Thursday, July 23, 2009

Omani 'Tourist' robbed while with an underage Thai prostitute

Busy week. But thankfully the Dragon is off to an undisclosed European location this weekend for a well deserved holiday. And as Mr Muscato noted, no response from the Blue City people on the recent further downgrading of Blue City bonds on the expected default - perhaps 'John' (a previous commenter and Blue City supporter and probable employee) wasn't too happy to learn they had difficulty paying his salary last month!

Meanwhile, as we all know, it is the holiday season, and there is unfortunately a huge sex tourism trade between Oman and Thailand. Lots of Omani males go to Thailand, many of them married, and not for the temples and beaches. How much AIDS is being imported back to Oman from these people having unprotected sex? Plus, of course, the direct support being provided for the horrible trade in flesh. As far as I know, Oman have not made it illegal for Omani's to go overseas and have sex with minors either.

One 'vacationing' Omani gentleman, alledgedly a Mr. Sulaiman Saifthani, was reported in the Thai press yesterday as being drugged and robbed by an underage prostitute in his hotel room. Shame.

Perhaps the bigger shame was travelling halfway around the world to have sex with 15 yr old girls...

Omani tourist drugged and robbed.

Pattaya police station received a visit from Mr. Sulaiman Saifthani to report that he had just been drugged and robbed of his possessions by a beach prostitute.

Photo Pattaya People News: Thai Police taking a complaint.

The incident happened on the evening of the 21st July when the 41 year old tourist from Oman took a woman to his room for fun and games. In all the excitement, she somehow managed to drug him with some substance causing him to fall unconscious, only to wake up to find that his wallet containing 9,020 US dollars, 8,000 baht and an expensive wrist watch valued at 30,000 baht were all missing. After searching through the criminal record file, he identified his perpetrator as Miss Thanya Kongpira, aged 15 from Khon Kaen in North East Thailand. A report was made and a search is now on for the young lady from Esarn.

I'm hoping that as well as taking his complaint of robbery, that they also busted him for having "fun and games" with an underage minor...

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Blue City: Rating Company Fitch further downgrades

Yes, the fantastic Blue City Project has again been down-graded by Fitch Rating agency because of poor sales and the impending default on their loan covenants.

In fact, I'm reliably informed things are so bad that BCC1 couldn't even make the June salary payment for their own staff on time as the bank account was so empty. LOL.

Expect a pseudo-Government rescue soon, probably in the form of some Government controlled entity (such as one of the pension funds) buying a big bunch of their properties.

Even then its difficult to imagine them avoiding technical default. Given the outstanding payments due contractors, and the current market, even the Government won't give them the $400+ mln they need. Re-negotiations with bond holders are essential. In fact, rather than buying the properties it would probably be cheaper for the State Investment fund to buy the bonds directly for a big discount.

What a fantastic job the Chairman of the board is doing. At least he found the time to entertain Michael Jackson...

Any comment 'John'?

Oman's Blue City downgraded on default fears
Jul 15, 2009

Fitch Ratings downgraded Tuesday Oman's Blue City Investments 1 Ltd on fears of default of a loan payment.

The Blue City Company 1 had raised in 2006 $925 million real estate bond financing to fund the development of a $20 billion the Blue City project, or Al Madina Al Zarqa, in the Sultanate of Oman.

Fitch Ratings downgraded Blue City Investments' $262.5 million class A3/A4 due October 2016 to 'CCC' from 'B+', the rating agency said in an emailed statement.

Blue City's $143 million class B1/B2 due October 2016 was also downgraded to 'CCC' from 'B and the $50.5 million class C due October 2016 was downgraded to 'C' from 'B-'.

A $70 million class D due October 2016 was lowered to 'C' from 'B', it added.

"Blue City Company 1, or BCC1, has already breached each of sales tests 1 to 4 and on the 7 November 2009 interest payment date will be tested against sales test 5 for the first time," said Fitch.

"Should BCC1 fail to meet sales test 5, which measures whether some $455 million of aggregate collections will be made by that date, an immediate mandatory prepayment of the loan will be triggered.

"In this event the loan will be considered in default," it said, adding that current aggregate collections stand at approximately $77 million."

Monday, July 13, 2009

CAYC - still caught between a rock and a nice ocean

Photo: OMRAN in the early years.

The Ministry of Tourism and OMRAN continue to push the CAYC to release their little bay for more mega-development, and move to the marina next door. Here's the recent letter they sent to their members. The on-going court case is rescheduled for early October.

Dear CAYC Members,

We would like to update you on the progress since the election of the new CAYC Committee.

The Committee has met a few times and discussed various relevant issues such as our case in the court and our temporary move to Marina Bandar Roudha. Subsequently, a couple of meetings were also held with our lawyers. The various meetings and discussions led to the committee sending a letter to the lawyers explaining our stand (copy attached for your reference). The lawyer will now send a letter to the Ministry of Tourism based on our letter. We will await their reply to further plan our strategy.

Finally, we regret to you inform you that the elected commodore Mr. Abdulrauf Al Mashari has resigned from his position due to unforeseen personal reasons and the committee has elected Mr. Abdul Nasir N. Al Raisi (current committee member) as Commodore and added Mr. Hani Habib Macki as an additional member to the committee. Most of you have met Mr. Hani Macki at the last elections day.

Please email me for any further clarifications.



Friday, July 10, 2009

Oman: "The lucky country" - Middle Eastern Version

I know.

Sometimes I'm thought of as being too 'negative' here at Muscat Confidential.

It's sometimes said(*) that we discuss things that are better not talked about in public, especially in the context of so-called Omani 'Society' and 'culture'.

That the Undercover Dragon is all criticism and 'bad news', rather than being uplifting, supportive, and celebratory of all the many multitudes of great and good things evident here in our Sultanate by the gulf and the Indian Ocean.


Why is that?

Well, for one, the mainstream press in Oman already seem to cover pretty comprehensively the "sunshine, rainbows and pretty white unicorns that crap butterflies" slant on our life and times.

Artists rendition: The average Oman media story.

I'm trying for more of a niche outside that. One thyat is less paternalistic in what Omanis can handle being talked about.

Second, there are a few stories that 'broke' here, and I like to think that there are some opinions, stories and facts available at Muscat Confidential that you won't read anywhere else, and yet are either public domain or should be. (eg Blue City, the Government's performance).

Yes, I'm often guilty of giving some relatively innocuous stories the 'tabloid treatment' in the name of entertainment. Mea Culpa. (I do wish Rupert Murdock would by 'The Tribune' and get us better served in that department too.). And no, I don't mind being occasionally offensive/one-eyed/agent provocateur, which is sometimes a disadvantage.

Lastly I am philosophically wedded to the idea that transparency, debate, and criticism is good for us. It's not about blame. It's about being better. Learning. Finding out who is right through discussion and (preferably) facts and data. Making decisions based on agreed aims, and measuring the effectiveness of what we achieve compared to those aims.

I refuse to think anyone wants an Oman filled with North Korean proles just doing what someone tells them.

BUT, for the record.

Oman is an awesome place to live. That's why I live here.

Oman has proved to be 'the exception that proves the rule' with respect to Government.

Benign Dictatorship is widely acknowledged to be the best system of Government yet devised. But the instability and side effects generally mean it's unattainable. No one has yet figured out how to end up like Oman (with a brilliant and dedicated leader in His Majesty), or perhaps Singapore, and avoid ending up instead with leaders like North Korea or Zimbabwe (or the many other examples I'm sure you can come up with).

The Omani people are the most polite, friendly, optimistic, honest, nicest people in the entire GCC and wider region. The population is blessed with a significant % of hard working, talented people (especially the women). The country is awash with potential: sea, beaches, mountains, oil and gas, minerals, fisheries, farm land, islands, trade routes, a culture of tolerance, and low levels of corruption. You have been fantastically blessed with HM and his able assistants such as HE Mr. Macki. We just need everyone else to strive to reach those benchmarks.

I love Oman.


* I attend the odd dinner party. I confess it's always interesting when the topic of 'Who IS Muscat Confidential?' comes up, as it occasionally does... I usually suggest someone else, obviously.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Oman’s time bomb…

Why is it that the Omani Government is so committed to relentless big infrastructure and industrial development? The cheap gas used to fire the new mid-stream industrial complexes in Sohar and Salalah; the insatiable ambition of Omran to plaster every beach with 5 star hotel tourism developments? Why even crazy sounding schemes like importing bauxite to make aluminum are executed.

The answer: Population. There is a flood of young people coming to Oman’s employment market. The combination of 1st world health care and 3rd world rates of reproduction are upon us.

This is the population age pyramid for Oman next year. [ref:]. Ignore the middle age bump in the male population – those are the temporary foreign workers. But look what’s coming. Young people. By the 10s of thousands. Every year.

The economy cannot take these people. Not right now. The Government can hire a few thousand. Private firms similar numbers. A few thousand too can go to University (but that just delays the problem a few years). With ~80,000 high school graduates a year, that still leaves at least 50,000 a year unemployed. With no significant social welfare programme, this is starting to create a huge underclass of bored, badly educated, and poor, young adults. Without a job, or at least 3,000 rials, they can’t marry either, so add sexual frustration to the mix too.

The devil does find work for idle hands. Crime is growing. Parts of Al Ghubra are now best known for joy riding car thieves and vandalism. Petty theft and burglary in Al Kuwair. Prostitution in Ruwi. Rising religious extremism.

Unfortunately, the young are also unwilling to really work (I generalize of course*). There is a paternalistic entitlement culture. Everyone looks to the Government to provide the mana from heaven. The young want the cars, the clothes, the fast food, the phones, but don’t seem able to connect these desires with the need to work to pay for them. Many just want a soft job as a PRO. Or sitting at a computer surfing the net part-time in one of the Ministries. Meanwhile they sponge off their increasingly hard pressed parents to fund their lifestyle and provide accommodation and food.

So, what to do?

In some areas I think we’re doing really well: Banking, the Military and the Oil and Gas industries (upstream and downstream), are all highly Omanised.

However, large swathes of the Omani domestic economy remain almost fully 'expatized'. This MUST change. Some big areas that offer opportunity IMHO are:

1/ Construction.
The construction industry has to up-skill and to employ Omani silled and semi-skilled labour. The trades – electricians, plumbers, carpenters, tilers – remain stubbornly filled by poorly skilled Indians, and our crap electrics, kitchens and toilets the result. Ditches are dug by hand by large groups of blue, green or orange suited Pakistanis, rather than with a machine operated by an Omani. The civil engineers are Turks, Indians, Egyptians, Greeks, and Brits. Even the crane operators – a nice skilled job – are imported.

2/ Health Care
Nurses and medical technicians are predominantly Filipino and Indian. With the more skilled Doctors Oman is probably doing as well as it can, although the need for better quality training and truly independent certification remain issues. Hospital orderlies and cleaners should be 100% Omani, but again the ranks are filled with expats and older Omani who still know that a jobs a job (and have families needing support).

3/ Tourism
Progress is evident, but no-where near enough. The problem here is that while tourism is a labour intensive business, it’s low margin, and the quality and low cost of Filipino staff underpin the profitability in what is a highly competitive international industry. Omani staff are also generally unwilling to work the same hours either.

4/ Transportation
Cars are seen as an essential part of life in Oman. Fuel is cheap (around US$0.30 a litre), import taxes and car registration charges low, and so the number of cars per capita pretty high. Yet take a car for a service or for repair and it seems the entire car and truck business is fully expat. There are no Omani mechanics, or even service centre managers and administrators. Truck drivers were subject to an abortive move to require 100% Omanisation, but hit problems when deliveries slowed by orders of magnitude, and no Omanis could be found to operate the sewage trucks. Those driving jobs that have been Omanised (school buses, light commercial) are plagued with unprofessional driving standards and high accident and fatality rates.

5/ Education
Still unfortunately a growth industry, the Primary and secondary sector suffers from poor standards, basic curricula, plagiarism and cheating. Sultan Qaboos University, the no. 1 institution, has low rates of Intellectual property creation or industrially useful R&D. Omani staff are often over-promoted and inexperienced. Expat staff are dominated by time serving second raters. The newer private universities have huge problems with low quality students who they can’t really be failed. This means that a lot of money and talent is being totally wasted right now, with too few Omani getting a strong education based on high standards, knowledge and research. Instead we’re getting too many lazy idiots who can copy and paste, and seek to obtain by any means a worthless piece of paper they think will entitle them to a monthly payment for life.

6/ Media & Communications
The mobile phone business has been very successful in finding good Omanis. Nawras has done a fantastic job here, (and even Omantel too in this regard): staff are mainly Omani. But the newspapers and radios again seem locked into a pervasive layer of middle management NRIs. What’s the % Omani writing the Times of Oman? Or The Week? Oman TV is a complete and utter joke. More deregulation of the industry could create lots of jobs for Omanis: in production, writing, acting, reporting, filming, and the huge areas of post-production and advertising.

7/ Conscription
Many 1st world counties still have compulsory military service in between high school and Uni/work. We should have something similar here for men and women. Give them solid (and tough) basic training that includes some life skills. Make them get their hands dirty and sweat. Make sure they assist the community. Get them doing civil works (repairing falaj, drilling water wells, clearing land, building and repairing walls), helping in schools and hospitals, in civil defense, coastal and border patrol. Pay them next to nothing. And don’t let the wastafarians escape their duty either. When I say compulsory I mean it for everyone, not just the poor.

While the Government knows this wave of youth is upon us, more effectual regulation and policy is needed urgently. Many of the rules that are in theory designed to improve Omanisation instead act to discourage local SMEs with pointless red tape and arbitrary inflexible regulations. For example, by requiring all delivery vans to be driven by Omani, yet also insisting that they do not have to do anything else (like help carry the dishwasher into the house, etc) the Ministry simply doubled the costs of delivery for businesses and pissed off a lot of hard working Indians (who get to do the hard work while the driver sits in his AC’d cab with engine running, and they do the lifting).

Employment law makes it very hard (if not almost impossible) to fire an Omani, which means no-one wants to hire one if they could get an equivalent expat. The large monopolies and oligopolies (construction & car dealers being prime examples) seem to dominate industrial regulation. Omanis, already hobbled by a substandard education, find themselves trapped between a pool of unlimited low cost imported unskilled/semi-skilled labour and an entrenched layer of expat middle/upper Management and Omani businessmen. Growth is being held back, and we need that as well as more Omanisation.

The problem is not going to go away by itself. With future income from the big extractive industries flat or falling (esp. on a per capita basis) our window of opportunity is limited.

Massive unemployment is the No. 1 threat to this country and our current way of life. We must act more coherently and decisively in our defense.

This is 2050...

*Disclaimer: In this article I will be making sweeping generalizations, and the exceptions make the rule. I’m not talking necessarily about individuals. I swear that the smartest, most talented, hardest working people I work with are Omanis, and they are as good or better than the best international competition. I also see many outstanding new Omani graduates and entrepreneurs – bright, keen to work, and intellectually curious. Many expats are also working very hard in difficult conditions, some for almost no salary, and a lot would probably say that if there was an Omani who could actually do their job they would willingly go do something else.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

US Embassy bans staff from Rock Bottom cafe after altercation

Rock Bottom is a nightclub in Muscat, part of the rather downmarket Ramee Guestline Hotel in Qurm (apparently 4 stars tho').

Although in theory it's an 'American themed' restaurant/bar, they usually have a good band and a dance floor, and its been a popular drinking place, for youngsters especially. The ages of the girls (usually 'expat brats' - kids of expat workers here) has always been well under the legal age of 21, with all of the teenagers having fake IDs. (And lets face it, having scantily clad 17-19 yr old white girls in a bar is something the management probably don't want to try too hard to stop, as they bring in the guys, especially the local lads.)

But the place has always had a reputation for super-aggressive bouncers, and for fights occurring pretty much every weekend between the bouncers/Expat guys/Omani guys in some combo, often 3 way. There are always a lot fewer ladies than men (typical for all night spots here - not a lot of local girls...), and when the guys get a few drinks under their belts, testosterone starts to kick in as they try to get the girls.

It does seem that many of the younger local boys have difficulty holding their drink and can't resist the occasional harrassment of the girls, who then get 'protected' by the other guys, and.. well.. this sort of thing seems inevitable.

Photo: A typical Thursday night in Rock Bottom, Muscat

So it was interesting to see the message sent out this morning that the US Embassy have banned their personnel from Rock Bottom, after one of their staff got into some action with the bouncers.

Warden Message - Rock Bottom Café Off-limits to Official American personnel

The Consular Section of the U.S. Embassy in Muscat would like to inform American citizens residing in or traveling in Oman that the Rock Bottom Café in Muscat is temporarily off-limits for official U.S. Embassy personnel due to safety concerns.

The U.S. Embassy Regional Security Office (RSO) has designated this establishment in Muscat off-limits to all official American personnel. Early the morning of Thursday, July 2, 2009, a U.S. Embassy employee was assaulted by an employee of this establishment. The Royal Oman Police (ROP) is currently investigating the incident. Upon conclusion of the investigation, the RSO will reevaluate the situation.

The U.S. Embassy in Muscat advises Americans to always exercise caution when visiting bars or nightclubs, particularly late at night or in the early morning hours.

Tracey Thornton
Consular Section Chief
U.S. Embassy Muscat

US Expat blogger Mean Reds in Muscat mentioned the bouncers here last year. Jet Driver commented that the bouncer came off a little worse for wear when trying to manhandle a US Special Forces guy. LOL. Maybe they were trying to get their own back last weekend...

Friday, July 3, 2009

Advice for an Omani Student overseas

Here are some words of advice for you youngsters at University, or just about to start employment. Take it or leave it. I encourage other readers to add their 2 cents worth.

Before you think about returning to Oman, try to get a job in the real world and earn your bones against international competition. Try to work for someone better than you and learn all you can.

Try to do something you love and can also get paid for. Passion for what you do should always come before money.

Demand a fair wage, but make sure you create way more value to the business than you earn.

Take your leave/vacation time. But don’t take a sick day unless you are dead or have a broken limb.

Hire people who are keen, talented and sharp. Don’t hire just based on what pieces of paper they have.

Be very clear about what your expectations are from your staff: what needs to be delivered, by when, and to what standard. Most people just want to be told what to do. So tell them early and explicitly.

Only trust your employees when they have shown willingness for selfless sacrifice.

Forgive 1st errors, concentrate on not making the same mistake twice. Call people on their mistakes, but only do it one to one. Then be merciless.

Admit when you were wrong.

Praise people. Be kind.

Watch your back and don’t take any shit.

Never lie. Ever. (But you can be economical with the truth.)

Have a firm handshake and look people in the eye.

Be punctual. Never be late.

The best off the cuff presentations are well prepared.

Judge your staff (and yourself) by quantified results, not by the hours they do, the efforts they make, or the strength of their good intentions. Who gives a shit about how hard you try if it ends in failure. Not your customers. And not me either.

You can always do something better, faster or cheaper: but only pick two.

Don’t tell people to do a job you couldn’t do. No task should be below you. Lead by example.

Try to make your boss look good to their boss.

Pay your taxes: it’s the price you pay for civilization.

Pay your suppliers on time.

Apply the highest standards to your personal and business dealings. Act like you could always be audited. One day, you will be. Don’t steal. Be sensible with gifts you accept.

Treat all email correspondence as potentially public domain.

Treat all microphones as if they are live.

You don’t have to answer a question just because its been asked by a reporter. You can always say: The real question is this: then state whatever question you’d rather answer, and answer that.

Always take full responsibility for things when they go wrong – never blame a subordinate or a colleague.

Listen to well intentioned advice, and take what you want.