Dubai – Money crisis to Image crisis

8 04 2009

A lot is buzzing on the blogosphere about the BBC’s Panorama’s coverage of the plight of laborers in Dubai. UD has, as usual, a very nice piece on the matter.crisis

Recently, too many Omani had come to believe (like many around the world) that the way to wealth was easy: through speculation in shares, property and land; by being allowed to be a minority partner in some Government development; by being Mr.5% for some foreign company; or by effectively taxing the income stream of the expats you could sponsor. Money was swilling around the country as oil prices exploded and the Government spent large on big industrial and oil infrastructure projects.

Perhaps now there can be a return to sensibility: That wealth should be gained through professionalism, hard work and true value creation. That education is important because of the skills and knowledge it brings and not because it is supposed to provide a magic piece of paper that gives an automatic right to sit behind a desk reading the papers all day. That borrowing beyond your means to consume and speculate is unwise. And to be wary of hubris.

Methinks that it is only (and only) the strong hand of law (at the topmost power echelons of the country, where even the upper-upper management thinks twice, says once) that we are where we are, and not somewhere alongside Dubai (in terms of economic downfall). We used to call it ultra-conservatism, caution turned out good. Even a matter as mundane as not following the Saudi govt in matters of moon-sighting (for Muslim religious holidays, SA being the nexus of Muslims) & instead the local moon-sighting committee viewing the moon on their own and making their own decisions, even such mundane matters point to the idea of ‘think before you act’.

But the attractions Dubai, Qatar, Kuwait, their flashiness, the throwing money around, the queues at the border of cars exitting Oman, they make it hard for the ‘upper-management’ of the country to resist freehold property projects, sprawling resorts. Glad to see that we’ve been able to resist ’em till now.

Jamie Stewart, in his blog, writes about the developing trend of Dubai-bashing and somewhat passively-aggressively objects to it.

I’ve written before that there is no shame in taking a hit due to the behaviour of a posse of greed-fuelled, unregulated, Western-centric, champagne-guzzling, yacht-sailing, cigar-waving bankers, injected to the hilt with bonus cheques and platinum coke-stained credit cards, too busy getting their nails manicured, their empty suits fitted, their egg-shell-white-with-raised-gold-type business cards printed, and their lazy, sponging sons into the same company as them, to notice that they were dragging not just their partner for the night, but also the entire capitalist system, to its grubby knees.

And why is there no shame in that? Are we fine with breeding such a class? Are we satisfied with the cyclic nature of economic depressions just so that we can let this posse ‘be’.

So when the worst global recession since the great depression reared its ugly head last year, and the international liquidity river ran dry, Dubai, busy whistling away, blowing up balloons in the corner of the room and generally minding its own business, found its throat was particularly parched.

Minding it’s own business? Dubai? World’s biggest building, world’s biggest theme park, world’s most expensive hotel, world’s biggest artificial land reclamation, world’s biggest indoor ski area. I don’t think Dubai was ‘generally minding its own business’, it was making the world make its business their business (or vice versa).

So rest assured, there is still much work to be done. Wrongs to be righted. … As for Dubai, as it finds itself again thrust into the international media spotlight – and not out of choice this time – the truth is out there. Allegedly. Maybe it’s a place that grew so fast, the wheels of legislation could not keep up. Well if so, they now have their chance.

Dubai grows faster than intellectual and scientific growth in the US? Does their legislation fall behind? Okay, that was too specific of an example, but still, that’s no excuse. Granted its the way these countries work, then why expect them to fulfill all other criterion? There is no labor rights but then there is no press freedom either. There is no democracy too. There are no taxes too (no 35% income taxes, in the case of Dubai – or is there? correct me if!)

True that Dubai-bashing might be an opportunistic  trend. Indeed, when the going was good, all was good, when the going gets tough, only the tough get going. Seems the European, Indian & Chinese economies are tougher than American and Dubai-ian ones.

The labor force issue, which is the primary concern of the BBC programme, is entirely different…

Here, across the road, in Oman, we have a similar setup in terms of expat laborers. The problem is that while rich, you-pay-me-just-for-being-your-sponsor locals are sitting and earning in the good times, even then the laborers still live in 3/4 people to a room. They still have 20 men sharing a bathroom and they still live in the coolest place they can find, which is not at all related to their bed. Any site project, at any good time, has had those wooden portacabins, overloaded with men, in the middle of the desert, drinking salty/metallic tasting water, wearing the same workclothes for the entire duration of the project, handwashing them in the evening, and that too only half of them, who want to. And this is considering a 3000/3500 person workforce, where required, is a ‘huge’ project in Oman. Dubai works on a bigger scale.

Imho, it is a bit more complex than what meets the eye. Forex, consider a typical laborer that we are talking about. A person who has paid a certain amount to money to leave his country (mostly India/Pakistan). In most cases who cannot even speak the common Hindi, let alone English; cannot sign their own name; give them a suite and they’ll sleep on the floor ‘coz they have been doing that their whole life; they will still squat on top of the toilet bowl.

Seen the slumdog millionaire? That is a realistic picture. Imagine someone who has spend 20-30 years in that environment and just can reach Dubai by spending money. Does that teach him how to use the facilities he’s been provided? No. Give each man a room of his own and they’ll be all sleeping in a single one and holding drinking binges and gambling tournaments in the rest. That’s because that’s the only thing they have seen. Been to the Ford showroom lately? The salesmen there speak Yoda-English. Does that mean the company here is to blame? Maybe yes for hiring them in the first place.

I know I’m generalizing things, but these cases exist. And individual bad-exceptions reduce available facilities for everyone.

But still, basic rights are basic rights. Food, water, health. These should be provided, no matter what.

Apart from these… *shrug*.. its a sound made using both hands, not only one.

-The Fark Knight

The BBC Programme: Slumdogs & Millionaires




One response

14 04 2009
Dubai Bashing - Media Roundup «

[…] on in the latest round of Dubai Bashing (which is fast becoming a copyright-able term). I have had my rant on it, here I’ll just be a nice person and post some […]

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