Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Telling it like it is...

...or not.

There are what I think are some great quotes in a story in Gulf news today from Mr Ali Al Shihabi, who is CEO of Rasmala Investments.

They're a bit of a diversion but they do they actually lead me in to what I was originally going to post about, which is poor communication.

I'll start with some of Mr Shihabi's pearls of wisdom.

Communication, unfortunately, is still a weak skill among business, political and economic leaders in the GCC. They have to understand the importance of communication.

The traditional Middle Eastern approach of pretending that everything is fine, when the rest of the world is not, is counter- productive.

He goes on to make another valid and important observation:

Enough of the largest, biggest island the size of Manhattan or Hong Kong and underwater hotels.

That kind of hype is unnecessary because Dubai is a serious business model and by continuing that hype, you've brushed a very serious sector with the Disneyland or Hollywood brush.

This gives the wrong image. It tells the world that these are rich people spending their money and they don't know how to spend it.

Absolutely spot on. Particularly now when the world's financial system is collapsing. As Mr Shihabi says, it scares investors who will be frightened off instead of being attracted.

The world must surely be suffering from Dubai-biggest fatigue by now.

But back to the communication thing.

I was prompted to comment when I heard the presenters on Dubai Eye this morning talking about clarifying something by getting an official on the show.

They've done it before, as has the rest of the media, but getting the official line never clarifies anything. An added problem is the deference of the interviewers, who won't ask for clear answers and simply accept whatever is said.

An official is usually asked to clarify because we, the public, are running into problems with something.

What happens is that the official rambles on in officialese. In amongst it you may get either that there are no problems and never were or there were problems but they're now fixed.

I hasten to add that this is not a problem unique to Dubai, it happens all over the world. I've posted about some of it before, for example here.

You remember the fiasco when the Salik road toll was introduced? Thousands of motorists couldn't find forms anywhere, the website wasn't anywhere near ready...yet we were assured there were plenty of forms everywhere and there was nothing wrong with the website.

There's still a problem with it. I've had payment top-up problems, and Alexander over at Fake Plastic Souks recently posted about his problems with topping up his Salik account.

The latest of course is the ID Card fiasco.

A few short weeks ago we had an announcement that expatriate professionals, identified as white collar workers and specifically university degree holders, have to register by year end.


Officials insist that everyone knew months ago about the deadline because they publicised it extensively. Thousands of us saw no earlier information.

In spite of officials 'clarifying' the situation we still don't know exactly who must register by December 31. For example, what about non degree-holders who are professional white collar workers? Housewives?

We're told that the few offices can cope with the numbers by the deadline , but simple mathematics shows they can't get anywhere near it.

The website was nowhere near ready when the announcement was made and couldn't cope with the traffic. When we did get into it the bar code form wouldn't print for many people. For many more the information they entered was changed arbitrarily by the website.

And there were many more problems with the site. A comment left on one of my postings about it: having the same problem with printing the bar codes. And guess what... you HAVE to enter an occupation. So now my 3 year old son is classified as a sales and marketing professional

Officials have told us there was a problem with bandwidth but that's all fixed and the website is now running perfectly...except maybe a bar code problem or two.

In reality there are still problems with the site.

As for the rest of it, there is no problem. Fill out the form, make an appointment, take your pasport and, bingo, you've registered. There may be a short wait.

Today I received an e-mail with some stories from the real world, which I'd like to share with you.

A colleague arrived at the Al Barsha registration centre at 6:10am this morning… there were already over 350 people waiting outside, many of them sleeping on the floor. It looked like a scene from a refugee camp. He turned around and left again.

Our PRO went to the Karama registration centre this morning, at 5:20am (!)… there was already a queue of over 1,000 people. At around 7am, an official started handing out small bits of paper, asking people to fill in their name, mobile number and occupation. When the gates finally opened, many streamed to the one and only appointment-machine in the centre, to try to obtain an appointment to register for their card. Our PRO was among the first, and laughed when he was given "next available appointment: April 2009"

In the other queue, an Emirates ID employee sat at a desk, collected the bits of paper from everyone waiting, and sent them away (?!), saying "we will call you and give appointment".

See, as the officials are telling us, there is no problem, everything is working well and we'll all be able to register easily by the deadline.

As Mr Shihabi said The traditional Middle Eastern approach of pretending that everything is counter-productive.

The things which are wrong cannot be fixed if the people in charge deny anything is wrong.

By the way, Mr Shihabi's excellent observations are well worth reading and they're here.


Anonymous said...

The ID online application form is terrible - it took me 4 hours to get to the barcode stage last night.

Fortunately I had an appointment when I went to Al Barsha today to get all my stuff done. But there were heaps of people who had been waiting since 5am!

Anonymous said...

Didn't someone once say "you can fool some of the people some of the time, but you cannot fool all the people all the time". Have I got it right?

Seabee said...

Dave it was Abraham Lincoln and to be precise he said: "You can fool some of the people all the time, and all of the people some of the time, but you cannot fool all of the people all the time."

Keef said...

Absolutely shocking!

dubaibilly said...

I didn't have too many problems filling in the form - the bar code bit printed out fine - but I can't get it to give me an appointment. Every appointment which it claims is available, it waits for a bit following me clicking on it and then tells me that I can't have it.

Anonymous said...

I applied for the ID Card in 2nd week of October and was told that it will be available in 2 weeks. On my visit to the EIA center early November, I was informed that due to a "system crash" my information is not traceable. I have been asked to wait for some time and return in December. The guy at front office promised I won't be placed in queue if the information has to be taken again.

Anonymous said...

Another way of looking at it is that Mr. Shihabi "doesnt have ambitions", and "is not visionary".

Thats Gulf News editorial-speak for you.

For the matter, even the National had a Cityscape editorial oraising Dubai on showing the world its ambitions by announcing trillion dollar projects before a world recession

Anonymous said...

Oh, the chaos of it all... I'm really quite worried that the proverbial dung will really hit the world's biggest fan once 1st January 2009 comes around: today, the Arabian Business Magazine reports that "some banks may freeze the accounts of those who do not have an ID card by the deadline expiration." Somehow, it wouldn't surprise when glitches in the system will cause even people WITH the card to have their accounts frozen...

Alexander said...

It's happened again!



Seabee said...

ZTG I wonder about the legality of preventing people accessing their own money, which they've entrusted to their bank for safe keeping.

Anonymous said...

I have a similar problem with the DEWA website. I cannot log in. I have called and had my password reset several times - they email me a new password and I can log in fine. But then when my bill is due the next month, I am locked out again! Forget the form to reset your password: it's cacked. It always complains that it wants a new password with more than 6 characters - but won't accept anything that suits this criterion.

Why are the websites in Dubai always so USELESS? Old information is never updated, and outdated broken links are left forever, etc. I am not in the least surprised that the EID site is worthless too.

Seabee said...

Anon I agree, companies and organisations here are way behind, still using phones and faxes. Websites are often literally years out of date, e-mails are not answered. I've lost count of the times I've been told to send a fax or call in personally.

Anonymous said...

As for the emirates ID, the situation is same in Abu Dhabi. People are going to the offices at 3 in the morning (!!) to stand in the queue.

Some level of organization has crept in though. There is a 'list' of the line in order, which is given to the EID official, who decides how many from the list will get to do their registration the same day. Most of the times, the number is something like 80.

How exactly it is that they plan to complete the registration is outside of my understanding. While at the same time to say that nothing is wrong is pretty much bullshit. It would be nice if they even SEEMED to try!