Thursday, April 09, 2009

The economy, law enforcement and transparency

The BBC programme 'Slumdogs & Millionaires' seems to have caused official ripples.

According to Gulf News, the Ministry of Labour will investigate the claims made in the programme that expat workers are made to live and work in completely unacceptable conditions.

The MoL has issued a statement saying that an inspection team has been ordered to investigate the claims and that 'any violating companies will be penalised'.

As the Minister points out, the rights of workers is covered by legislation. The problem is that companies ignore rules and laws - not ony in Dubai but just about everywhere - and they need enforcing.

It's no secret in Dubai that some labour camps are way below the standards they should be, even the local press has run stories about it. The media can find violations but somehow the inspection teams miss them.

So what's the answer, many more inspectors? More willingness to hunt out and penalise violators? Both, probably.

The ministry reaction does once again demonstrate the value of exposure, of openness, of bringing things which need changing into the public arena.

There's also the report that a former Minister of State has been charged with appropriating public money and damaging the country's interests. Only his initials are used in the local media, in keeping with the media ethics code, but he's named in a report in the Financial Times.

That's an interesting advance by the way, a good step along the road to transparency. Not all that long ago there would have been no public disclosure of such a situation.

There was another story of tighter enforcement of regulations in yesterday's Financial Times too. The chief executive of the Dubai Financial Services Authority says they will stamp out any vestiges of “light-touch” regulation. “The light touch approach is over,” he said.

Many of us have been talking for some time about the urgent need for enforcing the rules and laws in all sorts of areas, the driving laws and labour laws in particular. It seems to be happening, probably too slowly and sometimes it needs the international spotlight to highlight the violations, but it seems as though we may be getting there.

The FT ran another background story on Dubai yesterday, the writer Roula Khalaf not pretending that Dubai isn't being hit badly by the recession but talking sensibly and responsibly about the problems, what needs to be done and the future. A professional job after the copycat 'dark side of Dubai' sensationalism we've been seeing recently.

She highlights one of the big problems we have: Dubai remains obsessively keen to keep its problems out of the public eye. And she makes the important point: The emirate likes to be known as an outwardly, cosmopolitan city, but it has not come to terms with the responsibility alongside that – crucially, the need for transparency.

There's also an FT report that Lord Mandelson, the UK Secretary of State for Business, has raised with the authorities here the major economic problem which I posted about last week, the big developers not paying contractors.

Once again the international spotlight falls on something which should not have been allowed to happen.

Ministry to investigate BBC claims.

Ex-minister charged, Gulf News.

Ex-minister charged, Financial Times.

Roula Khalaf's background piece.

Major developers owe billions.


Anonymous said...

in regrads to the minister, I was watching Dubai 8 pm news on TV (in Dubai TV- The Official Arabic speaking channle of Dubai) and the minister full name was mentioned in Arabic.

Stating the name is more transperant than just giving intials, besides what is so tough to know in regards to names of people that are menat to be exposed to the public when they are belived to involve in wrong doing.

Reality Check said...

Further to this discussion, I would like to touch on one of your points regarding labour laws. After a recent visit to the MoL with a friend to file a case, he was told that seeing as it is a gov't company, they are not bound by the labour code. How funny is that...the very people who make the rules are not bound by them. My friend works for an UPward developer and seems their clients are as fed UP as he is with not getting paid. He was made redundant and was told 1 month salary and NOC or nothing should they pursue action. A bunch of employees got together and went to MoL who told them there is no chance for success.

A MAJOR case of "do as i say and not as I do". This is nothing new here, obviously.

Rootless said...

Why even bother with Gulf News any more? The National, as usual, is reporting the minister's full name. That newspaper is so superior in every way to any other English language publication in the UAE, there is no point even in checking any of the others on any topic, local or international.

Seabee said...

Rootless, why bother with GN? Because reading only one news source gives a very narrow picture. While there's duplication of stories across the press there are different angles and emphasis, and there are stories covered in some papers which are not covered in others. In other words, you get a broader more complete picture if you read more than one news source.

Stanley said...

Various newspaper articles and publications in Dubai are heavily limited by the policies in place, everything against Dubai is taboo which is why transparency doesn't exist. What's interesting to see is how the journalists work inside those lines. The term reading between the lines has become redundant here as we must discern the intent behind the article, or reading behind the lines.

I'd just like to bring some attention to this complaint although badly written emphasizes what goes on in some newspapers and how articles and points of view are heavily dependent on who write them.

The example above highlights the shift in staff so possibly the shift in writing in style and radical changes being seen in Khaleej Times. The ridiculous excuses for redundancies speak for themselves.

The main difference between UK and the UAE is that in the UK people CAN openly express their opinions without fear of unjust reprisal unlike here where the solution to any form of public dissent is a jail sentence.
I'm fairly certain if Hari worked here not only would the article not see the light of day, I doubt Hari would either. Wouldn't be surprised if he was banned from the country or some other childish reaction.