Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Ministry of Manpower idiots arrest volunteers at schools for disabled children

An anonymous author on Oman Forum yesterday posted a report that the infamously stupid Ministry of Manpower (aka Ministry of Labour) raided several schools caring for special needs children and arrested several volunteers, confiscating their IDs and passports.

The cases are apparently going in front of the Public Prosecutor this week. Here's the report:

On Monday the 13th of December the Ministry of Labour came into our special education center in and took into custody all of our volunteers and seized both their passports and ID cards.(those that didn’t have the passports with them, were seized and taken to the ministry, they were not able to be released without someone from their family turning over their passports)

They are there as volunteers not workers (they are not taking any salary) and all proper paperwork was filled out; Volunteer forms, a letter from them stating that they would like to volunteer and they understood this means no salary, and copies of their passport, ID and CV. The Ministry is refusing to give back the ID cards and are threatening to deport the volunteers

Firstly, The Ministry of Social Development knows we have been running under Ministry of Commerce since 2007, the royal decree that came in to play about centers with handicapped children came in 2008 (the Royal Degree stated that all handicapped centers must be under Ministry of Social Development). The Ministry on Social development has allowed us to continue to operate until all of our paperwork is completed, which should be sometime within the next few weeks.

Secondly, all the ladies are VOLUNTEERS, they are not taking salaries and according to what our lawyer has said this is legal (there is no stated rule about volunteering in Oman). This was the third time they had come in, the first two times the inspectors had said we were on the legal side.

Furthermore, in seizing both the ID cards and passports of these ladies is wrong, now they have no documents.

We were not the only center targeted... two other special education centers were also targeted and their volunteers also taken. All three centers have been turned over to public prosecutor. Can anyone help these three centers?

All of these volunteers in all three centers are just helping children. They take time from there time to come and play and help the kids, they were doing nothing wrong or illegal.javascript:void(0)

There was an article on Nov 26th in the hi magazine, urging people to volunteer... but then the ministry of labour goes to special education center and arrests volunteers??

Yes, the Ministry of Manpower's thugs at work. According to my sources, the report is, unfortunately, quite true and accurate.

Not content with hounding powerless underpaid housemaids from India and elsewhere, they are now targeting expats who volunteer to help Oman's disadvantaged special needs children. You know, the kids who are so well regarded by most of Omani society that they are simply left to under-funded charities to take care of, or abandoned in orphanages.

I guess taking payments to clear illicit visa requests while ignoring the thousands of blatant violations of labour law visible on building sites all over Oman still leaves plenty of time for such bullying. After all, it's not as if these morons from the Ministry could actually get a real job anyhow.


I can only hope the judge will bawl them out for not only doing something so obviously counter-productive to Omani society, but for wasting his time too, as volunteering is not illegal, even if you are recompensed for expenses.

Happy Holidays indeed.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

The Gulf's modern Cargo Cult - Educational degrees and diplomas

Image ripped from : rockIguana.com

Reading Misadventures in HR's excellent new blog post on hiring a useless trainee reminded me of one reason why I think education, generally, is such a miserable failure in Oman, and the Middle East overall.

It's what I call 'the cargo cult' approach to education.

From Wikipedia:
...Cargo cult activity in the Pacific region increased significantly during and immediately after World War II, when the residents of these regions observed the Japanese and American combatants bringing in large amounts of material. When the war ended, the military bases closed and the flow of goods and materials ceased. In an attempt to attract further deliveries of goods, followers of the cults engaged in ritualistic practices such as building crude imitation landing strips, aircraft and radio equipment, and mimicking the behaviour that they had observed of the military personnel operating them.

From time to time, the term "cargo cult" is invoked as an English language idiom to mean any group of people who imitate the superficial exterior of a process or system without having any understanding of the underlying substance. The error of logic made by the islanders consisted of mistaking a necessary condition for cargo to come flying in, i.e., building airstrips, control towers, etc., for a sufficient condition for cargo to come flying in, thereby reversing the causation. On a lower level, they repeated the same error by, for example, mistaking a necessary condition for building a control tower, i.e., build something that looks like a control tower, for the sufficient condition of building a genuine control tower.
The inception of cargo cults often is defined as being based on a flawed model of causation, being the confusion between the logical concepts of necessary condition and sufficient condition when aiming to obtain a certain result. Based on this definition, the term "cargo cult" also is used in business and science to refer to a particular type of fallacy whereby ill-considered effort and ceremony take place but go unrewarded due to flawed models of causation as described above.

People see that someone has a good job, and want one too. How did they get this wonderful job, with an office, a desk, a free phone, and money every month? Ahh, they have a degree/diploma/qualification. Ergo, a plan of action forms: get said decree/diploma, and hey presto! The magic piece of paper will secure a life of privilege, wealth, material goods, even a spouse.

Therefore they obtain said paper, in some cases by simply buying one, or by attending a 'college' of dubious quality. Various sources will corroborate and reinforce this theory: unscrupulous college administrators or academics who just want paying students; Government functionaries rewarded for 'number of students enrolled'; parents who want the best for their children. Why even the newspaper regularly describes 'Jobs vacant' every day, with the very pieces of paper required clearly stated.

As it's only getting hold of the fancy piece of paper that counts (and they can look beautifully impressive, with colourful and embossed insignia, latin phrases and even wax seals):

it's therefore totally OK to cheat on exams, pay someone to write your papers for you, and complain if anything such as 'standards' or exam results gets in the way. (eg See this post by Reality in Oman.)

Reality in Oman, August 2009:
Cheating is a common problem within the Omani educational system. It is common throughout the whole Gulf region. Students (mainly males) cheat their way through school and college – and they wonder why no one wants to hire them! - I mean, what a waste!

Students spend more time trying to find out ways to cheat than anything else. They cheat through phones, watches with tiny screens, tiny papers, writing on their knees..etc. I remember when I was in high school and attending my final exams. There were guys honking on their cars outside our classes… honk honk (question 2) *silence* honk honk honk (answer c)… honk honk honk (question 3) *silence* honk (answer a)…

And then, they either don't get a job, or do and loose it.

Or even worse, get a job and continue to screw things up while doing do sweet FCUK all all day. Often holding up a job that maybe someone could do, and the work gets done by expats or other Omani staff. If they are locals, sacking them for incompetence is usually impossible.

I've personally interviewed holders of Maths Masters degrees who can't use Excel; English Literature grads who can't speak English; and no-one, even competent young Omanis, knows how to write a half-decent CV. (or even how to spell Curriculum Vitae...)

Ah well.

So what can Oman do to combat this? One thing being done by the elite and Government Ministers is to have their kids educated overseas in a real University. But it really starts in the schools.

Oman's foreign high schools' exams are sent out of the country to be marked independently. There should be an independently invigilated set of standard exams for Omani scvhools perhaps, to try and purge the rampant plagiarism and cheating. Such exams (at least initially) will apparently need a level of security more commonly associated with printing and distributing currency.

But do the Government, or teachers, or parents, or students actually want to know the real status of their education? I doubt it.

The cult is just too strong...

Friday, December 10, 2010

Asian Beach games a success; Omantel to formally ask shareholders for more cash to WorldCall this week

Asian Beach Games
Well, The Asian beach games in Mussanah got off to a good start, albeit at a cost of over $100 million and using about 50% of all available hotel accommodation in the country to house the atheletes (as mentioned by Muscat Mutterings.)

Photo: Its been a week of fireworks all round in Oman.

There may not be the sort of cheerleaders they had in Bali (see here), but so far the event seems to have gone without major incident. Oman’s Ali Saleh Al Balushi even got the first Gold medal for Oman in the "tent pegging" competition. I'm glad they put the word 'tent' in there.

Omantel Looks to invest more money in Pakistan Cricket
In other news, those of you who are shareholders in Omantel may wish to head out to HQ in Muwalah this Wednesday to see what the deal is with Omantels request to flush invest another US$36 million at their Pakistani company WorldCall.

Some obvious questions:
- why is WorldCall unable to obtain financing without this guarantee by OmanTel?
- WorldCall was reported as requesting some $70 million in support. Are other WorldCall shareholders also guaranteeing the loan requirements?
- what's the current book value of OmanTel's shareholding in WorldCall compared with the purchase price? How is this consistent with the purchase price (Omantel paid 25 PKR/share) vs the current traded price of 3PKR/share?
- does the current book value already assume commitment of this additional loan support from OmanTel?
- with WorldCall currently making an operating loss for the second year running, how does Omantel justify using significantly positive forward growth assumptions in WorldCall's 5 year revenue and profit forecasts for the IFRS impairment test?
- what is the relationship between WorldCall and First Capital Securities Corporation Limited and their subsidiaries (such as Pace Pakistan Ltd)?
- is it appropriate that while making operational losses Worldcall is a major sponsor of the Pakistan Cricket Board? (yes, they really are)

If anyone attends, I'd appreciate a note on how the meeting goes...

Here's the official invite to the EGM:
Oman Telecommunications Company SAOG Invitation to attend the Extra Ordinary General Meeting on 15th December 2010 at 4:30 pm.

The Board of Directors of Oman Telecommunications Company SAOG have the pleasure at inviting the honorable shareholders to attend the Extra Ordinary General Meeting to be held on Wednesday, 15th December 2010 at 4:30pm at the company's Head Quarter In Muwalah to discuss the following agenda: To study the proposal to finance the company's subsidiary, Worldcall Telecom Limited Company and authorize, the Board of Directors to issue a written guarantee to a third party for providing funding equivalent to USD 36 Million to World call.

Shareholder may give a written proxy to another person to attend the meeting and vote on his/her behalf Shareholders are requested to arrive at the meeting half an hour before the meeting.

For further information, please contact Mr. Faris Al-Ma'amari on phone No.24244579, Fax; 24240102.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Times of Oman article on Abused construction workers: Well done Saleh

In a refreshingly honest article a couple of days ago, Times of Oman's reporter Saleh Al Shaibany wrote about the continued abuse of Oman's construction labourers. See here.
Post-post addendum: And great to see Saleh now employed by a local paper, hopefully on a respectable stipend. He is def. the best Omani English reporter I've seen. We need a LOT more Omani reporters (and dare I hope, journalists too) in his vein.

The issues are captured, along with actual interviews with a couple of construction supervisors (although I'm not so sure naming them was a good idea). They point to the lax Government inforcement and inaction by workers' Embassies, as well as the unscrupulous and callous actions of local Omani building contractors.

Photo: Labourers in hazardous conditions are a common site across Oman. (from ILO, photographer P. Deloche

However, I would also blame the people employing these contractors. People, when you are having a new villa built, it's up to you to ensure the workers are well treated. Don't just shrug your shoulders and put it on the contractor. YOU.

Please step up and act - Insist the contractor adhere to the law. If necessary, call the Government officials and complain. Take responsibility. Let's see those oft-cited Omani cultural strengths of fairness to all, kindness, and moral values applied in your own back yard. These poor people are working for you.

If there was ever a case for an NGO to act, this would be a good one. It would be great to see more proactive stuff from the International Labor Organisation too: how about sponsoring some law suits for wrongful death and injury?

I also wish these workers would be allowed to properly unionise - they can't do that under current Omani law.

And well done ToO and Saleh. More please.

Contractors ignore labour rights

Saleh Al-Shaibany
01 December 2010 09:59:55 Oman Time

MUSCAT: Construction labourers are still working and living in appalling conditions across the country as contractors ignore their basic rights while the government inspectors continue to turn a blind eye.

Little has changed in the past 40 years for labourers as most construction site workers still have to live in wooden shacks braving both the smouldering heat during the summers and the winter chill.

The hygiene conditions of most of these sites are non-existent with toilet facilities being just a hole in the ground, a few metres away (in most cases) from the kitchen and the living quarters. Construction debris is strewn all over the place, ranging from sharp brick fragments to rusting steel. Common complaints of the labourers are food poisoning, heat stroke, injuries and fall from scaffoldings.

After hard physical labour and working in hazardous conditions, these workers are paid a pittance. The monthly salary ranges from just RO80 to RO120 with free medical facilities but they have to fork out money from their pockets to buy their own food. “Nobody cares about their welfare, not even their embassies. All of them come from a poor background arriving here to earn money so they could look after their families back home,” Hussein Al Lawati, general manager of Capital Manpower Services, said.
Construction workers in Oman are mostly south Asians, including those who work for companies building bridges and road networks. According to the latest Manpower Ministry statistics, there are 900,400 foreign workers in the private sector in Oman, out of which more than a third work in the construction sector.

Lawati said that the number of labourers is a third of all foreign workers and the figure is increasing every year due to the construction boom fuelled by higher government spending. According to official data, there were 306,150 construction workers in the country by the end of August 2010, a rise of eight per cent compared to August last year.

With the effect of the global financial crisis diminishing, the government is expected to announce a record spending budget of $20 billion for next year’s expenditure buoyed by more oil exports and rising oil prices in the last two years. “The boom is supported by cheap labour and yet, we don’t look after the people who toil all day to help the progress of the country. The government must acknowledge it and make sure that construction workers are given their rights with inspectors regularly visiting sites,” Lawati added.

Prakash Menon, a supervisor of a construction site in Al Khodh, said that he lost a labourer last summer from a fall and another worker broke a leg after a cement mixing machine rolled over. “The summer heat is a big problem, apart from lack of safety equipment like a harness to secure workers climbing the scaffolds. Contractors are also reluctant to buy new equipment even though major accidents occur,” Menon, said.
Ram Kumar, another site supervisor, said that his workers regularly end up in medical clinics from heat exhaustion, food poisoning and breathing problems. The wooden shacks, Kumar pointed out, are a major cause of fire since labourers use them as kitchens as well as sleeping accommodation.

He pointed out at the slimy water accumulated at a corner of his site overflowing to the road. “It is toilet water and the contractor refuses to pay for the weekly removal of the waste water because he wants to save money,” Menon, said.

Lawati said it was about making maximum profit from the construction contracts where contractors cut corners and deny basic rights to their workers. “The biggest culprits are contractors of private villas. The only way it would work is for both the embassies and the government to work together to come up with a law that would punish offending contractors,” Lawati, said.