For months the talk here in Oman has centered around whether prices have really gone up or not. Meanwhile the government continued to refuse to admit that there was any increase of anything. And that if there was any price hikes then it must be just traders who are taking advantage of the market by increasing prices without any valid reason. I had mentioned this once two months ago when the Minister of National Economy refused to even discuss the subject during a Q&A session in Majlis Al Shura.
All of a sudden last week the Ministry of Commerce and Industry had an about-face and admitted that there was indeed a price rise in the country. But in typical Omani fashion the undersecretary tried to make us citizens feel better by saying that "this phenomenon was faced not only by the Omani market, but also by all markets in neighbouring countries." He also noted that "there were some internal and external factors behind this hike such as the rise in oil prices, currencies of some countries and the increase in supply and demand."
In even more typical Omani behavior, not only did the ministry admit to a problem that it had denied for over 3 months, it also went to the extreme of appointing an international consultant to look into this "phenomenon". Which means that some big shot consultancy will make big bucks for sending a couple of just-graduated recently hired smart asses who will go to the market and ask a couple questions and report that "yes, prices have indeed gone up." The report is due in 2 months' time and there's no word on whether the ministry is planning to do anything to tackle the situation in the time being.
I know that the UAE has experienced price hikes too but over there they blame it on inflation caused by the government's increase of all civil servants' salaries. In Kuwait a similar hike is being blamed on the sharp increase in liquidity in the market due to the stock market boom and spillover business from Iraq. Over here, we're as poor as we ever were. Our salaries haven't been adjusted in close to 20 years and the government insists that there's no inflation at all in the economy. In fact some years they tell us we have negative inflation.
Why does our ministry try to blame it on everything in the world without taking any blame themselves? They even blamed it on the Euro even though it is now lower than it was last year. They're doing all this to divert from a few issues: 1) that it was the government's hike of diesel's price that started the price increase, 2) that the "Omanization" of all transport drivers has further contributed to the increase in price of transport of all goods inside Oman because of their higher salaries and uneven attendance at work, 3) that it's the Ministry of Commerce's lack of control and monitoring that allowed traders to increases prices beyond the level of the diesel hike's effect, and 4) that the government's Consumer Price Index calculation is totally out of touch with the reality of the Omani people.
For the past two months I have been holed up at home with my new born. I don't do any grocery shopping except for junk like soft drinks and snack food and for baby related stuff which I had never bought before in my life so I can't say that I know anything about whether prices are rising or not. I do know that when we finally emerged from our shell in the past two weeks we've noticed an increase in some food prices in restaurants. We went to Kargeen last week and they had increased the price of most items on the menu. Then we went to the coffee shop at the Hyatt for dinner last Thursday and the price of a burger has gone from RO. 3.9 to RO. 4.8. If it was only the price of expensive burgers that had gone up then no one would be complaining. It's obviously more than that.