Monday, May 19, 2014

Undercover Dragon on Omanisation

Well, its been a nice slow weekend here in the castle. And I was pleasantly surprised by the email alert that famous Oman blogger Suburban had revisited the sleepy sultanate and was reporting on progress with Omanisation in her inimitable style. Heck it even drew old Jet Driver out of the woodwork. Wonderful!

Much to the disappointment of many of my ... readers... I am not writing this from the bowels of an Omani gulag. But I did sneak in for a visit recently as well. Immigration were very welcoming, bought some champagne on the way in, and headed for the hotel. More on that later perhaps.

But first I'd like to weigh in on this Omanisation issue. Suburban has already nailed point one - the Ministries. Far too large an employer wrt the economy, it encourages red tape, and means the bar is set so low, it drains motivation and competition from the local job market. It also feeds low level corruption and wasta, by empowering the mid level permit stampers to issue visas, permits for construction, plan and develop public infrastructure in partnership with the big wastafarians, etc etc etc.

So what can be done? Ok, apart from the ministry reforms everyone says is impossible, here are some ideas wrt policy.

1. Get rid of the sponsorship system. Phase it out if necessary. But this modern codification of (low wage) slavery is disgraceful. Get proper visas issued, in a public and transparent way instead of behind closed doors. The current system encourages and enables a culture of the rentier economy, where it's all "I dont need to work, I'll just (buy) a few indians and filipinos and they will do all the work. Then I'll get them to each earn an extra sum each month and pay it to me. I'll take their passports so they will have no recourse but to work for me". Go kids! While it may work for a while, a target business model for an entire society based on parasitising a vast underclass of exploited and enslaved people from another country, sufficient to supply all daily needs,... yuck. It may work for Dubai, but it shouldn't be a future to aspire to for Oman I think.

2. Citizenship. There should be a path to citizenship for long term non omani.

3. Minimum wage, enforced, for all employees, even 1 employee. Effectively raise the cost of hiring an expat for low level low skill jobs, such that its more doable for an omani. If the mcdonalds francise has to increase prices a tad, so be it. We eat too much of that shit anyway.

4. Make it easier to hire and fire omanis, albeit that you must replace them with an other omani. 2 weeks notice. 1 week per year employed as severance. Have a national pension fund system that you only can buy into via employment, but it moves with you from job to job. Do not let this be taken over by the ministry employees.

5. Encourage employment to be more flexible. Omanis seem to need a lot of time off during the day. Ok. Set things up more flexibly, so they can work different hours, or work part time and get paid less. Flex days, strict medical leave limits, days off without pay, etc etc. Imposing a western 9-5, 5 days a week, is not working.

6. Do more to get omani women into business and starting SMEs. We need more female entrepreneurial talent. Slap back any of this Saudi or Iranian influenced bullshit that women should be cloaked and locked away. In my experience, omani women were smarter, more dedicated, paid more attention to detail, got stuff done with less excuses, on time and more reliable, and generally were by far the better employee than the average omani male. Just saying.

7. Do more to get omanis into the oil field services businesses. Have more dedicated trade schools, run and administered by business segments, starting at high school. Target 'villages' that can effectively supply all the labour for certain businesses and installations: ports, factories, etc. Go with the grain on our tribalism and family, by having 'company towns' where the schooling, home life, and education are focused on the village trade/factory/product.

8. Increase use of automation and advanced capital machinery. Ie instead of having 25 Afghanistan workers dig a trench with 18th century picks and shovels, have an omani in a modern, air conditioned beast of a machine made in Korea or even China these days. Do more prefab construction in big air conditioned factories, where omanis and robots could make prefab wall panels, housing modules, even complete housing effectively, probably more efficiently and making construction more like a real inside industrial job.

9. Do more on tourism, especially within the middle east, China and Africa. Have tourist resorts that are 'dry' and ones that are not. Stop sitting on the fence. Have some resorts that are halal, and the rest for the rest. I've always liked the idea of a casino in the Omani enclave within the UAE. It would make an absolute killing. Do what singapore does, and charge omanis 100 rials to go to reduce locals gambling. But focus on the uae. It would employ loads and loads of omanis. Find a way around the religion thing. And please let me be a partner. Or a few catering concessions...

10. Have a solidly independent administered and graded entrance exam to be a gov employee. Freeze government numbers wrt full time employees.

11. Allow a broader civil society, with think tanks working on policy options. Most oman laws, especially from the disaster that is the ministry of manpower, seem to be written in a hurry, and are badly and broadly crafted mainly with a view to dictating outcomes with a legislative magic wand, rather than proactively enabling those positive outcomes through first principals. Free the media and the inline media. They are the means by which the government is held accountable. Media must be far more de-expatised. At the moment, the cowering indian staff of most media outlets are so afraid of pissing someone off and being deported and criminalised they are useless as a true 4th estate. And the omanis in charge are so entwined with the government, they are pliant in supplying the propaganda and the advertising money.

Look at how poor Andy in Oman, possibly the most genuinely nice person I've seen online in the omani bloggosphere, is being attacked and vilified in the national press. Disgraceful. (I do wonder Andy, why the Al Zedjalis have developed this weird pathological hatred of bloggers and online opinions... it is very peculiar. )

So, there we go. Must get back to the pool and the champagne. It looks like Ms Dragon needs some lotion applied.

But Suburban is right. If Omanisation keeps going the way it is, oman will go down the tubes. Far too much of the economy is totally based on oil and gas, and the income from these depleting resources are not growing in line with the population. You do the math.


  1. Welcome back !


  2. I agree wholeheartedly with all Suburuban (and your suggestions---minus the Casino----;) unless you do it like Monaco, and have it 100% illegal for Muslims to work or spend money there, then, do what you will for others). Especially flexibility in hours, shifts, and wages per the type of job being realistic in order to have Omanis doing these jobs and learning trades.

    The Ministries, the salary/avdancement system, the sponsorship system, the hours of shifts, none of these things allow me to help Omanis who deserve the work (and you're right, usually women but sometimes some pretty awesome young men as well).

    The press... well let's just say, the press here sucks, and thats's why we read blogs, and the news on line, and use social media so much in this country, even though Omantel has a lovely monopoly that I'd otherwise love to object to.

  3. Havent read the post yet.....

    The Dragon has risen

    Welcome back

  4. Good to see you're out of your lair! ;-)

  5. They need to hire better mangers who have the ability to train the Omanis. This means hiring someone who is tough and fair. The problem is a lot of mangers hire friends and family. A good manger fires someone who doesn't show up to work. I believe in Oman there is a probationary period 3 or 6 months after that it become very hard to fire someone. I know one expat manger who was able to pull it off, but he made a few enemies and got sick of the bureaucracy and left. Most expat mangers don't want to rock the boat and risk getting fired.

  6. Mti! Flattered you noticed and cared. I'm touched. Yet more interested in your opinion. What do you think? Is there an issue? What are our options going forward?

    Pricess. Lovely to hear from you. Dont worry, I'll do it like Monaco. Really great to have you aboard on this one. Surprised me, to be honest ;-) if you can see a casino as doable, that means a lot.

    dalz, well, ok. Good for you commenting blindly any hoo. It takes a village.

    Andy. Thanks. I hope you have that editorial framed and in pride of place in the study. I never got one of those. And I'd like to think that I've been way meaner and ruder than you. No offense intended. So, glad you see a different future soon, and best for the family.

    Anon. Good point. Much of what counts as a management system is totally broken. Key components are generally controlled by the expats, especially accounting, finance, commercial law, senior technical management. I think in many firms there is an expat ceiling, where long term expats feel forced to protect their own jobs and fail to have a succession plan to an omani deliberately. Its the only logical thing to do, from their point of view.


    1. Don't think its an expat ceiling - the careers you mention almost all have a requirement for international qualifications (accountancy, law etc.) and the education system is so bad here that many locals are entirely incapable of getting to that point. Even the best ones who do make it seem to be less productive and less driven than their (expat) peers - maybe the whole paternalistic thing simply drives it out of them.

  7. Ah. Great suggestions. We miss you. S'pose I should write somethin'.

  8. Welcome back!!! What I have never understood in the "jobs that Omanis find acceptable/unacceptable" is why driving a clapped out Toyota taxi or a bus full of smelly labourers is fine but working in the air conditioned service department of - say Mercedes - isn't. However your point 3 would sort it in a second - set it high enough and employers will see that employing 18 unskilled labourers to not dig a hole is bad business and you could employ one skilled man and a machine for less. Honestly they have been constructing the drains outside my house for 5 months now with a crowd of labourers who I have never ever seen working - sometimes they stand in a circle and look in the hole, other times they lie in the shade but they never actually do anything. they could reduce the cost by pre-announcing it (say by 4 years) to give the employers time to staff up and train the Omanis.

  9. UD,
    Welcome back, but... Yawn.... This has been discussed off and on for the last thirty years. There's far more interesting stuff going on...

  10. Welcome back!
    I can't wait to see this casino :-D

  11. The only good thing about the current news is that the heavyweight bloggers are back! If you are looking for a partner to set up the casino, I will be delighted to send you a CV :)

    As an aside, I see that nobody mentioned how time consuming and convoluted it became to register a foreign investment company. IMHO, not the best way to attract business which, inter alia, should create new jobs for Omanis...

  12. Great Suggestions... Casino thingy probably will never happen for most of the Muslim countries :) But there are many ways to improve tourism like you mentioned, and other things.

    I think that the most important thing to focus, if Oman wants to be self reliant, is Education. There are no two ways about it, poor education breeds poor future for any nation.

    When I was in Oman, I did observe that the standard of education was extremely poor, teachers don't posses necessary skills, knowledge or even the will to teach, they just got hired because of Omanization. I am sure if they held some sorta evaluation test for the subjects that the teachers teach, they will all fail. With such schooling you really cannot expect the kids to have any sense of responsibility, skills or knowledge to make a difference or carve out something out of their lives. Even at University level the standard of education is not very good, especially the private Universities who mostly are in it to make money, and same goes for many private schools.

    When thinking about my child's future, who will be starting school soon, the first thing that I think about is schooling, as I fear if that goes bad there is usually no turning back, for most of the kids.

    I was shocked to learn from one of my friends that English is taught in Omani schools and they have an exam etc for that subject as well, I always thought that English was never the part of academia in schools (and I still have my doubts), as I had not met any kid (even grade 11-12) who could even speak or even understand a single word of English, that tells a lot about how they are taught and evaluated.

    I don't think that there can be any major change, in any field, unless education is revamped from scratch in Oman, in its current condition it is just producing kids who have no sense of direction, rather they are disoriented and not ready for the real world.

    If Oman wants to prosper and become self reliant it must start from the grass root level, education needs some serious fixing.

  13. Surprising, because I am a 'wahabi'? ;D.

    My Omani inlaws would totally, totally freak about a Casino thing (like they did about the 'pajama party' at Zouk), but I digress, as Muslims our job is simply to refrain from sinful stuff ourselves, advise others, but really, there were people who used to circumvent the kaba in Mecca naked. Serriously. Did the original Muslims stone them? No. Did they phsyically try to stop them? No. Did they call them names and act all offended? No. So really, when it comes down to it, people should be logical and be the change they wish to see in others, not expect others to change to suit them;).

    I just wish if somebody does take your casino suggestion, they do it a whole lot better than they manage the whole nightclub and alcohol thing in Oman. I mean, an Omani can't get a lisence to BUY alchohol but they can go to nightclub and buy alchohol from a bar? ---Totally DOESN'T make sense to me you know. Monaco's system would work towards your suggestion, I just wish people who "Muslim" on their ID cars with the ROP, since they will benefit from Shariah law in courts here, were not allowed the things Shariah does not allow them, not just limit it to Omanis. Non-Muslim Omanis exist, let them work in these places if they wish to ect.... That would be sufficient. Kind of like a fatwa from the grand mufti in Nizwa for the Mission hospitals about patients having prayers on their beds? If the patient chooses to purchase the prayer paper or whatever then it was fine for the Mission Hospital to continue the practice ,ect. Dr. Thoms and that old Islamic dude from Nizwa got on rather well with eachother so I see no difference.

    I think, I mean, we already have alchohol in Oman. We have prostitutes (let's face it, we do, like, at Rockbottom nightclub?), and so, controlled (and I mean well thought out) gambling that does not impact the Muslim population wouldn't be any worse than, say, building an airport or roads with imported labourers who are paid late and not given fair or equal treatment to Omanis. That's worse in my mind---Islamically. That's simply how I "islamically" see it.

    However, from an economic point of veiw, all your suggestions make perfect sense, and as Al commented, this has all been discussed and nagged upon for years. The studies Suburban posted are old. ALLLLLLL of the Ministries in Oman have done their own studies (I've worked on a few of them myself) about how to install flexibility and its benefits, and measurements for performance based on a reward system that actually rewards the deserving.

    I'd blog about it but I feel, if I've given a report to the Minister, and I've given a report to HM, and still no one has done anything about it? Why should I blog about it.

    I feel then like---as an opertaions management researcher/consultant--- I am stuck in that proverb about the Sultan who sticks a giant rock in the middle of the road and hides and watches to see what people will do.

    Most people just complain and make suggestions about how to change it.

    I don't want to keep being one of those people. Like the Sultan, hiding watching from the old Arabic fairytale, I am waiting for that one man (or woman) or group of people who, already knowing the problems, will do something about it, and move that proverbial rock out of the road.

    Until then, however, I love to hear someone the public looks to more for news than the press, rant and rave;)

  14. The trade school idea should have been introduced years ago - the country would have had produced thousands of trades persons by now. The cost of construction would have gone up but this would have been realistic and the cattle drive of labourers from Asian would have stopped.

    However, I think the most crucial area would be to have a rate for each job so that employing an Omani would be cheaper as the flights etc would not be included. That , and having an employment law that ensured unsuitable employees could be dismissed in addition to a stop on Ministry recruitment for at least five years.


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