Sunday, July 31, 2011

Traffic fines discount

It seems that Dubai police are about to follow some other emirates and offer discounts on traffic offence fines.

I'm struggling to understand how that will help to improve the standard of driving.

Gulf News has the report here.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Silence on property 'residence visa'

At the end of last month I was talking here about the new so-called 'residence visa' for property owners, which the media and real estate spokespeople were lauding as a great move forward.

It was nothing of the sort of course, and not even a residence visa. It was a three year multi-entry visit visa for which, in spite of all the applause, we were given no details.

We were told that holders would have to leave the country every six months...which was 'clarified' a few days later by a statement that holders would not have to leave every six months.

The only other information was that holders would need proof of a bank account either here or overseas and a salary of Dh10,000 a month, and the visa would only apply to property 'worth Dh1 million'. They would also have to have medical insurance renewable every six months (strange) and take a medical here every two years.

But the real detail that property owners, and potential buyers, need wasn't, and still hasn't, been given. The announcement was made, then nothing.

Value of property for example. Based on what? The original price paid?  Even with the burst bubble, apartments in my building that were originally bought for Dh450,000 are currently over Dh1 million - and they've been much higher than that of course. But if the original purchase price is the yardstick, none of the owners qualify for the visa.

Or is it based on current value?  Two problems with that. One, who decides what current value is? Two, value fluctuates all the time depending on many factors. Something that's worth a million today may be worth less than a million in a month's time if interests rates go up, mortgages become even more difficult to find, a large supply of similar apartments is released.

Then as it isn't a residence visa, can holders apply for all the things that require a res. visa, such as a driving licence, DEWA connections and so on? Or are they treated the same as other visit visa holders?

And what's the cost? The original plan for a six month visa required the holder to exit the country and apply for a new visa to come back Dh2,000 a time. That soon adds up if it's a family on the visa. We had no indication of the cost of the latest version.

Far from helping the real estate sector, this kind of part announcement leaving vital questions unanswered damages it even more.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Johann Hari exposed

The story broke in the UK press a couple of weeks ago and I've been meaning to post this for a while, but being busy with the imminent move back to Oz I didn't get around to it.

It's been somewhat swamped by the Murdoch News of the World saga but it involves much the same thing, appalling standards of 'journalism'.

I'm prompted to devote time to it today by an article in this morning's The National.

It concerns Johann Hari, a columnist I've disliked for a long time and who I've slated here before, and his standards of 'journalism'. You'll remember Mr Hari for his infamous article 'The Dark Side of Dubai' written over two years ago now.

He's at last been publicly exposed for something that was apparent from that and other articles; misrepresention, misquoting and making up 'facts' to make a point.

Hari admitted exactly that when in response to the criticisms he said he had opted for "intellectual accuracy" over "reportorial accuracy".

He has quite rightly been suspended by his newspaper, The Independent, and calls are being made for his various awards for journalism to be taken back. One committee is said to be actively investigating their award to him.

The National quotes Bitish author and columnist Guy Walters as saying Hari has committed three journalistic crimes: "First, he has pretended that words spoken to other journalists were in fact said to him. That is plagiarism, pure and simple. Secondly, he makes things up. There is no doubt in my mind that many of the people he supposedly encounters - such as the girl in hot pants in Dubai - are figments of his imagination. Thirdly, he distorts the words of the real people he does manage to interview."

Certainly the second and third apply to his Dubai article, as I pointed out in my detailed response to it.

That was back in April 2009 and it's interesting that I still regularly get visitors landing on that page.

The times when news went into the bin at the end of the day have disappeared, now it stays here on the www for people to read forever. This is an example - various commentators reporting Hari's attack on Dubai linked to it and to my response, and now more than two years later people are still reading both.

Now that he's been exposed I think there's a good argument for The Independent to remove the links to any of his articles which have been called into question for containing plagiarism, lies, distortions.

I would also suggest that those of us who took him to task over his Dubai article and follow-up, and who took a lot of stick at the time from his supporters, have been exonerated.

The Dark Side of Dubai.
My post disecting it
More lies from Johann Hari.
The National.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Pssst. Wanna buy a suit?

I'm sure it must be a scam, although I don't know exactly what it is because I always cut it short.

Walking in Dubai Marina I've been stopped now about ten times by a car pulling up alongside.

"Scusi. Can you please tell me the way to Sheikh Zayed Road, there are no signs"

The passenger is always Italian, presentable, friendly.

I tell him how to get to SZR.

Profuse thanks, then "Where are you from?"

"Ah, Australia. Melbourne or Sydney? I have a brother in Melbourne".

When I say Sydney they usually ask whether I know Machiavalli restaurant - one of my favourites as it happens.

They go on to say they've been working in Oz, more often than not as interior designer at the Versace hotel on the Gold Coast. But...they've changed occupations and now are in Italian fashion and can make me an offer which presumably is too good not to accept.

That's when I tell them I'm not buying and say ciao.

I wonder how the scam plays out. Anyone know?

Monday, July 18, 2011

They don't get it.

The News Corp phone hacking saga continues like a runaway train.

Actually, to my mind it's not about phone hacking, although it did start when the public discovered that the News of the World  hacked into the phones of people other than celebrities. That meant the illegality which had been accepted for years was suddenly an outrage.

And although it's called the phone hacking scandal, the real story is corruption.

The UK has long prided itself on being corruption free. It can't any more.  Media, politicians, police all scratching each others' backs with secret deals, payoffs, freebies, exchanges of confidential information.

Politicians playing for Murdoch's media support. And in return he expected...?

A relationship between police and Murdoch's empire that included police being paid for information.

Former executives from the NoW being given well- paid jobs with the police and government.

The original enquiry finding no problem other than a couple of minor underlings, who went to jail, and the enquiry being closed with unseemly haste.

And so it was back to business as usual.

But every day sees more sensational developments. It's not just underlings taking the rap any more, big names are beginning to fall.

The latest is the top cop, Sir Paul Stephenson, Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, who resigned yesterday.

There were a number of pressures on him but the one that to me is the biggest is that he accepted a gift of thousands of pounds of free health spa accommodation.

It doesn't matter who the owners were, who arranged it, whether it had anything to do with Murdoch.

The problem is the nation's top policeman accepted a valuable gift from someone.

At the very best it shows appalling judgement and naivete.

And like others being outed in this drama, he just doesn't get it.

Here's what he said:

Sir Paul insisted there was "no impropriety" in relation to his use of the spa. He said: "I am extremely happy with what I did and the reasons for it — to do everything possible to return to running the Met full time, significantly ahead of medical, family and friends’ advice. The attempt to represent this in a negative way is both cynical and disappointing."

See, accepting gifts is perfectly OK for senior police officers. There is such a thing as free lunch.  People will give them gifts worth thousands of pounds and never even think of wanting a favour in return.

Just watch it, this story will grow like a snowball because it's becoming a really dirty fight.  People involved are looking to deflect dirt from themselves by naming others, people are settling old scores, good friends are hurriedly being dropped, there's a mad a scramble as people scurry to put distance between themselves and News Corp. And of course, anti-News Corp forces, including media rivals, are throwing fuel on the fire.

There are widespread reports of Sir Paul's dig at the Prime Minister who he said risked being compromised by his closeness to former News of the World editor Andy Coulson.

And, naturally, not for himself did Sir Paul kept secret his relationship with and employment of Caulson's former deputy Neil Wallis as a 'strategic adviser'. No, that was to protect others:  "I did not want to compromise the prime minister in any way by revealing or discussing a potential suspect who clearly had a close relationship with Mr Coulson."

Very senior people, including long-standing friends of Rupert Murdoch, have gone and are among those arrested. The top cop has gone and his deputy should be next.*  The opposition is baying for government blood.

They'll make a movie of it one day.

Quotes are from:
Sir Paul turns on PM. The Guardian.
Daily Telegraph.

* Breaking News

It's ninety minutes after I posted this and the Assistant Commissioner has just resigned. Things are moving faster than we can keep up with.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Power tends to corrupt...

So said Lord Acton back in the eighteen eighties.

Very relevant to the momentous events going on in the UK surrounding Rupert Murdoch's brand of 'journalism' I would say.

Another saying that springs to mind is 'one law for the rich, one for the poor', but this one is happening in reverse from the usual meaning.

The hypocrisy of the general public is never more evident than in the Murdoch saga.

He's made his squillons and gained his power & influence by feeding the public obsession with gossip and personal details about people's private lives, the more dirt-raking the better. His papers are as downmarket as you can get, with even the once internationally respected The Times and Sunday Times going on a rapid downward spiral when he took them over.

The public's insatiable appetite for dross gave tabloid rags like The Sun and the News of the World the highest readership in the UK. In Australia it's the same with his tabloids versus the broadsheets.

Then the hypocrisy. As long as the gossip and lurid details were about royalty, footballers, politicians and 'celebrities' the illegal means of obtaining the information were not questioned.

But when exactly the same methods were used against ordinary people - an uprising.

It's not the unprofessional, immoral, illegal actions which have caused such outrage. It's who the victims are this time.

They won't of course, but people should take a long hard look at themselves for accepting illegal practices when they were used against well-known people. That's encouraged the practitioners to see their illegal, immoral actions as normal practice, happily accepted by the public.

Then there's the side to this saga that will be society changing.

When the Dirty Digger, as Private Eye* famously dubbed him, bought into the UK's newspaper world he was a breath of fresh air.  He challenged the establishment, as very few did in those days, and broke the print unions which were killing the hand that fed them. (I had personal experience of them when I worked in London ad agencies).

But as his influence with the public - read voters - increased so did his interference in politics. Now there is evidence not only of his power to influence the highest levels of government but of his organisation's illegal activity in phone hacking, fraudulently obtaining personal information ('blagging') and bribery of police.

The mutual back-scratching of News Corp., politicians and the police isn't new but it's reached new depths.

No-one knows how much more there is to discover. Was it confined to the now thankfully defunct News of the World? (Always a dreadful example of tabloid 'journalism'). Was it even confined to the UK? The FBI in the US is looking into alleged breaches of US law. In Australia, where his empire began and where he owns nearly two thirds of big city newspapers, MPs are calling for an inquiry into media regulation.

This time News Corp won't be able to sweep it under the carpet as they did earlier, sacrificing a couple of, albiet guilty, fall guys. I've always maintained that the culture of an organisation is set at the very top. Underlings do what they believe the boss will be happy with, often what the boss indicates he'll be happy with.

To make matter worse, far from making a couple of minor mistakes in handling the crisis, as Murdoch told the (his) Wall Street Journal they'd done, he's made uncharacteristically massive errors. Maybe he's simply lost the plot.  But I suspect it's more that the years of increasing power and influence have made him overconfident about what he can get away with. Arrogance and treating people with disdain aren't cutting it any more.
It needed an immediate admission that the practices were totally unacceptable. An immediate apology and promise that he was on his way to sort it out and hold those responsible, right to the top, to account. An urgent personal apology to the family of the murdered teenager Milly Dowler, the hacking of whose phone started the public outrage.

He should not have refused to attend the parliamentary hearing - a bad decision since reversed only as he realised the severity of the storm and threats of a summons to appear were made.

He should have immediately dropped his bid to buy the whole of BSkyB, 'pending the outcome of the current investigations'. Instead he tried to remove it from the political arena by having it referred to the competion watchdog, then had to withdraw the bid anyway. Calls are now being made to consider whether News should be allowed to retain its existing 39% holding.

All in all, mistake piled on mistake. As I said, out of character and massively damaging to the empire. Perhaps even fatal to it in its present form.

It will certainly lead in the UK to a formal distancing between media proprietors and politicians and between the media and police. Perhaps a new media regulator, maybe no more self regulation. More attention will be paid to the meaning of a 'fit and proper' person in relation to media owners. Quite possibly stronger regulations about the percentage of media one person can control.

Very senior people are going to be held responsible for their actions and lose their jobs - instead of the usual platitude of  'I take full responsibility' with absolutely nothing happening thereafter.

And much more transparency all round.

It's a big, big story and, as they say, it has legs. And there'll be more sensational revelations as it evolves.

* Private Eye covers are consistently brilliant. Do have a look at their website, click on 'Covers Library' and search Rupert Murdoch for example.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

"Temperatures up to 45 celcius...

...but skies beginning to clear"

That was the weather report on radio this morning and I was relieved to hear the second part.

It's the very worst weather in my opinion, air you have to eat rather than breathe.

Photo. Karen Dias Gulf News

The heat I can take, in fact I'm only happy in hot sunny weather. Humidity I hate but in fact that hasn't been bad at all recently, quite comfortable really.

But the dust. I can't think of anything worse and it's been like it for the past couple of weeks.

In New Dubai we have more than just the sand, we have cement dust from the construction. It gets everywhere, inside the car inside the apartment, onto and into everything.

Including us.

A few years down the track I suspect that there'll be an epidemic of bad health caused by it among all of us who've lived here during the construction boom.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011


Back in Oz we have a nice orange tree which when I left had thirty or so oranges ripening nicely. I've been hoping they'd be perfect for eating when we get back.

We also have plenty of sulphur crested cockatoos flying about:

The connection is this e-mail our good friend and neighbour sent this morning:

Today, I have been watching from our patio a white cockatoo picking your oranges and flying away with them.  As you won't be back at Terrigal for a few weeks, is it OK if I pick them? ( instead of the cockatoo)

Whichever way, I'm not going to enjoy them.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Not happy

I've had a few dealings recently with the unbelievable red tape in the UK and the laughable customer service there and I'm in the middle of another major problem caused by it right now.

A few months ago we sold a house we owned in England. You wouldn't believe what we had to do to prove we were who we said we were - it was all to do with money laundering legislation the solicitor said.

In reality most the frustration is caused by 'jobsworths'; defined by the Oxford English Dictionary  as "a person in authority (esp. a minor official) who insists on adhering to rules and regulations or bureaucratic procedures even at the expense of common sense." They've also been defined as "a minor factotum whose only status comes from enforcing otherwise petty regulations".

In my experience it's more than that. It's people misinterpreting, misunderstanding or simply not knowing enough about the rules but insisting on enforcing their version of them.

To complete the house sale we had to produce passports, other photo ID, signed statements from people that we were indeed us, copies of credit cards to prove our signatures were our signatures.  We had to prove our bank account was our bank account.  Each new piece of evidence we supplied was followed by another demand for something additional.  It went on for days.

My latest run in is with Emirates and my UK bank.

I made bookings online for two family members to travel from the UK to Australia. I've booked online with Emirates many times and it's quick and easy with their excellent website.

But not if you're flying from the UK. If the person paying is not one of the passengers they won't accept credit card payments.

So I had to do a bank transfer, not to Emirates but to their nominated Global Collect BV. Did that, got a receipt from my bank. Waited for the e-tickets.

Nothing. No confirmation, no acknowledgement, no tickets.

I e-mailed Emirates to ask why and discovered that queries are forwarded to the country of departure. That means it went to the UK, so naturally my e-mail was ignored.

I sent another one.

This time I got a reply saying it must be a payment problem and asking for details of the payment. I gave them the information and they replied that my query had been passed to the relevant department and I would be informed as soon as they had an update.  

The bank, the now government owned Royal Bank of Scotland, had sent me a note that the money had been transferred but I wanted to double-check that it had indeed gone from our bank account.

The website won't let me log in. It suggests you re-activate your online banking if that happens. It won't let me reactivate.

You can send them an e-mail, which they promise to respond to in typical UK customer service style...within ten working days.

Now there's an e-mail from Emirates that as payment was not made by the due date the reservations have been cancelled and I have to rebook. But I pay again of course if I do that.

You might guess that I'm not best pleased at the moment.

Wednesday, July 06, 2011

Vehicle transfer

I approach dealings with government departments, anywhere, with a sinking feeling.

I expect to sit and wait for hours before I'm called to a counter.

I fully expect to not be on the same wavelength as the people I have to deal with (I've posted about this before and readers have left comments about their attempts to hold a meaningful conversation with bureaucrats).

I expect to be directed from counter to counter, department to department.

I expect it, whatever it is, to take at least half a day.

So yesterday was the day to do the car transfer of ownership and I approached it with the usual dread.

It was a doddle.

I can't believe it. Twenty minutes from start to finish. Friendly, efficient people. A simple process.

For when you have to go through it, here's the story.

I went to the Al Barsha Traffic Department, next to the Mall of the Emirates interchange on Sheikh Zayed Road.

You go not to the traffic department building itself but to the adjacent Tasjeel facility next to the EPPCO petrol station.

You need both seller and buyer to be there, they each need a passport copy (main page and residency visa page) and the buyer has to have an insurance policy on the vehicle. You need both driving licences and the current registration card. And some cash.

Regardless of when the vehicle was tested and registered it has to be done again.

I highly recommend you pay Dh150 for Express Service. If you do, you just park your vehicle and wait in the air-condirtioned office. Someone takes the vehicle, jumps the queue, tests the vehicle, issues the test certificate, brings it all to the office. Ten minutes.

You fill in a simple one sheet form - name of seller, name of buyer, vehicle details/numbers, that sort of thing.

You're asked if you have any outstanding fines, money owing on the vehicle, has the buyer paid you, whether the buyer wants a new registration number.

You hand over the money and in return get a wad of paper, the new registration card in the new owner's name.

That's it. Done. Twenty minutes.

But a heads up if you're served by Faisal Al Hamadi.

"Any fines" he asked.

"No, I'm a law-abiding sort of a person" I said.

He checked the computer. "Ah. One big fine. The police will confiscate your car for one month"


I dash round to look at the computer. He enjoys that. "Just joking"

A bit later he looks at the test certificate - which I haven't seen. "Any accident?"

"A car drove in the back of me two years ago, minor damage and it was an official dealer repair"

"Chassis damage" he says.


Dash for the computer again.

He enjoyed that too. "Just joking"

I don't mind. A government employee with a sense of humour, appearing to enjoy his work. He's also pleasant, friendly, efficient. Much better than the usual surly, unhelpful 'don't want to be here' attitude of so many bureacrats.

So a process I was dreading was actually very simple and efficient and not at all unpleasant.

Tuesday, July 05, 2011

Oh good, clarification.

Gulf News is pressing on with reports about what they present as the great new residence visa for foreign property owners.

As I pointed out last Wednesday, it ain't a residence visa, it's a multi-entry visit visa available to some property owners. With lots of conditions - many of them not announced yet.

Today GN has a story headed 'New residence visa will increase flexibility for real estate investors'.

Oh yeah?

The story includes some of the usual 'clarification' that we're so used to.

Last Wednesday Gulf News quoted Maj. Gen. Nasser Bin Al Awadi Al Menhali, Assistant Undersecretary for Naturalisation, Residence & Port Affairs, as saying: "Investors who own property worth Dh1 million can get three year mutiple-entry visit visas. However, they have to exit the country every six months".

Today they quote 'senior government officials' as saying: "The visa...will allow property investors to sponsor their families and stay in the UAE for three years without leaving."

So they either have to exit the country every six months or they don't. Wait for more 'clarification'.

As for the unannounced conditions, Major General Nasser Bin Al Awadi Al Menhali has told Gulf News that the full details of the law would be made public soon.

The report goes on to point out that: "It is still unclear if the visa provides investors all the usual benefits of a residence visa, such as enabling them to open bank accounts and apply for local driving licences."

Another thing that's unclear is the Dh1 million 'value' of the property. Is that the price paid or the value now? And if it's the value now, who fixes the value?

Deja vu.  It's exactly as happened with the original six month visit visa, exitedly welcomed but misrepresented by the media and the real estate industry as a residence visa that would restore confidence and increase sales. They're again wildly enthusiastic, presenting the latest incarnation as the answer to many of the problems of the real estate sector and investors.

Take a deep breath fellas. We have conflicting information, the law isn't issued yet, the details haven't been announced, we don't know how it's going to work.

The Gulf News report here.

Monday, July 04, 2011

The countdown begins

It's time to move back to Oz and so the countdown to leaving Dubai has begun.

Like so many people we decided to come for two or three years but stayed longer. Six years in our case.

To be honest, I was ready to move back at least three years ago but Mrs Seabee got totally involved in her work and didn't want to leave. I wanted to go, she wanted to stay - so we made the compromise that so many couples make, we did what the female said.

If I remember correctly my first posts on Life in Dubai were about the fun and games we had with bureaucracy and I'll round things off with what we have to go through to close the chapter.

The first task is to transfer the car ownership and I'll let you know what's involved in that when I find out.

So far I've been told by my insurance company that the new owner of my personal mobility solution has to have insurance in place before we can do the transfer. I'll do a post with the full story when it's all done.

Flight's booked for mid-August and the container with our belongings has just left Jebel Ali. You have to allow for Customs and, particularly, Quarantine (Australian Quarantine & Inspection Service) to take at least three weeks to check and clear stuff coming into Australia and we've tried to time our arrival as close as we can guess delivery of our belongings will be.

As for blogging, I'll simply stop posting here - as I won't be commenting on a Life in Dubai any more - and I'll move to a new blog. I'll give you the details when I finish up here in about six weeks.