Sunday, May 31, 2009

'Curry bashing' in Oz

Making big news in India, and amongst Indian communities around the world, are reports of racist attacks on Indian students in Australia.

A protest march was just held in Melbourne, reported variously as having either 300 or 1,000 or 5,000 participants depending which report you read.

It was organised by the Federation of Indian Students in conjunction with Melbourne University's Graduate Student Association. That's an indication of the majority opinion in Oz, people of different ethnic backgrounds living side by side.

But there will always be racist elements and sadly they're coming out of the woodwork all over the world.

Recent governments have a lot to answer for, those of BushW and the last Australian PM John Howard in particular. They created a climate of fear and loathing, of foreigners wanting 'to destroy our way of life', which they promoted to keep themselves in power and to push through their extreme policies.

Howard and his cronies had a huge and disgraceful campaign to drum up hatred against asylum seekers, or 'illegal immigrants' as they called them. Lies were regularly told, photographs were doctored, the hysteria mounted.

They were in power for over a decade which was plenty of time to well and truly create the atmosphere. We're seeing the effects now amongst the teenagers who grew up in that climate and who are carrying out these attacks.

There seems to be an increase on attacks on Indian students, although a number of them are undoubtedly not racially motivated but are standard street crimes.

Community leader Dr Yadu Singh said the attacks had been happening for about four years and were a mixture of opportunistic robberies and outright racist attacks.

In the robbery cases, Indian students often became victims because they traveled home late at night, alone, after working to support their studies, Dr Singh said.

He has another interesting theory too, that thieves knew the incidents were unlikely to be reported to police:

"They are not reporting to police because their experience of police in India is pathetic - they are corrupt, pathetic, not helpful."

There does seem to be a copycat element to the racially motivated attacks though, with the phrase 'curry bashing' becoming more widespread. The phrase spreads amongst college students, the morons amongst them seize on it and think they'll go out for what their pea-sized brains think is fun.

"What we gonna do tonight? Study? 'ave a beer? Find some girls?"

"Nah, let's have some real fun, we'll go curry bashing."

That means they are specifically targeting Indians, or more accurately people from the sub-continent because they wouldn't be able to distinguish amongst them.

The fallout is growing, Australian government ministers are involved, the PM has spoken with Manmohan Singh, actions are obviously being taken.

Foreign Minister Stephen Smith told TV news:

"We're doing everything that we can, both with the Indian community in Australia and India itself ... but also working very closely with the relevant state authorities."

Mr Smith said Australia was trying to bring the attackers to justice and ensure a safe environment for all international students.

But now adding fuel to the flames the Bollywood superstar Amitabh Bachchan has gone public with his decision to reject an honorary doctorate from an Australian University, which he'd earlier accepted.

The temperature's rising and I expect to soon see photographs of effigies being burnt in the streets of Indian cities.

Every society has this problem from a moronic minority I'm afraid. Racism, bigotry, discrimination are part of human society around the world. It isn't only, contrary to often stated opinion, a white on non-white issue, it involves people of all colours on people of all colours, religion on religion, class on class, caste on caste, tribe on tribe.

Fortunately Australia is nowhere as bad as many, in spite of the huge reaction in India to these current attacks.

Reading the Times of India I was, as I often am, fascinated by the comments left by readers to these stories. They give a real insight into the range of human thinking. Ignorance of the facts not limiting adamant statements, what I call the arrogance of ignorance. The extreme views of some balanced by the reasonable views of others, the calls for revenge.

Kirpa Raj who lives in the USA is in the 'arrogance of ignorance' file:

Crime is in the genes of Australians who are actually descendants of convicts from England. "Hate crime" is a very soft term. They committed genocide of Ab Origine population, which is a crime against humanity. It is futile to expect any civilized behavior from Australians. India, China, Indonesia, Japan and other civilized Asian countries should occupy/liberate Australia, and put these convicts back in prisons where they actually belong.

I'm sure he wouldn't believe the fact that the vast majority of the 21 million Aussies have no convict ancestors.

He has a fellow travellor in New Zealand too, who's also a conspiracy theorist:

Melchides Rodrigues wants us to know that:

Racism is widely prevelant in Australia and New Zealand. A white (whose ancestors were from Britain) is more likely to be racist toward immigrant Asians than an other persons. Apparently their mental attitude that they are superior than Asians, and their imperialistic (colonial) nature is still widely rampant. They cannot accept the fact that Asians an other non British people , are doing better educationally and job prospect wise.This fact is being covered up by the Australian High Commissioner in New Delhi(John McCarthy), to protect his own fellow Anglo Saxon breathern.

Both happy in their racist, bigoted world, exactly like the morons they're complaining about.

And talking about racists complaining about racism, how about the words of wisdom from Kiran,Kumar:

Out of 95000 Indian students only 500 are real student and rest of them are Punjabis who are here to do anything to earn $$$$$$ and create nuisance wherever they can with best of their abilities. Their so called leaders are all ex taxi drivers who had no life...

Onkarnath,USA has a similar problem:

Why so much crying? Are we safe in India? Can North Indian go to Mumbai and feel safe?

And Jack in Mumbai obviously agrees:

At least now Indians are fighting together. I feel the attack was shameful, But the MOST SHAMEFUL ACT is the one that happened in Austria, Indians Attacking Indians. That's the reason i Feel Australian attack was nothing before it. We Indians are already so discriminative that racism is nothing. India is full of racism and discrimination right the religion, caste, creed, state and language.

JJ has another take on it and wonders why the fuss over these attacks:

When thousand of were Tamilians killed in Sri lanka no body in India made a cry. Why now this cry in the north?

They kind of demonstrate that racism, bigotry and discrimination are alive and well don't they.

There's another side to the view of Australia though. Here's an ABI - Australian Born Indian - who lives in Canberra. Eric Jusula says:

As a first generation Australian who is planning to spend some time visiting India this year I'm very disturbed by what is happening and the media reports in Australia and in India. In my view Australia is one of the least racist countries that I have lived, or traveled, within. Racism exits in all societies to varying degrees. So does violence and crime, and adolescent stupidity. The individuals responsible for the cowardly attacks against Indian students need to be seen for what they are. They are extremely rare, pathetic dregs of society, who will be dealt with as criminals, and disgraces to Australian values.

Australia's first Asian-born cabinet minster agrees with Eric. Penny Wong told TV news that racism in Australia is confined to a minority of people with extreme views, saying that "On the whole I think Australians are tolerant."

Former Indian consul general Mr TJ Rao went even further and said the recent attacks on Indian students had nothing to do with racism.

"This has nothing to do with racism, Australians are not racist people," Mr Rao said. "I have been in this country for 41 years and have never had any trouble.

Well that's an overly rosy opinion because some are, same as the world over, but thankfully they're a tiny minority.

I think the comment form another USA based Indian is a good place to finish.

Ajay Sharma, from Dayton, Ohio makes a lot of sense to me:

Marching peace rallies will not stop evil doers from committing such brutal attacks. The root cause is somewhere else. Irrespective of the country, as long as our planet is divided by man-made borders of states, religion, cast and creed; such heinous incidences will keep on happening. We humans proclaim ourselves as wisest species but we repeatedly behave in a way that is worst than wildest creatures ever wondered on earth!

There's plenty of coverage in newspapers in the UAE, India and Australia and here are some links to various bits of the story I've mentioned in the post. If you're interested in the story they're worth reading.

Melbourne Herald Sun report on the rally.

Foreign Minister's comments in Sydney Morning Herald.

Dr Yadu Singh interview in Sydney Morning Herald.

Minister Penny Wong's interview in The Australian.

Here's where you'll find the fascinating and illuminating comments, sent in to The Times of India main story.

Big B's rejection of doctorate.

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Endless excitement in RAK

It's not the sleepy emirate of popular myth, Ras Al Khaimah.

The poor residents seem to be in a state of near-constant panic, endlessly under attack by exotic creatures.

You may remember they recently had to hide in buildings to escape an agitated ox.

About the same time a group of workers was attacked by a venemous snake.

Then some time ago I posted about a dragon on the loose in the city.

Now the long suffering, perpetually panicked residents are being targeted by gangs of redback spiders.

A resident hired an insecticide company to treat his house for an infestation of cockroaches (yet more beasties invading RAK!!) only for the workers to be shocked to find groups of redback spiders pouring from their lairs.

The family now fear that other spiders are still in the home even though the workers exerted great efforts to kill all the spiders which came out of their hiding places, and searched for others still lurking.

You can read all about this latest attack on the good people of RAK here in Gulf News.

And I haven't even reminded you of RAK's dark tales of black magic...

Making Dubai competitive again

Fairly regularly over the past three-plus years of this blog I've talked about Dubai becoming a less and less desirable place to do business and the disaster that would be.

It's a huge problem for the future of Dubai, which is totally reliant on commercial success just as its past has been. From its very beginnings Dubai has relied on business for its success.

But over the past several years it's become harder and more costly for businesses to operate here, for a variety of reasons.

Inflation, although we haven't had reliable official figures, has been by popular concensus 20% or even 30%. In particular, accommodation costs have gone through the roof. Commercial rents have soared, adding hugely to the cost of operating a business. And exploding residential accommodation costs have had an adverse effect on businesses too. Expat packages have seen 'accommodation provided' disappear. In some cases an accommodation allowance has been included but usually not enough to pay the rents being asked so the employee has to top it up. That's made the 'tax free' salaries less attractive to lure good expat talent here, and of course individual companies and the overall economy rely on expat guest workers

The slow internet service offered is also adversely affecting productivity, with hours wasted in businesses all over the city while staff stare at their computer screens waiting for pages to open.

Then the chaos on the roads is costing huge amounts in lost productivity. The RTA says it's managed to cut the annual losses from Dh5.9 billion to Dh4 billion. A welcome improvement, but still losses of Dh4 billion.

And in spite of being promoted as a tax free economy there are huge costs involved in opening and operating a company. All kinds of fees for licences, for getting staff visas and Labour Cards, for doing anything, changing anything.

I remember when I first arrived in Dubai I asked my boss whether I had to pay for something or other. His reply was 'You pay for everything in Dubai' and that was way back in 1977, but it's a problem that's increased dramatically in recent years.

Businesses don't have to operate from Dubai, other emirates or neighbouring countries are eager to host them, so being competitive and offering a desirable location is critical.

It's something I've regularly said the government needs to get on top of, to make Dubai again a desirable place to set up and operate a buiness.

So I'm pleased to see that there are ongoing initiatives to get us back on track.

On inflation, the rent cap helped to stabilise accommodation costs to a degree. It wasn't as successful as intended but least it was an acknowledgement and an attempt to get on top of a major problem. Negotiations with suppliers have resulted prices of some basic food items being frozen. Transportation costs are being kept under control because fuel is still heavily subsidised.

Last week Etisalat announced not only that it would more than double its bandwidth capacity, even that costs would be coming down. It's good news, although I'm not holding my breath on that one because we've had extra bandwidth/faster speed promised before with no noticeable improvement.

The roads and public transport infrastructure, even though there are serious questions about some of the decisions and some questionable planning, is starting to come into place. That's helping to ease the losses caused by gridlock on the roads.

Now there's a hugely important decision by Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid, the freezing or reduction of government fees and charges.

WAM reports:

Vice President and Prime Minister of UAE and Ruler of Dubai HH Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum has ordered government departments in the emirate of Dubai not to increase any government fee. He also ordered to cut down a number of fees levied by the emirate's government by 20 to 30percentage.

The decision mirrors the Ruler's keenness for bolstering the economic competitiveness of Dubai and enhancing the governments support to the investment environment for the benefit of the community as a whole.

They also give some example of the fees businesses have to pay:

The Ruler's order to cut down certain fees by 20 to 30pc applies to fees levied for government services to facilitate economic and investment activities. These include, among others, fees for the issuance and renewal of trade and professional licences, licences for business promotions, property ownership certificates, termination of tenancy contracts for ownership, fee for transferring buildings into hotels or serviced apartments and fee for making alterations to commercial buildings.

A screaming headline in the print edition of today's EmBiz247, taking up three quarters of the front page, is 'Fee cap decision to boost business confidence and competitiveness' and while the presentation is more than a little over the top I agree with them.

These various initiatives will, I'm sure, give confidence to businesses that making Dubai competitive again is taken very seriously by the government. But not only in the vague area of confidence, they're also having a direct positive effect on the cost of doing business here.

WAM report is here.
Gulf News have a report here.
EmBiz247 is here.

Friday, May 29, 2009

Too much hot

"Weathermen said they report only the ambient (environment) temperature which is around three degrees less than then actual under-the-sun temperature"

Bear that in mind when you read the temperatures below.

It's certainly warming up, and it's only May. The saving grace is that humidity is way down low, so it's actually not too uncomfortabe.

Well, as long as you don't spend many minutes out in the sun that is.

Dubai: It was scorching in Jebel Ali on Wednesday with the daytime temperature shooting up to 49C, the highest maximum temperature around the emirates, according to the Dubai Meteorological Office.

Dubai, Sharjah and Abu Dhabi all recorded 46C, still way above average for this time of the year, the duty forecaster said.

With humidity at less than 10 per cent, it is still very dry...the comfort index is graded from 'comfortable' to 'high stress'.

The higher the humidity, the higher the stress level. It is at the comfortable zone at the moment as humidity is 7 per cent.

But we know what to expect.

...things will get worse when the monsoon rains reach Mumbai around June 10, said the duty forecaster.

“A lot of moisture will come in from the Arabian Sea around mid-June, pushing humidity levels into the uncomfortable zone,” he said.

I'm not sure that 'uncomfortable' is an adequate word. If the temperature stays at this level and we get our usual summer eighty or ninety percent humidity it's going to be a little more than uncomfortable.

The forecourt attendants who filled my car yesterday were telling me it was too much hot, even though most of the time they managed to work in the shade.

Spare a thought for the gardeners and street sweepers who don't have the advantage of shade.

And worse still, the construction labourers who are doing hard manual work. Most of them come from countries where temperatures are similar to these so they can handle it reasonably well, but even so it can be a killer.

The midday break rule doesn't come into force until July 1st, when they can't work between 12.30 and 3pm, so the current lack of humidity is a real benefit for them. I can't even begin to imagine what it would be like for them if these temperatures were combined with high humidity.

Gulf News weather report.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

What caring people

The tale of the British woman Sally Antia, in jail for adultery which I posted about yesterday, is now in the UK's Daily Mail.

They have an interview with Sally who describes the less than luxurious conditions in Al Slammer.

I won't go into it because I've put a link at the bottom so that you can read the full story yourself.

What I thought fascinating were the comments.

The story was originally in The Sun but when I linked to it in my earlier post there were no comments. Now there are plenty and they're fascinating too.

I actually expected to see most of them slamming the laws here, but in fact there are surprisingly few.

Most are along the lines of 'serves her right' and 'when in Rome', but an awful lot are really quite vicious - 'I hope she rots in jail'; 'great, really pleased to hear it'; 'nice one, Karma at its best' and to her husband who had her jailed; 'sweet revenge, well done sir'

Perhaps predictably in the right-wing Daily Mail there are plenty wishing that the jails in the UK were the same as Dubai's.

A fascinating insight into how caring of others people are.

I wonder whether the so-righteous commenters are themselves as squeaky clean as their comments suggest and I wonder how their opinions would change if they were the one in trouble.

If you have time, do read them.

The Daily Mail says: 'This is like being in a filthy labour camp,' says adultery mother locked in Dubai jail hell.

The original Sun story: Adultery blonde's year in Dubai jail.

And The Sun reader comments are here.

Hope for contractors

Something I've been on about for a while, the payment of long outstanding invoices from contractors by our major developers, seems to be coming to some sort of a conclusion.

Nakheel has been the one most often mentioned but now says that it has received funds from the government of Dubai, presumably from the $10 billion bond fund, and some of the funds will be used for payments to contractors.

They don't give any figures but let's hope they bring all their outstanding invoices up to date. That would be a relief to a lot of companies, and their employees, and get a significant amount of money working its way through the economy.

Zawya have a short report here.

One up one down

A couple of pictures I took the other day.

First, better late than never a Civil Defence facility is going up between Dubai Marina and the Tecom free zone.

For years now thousands of people have been living in apartments at the marina, visiting the shops and restaurants and working in Media City, Internet City & Knowledge Village.

There's also Jumeirah Lake Towers and Palm Jumeirah and all the development across the other side of Sheikh Zayed Road, so there's a lot of property and a very large number of people.

There have been fires in the area, including Atlantis and the fatal Fortune Towers blaze, so it's a relief to see that the area will soon be getting the protection of a local Civil Defence facility.

Then something I posted about ages ago, the demolition of Oasis Beach Hotel.

It's still going on, slowly, centimetre by centimetre, and creating a lot of dust across The Walk.

The speed it's coming down suggests it'll be some months yet before it's all gone.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Property auction 'flop'

A follow on to my previous post about the slump in property prices because the first ever property auction in Dubai was held yesterday evening.

Arabian Business uses words like 'failure' and 'flop' in its stories, but that's too simplistic.

They also headline one story: "Property market fails its big test" which is pushing the boundaries a bit. Big test? It was just an auction of four properties. The big test is actually the ongoing, day-to-day market.

Media and the rumour mill will undoubtedly use this as another example of a still-collapsing market but I don't think it actually tells us anything other than the concept of the property auction isn't understood here.

The failure in my opinion is less the auction results than the fact that the market - agents, vendors and potential buyers alike - was not made aware of the concept and doesn't understand what the auction was all about.

That's the most important job for the company behind it, Madania Real Estate, to tackle before the next auction, which is planned for June.

Auctions are the usual way of selling a property in Sydney. I've bought and sold at auctions, I've been outbid at others, I've dropped out when the bids went too high, I've attended very many others just for market information. In Oz we're used to them, we understand them...but they're new to this market and most people come from countries where they're unusual so they have no understanding of them.

The Aussie format has simply been brought to this market as a complete package, but not enough work was done on explaining the concept to a market which has no knowledge of it.

The general view here is that auctions are where you get a bargain, that this is where the properties offered will be distressed sales by desperate owners.

That couldn't be further from the truth.

This is an alternative to a private treaty sale of a property, which is where the property is simply advertised at a price - on which the buyer always asks for a discount.

In an auction the vendor puts a reserve price on the property, if bidding reaches the reserve the property is sold to the highest bidder. If it fails to reach reserve, which is not unusual, the highest bidder and the vendor are brought together by the agent who tries to get them to compromise and agree a price. Not much different from a private treaty sale where the two parties haggle over the price.

In fact in Oz it's often seen as a way of getting a price better than market value, particularly if you're selling a desirable property and there are two or more interested buyers who will push the price up. I've seen that happen more than a few times.

The complete lack of understanding of this by the market here is shown in a couple of the Arabian Business reports.

Anil Bhoyrul says, for example:

The concept of property auctions is that a number of dirt cheap properties are up for grabs.

You turn up with a small amount of cash, and walk away with the deal of your life. The greater the personal financial misery of the seller, the better.

Which is where last night went wrong to begin with. According to Kuceli himself, the sellers who put their properties up for sale were merely looking for another sales channel, having tried newspaper and web advertising.

They were not actually that desperate. That’s why no sales were made.

Way, way off the mark, that isn't the concept at all.

Anil continues:

Tuesday’s auction was the first test of the public’s appetite to get back into the market. Would they come in their hundreds, cheque books and passports ready, eager to prey on the ashes of the property boom?

I disagree, it wasn't the first test of the public's appetite to get back into the market, we have ongoing daily information on that, it was simply a test of an unknown method of selling properties.

And then:

...of the 100 people who showed up, only 9 had registered beforehand to even be allowed to make a bid. Who were the other 91 people? Around 35 journalists and 56 estate agents.

Again this demonstrates a lack of understanding because it's perfectly normal. I've been to many auctions where there were scores of people but only one or two bidders (and some where there were none). The vast majority are neighbours and friends of the vendor, plus people there to gauge the market.

Another story includes this from a real estate broker:

“There are a lot of distressed properties for sale from people who are either leaving town or just want to increase their cashflow immediately. It’s those properties that should be auctioned.”

Again it shows a lack of understanding of the concept.

Another problem with this auction was the few properties for sale, only four. There were more planned but the Land Department has to approve each one apparently, and approvals weren't obtained on all in time for the auction.

Also, the auction was held in a hotel. In Sydney the usual method is for the auction to be held on site at the property for sale and I suspect this may be a better way here too.

This auction method may or may not be the way to go here, but we won't know that for sure unless in the first place everyone involved in the market understands the concept. That's the critical project for Madania Real Estate.

But the auction results don't tell us anything we don't already know about the property market.

By the way, in Sydney the clearance rates (properties sold at auction or by negotiation up to midnight on auction day between highest bidder and vendor) have been at 66% the last two weekends. A third failed to sell at the auction.

You'll find the stories here, here and here.

Husband jails wife

That fine example of quality journalism, The Sun tabloid from the UK, yesterday told its readers about "Adultery blonde's year in Dubai jail".

In true tabloid style it's a sensationalist but untrue headline.

Later in the story it tells its readers that: "Adultery is punishable in Dubai by a maximum sentence of a year in jail and deportation."

They also tell readers that she is: "in custody and facing deportation" so they've covered everything they can think of.

In reality she hasn't been sentenced, or even brought to trial yet.

I don't agree with the law by any stretch of the imagination, but the law of the land is the law of the land. I'm sure she was aware of it, took a risk and unfortunately was caught.

Well, not quite 'caught' - she's in Al Slammer courtesy of her husband who tipped off Dubai's finest.

I know it's not uncommon but I can never understand the level of bitterness, hatred, vindictiveness that estranged couples can descend to.

In this instance I think it's even worse because the couple have two daughters, aged 13 and 11.

It makes me wonder whether that side of the husband's character might just have had something to do with his wife being attracted elsewhere.

The Sun tells the story here.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Property slump report

There's a report on the world-wide property slump from Knight Frank which Bloomberg carried and is now in Arabian Business and The Kipp Report and will obviously hit the rest of the local media shortly.

The Bloomberg headline is 'Dubai Leads Global Housing-Market Slump'. At least the Kipp Report is accurate with 'Dubai world’s second worst performing property market'.

In fact the figures for the year to March 31 show Dubai second after Latvia for percentage decrease in property prices, with Dubai down 32%. Singapore's not much better at down 23% and they didn't have the huge increase the previous year that Dubai had - the report also contains the information that prices in Dubai rose the previous year by 48%.

Context folks, context.

Up 48% one year, down 32% the next.

Like anywhere else in the world, if you bought at the peak you'll lose money. I've seen it in the past in Oz, in the UK, in Singapore. People jumping on the property bandwagon at the wrong time and taking a hit. That's simply bad and naive investment.

I've long believed that you make money not when you sell property but when you buy it. Pay the right price for the right property at the right time and you will make money. I've proved it by doing it very successfully several times. When prices went too high I pulled my head in and stopped buying.

If you make a bad investment there's no point complaining and thrashing about blaming someone else. You made the wrong decision and the responsibility is yours.

The report also shows property prices down in thirty one countries with only fourteen showing an increase. Of interest to people here I guess: while India is showing an increase at the long-term par of 5% pa, prices are down in the UK, USA, Philippines, South Africa, Australia and a big chunk of Europe.

Knight Frank's report.

Bloomberg's take on it.

Kipp Report's story.

More lies from Johann Hari

Our very own celebrity blogger Alexander over at Fake Plastic Souks has an excellent post on Johann Hari's latest piece of utter rubbish about Dubai.

Par for the course with Mr Hari I'm afraid.

He has a short piece in the Huffington Post which I'm not going to bother to write about, I just urge you to read what Alexander has to say.

I will say one thing though. In the piece headlined My Post About Dubai Is Now Banned In The City Mr Hari says that ...Dubai authorities have decreed that the article must not be read.

At the time of his original article there were more than a few people defending him, saying that he'd spent ten days in Dubai carefully researching his story, that he is a reputable journalist, one who checked his facts, who wouldn't run anything that wasn't true.

I disagreed and I still do.

And here's an example of why I do.

He states as a fact that his article is banned by Dubai authorities. To check whether he's telling the truth click here.

A good honest journalist who checks his facts eh?

If you're interested in what I had to say about his original article, you can find it here. I did a couple of follow-up posts over the next week too.

A complex society

There was an interesting report in Gulf News the other day about labourers' salaries that gives some insights into life here.

I keep on about putting things in context, particularly with complaints from the media outside the area and expats using their own culture and societies as a basis for what they think should happen.

In particular I've talked many times about the unique guest worker society we live in, where expats can't become citizens, where eighty percent of the population are here temporarily. It's very very different from the societies we come from.

I've heard many expats complain, for example, that education isn't free, nor is medical treatment, that there's no social security, that we have to pay for everything.

In reality of course those things do exist - for citizens. As temporary guest workers who pay no income tax it makes sense to me that we should have to pay our own way.

People have complained endlessly about 'hidden charges' when they buy property, such as the Community Fees. But we don't pay what are called council rates back home, a charge from the municipality for things such as street cleaning and garbage collection. The Community Fee is simply that.

But I digress - back to the report.

In an attempt to stop the problem of companies not paying wages on time, or making illegal deductions, the government made it mandatory for salaries to be paid through banks.

They're trying to find a way to get on top of a problem, a problem for which Dubai has been criticised, unfairly I should add because it's private companies which are responsible for creating the problem. Nevertheless, the government has introduced regulations to try to stop the practice - but then you start to look at some of the difficulties involved.

Here's part of the report:

Every payday, workers line up at a solitary Automated Teller Machine (ATM) at the former Jebel Ali Village.

One man at the head of the queue proceeds to ask for their personal identification number (PIN) and the amount they wish to withdraw.

The workers from India, Pakistan and Bangladesh cannot speak, read or write in English. As such, they cannot read the instructions on the machine after they insert their bank card into the ATM.

The man at the head of the queue - the literate one - charges a nominal sum (usually a few fils) to aid the workers by withdrawing money for them.

Many of the workers apparently do not know that it is not safe to provide your PIN to anybody.

The problem of illiteracy or the language barrier crops up many times in all sots of areas.

Safety is another example - if the workers can't read the signs they don't know what they're supposed to do or not do.

In a society with a reported 180 nationalities, language is always going to create huge difficulties.

Then there's the problem of the lack of bank branches and ATMs. We all face those problems but it's worse for the labourers, who don't have transport.

"I have to walk quite a distance to get my money," said Kumar, a pipe-fitter working with a Jebel Ali company.

He said there were a few banks in the area of New Dubai where many construction projects are currently underway.

That's going to be even worse for them now that the temperature is up in the mid-forties celcius and humidity is rising.

Then there's the cost.

"I heard from my friends that if you withdraw from another bank you are charged Dh2."

While all banks are linked through a central system, one is charged for using ATM with other banks.

What we think of as tiny amounts involved are actually significant to the lowly paid.

I realised that early on when the security guard in my building asked if he could have my morning newspaper when I've finished with it. To buy one for a couple of dirhams a day means Dh60 a month, which is about ten percent of his monthly wage.

Can you imagine spending that amount just to buy a morning paper?

I have a feeling this is one of the world's most complex societies to try to administer and one that it's very difficult to get our heads around.

Here's the Gulf News story.

Monday, May 25, 2009

RAK's agitated ox

It's been a while since we had a worthwhile story from Ras Al Khaimah.

Amongst others we've had panic caused by a dragon on the loose, and the black magic maid drama.

Now we hear that: An agitated ox spread fear and panic in Ras Al Khaimah...Residents said they were shocked when the ox appeared in their area all of a sudden on Saturday. Fearful of being attacked, people hid in nearby houses, buildings and commercial outlets.

Sadly someone went to investigate and was badly gored before the police captured the animal.

Gulf News has it here.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Customer service. An oxymoron.

There was good news the other day, that the recently announced consumer arbitration courts will be up and running by the end of the year.

The plan is that instead of having to battle with the long-winded and prohibitively expensive legal system, consumers will be able to take their complaints directly to the new arbitration courts.

It's said that the judges will be specialists in the country's consumer protection law. The law covers the supplier’s responsibility to replace damaged goods and display prices clearly, and the consumer’s right to compensation for personal or financial damage.

Hopefully it will help to lift the game of suppliers here, but I'm afraid it will only help in the specific areas of shoddy goods and price cheating. I'm doubtful that it will help in a general sense to ease the frustration so many of us have in our dealings with companies.

The constant complaints about the lack of customer service delivered by our banks is an obvious one that I'm sure isn't covered.

I'm particularly irritated with Showtime TV at the moment, and again it's not something that appears to be covered by the consumer protection laws. It's just old-fashioned customer service that's lacking, a don't-give-a-damn attitude, complete disregard for the paying customers - much like the banks.

We buy one of the packages offered by Showtime which lists the channels included in the package. On a regular basis channels disappear and others appear, totally unrelated to each other. For example a news channel might disappear and a National Geographic channel appear.

There's no warning, no announcement, no information sent to paying customers. They simply do it.

Likewise the programme schedules are all over the place. Neither the information given by Showtime to the print media nor their own online programme guide can be relied upon to actually give the correct programmes or the correct times.

The attitude is summed up by the response of their telephone help (another oxymoron) service I called a while ago - I forget now exactly what my particular complaint was at that time. Anyway, after hearing my complaint the answer wasn't what they could do to solve my problem but was: "If you're not satisfied you can always cancel your subscription".

The corporate version of 'if you don't like it here you can always leave'.

Right now I can't even get the online programme schedule on the screen, I get an error message and the whole thing freezes. I have to switch off, switch back on and I can then get into the channels - but I can't get the programme schedule.

Will I call the 'help' line? I can't be bothered. They've achieved what I assume so many companies set out to achieve, make it so difficult, so frustrating that we just go away and stop annoying them with our complaints.

Research regularly shows that there's huge disatisfaction with the level of service provided by retailers and businesses here. There's much talk about how companies understanding customer service leading to customer loyalty will thrive while those which don't will struggle.

I see no evidence that things are improving, but maybe the new courts will at least help in one small area.

The report on the new courts is here.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Summer's coming

Current Temp at 12.30pm: 42C Feels like: 45C

...but with humidity at only 24% it's still quite comfortable. That'll change before too long unfortunately.

(PS. Update at 2.30pm. The radio weather report has just told me that it's now 44C with an amazingly low humidity of 8%).

I like hot sunny weather but humidity is high up on my 'things I hate' list and it won't be long before that hits us.

Another sign of constant hot weather is that I don't need to use the water heater any more because hot water comes from the cold tap. Run off the cool water that's in the pipes of the air-conditioned building and the hot water from outside comes through.

(To cool it down - and it is hot enough for that to be necessary - you have to add water from what would normally be the hot water tank).

Electricity use is up because the a/c is used more but from that you can deduct the cost of not heating up the water.

Just another of the oddities of living in Dubai.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Population ups & downs

We have plenty of conflicting reports about Dubai's population, varying wildly from large decreases to large increases over the next year.

They're all guesswork of course, crystal ball gazing, so I view them all with some scepticism.

The DNRD have said that many more new visa are being issued than existing ones cancelled. But as I said in a March posting the 'journalists' failed to clarify the figures so we don't really know what they mean.

We've had projections of population reductions from UBS (down 8%) and EFG-Hermes (down 17%) while the Ministry of Economy says Dubai's population will grow by 7.8% this year.

The EFG-Hermes predictions also include something that many people are saying - a mass exodus in July: "...a number of people who lost jobs in the beginning of the year are staying on to allow their children to complete the school year, and will leave once the term ends."

I take that with a pinch of salt - if they lost their jobs at the beginning of the year how are they staying until July, given the visa rules?

My gut feeling is that the population will stay about the same in number but with a noticeable change in its makeup.

I don't suppose my experience is much different from most others. Friends and aquaintances have been moving on for a variety of reasons - they've been here long enough and it's simply time to move on, or the contract's ended and they move on to another one somewhere else, or they lost their job in the panic redundancies companies have been making. But there are new arrivals too, some replacing people who've left while others are coming into new positions.

There's also the huge new retail job market. For example, WAM reports that the Dubai Mall is now the region's single largest new employment generator, creating 10,000 jobs this year. There's also the new Dubai Marina Mall, and the extensions to Ibn Battuta and Mall of the Emirates. Plenty of additional hotels too.

So while jobs are being lost in areas such as financial services, real estate and construction, many more jobs are being created elsewhere.

So the big, bulk change in makeup I see is that construction workers, who are mainly Indian, are leaving while retail and hospitality workers, who are mainly Filipino, are arriving.

There's been a huge and noticeable change in the number of Filipinos here already and I think that's going to accelerate in the coming year.

For the rest of us I don't think there'll be much in the way of a noticeable change, perhaps a few less Europeans and Arab expats overall.

WAM retail report.

Down 17% prediction.

Down 8% prediction.

Up 7.8% prediction.


I'm still receiving visitors to this post from Isaac's post a year ago on Submedia. You may have arrived here from the link he gave.

In it he said I and other Dubai-based bloggers: "along with the government-monitored-if-not-owned newspapers are the only ones defending the city as the whole world cackles at a dirty dream that has been exposed for what it really was.

A response to that was required, and so were corrections to the untrue claims & statements and misinformation in his post. You've read what Isaac had to say, now you can read the real facts here.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

The value of a free press

History's being made in London and it's all down to the freedom of the press.

The Daily Telegraph, not a tabloid but a top quality broadsheet, has been releasing details of MPs ripping off the tax payers. The effects, which haven't ended yet by any means, are wide ranging, inluding one that hasn't happened since 1695, the resignation of the Speaker of the House of Commons.

It may not sound much but it really is a momentous event, a once-in-three hundred years event.

It's also led to various MPs being disciplined, and more than a few will be thrown out - if they dare to stand - by disgusted voters at the next election.

It's also led to the Prime Minister having to promise to change something else that's annoyed and upset voters over the years. There's long been anger at MPs having their snouts in the trough, more so that they controlled how much of taxpayers' money went into the trough.

Now the PM says there will be an independent outside body overseeing MPs expenses and allowances. That is many years overdue in my opinion, and not just in the UK. We have a similar problem in Australia with MPs voting themselves regular large salary increases, for example, while telling the voters to tighten their belts.

Lack of regulation and oversight, allowing people to do what they want, causes major problems, as the world now realises with the financial excesses of the past decade.

Controlling it all themselves British MPs have been claiming for mortgages which didn't exist, for cleaning swimming pools and even moats around country houses, for a home cinema and televisions, for gardeners - there were even claims for items as small and inexpensive as feather dusters and ice cube trays - and a trouser press and an electronic tooth flosser.

They've been fighting the media off for years, blocking moves to make the truth public through the Freedom of Information Act, but now a whistle blower has provided the Telegraph with a disc containing the information.

Without a free press the rip offs would have continued, and that's the real value of a free press - keeping those in power honest.

You can read about it, and some of the bizarre claims made, in this section of The Daily Telegraph.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Same story, very different slant

I read two papers over coffee this morning, both of which carried the same story.

But what a difference in presentation.

The story is, in my opinion, the biggest of the day, of massive importance. It's no less than the replacement of the Director General of Dubai's Department of Finance.

GN only had it as the second lead, treating the arrival of FlyDubai's first aircraft as more important.

I've since looked at EmBiz247 and they do no more than run the WAM basic facts, buried on Page 4. I can't find it at all in Khaleej Times online.

The story I think is of massive importance is the change of Director General at the Dubai Department of Finance.

That's a hugely important position, especially in the current economic situation, one of the most important in the emirate in my opinion.

The way the two papers have treated it is interesting, to say the least.

Gulf News headline the story: "Mohammed makes appointment to key government offices" and they quote the new DG.

The Middle East edition of the Financial Times headline their report: "Dubai demotes finance director." They give it more space and include relevant comment.

The previous DG was Nasser Al Shaikh who's been moved to become Deputy Director of Foreign Affairs at the Dubai Ruler's Court.

Naturally no reason was given for the decision.

In the FT, Simeon Kerr suggests that the decision to remove Mr Al Shaikh "will prompt concern among the region’s business elite and the bankers helping to steer Dubai out of the current downturn.

The highly regarded young official, who joined the department of finance only last year, was seen as one of the few who had grasped the scope of the economic problems facing Dubai.

Mr Shaikh had been championing a more transparent approach to the emirate’s finances as a means to help restore the city’s credibility. He oversaw publication of the emirate’s most detailed ever budget in January and was leading efforts to launch a sovereign rating for Dubai."

From all I've read and heard I have to agree. My perception was that he was doing an excellent job, under very difficult circumstances.

Boy, I'd love to know what the real story behind it is.

You can compare the way the two papers have slanted the story here:

Gulf News.

Financial Times.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Floating garden sheds are white elephants

It's confirmed, we don't like the floating garden sheds which pass as water buses.

Figures show that the ten water buses, built to carry 36 passengers each, carried about 191,000 passengers in 42,730 trips during the first four months of this year. So each trip carries less than five passengers.

The fare is obviously one of the problems, at Dh4 compared to the Dh1 abra trip across the Creek. The RTA has changed the original Dh4 each way fare to Dh4 return, but it's still not working.

I think people were too polite to say that they really don't use the things because they're so ugly.

Even tourists don't like them. A friend reports that her tour agency "used to give the option to tourists to take the airconditioned 'comfortable' bus, but 95% of their customers said that they want to use the more authentic, noisy and open-to-the-elements Abra."

I always take friends from Oz across the Creek on the abra and all have said afterwards that it was the most memorable part of their time in Dubai.

Back to the drawing board...

Gulf News report is here.

*A white elephant is a valuable possession of which its owner cannot dispose and whose cost (particularly cost of upkeep) is out of proportion to its usefulness.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

More on late payments

I've posted a few times recently about late or non payment of invoices and the effect that has not only on the company waiting for payment but on the overall economy.

I've been talking, of course, about the government-linked major companies here, who are reportedly late in paying billions to their suppliers and contractors.

A report just published on a similar situation in the UK and Europe gives a good indication of the damage to business and the economy that it causes.

The research is by Intrum Justitia, a European credit management company, who introduce it by saying:

European governments could provide a €65bn stimulus to their home economies by simply paying invoices owed to suppliers in full and on time.

Punctual payment in Europa could save money equal to a €270bn cash injection for EU businesses.

European businesses spend a minimum of €25billion chasing late payments from consumers and businesses each year.

The research shows that UK public authorities are among the worst culprits in Europe for not paying invoices in full and on time. They owe about £6bn (over Dh33 billion) in unpaid invoices with much of it due to SMEs which are struggling hard to survive in the current economic climate.

This gentleman hits the nail squarely on the head:

"On the one hand we have governments across Europe pumping huge sums of money into their economies to increase cashflow, yet on the other hand, these same entities are not paying invoices on time," commented Lars Wollung, CEO, Intrum Justitia. "If public authorities would pay on time it would help the cash flow of businesses in Europe, enabling them to invest faster and pay faster themselves."

It's not rocket science is it. If they simply followed good honest business practice the benefits throughout the economy are there for all to see.

You can find it here.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Getting the money flowing

A subject I've been posting about recently has cropped up in the media today.

What I've been saying is that if the government-linked major developers were to bring their payments to contractors up to date it would get billions flowing right through the economy.

If they need it, as appears to be the case, an injection of cash could come from the $10 billion raised so far by the Dubai government's bond issue. Instead of going into the banks who lend it on to companies a direct injection of money would cut out bureaucracy and make the flow of money through the economy much faster.

In Gulf News there's an indication of the problem, and the amounts involved.

Arabtec say they are owed Dh2.88 billion by 'Dubai government and quasi-government entities'.

That's just one contractor, so imagine the kind of sums we're talking about in total.

Then in Arabian Business, and thanks to JadAoun for the heads up, are two related stories.

I can't give you the link to the first one because it's not working (I'll add it if they fix the glitch) but here's what the index of stories says:


Firms in construction industry being asked to accept reduced sums, or risk going completely unpaid.

I tried searching for the article, with still no success clicking on the link, and the search threw this up:

Dubai developers owe billions to construction firms

10 May '09 Construction & Industry / News
Firms working on high-profile construction projects in Dubai have revealed they are owed billions by developers, and are being asked to take reduced payments ... economic crisis .Three weeks ago the director general of Dubai’s department of finance assured construction firms that government-owned real ...

The link to the related story is working, which I've put at the end of the post.

It tells us that:

Master developer Nakheel is receiving funds from Dubai government as it looks to complete projects and pay outstanding obligations, its chief executive confirmed on Monday.

Well that's good news - I don't like this approach though:

The developer said it was also talking to its contractors and re-negotiating payments plans and contracts."Yes, we are trying to help them and ourselves through our current situation. We are at the stage of commercial settlements and negotiations. Rather than detail on percentages, it is a true statement to say that construction costs are falling and there is definitely a reduction," added O'Donnell.

I've come across this tactic more than a few times in business and I hold it in utter contempt.

Companies withhold payment for unacceptably long periods and then say basically 'if you want to be paid you have to reduce the amount owing'.

As far as I'm concerned a deal is a deal. The client orders the work and accepts the price, the supplier completes his side of the contract. Integrity and good business practice dictates that the client completes his side of the contract and pays the agreed price on time.

Dreamer that I am.

Anyway, the point is that it looks as though after an inexpicably long delay these huge amounts, discounted probably, will be paid, the contractors can pay their sub-contractors and suppliers, staff can be paid, money will flow right through the economy.

Gulf News Arabtec report.

Arabian Business Nakheel report.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Adding to the problems

If street sweeping trucks are sent out during the morning peak traffic time they're worsening the traffic jams.

But it's a regular event.

This morning at 8.30 there was a lengthening queue of us caught up behind this dust-creator...

There's regular chaos on Al Wasl Road too, morning peak traffic being the time they send the gardeners out with their waste collection trucks blocking one lane.

Traffic congestion costs businesses in Dubai, according to our beloved RTA, several billion dirhams a year. Not to mention frustration and drivers suddenly having to change lanes, both recipes for a crash.

Just a suggestion. Why not send the trucks out to block the roads before and/or after the peak times?

Saturday, May 09, 2009

Great hat!

It wouldn't win a 'Best Hat' award at the races but if you have to work in the sun it sure is practical.

Friday, May 08, 2009

Cheap eats

Like me you probably often hear the complaint that it's expensive to eat out in Dubai.

But if you're prepared to give the five-star hotels a miss, it needn't be...

"Eat all you can" for Dh18 (US$4.90 or £3.20 or €3.65) with a choice of indoor air-conditioned or al fresco dining.

Thursday, May 07, 2009

Lost in translation

There's an interesting exclusive report in Maktoob Business, as Emjay pointed out in his comment left on my last post.

The report raises an old proposal and is headed Dubai mulls low-income driving ban.

I'm not going to get into the discrimination thing again, I've talked about this proposal in those terms before.

What interested me was the quotes attributed to Essa Abdul Rahman al-Dosari, CEO of the Public Transport Authority.

He is quoted as saying:

"There are certain categories of staff that are not able to use cars because their income is very low. Why should they drive in a city where they can’t afford to?"

"The wealthy, they are very few, why should we concentrate on them? Let them drive a car ... we should target the majority of people"

Did he really say that? Is that what he really meant?

They can't afford to drive. They're too poor to use their cars.

So if they're not driving why ban them?

The wealthy are very few.

Where is the line drawn under 'wealth' I wonder. What constitutes 'wealth' to the PTA? Earn less than, let me make a wild guess, Dh30,000 a month and you can't drive?

Was it beyond the ability of the 'journalist' to seek clarification.

The report is here.

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Ministry of Clarification

Thinking about the 'clarifications' we get every time something is announced I realised what an impossible job the recently-launched Official Spokesmen will have unless major structural changes are made.

I say "will have" because I assume they're not in place yet. We still have different people, some named, some anonymous 'senior official' or 'officials', giving out information on all sorts of things.

Recently we've had the ID card confusion, the swine H1N1 flu pork ban/no ban situation, overlapped by the property-related visa issue, which are typical of the problem.

Not only are different 'officials' giving different information, different government departments are giving conflicting information.

There often seems to be some confusion over which department has ultimate responsibility for the matter being discussed.

For example, the pork ban was announced by the General Secretariat of Municipalities while the rebuttal of it was announced by the Environment Agency.

The property-linked visa was announced by the Ministry of Interior and then the Department of Naturalisation & Residency held the press conference to 'clarify' it.

So we have a range of people in a number of departments/ministries offering their version of whatever it is that's just been announced.

It's a bit like visiting an Immigration office. If you get an answer you don't want from the first official you see you take another number, go to another queue, see a different official and get another answer. You repeat the process until you get the answer you wanted.

(Example: a Filipina friend met all the requirements to sponsor her husband but her application was rejected. The reason given was 'no reason, just rejected'.

She tried the take-a-new-ticket approach but met the same response, at which point she'd run out of time and had to get back to work.

She arranged for someone else to take her application in. Approved.)

But I digress.

It's not going to be easy to resolve the regular problem of conflicting statements, confusing announcements and ever-changing 'clarifications'. It won't happen unless we have a complete restructuring of the way things are currently done.

First we need an ultimate policy that nothing is announced until it's been thought through carefully, all the ramifications have been considered, all the detail worked out, and until it's been given final approval by the highest authority.

We need a 'who's in charge of policy' manual covering all the things on which there's a policy. For example, which government agency or ministry has ultimate authority over food imports and sale? That, and only that, agency should be making pronouncements about what may and may not be imported and sold.

We need clear lines of authority and responsibility established, and understood by everyone involved, for each issue.

We need huge investments in time and money on staff education - or product knowledge.

The media needs clear lines of communication to a single knowlegeable and authoritive source for the particular subject. Quotes from anonymous 'officials' whose mobile number they happen to have are unacceptable.

Take, for example, the property-related visa issue. If the Ministry of Interior is in charge of policy on it they need to set clear and detailed policy. They then fully brief their Official Spokesman who releases it to the public and answers any media questions. The media should know that this is the only person authorised to give the information.

It's hardly revolutionary, it's simply the way good businesses operate. But it would be a major restructuring as far as government is concerned.

I guess it'd be easier to have a Ministry of Clarification.

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Back to the visa drawing board

Guess what. There's been more 'clarification' about the property-linked visas, clarification which, as is the way with most clarifications we get, contradicts earlier statements.

Thanks to JadAoun who alerted me to a report in Gulf News datelined 3pm today, Tuesday.

This later report says:

Realty visa can be renewed instantly with no waiting time, officials clarify.

It was reported earlier that people who complete six months stay need to stay out of UAE for at least a month before being able to renew the visa. However, the Interior ministry on Tuesday confirmed there is no waiting time before renewing the visa.

The visa can be renewed once the person leaves the country.

So the earlier clarification was wrong and needed clarifying with this new clarification.

OK. So where are we?

It's not a residence visa it's a six-month visit visa. Which can be renewed instantly if you do the traditional instant-turn-around visa run. It may be renewed any number of times as no limit has been set against it.

This means that for Dh4,000 a year you can live here on a visit visa, without a break. Other than a quick return flight to, say, Qatar. Or a run across the land border at Hatta.

I hate to suggest it but I think we need clarification.

Would it be wrong of me to suggest that perhaps a trip back to the drawing board might be in order. You know, for a bit of a rethink about the visa.

And perhaps if when all the wrinkles are ironed out, there could be a full briefing to anyone who might possibly talk to the media. Just so that before they do so they're clear what it is they're announcing and the details which they're clarifying.

The new clarification of the earlier clarification is here.

Property visas confusion.

As I said on Sunday the concept of having a standard UAE-wide property-linked residency visa was badly needed.

What we seem to have got, though, is something quite different.

Like many others, after the new visa was announced I had questions about the detail because there was very little of it in the announcement.

The Department of Naturalisation & Residency has just held a press conference to 'clarify details of the visa'.

I've read reports in Gulf News, The National and EmBiz247 and while they combine to give some of the answers there are still unanswered questions.

It's confirmed that this is not, in fact, a residence visa but is a multi-entry visit visa valid for six months. Visa holders will have to leave the UAE for at least one month, returning to their own country or a GCC country.

I really don't believe that this is the solution, I think it should be a normal residence visa. A visit visa with visa runs seems a strange way to reward property investors for their faith in the country.

It's confirmed that very many home owners will not be eligible for the visa because their property is valued at less than Dh1 million.

That's not fair and it's surely counter-productive.

It's confirmed, by the way, that the value is based not on current value but on purchase price.

The cost of the visa has now been revealed - Dh2,000.

Something that isn't clear to me is how the property owner's family visa works. We're told that: "During the investor's stay in the country, he or she may sponsor their immediate family - spouse and children.

What's not clear to me is whether the family visa can be applied for at the same time as the owner's or whether he/she has to obtain the property-related visa first and then apply to sponsor his/her family.

I'm assuming that each family member visa also costs Dh2,000 although that's not clarified in the clarification.

There's also a lack of clarity in the clarification about what happens to holders of existing property-related visas; in Dubai they were issued by the Master Developers.

The National tells us the acting director of the DNR said : ...the department would tell existing holders of property-linked residency visas to '"fix their status as per the new ruling or else they will be considered violators."

Gulf News also says: "In Dubai and Ajman...the Immigration departments have been informed to legalise the stay of such property owners by issuing them with this new type of visas", he told Gulf News, calling on such investors to visit the department. "Anyone who continues to stay without legalising their papers will be treated as an illegal resident and will be prosecuted as per the residency laws."

Yet in EmBiz247 we're told that: All visas given to owners of properties across the UAE will be cancelled after their expiry and they will not be renewed according to old rules.

One version suggests that existing visas will need to be changed when the new law comes into force on June 1 while the other says only after the existing ones expire.

I'm afraid that it looks to me as though a dreaded trip to Immigration is going to be necessary for people. Anyone who's visited them knows what to expect - long waits, confusion, different understanding and interpretations of the law from different officers.

Clarification of the clarification needed please.

There's also a question mark over the statement from the acting director about the status of property.

In Dubai it was sold, and bought, as freehold. Yet the acting director is quoted as saying: "In Dubai and Ajman where 99-year property leasing was possible..."

Was that a slip of the tongue or is there some question about the validity of freehold property?

It really isn't very satisfactory so far.

Here are the links to the news reports. See if you can work it out any better than I can:

The National.
Gulf News here and here.

Monday, May 04, 2009

Once again we misunderstood

It's embarrasing how often we misunderstand what we're being told.

We've done it again over the ban on pork.

I said on Wednesday that the General Secretariat of Municipalities in Abu Dhabi had banned the import and sale of pork.

Wrong of course, I completely misunderstood. You can see why from the information I based the post on:

April 29.

"General Secretariat of Municipalities [GSM] issued a circular on Monday banning import and sale of all types of pork in the country, Mohammad Jalal Al Reyaysa, Manager of Communication and Information Department at Abu Dhabi Food Control Authority (ADFCA) said. The ban covers cooking the pork in hotels [for non Muslims], he added. GSM had already banned import of pork from Mexico and the US on Sunday, but extended it to a blanket ban, considering the alarming situation,.

"Only two outlets in Abu Dhabi have the license to sell pork (for non-Muslims) and our inspectors have already informed them to remove the pork from the shelves."

You may also have taken that to suggest there was a ban.

But there isn't:

May 1.

The UAE has not banned pork imports, a senior official said.

"There is no decision to ban pork meat products," said Majid Al Mansouri, secretary-general of the Environment Agency and member of a higher committee responsible for combating the flu.

We misunderstood again.

Original report.


Sunday, May 03, 2009

Two good moves

I seem to have been writing things which people find controversial and as that's raised their stress levels I'd better stop doing it for a while.

So this post is on a couple of things I've banged on about several times in the past and which have popped up in the news over the past couple of days, paying bills and property-linked visas.

I've been suggesting that the simplest, quickest way to get money flowing through the economy would be for the government-linked major companies to bring their payments up to date.

Extra funding for them from the $10 billion raised by the Dubai government would allow them to pay any outstanding invoices from their contractors and through them the money would go all the way down the food chain, boosting the economy in general.

On Friday the DG of the Department of Finance was quoted as saying: Dubai government-linked companies should settle all overdue payments within a month as they use funds from a $10 billion state support facility.

That really is excellent news because the amounts involved are obviously very large indeed - a lot of people are hurting because their employers aren't being paid.

Then this morning the promised UAE-wide property-linked visa has been announced.

Tidying up the confusion over the issue was essential, having a federal law is better than having different laws for each emirate. Various real estate people have welcomed the move, but I'm not so sure that what's been announced is entirely the best way to go.

There's also a lack of clarity and detail.

It will not actually be a residency visa but a six-month multiple-entry visa. At the end of six months the holder has to go on a visa run. It does not, of course, allow the holder to be employed in the UAE, that's still subject to the separate labour card system.

The property must be completed and fit accommodation for a family, wholly owned by the individual who must have a title deed, should be worth at least Dh1 million and the applicant must have a regular income of at least Dh10,000 a month whether inside or outside the UAE.

There's a lot to commend it but things I'm not so sure about include:
- it's not really a residency visa and I don't like the visa run aspect of it.
- the minimum value of Dh1 million, which could cut out, say, owners of studio apartments in International City or in the cheaper northern emirates.

WAM reports that the move: underlines the government commitment to serve interests of all persons who view the country as an oasis of stability and peace, therefore possessing properties in it. On that basis I'd have thought that it would be more appropriate for a normal residency visa and for it to apply to all property owners.

Missing detail includes:
- how and when the valuation is made, by whom and on what basis. The price you paid, the current value? If the latter, who is authorised to give the valuation?
- what's the requirement to prove regular income? What paperwork is required?
- no fees are mentioned.

Dubai firms to pay dues in one month.

Property owner visa.

Friday, May 01, 2009

No more swine flu

A follow-up to my 'pork conspiracy' post, which attracted more comments than just about anything I've posted.

The World Health organisation has now declared that they will stop using the term 'swine flu' to describe the latest outbreak of the virus. It's officially influenza A (H1N1)

The reason is: "to avoid confusion over the danger posed by pigs."

Authorities certainly have been confused and have taken unnecessary action. As I said in my earlier post: "General Secretariat of Municipalities has issued a circular banning the import and sale of all types of pork in the country as a precautionary measure against swine flu".

Egypt has decided to kill all its 300,000 pigs. The Iraqi government will kill three wild boars at the Baghdad Zoo.

It's panic time again.

Why has the world developed an instant panic default mode for just about anything I wonder?

By the way, forgive me if I indulge myself here.

Commenting on my earlier post, Mark Stuart suggested I was joining the "arrogant people that believe they have sufficient knowledge in fields they have never studied or researched to even imagine they can impress upon you their beliefs, thoughts, opinions or fantasies as worth voicing just because they can read and write."

I hadn't apparently done enough "digging and research before you accused the Abu Dhabi Authorities of ignorance"

Well now.

Apart from the realisation that they've caused confusion and panic resulting in unnecessary and ineffective restrictions and slaughter of pigs, the WHO clearly states more than once on its website that eating pork products will not transmit the infection.

"There is also no risk of infection from this virus from consumption of well-cooked pork and pork products." "Pork and pork products, handled in accordance with good hygienic practices recommended by the WHO , Codex Alimentarius Commission and the OIE, will not be a source of infection."

I rest my case, Mark.

The WHO quotes are from here and here.