Friday, March 28, 2008

Wilders anti-Islamic Fitna movie released, and some funny stuff

Nothing good in the news today. Almost…
OK, first the boring stuff.
Hillary persevering in the election race for the sake of… I don’t know why, given Obama has it locked up. Certainly not for the good of the Democratic Party.
Omantel profits up, following the Government’s decision to take less royalty. I wish they would stop deliberately screwing with Skype. (and how can that be legal within the Free Trade Agreement and WTO???)

Oh, and of course Mr Wilders finally released his film Fitna last night, and no big riots so far apparently. Reuters

It also seems he has avoided breeching any laws against blasphemy. Well, at least in the eyes of Dutch lawyers. You can watch his film by following this link here:
Fitna video
or just go to google videos and type Fitna Wilders movie. (If your country has blocked youtube and google video you can still watch it this way by selecting to watch it within google itself)

And, hey, its Friday, so here’s some funny Arab themed youtube entertainment for you to cheer you up again.

First, if you haven’t already seen it, the hilarious Ahmed The Dead Terrorist. (I corrected the spelling on the link, btw)

And this guy I picked up via Suburban’s great blog Go Remy A.R.A.B video

That's it guys. I'm off to the beach near the Icon somewhere, wearing my new 'I'm not Dutch' tshirt.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Cement, Cement, my kingdom for a bag of cement

Another report today of those pesky 'Asians' being busted selling so-called black market cement at 2.9 rials per bag. See Oman Tribune article
2 held for cement price manipulation
By A Staff Reporter
MUSCAT Two Asians were caught red-handed while selling cement at exorbitant price in the Wilayat of Ibri on Tuesday. The two expatriates were selling cement at the rate of RO2.900 per bag. The arrest was made as part of a campaign run by the Ministry of Commerce and Industry against people manipulating prices. ROP directly headed to the place after being notified and caught the two Asian expatriates red-handed.

The arrested men admitted their crime and were referred to the Prosecutor-General in order to start the legal proceedings against them. With this, the number of the arrested people in the Wilayat of Ibri reached four.

One of my construction industry buddies says the problem should ease in a few weeks now that people have been allowed to import cement from China directly. He says the price of Chinese cement, landed in Muscat, is only 500 baisa per bag. Its lower quality, so it will mean the recipe will have to be changed, but thats still almost a third of the official Ministry price.

Apart from the fundamental shortage of cement as Omani production has lagged demand, there are two big reasons for the black market. Firstly, some projects are getting priority for the cement that’s available. Secondly, many contractors have penalty clauses in their contracts – if they don’t finish on time, they pay. So if you have everything you need except cement, its well worth paying extra if it helps you avoid a big penalty!

I still wonder who in the Ministry of Commerce and Industry is supposed to be responsible for forestalling these things in advance. It can’t be THAT hard to estimate the demand for cement, based on the big approved projects, and to compare forward estimates with domestic production and anticipated demand from houses.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Blue City battle royale - Round 2 goes to AAJ

Muscati and Sue Hutton have posted that Cyclone's main court case against AAJH was dismissed on Monday. See Muscatis blog comments
This is really good news for Oman (and AAJH obviously), as it emphasises the independence of Omans courts, as you don't get too much more well connected as the shareholders in Cyclone LLC!

There's a lot more to come. Over the past 3 months whilst Cyclone has had the cheque book, I'm sure there has been lots of action on that account. There are already reports (Muscati again) that AAJ is counter-suing to try and get something back.

Watch this space. Round 2 may have gone his way, but Cyclone are unlikely to keep still. There's too much at stake.

Unfortunately, what the project now needs is stability and some actual construction, so they can pre-sell phase 1 and get some money back into the project. Otherwise there's a risk that the mess will make it hard to sell, and then the whole game is over as the bondholders move in...

Monday, March 24, 2008

CBO - Between a rock and a hard place…

As the Central Bank suffers from the dollar peg (effectively handing control of Oman's monetary policy to the Federal Reserve of the USA), they are thus being forced to act on a micro-scale wherever possible. Today they moved to lower the cap on personal loan interest rates to 'ease the plight of borrowers' (according to the radio report this morning). I'm not sure a 5% cut in the interest rate (from 9% to 8.5%) will have much of an effect, but I guess every bit helps. Especially as it seems, talking to friends and colleagues that many ‘middle class’ Omanis are in debt up to their eyeballs, with loans for cars, houses, weddings, school fees, holidays, credit cards, etc.

Unfortunately, cutting loan rates will just act to further boost liquidity, which is the last thing Oman needs right now. Excess cash, peg to weak dollar fuel Gulf inflation
CBO board cuts interest rates on personal loans
Sunday, March 23, 2008 11:07:52 PM Oman Time
MUSCAT — The Central Bank of Oman’s board of governors yesterday held its first meeting of the year chaired by Dr Ali bin Mohammed bin Moosa, health minister and deputy chairman of CBO’s board of governors.

The board has reduced the interest rate ceiling on new personal loans offered by commercial banks operating in the Sultanate from 9 per cent to 8.5 per cent per annum starting from April 1.
Times Of Oman article

It will also serve to slightly reduce the profitability of banks operating in Oman. Although given their stellar share prices lately, that doesn't seem a huge issue. Being able to borrow in dollars at circa 4% with zero (or even negative) exchange rate risk, and loan it out in rials at 9% (+ a multiplier) seems like a license to print money indeed. Although I assume, while the default rate is never publicized here, it must be relatively high. Oman is also still a country where people are expected to actually pay a fee to own a credit card, something I'm still not used to.
At the same time as its boosting liquidity via rates, the CBO is trying to mop up some liquidity via certificates of Deposit, aka Government bonds. CBO raises RO215m through CDs. They have also lately raised the amount of cash that banks have to hold, again to try and reduce liquidity somewhat.
The CBO seem to be doing everything they can, which is certainly better than nothing, but its unlikely to be enough, as it's all on the margin when compared to a domestic money supply racing away at ~30%+ growth. It's like bailing a leaky boat with a teaspoon.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Cheney visits Oman, Kuwait politics a mess

Not a lot of news today.
Cheney visits
I wonder what they have to talk about? Of course, again we're forced to suffer the closure of the highways, as when it seems any so-called dignitary visits. Presumably on the agenda was Iran, the military bases, and general Intel stuff. But I'd rather we got a visit from Barack Obama!
MUSCAT — His Majesty Sultan Qaboos bin Said gave an audience to Dick Cheney, vice-president of the United States of America at Bait Al Barakah yesterday evening.

During the audience, cordial conversations were exchanged and aspects of existing cooperation between the Sultanate and the US in various domains in the light of close relations between the two countries were reviewed.

The audience was attended by His Majesty the Sultan’s special adviser for external liaison, the US ambassador to the Sultanate and the delegation accompanying the guest. — ONA

Kuwaiti Ruler dismisses Parliament

Kuwait are having problems. The ruling elite don't get on with the parliament. Its one of the problems of the approach to democracy around the region that doesn't allow political parties. That makes it hard to run a Government. So the only thing the ruler can do is call for more elections. See
Times of Oman article

It the same here. The Shura are a collection of individuals. Parties are illegal in Oman. That makes it very hard for the Shura to really establish any significant oversight on the Government. But the problems in Kuwait will hardly be helping the trend towards elected representation in the GCC area.

So called Cement Blackmarketers busted

A couple of 'Asians' were imprisoned for selling cement at $3 a bag. Which is strange, as the Tribune reported last week that the market price was exactly that. This microeconomic attempt to addressing what is a macroeconomic problem (galloping inflation) is bound to fail. Its been tried before in many many other countries, and it just leads to a spiral of more intervention, to correct the mounting side-effects of the initial ones.

Where is the action from the MONE? Per Your Request, you really need to give these guys a hand...

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Blue City Soap Opera breaks into the open

So, as promised yesterday, more on the soap opera that is Blue City, aka Al Madina A'Zarqa. Today Ahmed Abubaker Janahi, the Bahraini Businessman previously involved with the Blue City Project through AAJH Holdings held a press conference objecting to the fact he is now being sued in Oman.

It seems he wasn’t going off as quietly into the night as Cyclone had hoped! Holding a news conference today in Bahrain Gulf News story Mr Janahi is not a happy camper. (I blogged about him being effectively kicked out by Cyclone in December last year here.)

My sources now tell me the project may be in deep trouble, with not too much of the original $900 million left, following the need for expensive redesign of almost everything. As a result, they said the current General manager Mr Satish has been asked to go elsewhere, with an expected exit date of end March. The Chief Operating Officer, Mr Miri may not be far behind him either.
Recent speculators buying up land around Blue City may want to reconsider their somewhat precipitous investment… Looks like this story is going to run and run. I wonder who’s currently holding the bonds that effectively mortgaged the land around Al Sawadi? Is AAJH Holdings being set up to take the fall?

And I wonder if this will be reported in the Omani press, seeing as a significant shareholder in Cyclone is an 'HH' and is in the Government?

A BAHRAINI company is facing court action in Oman after its partners accused it of illegally acquiring a majority stake in a multi-billion dollar project to build an entirely new city.

However, AAJ Holdings Company (AAJHC) claims it is an unlawful attempt to force it out of the $15 to $20 billion Blue City development and is now appealing to the Omani government to intervene.

The firm owns 70 per cent of the shares in Ocean Developments, the holding company behind the project. But legal action is now being taken against it by its partner Cyclone LLC, AAJHC chairman and chief executive officer Ahmed Abubaker Janahi revealed yesterday.

He said a suit had been filed against his company in the Omani courts and claimed an injunction order had been granted, which stopped AAJHC from exercising its rights associated with shares it owns in Ocean Developments until a judgement is handed down by the court."

He said this meant Cyclone had been managing the project without any involvement by AAJHC, claiming the Omani partners had initially demanded 20pc of the Bahraini company's shares.

"An immediate intervention by the Omani government is now crucial, seeing as the minority shareholder is currently in full control of the project and has actively and independently started sales, disbursements and generating revenues - the whereabouts of which still remain unknown to AAJHC," Mr Janahi told a Press conference at the MÅ¡venpick Hotel yesterday.

"We have been wrongly and completely shut out with all references and our logo unduly removed from the project."

Minister of Tourism Extends Her House onto Oil Company land?

A few of my contacts work at Petroleum Development Oman, the big pseudo-National oil and gas company in Oman. Talking over the amber nectar with them recently, they mentioned the big house extension being done in Qurm, right next to the Oil Company camp. Curiously, the house is being extended significantly into the PDO camp area land, and there was an issue with the construction crew working 24/7 and disturbing the residents nearby with their jack hammering and general banging.

The disturbing work going on at all times of the night has now been controlled, but the contractor apparently wasn't too keen to slow down the pace of work. Why? Because the house being extended belongs to Rajha bint Abdulameer bin Ali, the Omani Minister of Tourism .

There was some scuttlebutt from the PDO chaps about this somehow being related to the well advertised ambitions the Ministry of Tourism have to get their hands on the beautiful PDO prime real estate. Naturally, they want to build the usual few 5 star hotels and a massive housing development, golf course, etc. At present, the site is pretty sparsely populated with relatively old houses, occupied by the Expat and Senior Omani staff who work for PDO, which is handily situated just around the corner from the camp. [By the way, the low density, the sidewalks, and the generally more careful driving attitude is perhaps why it is one of the few residential areas in Muscat that is safe and pleasant for an evening stroll, safe for kids to play in, OK for bicycles, etc]. Anyhow, the land has always been owned by the Government, while the Oil Company just has an exclusive license to use it.

There doesn't seem to be any truth what-so-ever to this rumored connection to the MoT redevelopment plans, however, nor to the fact that Rajha is a Minister.

Dragon can reveal the Minister actually obtained the land some 10+ years ago, when she was not a Minister, and long before it was valued at some 1000+ rials per square m. She has owned the house for a long time, and I guess has always wanted to extend.

Interestingly, at the time Her Excellency got permission to take the land, she was a member of PDO’s Board of Directors, and just a humble Undersecretary at the Ministry of National Economy.

So that’s all right then.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Oman is surrounded by shit holes

I’ve often noted that Oman is a beautiful country totally surrounded by shit-holes: Yemen [Crazy violent anarchy] Saudi [crazy religious nut cases and despots], Iran [crazy authoritarian religious nuke-seekers], and of course, the good ol’ UAE [spoilt oil rich pimps and labour expoiters].

This is a good example typical of UAE.
Dubai: A court has upheld a 10-year jail sentence against an unemployed visitor who sexually exploited a penniless housemaid by forcing her to sleep with 20 men in one day for money.

Here's the Gulf News article
That's OK, you might think. 10 yrs for pimping. What are you complaining about 'Dragon? Some bastard forces women into prostitution, essentially sex-slaves, and gets 10 yrs when he’s caught (by the woman getting the courage to report him despite the risk of beatings or worse).
And the response from the sympathetic UAE to the poor woman’s plight? She gets 1 year in jail for ‘prostitution’.
He was charged with beating, threatening and forcing L.K. into prostitution after locking her up in a flat which he rented for that purpose. He also forced a 22-year-old compatriot woman, B.A., to work in the sex industry. The court sentenced B.A. to one year in prison for prostitution
How totally fcuked up is that? The sentencing seems a little haphazard to say the least, reading in the same paper:
On Monday, the Dubai Court of First Instance sentenced two Chinese male pimps to six months in jail each for running a brothel of seven Chinese women who were each given six months in jail.

On Sunday, the court sentenced seven women, including six Indians and an Indonesian, aged between 24 and 38, to one year for working in the sex industry.

More Saudi Bullshit
And in yet another reason why Oman in so many ways is the 'Jewel in the Crown', the police force we don’t have here. Another good story about the misogynistic, arrogant, sadistic, torture and rape practicing religious nutcases that seem to constitute the unaccountable Saudi muttawa [aka religious police]. See Gulf News Saudi article
Riyadh: Saudi authorities are questioning two members of the kingdom's powerful religious police in the case of a traffic accident in which a man and a woman burned to death, an official said on Monday.
The Okaz newspaper said the couple were fleeing from the special police, whose duties include ensuring that unrelated men and women do not mix in public, when the accident occurred.
But Shaikh Sulaiman Al Oneizi, a senior official at the Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice, which runs the religious police, said there was no indication so far that the two commission members had been chasing the couple. Instead, the two were on a routine patrol near the northern town of Tabuk, when the couple's sedan crashed into a trailer truck on Sunday, Al Oneizi told The Associated Press.
No, absolutely. They were just speeding I guess, even tho witnesses at the scene confirm the couple were being chased.

I could go on. Just today, more Bombings in Yemen, fraudulent elections in Iran, oh, and the entire Kuwait Cabinet resign (again), after having some difficulty with the elected parliament not doing what they’re told and the concept of ‘opposition’.

So, go Oman.

Tommorrow I’ll try and bring some news about the story behind the Minister of Tourism’s big new house extension in Qurm, that rumors are flying about on the Expat scene. Oh, and more management disfunction at the infamous Blue City…

Monday, March 17, 2008

Dutch in Oman brace for impact

The Dutch community in Oman is bracing itself for the expected reaction to the infamous Geert Wilders film 'Fitna'. Briefings from the Embassy have taken place, and emergency planning completed in Dutch-related businesses in the Sultanate (like Shell and KLM). After failing to get a TV station to air the film (which he says is now ready), he’s now just going to release it on internet. He has said he will release the film on 28th March.

This is one of those times I’m very glad that the ROP and Oman Internal Security are so damn good. Compared to many other Omani Government Departments, trust me, these guys are world class. Computerised and pretty much state-of-the–art surveillance of communications, good human intel, and a pretty sensible approach to their job too [a special thanks for that, guys]. There are good reasons why Oman spends more than 25% of the Government budget on Internal Security.

Interestingly, Omantel have yet to block the sites, or Perhaps they arte waiting for the film to be posted before acting? Although it seems clear that the press in Oman are being encouraged to not report the thing, which is probably a wise use of the considerable powers of censorship the Government have here. After all, freedom of speech in Holland is one thing, but there is also freedom to ignore him, and freedom to make it as hard as possible to get the Omani population to overreact.

There are also many anti-Wilders film sites springing up too, for example this one is pretty cute.

I’ve taken the liberty to post some pretty important facts that might help people that are perhaps less accepting of free speech understand what's going on.
Geert Wilders is an elected politician who does have a base of support. He is, however, not part of the Dutch government. During the last democratic elections in the Netherlands he received a minority vote and is therefore part of the opposition. The reason that Wilders received support is not only because of his critical view on the Islam. It can also be attributed to the fact that the electorate seems to miss an alternative in the current Dutch political landscape.

Unfortunately Geert Wilders has done something that we find unwise. He holds the nation hostage by announcing a film that, without even having been released, has begun to start planting hatred and conflict.

We believe in solutions and an open dialogue. We believe in talking with each other, listening to each other and respecting each other. Freedom of speech is a great good. Living together in peace and respecting each other are too.

We have set up this website to give Dutch people an opportunity to show the world that Geert Wilders does not speak on behalf of Holland, but on behalf of himself. So remember, 'Fitna' is not a Dutch Islam film, nor is it a film of the Dutch government. It is a film privately made by Geert Wilders and expresses his views, not that of the Dutch.
Basically, he's a right-wing populist politician, using this issue to polarize the Dutch electorate by making a grey issue into a black and white one. He’s also being, politically speaking, pretty cunning. If Islamists react with threats and violence, he is simply getting them to both prove his point and allow him to justify the broadcast with a huge See, I told you how violent they are! If they protest peacefully, he gets publicity; if there are no protests, he can continue and even claim tacit support!

However, if I was Dutch and living in Oman, I'd start stocking up on stroopwafels and Heineken now, before the bans come into place. At least they managed to hold the annual Omani Dutch Community OranjeBall earlier this month, as it was looking like a security nightmare waiting to happen…

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Boycott of Danes and Oman Central Bank confess helplessness

Todays News.

Oman Backlash against those naughty Danes begins
Finally a story in the press here on the response to the cartoon saga. It seems Al Jadeeda stores are going to boycott Denmark and the Netherlands. Nothing said about including all the other countries that reproduced the cartoons in sympathy (Spain, UK, France, USA, Australia, New Zealand, Canada…), naturally, as that would leave few countries to buy anything from. Also no mention in their press release of the nasty Mr Wilders. Al Jadeeda Stores to boycott items from Denmark, Netherlands. (I'm not sure they were selling much Danish stuff anyhow, but hey, free advertising!)

The Iranians have also told the Dutch Government they should stop the publication of the short film.
''I think they can stop the movie,'' Mehdi Safari told reporters after meeting with Dutch Foreign Minister Maxime Verhagen. ''The government is responsible.''
Again, it seems beyond the ability of the ME to understand that freedom of expression really means freedom of expression even when you don’t like something. I would hope the Dutch Government responded by telling the Iranian Government to fuck right off, get their own shit together and stop encouraging the beating of innocent women in the street, the killing of journalists, the encouragement of anti-semitism, the support and funding of Hezbollah, and the violent suppression of a liberal opposition. But, hey, that's just me, a great loss to the Diplomatic Service.

Central Bank admits it can do fuck all about inflation in Oman
In other news, the Central Bank again moved to squash rumours of a revaluation and to point out that inflation isn’t their fault (because of the fixed peg). Well, sort of. The report, as in previous attempts, is careful to only stress the commitment to maintain the peg to dollar, but never commits to the level of the peg. This still leaves the door open for the rial to be revalued to a new (but still fixed) level vs the dollar, but of course even that would only provide a temporary respite if the dollar continues to slide further.
…no plans to drop the rial’s peg to the US dollar… Oman remains “firmly committed” to pegging the rial to the dollar, and any speculation in the rial is “unwarranted,” Sangour said yesterday. The rial has been pegged to the dollar for the past 35 years.
Despite the limited role for monetary policy under a fixed peg, the CBO has increased the volume of absorption of liquidity from the market.

CBO using fiscal policy to curb inflation
The article goes on to list the (limited) ways taken so far to address inflation by fiscal means already commented on below. The so-called absorption of liquidity was achieved by telling the banks to hold more cash, but there is a limit to how much more of that can be achieved. Market operations, whereby the Central Bank would issue bonds to reduce the money supply are almost impossible, as the interest rate is essentially fixed by the Federal Reserve and the market for bonds in Oman is small and immature.

Meanwhile, Omani blend oil price broke the $100 mark for the first time ever. As a result money is pouring in to the Governments coffers right now, to the tune of more than a third of a billion dollars a week. Nice, but its hardly going to help reduce inflationary pressures.

The same article says December's inflation was 8.3%, which still seems a real low ball estimate if you ask me.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Ministry of National Economy likely to weigh in soon

Yes, the Ministry of Commerce and Industry, through its puppet the Oman Chamber of Commerce and Industry, continue to fiddle while Oman's economy runs hotter and hotter. Khalil bin Abdullah al Khonji, Chairman of the Oman Chamber of Commerce and Industry (OCCI), met more 'representatives of private companies' and construction companies on how to deal with the inflation problem, this time in construction. See the hard-hitting journalistic excellence of the Times of Oman article .

Meanwhile, Oman has (again) run out of cement. Pretty ridiculous for a country blessed with large quantities of all the required ingredients: i.e. limestone, clay, and natural gas. Its not rocket science. And you'd think a Ministry with the word 'Industry' in it would be quick to claim responsibility for a country in the midst of a construction boom running out of the no. 1 thing you need to build industry with, wouldn't you? Hmm. Don't hold your breath.
Last week at a meeting with the OCCI, businessmen dealing with building materials had called for a collective import of steel and cement and urged the government to simplify the procedures for imports as construction in a number of projects had come to a standstill mainly due to non-availability of cement.

Notice how its made out to be the poor Custom's fault, and not MCI? Clever huh.

So, instead of fixing real problems, The Ministry of C & I continues with its King Canute-like approach to dealing with inflation, urging people to basically just buy cheap things, arm-twisting retailers to provide staples like flour and oil at below market prices, and importing fish from India. I guess it’s all they can do. IE Try as hard as they can to be seen to be 'doing something', with the press helping as much as they can.

Meanwhile, the real power is biding his time. Mr Mackie, Minister in charge of the Ministry of National Economy, is the only one with the authority and intellectual horsepower to actually do something about the problem. My friends say options are still being studied and finalised for presentation to MONE for decisions. So, expect something soon. The ineffectiveness of the MCI & OCCI must be a source of worry, however. Instead of keeping the public content by seeing something being done, and thus buy some time for preparation of some actual policies, it seems it is just emphasizing the perceived helplessness of the Government.

Time is short, Gentlemen. Get moving on those powerpoint slides.

As the clock ticks away, the dollar continues to fall, the demand within the economy raises almost exponentially, and inflation must be well above 15% right now. Although his Majesty’s recent instruction to raise salaries in the public sector, by up to 43% at the lowest grades, bought some time, the actual base salaries are so low that even such a dramatic looking raise doesn’t mean much more rials in the pocket. Most of their income comes from allowances, which aren’t counted in the pay raise.

Mackie infamously declined to increase Public Sector pay a couple of months ago, noting that it would just make the problem worse, and was then over-ruled by HM (or so it seemed, but maybe this overrule was by design to underline the principal role of guardian to the people HM still plays in Oman).

The Dragon looks forward to seeing what the response of MONE will be to what is rapidly becoming a very significant problem. And demonstrably too improtant to leave in the hands of the Chamber of Commerce.

Penis envy overtakes Saudi…

Always a country that likes to flop it out when oil is concerned, Saudi is apparently planning a 1,600m high tower, which would be twice the height of the two Dubai towers and 60% higher than the Kuwaiti 1,001m tower. What a total waste of money. Its not like real estate is hard to find in the Middle East (unlike, say, New York). But I guess its too embarrassing for the Saudis to have their manhood questioned over the lack of a sufficiently big one.

Gulf states in race to build world’s tallest tower

What a turn-around for a country that less than 10 yrs ago had to lean on Abu Dhabi for a $5bln loan when oil was $10/bbl.

Apparently, the alternative being considered was to just build a small tower, and then pay lots of young Filipino girls to crowd around it, all saying how it really was the biggest they’d ever seen… But the plan was dismissed in the Saudi Ministry of Information as unlikely to be believed by the worlds press.

Thank goodness Oman seems sensible enough to avoid such stupidity.

Saturday, March 8, 2008

Omantel filter down, Omani Inflation soars

Omantel filters having problems…
As many of you may know, Omantel's internet filters have been down since Thursday. And as of this post, the big brother filters were still off! So, nows a great time to go to all those previously blocked sites, like:

And any other naughty sites you might be missing. Now is the time to download proxy software, as these sites are always blocked. Go for it!

Update: Just checked the filters again, a few hours after posting this, and they are back up. If it was my fault, apologies. I fail to understand why has been blocked tho.

Government Continues Inaction on Inflation front
As inflation roars ahead in Oman, fuelled by a weak dollar-linked rial and huge growth in both the domestic money supply (more than 35% pa), loans, the housing bubble and big increases in Government spending, the Government decided to hold a press conference to describe the new cunning plan.
The ministerial committee dealing with the impact of price hike has come out with an action plan that includes a number of recommendations and mechanisms for implementation, according to Maqbool bin Ali Sultan, minister of commerce and industry.
Full article in
Times of Oman

Mostly the actions are:
- import fish and restrict fish exports
- subsidise flour
- set up more talk shops about getting more agricultural production within Oman
- soft loans to allow Omanis to buy big boats to catch fish deeper/further offshore
- track inflation

Well, that’s it really. Oh, and ask people to stop spending so much money...
As for consumer awareness on rationalised consumption, the minister said rationalising consumption and changing our consumption patterns would alleviate the price hike.
Yeah, that’s a great policy response. Not. As is trying to talk down prices by pressuring the traders and subsiding basic foodstuffs, as reported today in Times of Oman

None of these actions will actually address the core problems in the economy. These will at best provide a very temporary pause. Step 1 has to be revaluation (or even better a switch to a basket of currencies that would allow interest rates to be increased), and something to boost the economy’s real capacity for domestic production and employment.

Money supply seems to be expanding without heed, and with current oil prices still running at double the basis for the Government’s budget, and no effective policy tools to take money out of the economy, its getting worse, not better. So, expect inflation in Oman to continue to accelerate, as the housing and stock market bubbles continue to grow increasingly out of control. Meanwhile, ordinary people are borrowing to speculate on the stock market and real estate.

Its all going to end in tears…

Sunday, March 2, 2008

Leaflets to explain lack of rights of Expatriate Workers, and other news

In the news today:

Leaflets for Expatriates
Expatriate employees have good reason to be thankful to the faceless bureaucrats at the US Dept of State. In a further part of the Sultanate’s attempt to be removed from lowly Tier 3 of the US State Dept's Country categories on Human Trafficking, the Government is (apparently) finally issuing 'leaflets' to the poor manual workers and domestic staff here. See the article in the hard-hitting journalistic triumph that is The Times of Oman

This of course comes on the heels of the ‘Conference to Raise Awareness on Human Trafficking’ I blogged about earlier. The real reason for all this activity is the US Congress has yet to ratify the Free Trade Agreement with Oman, and they are certainly loath to do so (now they are Democratically controlled) for a country that is still officially considered to exploit vulnerable foreign workers.

Of course, the article doesn’t explain how the poor workers are to be given these leaflets. Nor does the article mention the illegality of employers confiscating people’s passports (which is still common practice here). But I guess it's progress!

Naughty Health Clubs, Massage Parlours OK
The ROP and Dhofar have closed 19 health clubs for not properly segregating men and women. more Times of Oman.
Sheikh Salim bin Aufait Al Shanfari, chairman of Dhofar Municipality, said the municipality in cooperation with the Royal Oman Police and the Ministry of Commerce and Industry had set terms and conditions for health clubs operating in the governorate including allocation of separate entry points for men and women among others.
Hmmm. Naughty naughty. Of course, the Thai [generally real], Russian [the expensive - ie white girl with big breasts - happy ending] and Chineese [ie cheaper asian smaller breasts happy ending] massage parlours are still doing a roaring trade. Excellent!

News definitely NOT in the News
After the republishing of the infamous cartoons in Denmark (the real ones, not the extra bad ones the Imam's invented, naturally), in response to the busted death plot against the cartoonist by 3 Muslims, the 'net is awash with vitriol and calls for everything from boycotts to further assassinations. The usual riots occurred in Pakistan, plus we saw Sudan & Yemen blocking entry to all Danes, etc etc.

And not a peep reported in the Omani media. I guess one of the benefits of a state controlled media. I'd wager the local Immams have not been saying anything official either.