of land is completely empty, so you don't have to work around anything. The perfect blank canvas.

You'd look at the well-known problems that cities around the world have, and you'd plan so that they don't happen in your new city.

You'd consider the number of residents to be catered for, the amount of commercial space and the numbers of workers it would employ, and you'd plan the infrastructure around those figures.

You'd make sure you have enough water, electricity, sewage treatment, roads, parking, ways in and out.

You'd work closely with the authorities on public transport, to arrange that they provide adequate services and you'd plan your road system to allow for them.

Wouldn't you?

Not in Dubai.

This is highlighted again by another report in Gulf News about International City.

What the planners came up with was a sewage treatment plant designed at far too small a capacity, a lengthy sewage-in-the-streets problem, and the main point of the report, ongoing - and increasing - traffic problems.

According to Nakheel's website the Residential District alone will be home to 120,000 people living in 23,847 residential units, with 5,254 retail units.

There are only four entrances/exits.

The first entrance filters three lanes of traffic into one - the perfect design to create jams.

An alternative entrance filters from a petrol station slip road. There's a road built next to the petrol station which has been closed for a long time, which has apparently now been temporarily opened. Motorists can now go through the petrol station and over a temporary sandy surface.

A dangerous U-turn (one of many in Dubai) was designed but has now been closed.

A new bus service was introduced but the buses often block the road because the layby was designed too short.

Great planning again.

Gulf News story is here.

Kuddly kangaroos

One of Australia's biggest attractions is its unique wildlife, much of it furry and cuddly.

Like koalas and kangaroos.

Or so the story goes. In reality they're wild animals and need to be treated with respect.

From today's Sydney Morning Herald:

A 65-year-old woman mauled by a kangaroo on her central western NSW farm is lucky to be alive, with the animal only stopping its attack when it was chased away by the farm dog, her son says.

Rosemary Neal was rushed to Mudgee Hospital suffering facial lacerations and other injuries, after being attacked on her nearby farm yesterday afternoon while checking on horses in a paddock.

Her son Darren said his mother was lucky to be alive after being attacked by the male kangaroo - which he estimated to have been up to two metres tall, and weighing 100kg.

"The kangaroo has just jumped up and launched straight at her. He hit her once and she just dropped and rolled. My dog heard her screaming and bolted down and chased him off. It it wasn't for the dog she'd probably be dead.''

"My mum is 65 years old and about five-and-a-half foot,'' he said. "Her face has been ripped apart, her hand has been mauled, and she's got scratches all over her back and concussion."

Don't let it put you off, it's a fantastic place for a holiday - but don't try to stroke the cute looking animals you see in the paddocks.

The story is here.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Another rant.

The usual and very common error of using 'of ' when it should be 'have' - as in "I could of done that" - annoys the hell out of me.

Now there's a variation. I copied and pasted this from the website of Sydney Morning Herald.

ABC journo faces cane and jail

7:23pm ABC journalist Peter Lloyd, 41, has been charged in Singapore of supplying drugs.

Charged of supplying!

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Back to Buzzing

I seem to keep going back to subjects I've posted about in the past.

Not surprising I suppose, they're usually pet hates.

So back to my complaint about the relentless use of buzzwords. Buzzing.

My two least favourites are 'solutions' and 'human capital' but there's another one rapidly moving up the field...'footprint'.

There's a classic recorded in the Sydney Morning Herald today:

"I am getting used to the word 'footprint' to describe everything from carbon usage to the amount of bench space an appliance takes up," writes Megan Churches, of Camperdown, "but last week, I was left flummoxed when an electrician business phoned me to give me an appointment with a '1-3pm footprint' of when to expect the tradie. Should I be appalled at the usage, or should I be excited at a language which is so dynamic and versatile?" We're leaning toward appalled at this end, Megan.

Sydney Morning Herald.

The confusion of street numbers

Off the road safety theme and back to another thing I posted about recently, street addresses.

The blindingly obvious street name & building number system was rejected in favour of a complicated numbering system. District numbers, street numbers, building numbers.

It's inevitably not being used because it's utterly confusing. More so because each district has identical street numbers, so for example there are many Street 2As all over the city.

To have district and building numbers simpy aggravates the main problem - street numbers only work if the city is built on a straight grid system.

It came to mind again because a group of us are meeting for dinner at a restaurant we haven't been to before, so I checked the online map.

It demonstrates perfectly why the street number system doesn't work, there's no logic, no flow to it.

From Street 77B into 24D, into 79 then into 20C and finally 83B.

Parallel roads next to each other in one direction are 77B, 79, 83B. In the other direction 24D is next to 20C.

It makes you wonder what kind of mind came up with this nonsense.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Still on the dangerous driving theme...

Sorry, I seem to be back on my driving standards rant again.

But I couldn't help but post about this story in The National.

Motorists are ignoring tougher laws on the use of mobile phones while driving, despite police issuing thousands of fines.

Fourteen out of 15 people questioned in Dubai yesterday admitted to talking on the phone while driving, while 11 said they sent text messages.

Col Saif Muhair al Mazrouei, the deputy director general of the traffic department for Dubai police, this week said it was difficult to penalise offenders.

“We can’t issue any absent fines as we have to make people aware of the violation, which will mean having to stop drivers on the roads and that will be a very challenging thing to do,” he said.

However, he admitted it was difficult to catch people due to the high number of cars with tinted windows.

“It’s difficult to see if they are on the phone when the windows are tinted, especially at night,” said Brig Zaffin.

I hardly know where to begin. Even if the police can see through heavily tinted windows, presumably in violation of the law, it's 'challenging' to stop the drivers. Fourteen out of fifteen respondents admitted using their mobile while driving. The 'tougher' laws are being ignored, so what does that say about their toughness? It's not about education, apparently: Everyone knew it was illegal to drive and talk on the phone at the same time.

This sentence gives an idea of the mindset of drivers:

Some people said the police were focused more on serious offences, such as driving without a licence or reckless driving, to pull over people for talking on their phones.

"More serious offences" means they think driving without a licence is more serious than talking on the mobile and "reckless driving" does not in their minds include talking on the mobile.

How do you deal with that kind of stupidity?

The story is here.

It's a start...

Dubai Roads and Transport Authority launches road safety drive targeting trucks

Staff Report
Published: July 15, 2008, 23:40

Dubai: The Dubai Roads and Transport Authority (RTA) has launched a road safety campaign, which will crack down on heavy vehicles.

Working with Dubai Police, the campaign aims to reduce traffic accidents involving heavy trucks, deter reckless driving and increase respect for the rights of road users.

That's what a report in Gulf News tells us today.

It should have been done years ago, not in knee-jerk reaction to the recent tragedies. Had it been, people who have been killed would still be alive.

Let's hope that it's not just another of the short-term reactions to recent events that will disappear almost as soon as it's started.

But as the cliche has it, better late than never.

At least some action is being taken and we can only hope that it's an ongoing initiative and that we soon see some positive results.

The full report is here.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

How to stop the road carnage?

Five deaths in one accident, making ten in five days have yet again highlighted the danger of Dubai's roads.

At the end of my earlier post about it I said: We keep talking about it, we keep saying the obvious, that action must be taken but the crashes and the fires keep happening.

And more and more people continue to needlessly, and avoidably, lose their lives.

A couple of comments on the post continued the thought:

Jad Aoun said...
Honestly, this is getting really ridculous. How many people must die, how many accidents must we see before the police become more proactive? Police action here is very reactive. With the opening of Garhoud Bridge, it was easily predicted that cars would come flying down the new overpass from Deira. All they did was put up signs warning motorists that the road is 'monitored' and the speed limit is 80. Try traveling at 80 and you'll get knocked off the road by speeding cars until they reach the speed camera near Wafi. Its a complete joke - cameras and patrols need to be out in greater force. Its still a breeze to speed without getting caught.

dave said...
Agree with jad aoun, it seems that the carnage is endless, and the measures by the RTA & Police are clearly not working. Coupled to this is the lack of educational campaigns, it seems that increased penalties are the only measure that the Govt understands how to implement.
This is yet another tragedy of the loss of innocent lives in the UAE.

I couldn't aqree more with Jad Aoun and Dave. The authorities are reactive, minor penalties seem to be the only measure being taken.

It all seems to me to be out of control. Time goes by, more and more people are killed, nothing changes. Nothing happens to stop it.

I don't believe in complaining for the sake of it, I believe in constructive criticism.

So what do I think the authorities should be doing?

Well, the task is massive because the entire road/driving/licensing/training/vehicle testing situation needs revamping.

It's almost a case of starting again as far as I can see and briefly the basic points I think need addressing are these.

All residents wanting a licence should have to pass a local driving test. No more giving of licences based on an existing overseas licence.

We need very much better driving instructors, with strict requirements on qualifications. It's also essential that they have sufficient experience of local roads and driving conditions. We need a Highway Code, printed in all the necessary languages, which must be learnt and would be tested as part of the licence examination.

Drivers of heavy goods vehicles and those transporting passengers need special attention, with stricter testing and regular retesting.

We need many more traffic police out on the streets, highly trained and qualified, in marked and unmarked vehicles. One simple thing that would help immediately would be to get rid of the need to call the cops for every accident. They have to be called out for the slightest damage to a vehicle, which ties up a huge amount of their time. So sorting out the insurance reason behind this is a must.

All vehicles need to be tested regularly for roadworthiness, with special attention given to heavy goods vehicles and passenger transport, which need to be tested more frequently than private vehicles. Consideration should also be given to installing speed limiters in these vehicles.

Checks are needed on driving patterns of HGV and passenger vehicles, the hours worked, kilometres driven. Taxi drivers are included in this, there are too many stories of taxi drivers falling asleep at the end of a dangerously long shift. The EU regulations would be a good starting point for the policy.

The roads themselves contribute to the problem. Check out the traffic in cities like Cairo, Delhi - chaotic, do whatever you like, every man for himself...they get away with it because the choked traffic moves very slowly. In Dubai the driving is the same but at speeds of way over 100kph. So we're back to driver training to cope with the big, wide, flat, racetrack roads.

It's too late to change the confusing combination of US & UK road systems, but there are measures which would make them a little less dangerous. Traffic lights on all U-turns for example. Short slip roads which give too little space to merge safely or to cross lanes should be adjusted. Pedestrian crossings need to be installed - putting fences down the middle of a road isn't the answer, people still need to cross the road.

Signage is a problem that needs fixing. Road signage is all too often confusing and unclear, creating an unnecessary hazard. Fixing the problem is easy.

We need laws with heavy penalties for traffic offences. Heavy penalties not just a fine of a few dirhams. The more serious the offence the heavier the punishment. So jumping red lights, tailgating, talking on a mobile phone while driving, drink driving, driving on the hard shoulder...all should be very severely punished. Speeding is another, with increasing penalties on a sliding scale related to the speed above the speed limit.

And underpinning everything, an ongoing, serious, wide-ranging education strategy. Road safety education in schools, educating future generations of drivers. Education by way of media campaigns for everyone, drivers and pedestrians. Education of company owners & managers so that they understand the dangers of forcing drivers to work too-long hours.

And in the short term, getting dangerous drivers off the roads immediately by confiscating vehicles and licences. With enough police to check that banned drivers are not defying the ban and driving.

Hand wringing doesn't help. Being reactive is useless. Talking endlessly about it achieves nothing. The need is to get ahead of the game, to acknowledge the problem, identify the causes and to take firm, positive action to resolve it.

And it's urgent.

Monday, July 14, 2008

The Beach Romp: Latest

A cynic? Me?

A friend alerted me to a letter which our tabloid rag 7Days proudly states is an 'exclusive'. It's from the infamous Vince, one half of the drunken-sex-on-the-beach-assaulting-police-officer story.

Written by his solicitor?

Only a cynic would suggest such a thing!

Dear Dubai,

At the outset I wish to unreservedly apologise to the Dubai Police and to the people of Dubai for the offence and inconvenience I have caused by my thoughtless actions of last week, which I deeply regret. I have been humbled and humiliated by the experience of the past week and I am truly sorry for my irresponsible behaviour. I have been accused of engaging in indecent relations in a public place which I deny, although I readily admit that my conduct and behaviour on the evening in question was inappropriate and beyond the bounds of acceptability in the United Arab Emirate of Dubai. Having drunk more than I should during the course of the day, a friendly encounter with a female acquaintance became overly affectionate at a time and place when we both should have known better. I am deeply ashamed of my actions and of the offence and trouble these have caused. My conduct was totally out of character for me. I am a hard-working British citizen and committed father to my seven year old son. I would never wish to do anything to bring disrespect to either me, my family or nationality, nor would I ever wish to offend those around me. Since being in Dubai I have been welcomed and treated with great warmth and hospitality by the people of Dubai; I have sadly betrayed that generosity shown to me, but I sincerely hope that this statement will show my honest and abject remorse and genuine contrition regarding my conduct. My apology to the people of Dubai is both profound and solemn.

Vince Acors

The exclusive is here.

Five killed on Sheikh Rashid Road

The death toll on Dubai's roads reached ten since Thursday when five people in a minibus were killed yesterday.

On Sheikh Rashid Road, a dual carriageway in Dubai city, the minibus crashed across the central reservation and into an oncoming car.

The driver of the minibus and four passengers were killed, four others were injured including the driver of the other car.

Looking at photographs of the wreckage it would have been a bigger death toll had the minibus been full:

Gulf News photo

I, and others, have talked about the standard of driving displayed by bus drivers many times in the past. And the roadworthiness of the buses.

I see, almost on a daily basis, huge construction worker buses, minibuses and large private buses being raced around the streets. In Dubai Marina and Knowledge Village in particular I often see them lurching around the small roundabouts almost on two wheels.

On a post a while ago a comment was left by a pupil who said his school bus driver frightened them with his dangerous driving.

This latest crash is being blamed on speeding and possibly the driver falling asleep, pending investigation. I don't think speeding is in any doubt, looking at what happened and the damage caused.

Five more lives needlessly wasted.

And on another aspect of the same subject that I've talked about many times, two more vehicle fires are reported.

A refrigerated van hit a donkey, killing the animal and 'caused the vehicle to burst into flames'. And a 4x4 hit a motorcycle left in the road after an earlier accident and 'the crash led to the loud explosion of the petrol tank'.

We keep talking about it, we keep saying the obvious, that action must be taken but the crashes and the fires keep happening.

And more and more people continue to needlessly, and avoidably, lose their lives.

Gulf News has the stories and photographs here and here.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Property residence visas

Just to go back to the subject I've posted about a couple of times in the last few days, property-linked residence visas.

To recap, Emaar, and I assume the other Master Developers, have stopped sponsoring owners as they are 'discussing changes in the process' with Immigration. Scroll down to see my previous posts with the details.

When freehold property was opened up to foreigners the promise was that Master Developers would sponsor their residence visa, if required, subject to the normal Immigration Department requirements being met.

I've posted earlier about the effects that not delivering on promises has on business confidence, the damage that such reneging on promises will have on Dubai's future, but there's also the other side to the story. That of the people who've bought property on the basis of that promise.

Not everyone who buys property needs a residence visa. Some bought simply as an investment, live overseas and lease their property. The tenant has a residence visa and arranges DEWA/Etisalat.

Many other buyers are on an employer's sponsorship for their residence visa.

But there are other buyers who do need the property-linked visa that was promised and which has been delivered over the last three years or so. Some of those visas are now coming up for renewal.

These buyers include retired people, who've moved their home to Dubai. It includes people from war-torn areas who are looking for a safe haven. These people don't need a job and an employer who will be their sponsor, they're bringing money into Dubai. They need the residence visa which was offered in return for investing in Dubai property.

Then there are the people who bought a holiday home to visit a few times a year. They don't need a residence visa to live here, but they do need one to get DEWA and Etisalat services installed in their property.

There are also many people who've lived here for decades, who've contributed to the growth and are coming up to retirement. Some would like to stay on because this has become their home. But when they retire they'll lose the employee's sponsorship. Without the property-linked residence visa they'll simply have to leave, to go 'back' to a country that's become increasingly foreign to them.

If the changes that have been proposed go ahead it's a lose-lose situation.

There's one more interesting point I should add.

The proposal to remove the promise was made by RERA and announced by its CEO Mr Marwan bin Galita.

On June 23 this was reported:

"We have submitted the proposals ... to the higher government authority in Dubai to review the visas for property buyers...There is no direct link between property ownership and residence visas."

His comments reverse the government's earlier stand. "

Now look at this May 5 report:

"Four property companies are being investigated by Dubai’s real estate watchdog over what appears to be the non-delivery of projects...RERA CEO Marwan bin Ghalita said four firms were currently being subjected to an "internal audit of transactions”...

“We cannot let people promise and not deliver in Dubai”, the newspaper quoted bin Ghalita as saying.

"We cannot let people promise and not deliver in Dubai." But that's exactly what they've now proposed the government does.

Those completely conflicting RERA stands are reported here and here.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

It isn't just about local sensibilities

The sex-on-the-beach case is not only getting coverage here in the papers and on radio, it's getting world-wide coverage.

What's irritating me is that, here as well as overseas, people keep talking about it in relation to the 'Muslim conservative society'.

They're saying it's not the way to behave here.

Look, it's not the way to behave anywhere.

For the one or two people who may not know, here's the basic story.

A British couple, Michelle Palmer and Vince, who'd just met at a drunken brunch, were engaging in sex in public, on a beach. A cop gave them a warning to stop, and moved on. When he returned they were still at it, so he arrested them. As the UK Sun tells us: She is alleged to have called the cop a f****** Muslim **** and tried to hit him with her high-heeled shoe.

I can't think of any country in the world where they wouldn't have been arrested. It's not to do with Muslim sensibilities. In liberal, secular, Christian Australia being drunk and disorderly, having public sex and assaulting a police officer would also see you arrested.

The sentence may well be more severe here than in the liberal West, that's all.

By the way, I mention the names because they're already in the public domain. Michelle has gone public, with a large photo and an interview with The Sun.

Elegant as always, they begin the story:

RANDY Michelle Palmer breached a strict ban on unmarried sex during a boozy beach romp in Dubai.

Public indecency, drunk & disorderly, inappropriate dress...can we please stop referring to them in relation to Muslim sensibilities. They are not acceptable in any civilised society.

Michelle has been fired by her empoyer, the publishers ITP, Gulf News tells us today. I'm not surprised.

Gulf News story here.

The Sun story here.

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Is Dubai a trusworthy place to invest?

It looks as though Dubai's reputation is about to take another hit as a trustworthy place to invest.

If you set rules for investors, take their money then change the rules after a period of time you deserve all the criticism and withdrawal of investments that will follow.

You'll also deserve the loss of business from potential investors who won't want to take the risk of putting their money into a place that doesn't deliver what was promised.

Dubai can't afford that. The future depends entirely on business investment, which means investors being able to have confidence in the transparency, the honesty, of the place. Investors have to be able to trust that what you say is truthful.

The latest problem about to hit the news is the residence visa linked to property ownership story.

When freehold for foreigners was announced it included the offer of a residence visa, if the normal Immigration requirements were met by the buyer.

The arrangement was for the three Master Developers to be able to sponsor buyers of any property in their master developments. This was agreed between Immigration and the three developers - which means an agreement between government entities. Only the three Master Developers had this arrangement, not any of the hundreds of smaller developers who build on the master developments. All buyers who wished to apply for a residence visa would have to apply to and through the Master Developer.

That's fair enough and it's what has happened since freehold property has been sold here.

Now it seems the rules are being changed.

Last month we had reports that RERA had sent a proposal to government to replace the residence visas with short-term visit visas.

Now I've been contacted by someone who has run into a brick wall trying to get his residence visa.

He bought an apartment in Dubai Marina on the basis that Emaar, the Master Developer of the marina, would sponsor him for a residence visa. Without it he can't even get DEWA and Etisalat services connected.

But when he contacted Emaar he was referred back to his individual developer. He got the usual Dubai runaround, different stories from different people at the developer and at Emaar.

Finally some clarity. He sent me a copy of an e-mail his developer sent him.

"...Emaar...confirmed that they have stop issuing visa at the moment. Because Government Department (the Emigration Department in Dubai &Lands Department) with Emaar are Discussing some changes in the process.

Meanwhile, we can only issue the ownership certificate."

So he's paid his money, the Title Deed will be issued, but he can't apply for a residence visa.

It's an absolute disgrace. Outrageous unprofessional business conduct. Dishonest.

The fluidity of rules

Most, possibly all, of us have come across a major problem that really does need fixing.

Go into any government department and the rules are different depending on the person you're dealing with.

I've always advised people who get a 'no' answer to walk outside, go back in to another queue and try again with a different person. Repeat until you find someone who gives you the answer you need.

This came to mind again because of the experience of a Filipina aquantaince.

She recently married and wants to sponsor her husband to join her here. Naturally they want to be together and he also wants to find a job here - he's in IT.

So she did all the paperwork, getting the marriage certificate attested, getting a salary certificate proving she earns more than the minimum requirement, copies of passport, photos etc etc.

Half a day making the application to be told 'rejected'.

She asked the obvious question: "As I meet all the requirements, why is it rejected?"

The response was: "No reason. Just rejected."

She did the going out-seeing another person trick.

The next person asked whether she had academic qualifications. Replying 'yes, I have a university degree' she was then told she has to produce an attested copy of the qualification.

What the hell does that have to do with sponsoring one's spouse?

Just another example of the nonsense we have to go through, the fluidity of the rules that individuals in government departments work to.

What's the problem? Lack of training? Lack of awareness of the actual rules? Arrogance? Power to individuals who don't know how to handle it?

The words coming from the top, from the policy makers and what actually happens on the ground are two totally different things.

Sunday, July 06, 2008

A nice idea

We were in a small private hotel in a village in Provence, which had a small library for guests offering twenty or thirty books.

Rummaging through them I came across one by Bob Woodward, the investigative reporter who broke the Watergate scandal. The book is 'Veil: The Secret Wars of the CIA 1981 - 1987' and it's a good read.

But the reason for posting about it is what was on the front cover:

What a great idea.

I'll quote from a flyer inside the book.

" encourages people to experiment in what it terms 'the karma of literature' by registering books at the site and then depositing them in public places like coffee shops, airplane seat pockets and park benches.

Finders are not encouraged to become keepers. 'We call it read and release' says co-founder Ron Allen Hornbaker. 'It gives people a way to share their books without feeling like they're losing something'.

Saturday, July 05, 2008

What a brilliant idea!

Having just spent ages on the phone trying to give directions to someone trying to deliver something to me, for about the millionth time, I had a eureka moment.

A flash of genius.

A brilliant idea.

You'll be impressed with this.

How about giving the streets names and the buildings sequential numbers!

Then I could tell people, for example, that I'm at number ten Acacia Avenue, Dubai Marina. And visitors would be able to find me.

I must pass this innovative idea to the Municipality, or Emaar, or the RTA or Emirates Post or whichever is the responsible authority.

Friday, July 04, 2008

Another firefighter dies

The seemingly endless fires in the UAE have claimed another firefighter's life and two others were injured when they fought a blaze in a store in Al Ain

Reports say it was a nine-hour long operation for the firefighters. The fire generated thick black smoke and very high heat from highly inflammable material stored in the building.

No details of the casualties were given in the report, which you can read here.

Meanwhile firefighters in California are struggling with out of control wildfires. Over half a million acres have already been burnt and nearly forty homes destroyed. State of emergency has been declared in various areas and mass evacuations are being carried out.

The LA Times has the story here.

I need help with this...

Copywriters cause me all sorts of problems when I read their ads.

Here's the copy in a full page ad from Emirates Palace. I can get past the "guaranty", the 'going sunny side up', the 'hot suite offer' and 'bring your summer to a simmering sizzle' rubbish.

But you'll have to help me out with the reason that Le Vendome is 'infamous'.


Park in the sewage...or be fined.

There's an added twist to the story of the sewage floods at International City, which I posted about yesterday.

According to a report in Gulf News, residents of England cluster who don't want to park in and wade through the sewage have been parking on roundabouts and pavements. Traffic police have apparently been giving them parking tickets them for doing so.

Technically I'm sure they're right, but a little understanding wouldn't go amiss would it.

The story is here.

Thursday, July 03, 2008

Great moments in planning

Apparently the England section of International City is disappearing under a deluge of sewage.

Alice Johnson braved the stench to take the photo, published in Gulf News.

This is yet another fine example of the ability, the professionalism, of the planners who are designing 'New Dubai'.

Quotes from the Gulf News report:

International City currently has approximately 60,000 residents.

"A specialist team is currently working on measures to resolve a situation related to the sewage system"

"...waste water treatment company Metito was appointed in May to double the existing capacity of the sewage treatment plant..."

So many times I ask the same question about so many different things. Why didn't they plan properly in the first place?

For years the world has known how many buildings, how many units, how many people would be in International City. I'm sure Nakheel also bragged about the tonnes of concrete, the kilometres of steel, the square metres of glass that went into it.

But planning a big enough sewage treatment plant? That was obviously beyond their ability.

Only when 60,000 people are living there do they they discover the plant is less than half the size it should have been.

Where do they get these 'planners' from and who who employs them?

The story in Gulf News is here.

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Reality check

It's easy to forget the reality of the real world when you live in Dubai, so when I come back from a trip overseas I usually post a reality check...

In Antibes, in a little very ordinary cafe, not a five-star hotel, this cost €12.20, which is Dh71

Parking in the UK, well a day in the office at this industrial estate will cost you over Dh50. Park for over twelve hours and it'll cost you Dh175

In a small town in France, again not a five-star hotel but a very ordinary pub. A bottle of beer Dh35, a cappuccino Dh26, a whisky, gin, vodka is Dh35 and a tonic water is Dh17.

Then there's the traffic:

And I thought I'd dispel what is obviously an urban myth, that the French don't and won't speak English. Here's proof that they do:

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Holiday pics

Not wishing to break the tradition of boring people with one's holiday photos, here are some of mine.

I take the usual posing-in-front-of-touristy-things pics, plus the usual pics of monuments and buildings, but I also attempt to take more atmospheric shots to try to capture something of the flavour of the place.

We were in the UK and Provence and here's the UK...

Then in Provence...

Sitting in a pavement cafe in Cannes.

Waiting for dinner in the hotel restaurant.

A village house.

Roadside verge.

Hotel room balcony.