Sunday, February 10, 2008

More Pay for some, Its OK to Deconvert in Egypt and other news

Sometimes I hate reading the papers here - it almost always creates the intense desire to blog about stuff. Unfortunately I also have to do many other things, like work & look after my family, which can hence lead to frustration!

So, on we go...

1/ More money for Public Employees: or HM forced to hand out food to the people.

His Majesty came out and weighed heavily into the ongoing debate in the Omani Zeitgeist on rising prices, rents, and the lack of anything being done. Just a week or so after HE Mackie - head of the all powerful Ministry of National Economy - briefly became one of the most cursed men in Oman by saying the public employees shouldn't get a pay rise because it would make inflation worse. Oops. Didn't see any quotes from him in the paper today, but HM has ordered big pay rises, especially for the lower ranks, and demanded a drop in flour prices. And told the council to provide some actual worked up proposals on controlling rents pretty damn quick.

In many senses, good on HM for actually having the political sense and humanitarian spirit to at lest partially ease the plight of many. His Ministers have had months and months to do something, and have just dithered. Did we take the opportunity to revalue the rial last year? No. Did a system of controlled pay rises related to inflation get put in pace? No. Instead the Council issued a counterproductive directive on rents that only succeeded in getting lots of people kicked out of their houses and rents rising even faster. Oh, and they made the banks buy more Government stock and hold more cash to reduce liquidity, something they can do for free. And they watched as their friends in pay of the foreign fishing fleets stripped ever more fish from Omani waters leaving local markets high and dry.

However, this timely and generous act of HM will only be a temporary band aid. And it will do little to ease the lot of many of the poorest in Oman - the Indians and Pakistanis and Indonesian and Filipino workers. Do you think the senior Gov people have given their foreign staff a pay rise lately? Or the swathes of blue suited manual laborers working for the Galfars and the Renaissance Services et al? Unless the Government use this time to actually get off their butts and apply some real thinking and action, things will get worse. Unfortunately, going the way of price controls, Government supply of staples, and forced cuts in commodity prices will just - in the long term - reduce supply and make the Government even more responsible for more people, spending (and hence wasting) lots more money. It is a very very inefficient way to fix these problems.

The papers are of course all reprinting the Government great and good singing HM's praises. But in fact, when His Majesty is forced to come out and almost personally provide handouts to swathes of Omani society for bread and other basic foodstuffs, its a bit of an indictment of the performance of his Government isn't it? I mean, HM just shouldn't have to do that.

Some ideas for the Government to consider. The Government needs to revalue the rial, raise the minimum wage, put a system of inflation raises in place for all employees, raise interest rates, put a stamp duty on loans, subsidise the poor, and tax the rich. Get more Omanis doing more real work for a living wage, ie making things, growing things, building their own damn houses. Enforce long term rental contracts. Build public housing. Stop encouraging people (and GCC residents) to speculate in Omani land and yet leave the plots barren. And kick out the damn Asian fishing fleets. In some ways, HE Mackie was absolutely right last week - just raising public wages won't fix the problem. Now's his chance to drive through the big reform programme that's needed to do the job properly.
[any assistance from Per Your Request accepted gratefully]

2/ Its OK to reconvert in Egypt
Egyptian courts made the news by ruling it's now OK to reconvert to Christianity after previously converting to Islam. The Government will now have to acknowledge the conversion, as well as publishing the name and address of the person in local papers, so the nearest angry mob can leave their mosque and stone the poor apostate to death without missing dinner.

3/ Obama.

Has he actually got the momentum to beat the special interests and the Political smart money? Can Americans arise from the deep, dark pit GW Bush and the neo-con fascists have cast them into and elect Obama, and in turn rediscover the great spirit of endeavor and vision that made America great?? For the sake of them, and all of us, I sure hope so. If you've got relatives in USA, please urge them to register and, this November, vote for a new chance. For a change. For the son of an African immigrant. For a true American. I'd send him money if it wasn't illegal...

OK. Gotta dash.

The Dragon

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