Monday, November 26, 2007

Plasma or LCD?

Plasma or LCD?

Panasonic or Samsung? (Sony's too expensive)

What about Philips?

Need to buy two, one for the living room, probably 50", and one for the bedroom.

Friday, November 23, 2007

Currency speculation

People have been buying UAE Dirhams like crazy. Deposits are being converted from rials and dollars into dirhams. The dollar is being dumped.

The UAE's central bank governor has gone on the record their intention to consider a revaluation of their currency, preferably in a joint move with the other GCC states, but that they will act on their own if the other states don't come into an agreement with them. [link]

Oman's silence on the issue is hitting a nerve with people and they are reflecting it by shifting their deposits into dirhams. This is a clear signal that the lack of transparency is leading to a loss of trust. They're afraid of losing out if our neighbors revalue their currencies and we get left out with a lower valued currency leaving us with a rial that buys us less of everything. Additionally, should the UAE revalue and Oman doesn't, there's an arbitrage opportunity. Even if Oman follows up with a revaluation of its own, the shift to dirhams is still a hedge because at least they (the UAE) are telling us that it might be coming while we (Oman) are totally silent about it.

Earlier this year: Currency revaluation talks

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Back from Dubai

I've just got back from Dubai where I spent the past three days attending the Leaders in Dubai business forum. My original plan was to blog from the forum but unfortunately this was not to happen. I stayed at the Novotel which is attached to the convention center. Unlike most hotels in Dubai which offer free WiFi in their lobbies, the Novotel only offers an Etisalat iZone hotspot but, get this, they don't sell the prepaid cards which you need to access this hotspot. You, the hotel resident, should know to get one with you if you want to use thia hotspot. Where is this mysterious card sold? At any Etisalat shop. I visited 3 Etisalat stores while I was in Dubai and not one of them had a supply of iZone cards because as one store manager told me "they sell very fast". One thing I learned from this experience is that Etisalat stores in Dubai have horrible customer service. (Etisalat's website says you can buy iZone time online, but I couldn't figure how to do it, and one of their store managers told me that it can't be done.)

The business forum was mostly very good. I got to see some impressive speakers such as Prof. Mohammad Yunus, Richard Branson, Malcolm Gladwell, and Kofi Annan. I might post later about my impression of some of them and particularly what they had to say.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Bonafide

My geekdom is now is certified. Amazon.co.uk had a sale and I managed to get Star Trek: The Next Generation box sets at 55% off. All 7 seasons together came out to about £110. For some reason, they upgraded my shipping to DHL at no extra charge and I had the package with me two days later.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Logic

Carpenter's logic: If we had delivered on time you wouldn't have liked the work because it would have been a rushed job and the quality wouldn't be the same.

Wife's logic: Going by his own twisted logic, we should delay his payments or else he won't appreciate the value of the money.


Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Shura Elections

This past Saturday, Oman's 6th Majis A'Shura council was elected for the 2008-2011 term. 631 candidates competed for 84 seats representing 61 wilayas (provinces) in Oman's consultative council (wilayas that have population of over 30,000 get two seats). 388,683 Omani citizens had registered to vote and of that number it is said that 63% showed up to vote, making it the highest voter turn out in Oman's short electoral history. Significantly, it is believed that more women than men participated in the election. However, despite the higher participation, and the fact there were 21 female candidates competing in the election, not one succeeded in winning a seat. In fact, the two female Shura members of the present council both lost their bids for re-election.

I did not vote in this election. It wasn't because of political dissent or anything like that. I hadn't register to vote in the past elections because I wasn't sure that any of the candidates running for my area were worthy of my vote. This time, I was planning to vote but I never got around to going to the Wali's office to register. Was I just plain lazy or was it apathy on my part? A bit of both I guess. More importantly, I think it's because I have no idea what it is that the Majlis A'Shura does. I don't know what the members do. I don't even know if they actually meet on a regular basis or only on the days when they are shown on TV questioning ministers, which I think only happens once per minister per year. I'm quite sure that despite the fact that the elected members aren't allowed by law to have full time jobs, they don't have offices or staff. I blame my lack of knowledge on the Shura Council and its activities entirely on our press. It is their lack of initiative and lack of coverage. We are never informed of what the council does except in generic articles that only tell us that a session took place without informing us what was actually discussed.

I understand that the Shura council has more powers than what is actually been exercises by its members in the past. It can question ministers and advise the government on economic and social issues, but cannot legislate law or get involved in defence or foreign policy. According to an article by Rafiah Al Talei which was forwarded to me by email:
Article 29 of the Omani law regulating the appointed upper house (the
59-member State Council) and elected Shura Council specifies the
powers of each body. The Shura Council's powers include reviewing
legislation drafted by government ministries and passing them on to
the State Council with recommendations, as well as submitting
proposals for social and economic legislation. The Shura Council may
also provide feedback on government initiatives, propose development
projects, and participate in raising citizens' awareness of the
country's development goals and government efforts in that regard.
Members may give opinions on subjects on which the sultan seeks the
council's input, and look into matters related to public services and
infrastructure.
I consider myself to be politically astute, for the most part, but on the day after the election an expatriate who is new to Oman asked me some questions about the representation system and I got totally lost and confused while trying to answer. Like for example, how is a Shura member's role different from that of the government appointed wali? If you as a citizen have a grievance with the government, when do you go to your elected council member and when do you go to the wali? And why would going to the council member be any good when s/he is an individual working on his/her own from their own house without a dedicated office or staff to help in getting the requirements of the constituents done?

According to the same article quoted above:

many Omanis believe that in reality the Shura Council's role has been
limited to looking into public services. And even for this council members
do not receive credit, as government ministers constantly
point out that development in public services and infrastructure is a result of the government's vision and plans rather than initiatives by council members.

Some Shura Council members are frustrated by the lack of appreciation from either the public or the government. Shura Council member Rahila bint Amir bin Sultan al-Riyami stated on several occasions that members do not receive due credit for their work, and asserted that the government actually does accept and consider suggestions and proposals of council members. Media coverage of recent council deliberations, however, revealed little government willingness to accept members' proposals and amendments to upcoming laws.
There's been a lot of discussion, since the start of the election process about encouraging voters not to just vote along tribal and family lines but to vote for the best candidate. For the first time ever the candidates were allowed to advertise and campaign, but I think they were limited in what they can write in their ads because all of them had the same theme: big mug shot, name of candidate and which wilaya he was competing for, and a brief two or three lines with his CV highlights. Nothing more. What was one candidate offering over the others? What would I gain by voting for Mr. X over Mr Y, other than Mr. X has a better education than Mr. Y?

I have to admit that if I had actually voted, I'd have probably towed the line and voted along with my community for our candidate, who actually won in his constituency. It's not just because the guy is a PhD and currently the vice-president of the Central Bank of Oman. But, in the end when it comes down to it, I am part of a minority. My community, the lawatia, is probably the smallest Omani ethnic group. I believe that it is important for my community to have a voice in the council. So yes, I'd have gone along with my "tribe". However, the lawatia at least are organized so they got together and decided they would all give their voice to their best candidate and after discussions and debates chose him. In fact their other candidates pulled out of the race to clear the way for him.

By the way, although the law says that a person who is voted to be a member of the council has to quit his job, I understand that the pay isn't that good. I asked around and heard that it's probably in the 1000 rial range, no higher than 1200 per month. Ok, that's not something to spit at, but still it's what a graduate with a good job would expect to get by the time he's a junior or mid level manager. It's not something you'd quit your job for unless you don't have the potential to get to that level in the first place or else you are independently better off. This could be a significant limiting factor for the quality of candidates.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Borders

Borders opened in Muscat City Center earlier this month. It's bigger than their shop in Mall of the Emirates and unlike that one it sells CDs and DVDs as well as books. The first time we were there I didn't have any particular books in mind and just spent an hour browsing its aisles. I can't stop myself from buying books even though I have three big stacks of books I haven't read. I came out with two books, Neil Gaiman's American Gods, a book I've been wanting to read for a while, and Frank Herbert's Dune, one of my favorite books which I've read many times before but the last time was over ten years ago.

I went back to Borders this past Sunday with the following list of books from my Amazon wish list:

The Gum Thief - Douglas Coupland
Absurdistan - Gary Shteyngart
Revelation Space - Alastair Reynolds
Consider Phlebas - Iain M Banks
Mac OS X The Missing Manual, Tiger Edition - David Pogue

They didn't have not even one of them. Not only didn't they have the Mac guide that I wanted, they didn't have any other Mac book in their computer section either. The sci-fi/fantasy section is quite large, but it looks like the books were ordered almost randomly or maybe by someone who doesn't care about the genre. For some authors you can find their more minor books but not the book they are most famous for. They didn't have the book I wanted, Revelation Space, but quite bizarrely they had its sequel. And not a single book by Neal Stephenson except for one book from the Baroque Cycle trilogy.

I'm not surprised because in my experience, even in the UK I could never find all the books I wanted in Borders so I shopped more at Waterstones or ordered my books online.

Conclusion, it's great to finally have a decent bookstore in Muscat but if you're reading taste is not mainstream don't expect to find what you're looking for.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Blog Action Day

Bloggers Unite - Blog Action Day

Today is the first ever Blog Action Day where blogs around the world will unite to bring attention to a single issue. This year's issue is the environment.

If you are in Oman, I'd like to bring to your attention that the Environment Society of Oman (ESO) is the country's only environmental NGO. It has been around for only 3 years and has recently shifted from being a 100% volunteer managed society by hiring a full time manager. ESO has ambitious plans and has recently completed the formulation of a comprehensive 5 year strategy which will be announced soon. In order to achieve the goals and targets detailed in this strategy, ESO will require active participation from its members. If you are interested in the environment, please contact the ESO and see how you can help.

The ESO has also planned a very active calender of events for the coming year. We will be having a lecture every Saturday for the next three weeks. Our lectures are open to the public, so please don't hesitate to come.

You can also join the ESO group on Facebook to be in touch with other members and people who care about the environment. All ESO news and events will also be posted there.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Made the switch


My birthday gift this year from my wife and family: a white 2.16 GHz MacBook with 2GB RAM and a 160GB hard drive. I wanted white to be different from my previous Windows laptops. The switch to Mac has been mostly easier than expected except for transferring my 50+ GB iTunes library which I haven't been able to do yet because my HP laptop keeps crashing whenever I try to back up the library to my external hard drive.

I still haven't gotten around to installing Parallels and trying out Windows on the MacBook.

Sunday, October 07, 2007

Welcome Back my friends


I'm back to wearing glasses. I had Lasik surgery in June 1999, so I guess I the cost of the surgery was worth the money considering the 8 years of life without glasses. (Though, if I factor in all the sunglasses I bought I guess it would turn out I spent as much on sunglasses as I used to spend on frames before.)

Anyhow, I have no regrets. My vision is now only slightly deteriorated by about -0.50 in the left eye which means I can still go on without glasses for a couple more years if I choose to. I've been getting lots of headaches and migraines in the past couple of months so the doctor thought it might be worth it to see if wearing glasses for this minor correction might make a difference. I think it has.

On the other hand, my wife is back to wearing glasses as well and in her case, it's barely just over 5 years since she had the corrective surgery. So for those of you who are thinking of getting Lasik done on your eyes, please don't be fooled by the doctor's promises. It might last a decade, or you might be back to wearing glasses within less than 5 years. Nothing's guaranteed.

Thursday, October 04, 2007

Omantel - In Play

This is cross-posted from Oman Community Blog

Omantel issued a disclosure statement to the market late yesterday evening containing the following information:
  • The government has agreed to reduce the royalties the company pays from 10% on fixed line and 12% on mobile revenues to a flat 7% effective on 2007 revenues.
  • Omantel and Oman Mobile will be merged.
  • The government is planning to sell part of its stake in the company to a "strategic shareholder with vast experience in the field of telecommunications." While the exact percentage hasn't been announced, it could be as high as 70% of the government's share in the company, giving the new strategic shareholder just under 50% of the company.
The royalty reduction is a huge deal for the company. It would result in a significant increase in the company's net profit. The royalty is taken on the company's gross profit. In other words, the company gave 10% and 12% of gross fixed line and mobile revenue respectively to the government. This is taken right off the top before the company deducts its expenses. Of course, this change in royalty will also have a positive effect on Nawras, which had not reached break even yet. The recalculation of Nawras' income for 2007 based on this lower royalty rate will probably result in an earlier break even. (They had announced last month that October might be their first month to achieve break even). Royalty is not the same as tax. Royalty is paid from gross revenues, and tax is paid from net profit.

The decision to sell part of the government's stake to "strategic investor" is a biggie. The big question here is who this mystery investor is. Are we talking someone with global experience? The are rumors of a big European operator being interest, I can't recall if it's O2 or Orange. Plus Omantel had initially entered the bid for Qatar's second mobile license with Belgacom, so it too could be a possible partner. Other possibilities include regional companies like Etisalat, Kuwait's Zain (previously MTC Vodafone), Oger, or even Egypt's Orascom which is already heavily investing in tourism projects in Oman. Question is why anyone would want Omantel and how much would they want to pay for it?

Don't get your hopes up too high. With our luck in Oman, we'll end up selling our second rate telecom company to a second rate operator.

Update: Omantel's stock price jumped 10% (limit up) in Thursday's trading.

Related posts:

Bad Bad Omantel Shares
Omantel IPO

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Blue City shareholders lawsuit

Today I was searching for information on The Blue City project and I mistakenly went to www.bluecityoman.com, which is apparently an alternate website which has only press releases from the project, and read this very interesting "letter to stakeholders." Unfortunately, the letter is in PDF format so I can't copy it here. It is a letter from the CEO of Blue City 1 SAOC, the SPV which is building phase 1 of the project. Apparently, Cyclone LLC, the Omani company that started the project, is 30% shareholder in a company called Ocean Developments SAOC. They are now suing to takeover the shares owned by the Bahraini company AAJ Holdings, which owns the remaining 70%. Ocean owns a company called Al Sawadi Investments and Tourism LLC (ASIT), which in turn is the owner of Blue City 1, which is the borrower and developer, and Blue City Phase 1 Land Company Limited, which owns the Phase 1 site, and Blue City Future Phases Investment Company Limited, which owns the remainder of the Blue City land "included in the security available to investors."
Cyclone is asking for a right to acquire the shares in Ocean currently owned AAJH arising from the circumstances in which the ASIT were originally acquired by AAJH. Shares in ASIT were subsequently exchanged by Cyclone and AAJH for their current holding of shares in Ocean.

If the claim is successful, Cyclone will emerge as the sole shareholder in Ocean. Cyclone is an Omani company wholly owned by Omani shareholders.
AAJH has always been at front and center of the Blue City project. How come the Omani shareholders now want them out? This reminded me of a post in newsBriefsOman about the owner of AAJH, Ahmed Abubaker Janahi, and further of news earlier this year of a lawsuit filed involving one of the financiers of the Blue City project. One of the interesting details in that lawsuit was that AAJH had been declared bankrupt!

What's going on? Of course this is the kind of news that never gets reported in Oman.

Radiohead's new album

Radiohead, has proven once again why they are one of the most innovative mainstream bands in the world. The band, who have been without a record deal since their contract with EMI ended with their last album Hail to the Thief in 2003, announced that their new album, In Rainbows, will be released on October 10th, and will be available exclusively from their website for the first two months. The download will be DRM-free, and most importantly, there is no set price. "It's up to you," says the website. You can pay whatever you want. Or you can even choose not to pay anything. The album is also available to order in a "discbox" which contains the album with a bonus disc with 8 additional songs, 2 vinyl records, plus artwork and booklets which goes for £40

I pre-ordered my digital copy yesterday. I chose to pay
£7.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Job opening at ESO



Situation Vacant

Omani Trainee

The Environment Society of Oman (ESO) is looking to hire an Omani employee in a full time position. The candidate will be provided with on the job training towards attaining a position of responsibility within the ESO.

Applicants must fulfill the following requirements. S/He must be:

- Omani

- With a genuine interest in environmental and conservation issues

- Fresh/recent university graduate in a relevant field of study (environmental sciences, conservation, eco-tourism, environmental economics, geography, etc.)

- Fluent in Arabic and English (written and spoken)

- Computer literate (Microsoft Office)

- Self starter

- Holder of a valid driving license

Please send your CV and application letter indicating why you want to apply for this position to: info@environment.org.om or fax to 24486876. Deadline for receiving applications is 10 October 2007.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

"Acupuncture works"

You know that pins and needles feeling that you get when you sat on your leg for too long? I had it just about all day, every day, for 3 months. Lab tests, MRI's, nerve conduction studies, they were all coming up without any explanation why my left side kept numbing. After seeing doctors both here and in Thailand's Bumrungrad Hospital, a neurologist here in Oman told me "maybe you should try acupuncture." I was shocked. Here was the country's top neurologist telling me to try an alternative therapy. He told me straight up, when it comes neurology they just don't know why or how, but "acupuncture works".

I never got around to find an acupuncturist. At first I was occupied with my mother's health. And then the numbing started to subside and I got busy with other things. It hasn't gone away, but it's much less of a bother than before.

The reason I brought this up is because there's a news story in the BBC today about a study conducted in a German university on acupuncture that found out that when it comes to back pain, even fake acupuncture works.

More than 1,100 patients took part in the study. They were given either conventional therapy, acupuncture or a sham version.

Although needles were used in the sham therapy, they were not inserted as deeply as in standard acupuncture. Neither were they inserted at points thought key to producing a therapeutic effect, or manipulated and rotated once in position.

After six months 47% of patients in the acupuncture group reported a significant improvement in pain symptoms, compared to 44% in the sham group, and just 27% in the group who received conventional therapy.

Dr James Young, of Chicago's Rush University, said: "We don't understand the mechanisms of these so-called alternative treatments, but that doesn't mean they don't work." [link]


I'm definitely going to look for an acupuncturist here and give it a try.

iPhone insanity

Apparently, some people here in Muscat are crazy enough to buy unlocked iPhones for a staggering 425 rials. What more, the shop that's selling them is always running out of them and can't get them fast enough. That's $1100 for a $399 phone!

Last night, I was almost tempted to order an iPhone online from apple.com and have it shipped to me through our Aramex Shop and Ship account but then I cooled off of it and decided to wait till after Apple's next software update. And now Apple has announced that following statement:

Apple has discovered that many of the unauthorized iPhone unlocking programs available on the Internet cause irreparable damage to the iPhone's software, which will likely result in the modified iPhone becoming permanently inoperable when a future Apple-supplied iPhone software update is installed.
In other words, if you have an unlocked iPhone, installing the next software update is going to brick up your iPhone.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

15% rent cap announced

Good news on rent, but only for those whose rents still haven't been increased yet.
The Council of Ministers Decision on Properties Rent Rise

Muscat, Sept 18 (ONA)---The Council of Ministers today decided that properties rent amount should not be increased by more than 15% of the current rent value during the next two years.

The Council of Ministers today issued a statement in this regard, text of which reads as follows:

“The Council of Ministers thoroughly reviewed at its session held on Tuesday 6th of Ramadhan 1428 AH corresponding to 18th September, 2007, the issue of organizing the relationship between the landlords and tenants of residences, shops and industrial sites and registration of their tenancy agreement registration on the light of the considerable increase in the properties rent level in the Sultanate.

As this issue has direct effect on all development, economic and social sectors, and in order to safeguard both the lessants and lessees interests, as an urgent solution to the issue, the Council of Ministers has decided that properties rent amount should not be increased by more than 15%, of its current rent value during the next two years. The municipality concerned will monitor implementation of this ratio as per stipulated regulations.

The government will also conduct a comprehensive study to regularize the relationship between landlord and tenants which fulfill all parties interests and contribute positively in promoting the urbanization renaissance in the Sultanate.
So if a landlord increases rent by 15% this year he can't increase it again next year? The landlord for the office we rent for the ESO increased the rent on us 50% and we just signed the new lease agreement a couple days ago!

35


Yep, that's my birthday cake from earlier this week.

Friday, September 07, 2007

RamadhanTV.com

If you're one of those people for whom the tv series are main highlight of Ramadhan, you're gonna love Blue-Chi's new blog, RamadhanTV.com. Blue-Chi and his team are planning to give daily coverage on all the major series that will show during the month. They've already started with posting brief outlines of the shows and which channels they will be shown on.

My wife and I haven't been watching any of the Arabic serials the past two Ramadhans and instead we catch up on our DVDs. But with a site like this one I guess it would be easier to choose a show to watch and find updates if we miss a day.

We were supposed to be smoke free by now

The following news item is from June 2004:
The health affairs department at Muscat Municipality has drafted a plan to ban smoking in commercial centres, shops and industrial establishments in various wilayats of Muscat governorate.

The plan was prepared in cooperation with the department of fighting non-communicable diseases at the Ministry of Health.

The plan will be implemented in two phases. The first phase, which covers first category restaurants, will continue until August.

The second phase, which covers all closed and public areas, will begin in September and continue until August 2006. � ONA

From the Oman Observer that same day:
The first phase, which began recently and continues till August this year, involves the implementation of a system whereby Grade A and First Class restaurants are required to devote 50 per cent of their areas to non-smokers and to put up boards indicating the same.

The second plan, from September 2004 to August 2006, implements a total ban on smoking in all closed public areas or total separation of smoking and non-smoking areas so that the air cannot mix between the two sections, added Al Kishri.

Closed areas with children's games and restaurants and other food outlets surrounding these and other areas where children gather should implement a total ban on smoking.

What happened?

Thursday, September 06, 2007

Flavours comes to CBD

Flavours, the 24 hour "multi cuisine" restaurant, has opened a second branch in the CBD area. Flavours' new location is right next to Supa Save, on the corner opposing HSBC and the Ruwi post office. This location most recently had a Thai restaurant which went out of business in less than one year and prior to that had a restaurant called The Arabic Oven.

While the CBD is Muscat's financial district, home to the head offices of most of Oman's big banks as well as the Central Bank of Oman, the Ministry of Commerce and Industry, the Oman Chamber of Commerce, and the Muscat Securities Market, it is not exactly a hotspot for restaurants and cafes. In fact most restaurants here go out of business. Even fast food. The last attempt to open a fast food franchise here was Subway which closed down 4 years ago. This is pure shawerma and rolled Arabic bread sandwich territory. And once the bankers and business people go home in the evening the area becomes depressingly quiet and deserted at night.

I haven't eaten at Flavours so I can't pass judgement. Read Amjad's review
on the Omani Cuisine blog.

By the way are you aware that Muscat Municipality has recently renamed CBD to Hay Al Souqe?

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

"Azzamn"




Azzamn (their spelling, not mine), is a new daily Arabic newspaper that recently launched in Oman with very little fanfare. It quietly slipped onto the news stands without a publicity campaign on August 12th. I read the first issue because they came and gave out free issues in our office that day, but that was that. I haven't heard anyone talk about it since.

Friday, August 24, 2007

Reblog: Oman offers India gas in exchange for coal

I've posted a news item on Oman Community Blog from an Indian online source that says that Oman has offered India a deal to supply gas in exchange for coal. According to the source:
Indian coal has a high-ash content, one reason why some domestic coal-based power plants mix it with higher quality coal that is imported. However, Oman wants Indian coal for this very reason. Fly ash is a key component in the manufacture of cement and Oman, currently going through an infrastructure and construction boom, needs as much of the building material as it can get.
The details are:
India wants 5 million standard cubic metres of gas a day (mscmd) or 1.25 million tonnes (mt) of gas a year for every 4.5mt of coal it exports in a year. In money terms, that volume of gas translates into $520-650 million (Rs2,132-2,665 crore) at current spot rates of $8-10 per million British thermal units (mBtu), although gas is available at lower rates through long-term contracts.

Related post: Where did the gas go?

Friday, August 17, 2007

The hard facts on inflation in Oman

Annual inflation in Oman accelerated to 5.9% in June, the highest in at least two and a half years, as food costs and rents jumped, official data showed.

The consumer price index rose to 110.3 points compared with 104.2 points in the year-earlier, according to data published on the Ministry of National Economy website. Inflation was 4.3% in May.

The cost of food, beverages and tobacco, which account for around 30% of the index, rose 11.1% in June, compared with 9.1% in the previous month. (Link)

Cost of food went up 11.1% in one month. Add the 9.1% the previous month and that's a 20% increase in just May and June!


Oman Community Blog

I'd like to draw your attention to the Oman Community Blog, a blog with open membership that currently brings together over 20 bloggers with common interest of writing about Oman. I have 4 or 5 post there in the past couple of weeks.

Friday, August 10, 2007

Dear Mr. Shetty

In the midst of unrest, it is inevitable that there will always be those who suffer and those who prosper. In the aftermath of Cyclone Gonu, those who were affected are now looking towards restoration, services and household goods companies to help them return life to a state of normality. As a result, such companies are seeing their workload increase, sometimes even beyond their capacities, and their profits are going up.

Karim Baksh Trading and Contracting in Wadi Kabir is one such company. General manager, Divakar Shetty, explains that Karim Baksh, which specialises in interior design and restoration, has seen its earnings increase by RO200,000 since the cyclone hit Muscat. The company's latest project is to restore three or four shops in CCC and seven shops and one bank in the Al Araimi Complex.

Moreover, Shetty adds that Karim Baksh is fully booked for the rest of the year. As a result of this huge demand for his services, he has employed 60 extra staff members, including electricians, carpenters and wood polishers, to help deal with the added workload. "Whereas we used to work a ten-hour day, currently my staff and I are busy 18-19 hours a day." [link]
How very fortunate for you, Mr. Shetty. Unfortunately for me, I contracted your company in October 2006 to do the doors, kitchen, wardrobes, closets, staircase rails, and vanities in my house and you are yet to complete my order. At first you promised me to start delivering at the end of December but then you blamed the rains and flooding that happened that month for the delay. Then I heard that you had taken a job to restore all the damaged store fronts in the CCC and when I confronted you about it you promised to finish the job by February. Feb became March, and it flooded again and you went and took more emergency jobs. Then you promised to have it all done by May. Gonu came in June. And here you are boasting of how much work you have in BusinessToday magazine. What am I to do with you, Mr. Shetty? My house has been ready for months and I can't move into it because it still doesn't have a kitchen, the master bedroom still doesn't have dressing room closets, and worst of all my stairs still don't have rails on them. I've threatened to delay your payment and all you do is laugh and say that keeping the money with me is the same as keeping it in the bank. I threatened to tell everyone I know about your delays and you say that unfortunately your reputation for tardiness and long delays is already known by most of the people who contract you but they still give you jobs because they like the quality of your work. I know that posting this on my blog isn't going to help one bit but I don't know what else to do.

Muscat Wastewater's Phantom Contractor

Is this Muscat Wastewater Project billboard's declaration of "بداية جديدة" (A New Start) an admission from the Oman Wastewater Services Company of the rumors that the project's contractor, China's Sino Hydro Corporation, has indeed withdrawn from the project and left town leaving the project in limbo?

Extreme Ways are Back Again


At long last we managed to actually venture out of the house and go to the movies. This summer we've already missed most of the "threequels" including Spiderman 3, Pirates 3 and Shrek 3. Died Hard 4 was good fun. Ocean's 13 was lighter than air, but at least it didn't suck like 12 did. Haven't seen Harry Potter 5 yet but I think it might still be playing in some of the smaller screens so I still have a chance to catch it.

With no nanny to look after Faisal, going to the movies requires plenty of advance planning so the movie better turn out to be worth it. And dammit, Bourne Ultimatum rocks. It's the perfect summer movie. Matt Damon is excellent. Director Paul Greengrass has outdone himself. The editing is still jumpy but not as confusing as it was in The Bourne Supremacy. The Bourne movies are now a perfect trilogy- something very rare in the action genre. The movies have nothing in common with the novels they are named after except for the character Jason Bourne and his amnesia. But it doesn't matter. Robert Ludlum isn't exactly high literature. I read the novels in high school and college. The last one I read must have been at least 15 years ago, so I wouldn't remember much even if the movies were faithful to them.

I think I'm gonna go look for my still unwrapped Bourne Supremacy DVD which I found in the bargain bin in Carrefour last year and give it a spin.


Monday, August 06, 2007

An English lesson from Futoon


A lesson in simple English from this week's Futoon, the free paper published by Al Watan.

Nice.

Saturday, August 04, 2007

Oh life..

What a roller coaster these past few weeks have been. I'm not going to go into details but just a short explanation for my sudden disappearance. Three weeks ago we had a huge health scare with my mother and we immediately dropped everything and flew to Germany. After a lot of tests and many tense days waiting for news, the results came out with a diagnosis that was less severe than originally thought here in Oman. We're back in Oman. She's back home and she's going to be on medication for an extended period. In sha' Allah '7air.

Al Maha Souk


What's happening with the Souk convenience stores at Al Maha filling stations? They never were my choice of stores to stop at but lately circumstances had me going to a bunch of them, both here in Muscat and on the drive back from Dubai yesterday. The stores are a mess. In some, the shelves are empty. In most the fridges are not stocked with many popular drinks. None of them have Coca Cola products (my wife is a Diet Coke addict). One of them they didn't even have small bottles of water. The staff were unprofessional. They don't wear a uniform or anything that identifies them. Not even a name tag. If it weren't for the fact that they were standing behind the counter you wouldn't even know they work there. Most were dressed in dishdashas without anything covering their heads. In every single store the clerk was talking on his mobile phone the whole time I was there, even while punching my purchases through.

Shopping at a convenience store isn't exactly about having an outstanding time shopping, but what these stores offer is pathetic. It's almost as if they are deliberately being run down.

[link]

Friday, July 27, 2007

I hate Shatti Cinema

I'd love to have started this post with "can someone please talk to the geniuses who run Shatti cinema..." Unfortunately, I actually know them and have spoken to them many times and it's an exercise in futility. As far as these guys are concerned they are the only people in Oman who know how to professionally manage cinemas, and as proof they'll repeatedly tell you how they started the first cinema in Oman and how they've been in this business almost 40 years. According to their market acumen animated movies are only for kids and therefore should only be shown in the daytime. Therefore, The Simpsons Movie, which is actually rated PG-13, is only being shown during the day. Working adults have to find a way to see it during the weekend because otherwise they will not have a chance again to see it till the next weekend. And that's only if it actually plays for another week. And as most of you know, since Shatti Cinema only has three screens they can't afford to keep movies playing more than a week or two or else they can't show new movies.

Meanwhile, the latest piece of sh!t movie by Jean-Claude Van Dammit is actually showing prominently on Shatti Cinema's screens making Oman one of the last countries in the world where his movies actually get shown on movie screens.

Go figure.

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Meet Henry


I found this no-so-little guy in my house today when I went to check in on the carpenters installing the doors. He walked in with me, had a look around, stopped and looked me in the face, and without a blink he turned around and walked out and went for a stroll around the yard.

I decided to name him Henry, in honor of my son's favorite characters of the moment, Thomas The Engine's friend Henry (although he's not green).

I've no idea what kind of lizard/reptile this is. Definitely your usual house lizard. It's got scales like a snake. I think that makes it a skink. Anyone know?

Saturday, June 30, 2007

Oman's Oryx Sanctuary deleted from UNESCO's World Heritage List

The main in talk Oman, at least on the net and the so-called "blogosphere" is Oman's dubious honor of having the first ever site to be removed from UNESCO's World Heritage List. UNESCO announced their decision on Thursday in a press release which declared powerful words like "unprecedented decision" and further went on to cross out the sanctuary's name on the list. According to the press release:

The World Heritage Committee deleted the property because of Oman's decision to reduce the size of the protected area by 90%, in contravention of the Operational Guidelines of the Convention. This was seen by the Committee as destroying the outstanding universal value of the site which was inscribed in 1994.

In 1996, the population of the Arabian Oryx in the site, was at 450 but it has since dwindled to 65 with only about four breeding pairs making its future viability uncertain. This decline is due to poaching and habitat degradation.

After extensive consultation with the State Party, the Committee felt that the unilateral reduction in the size of the Sanctuary and plans to proceed with hydrocarbon prospection would destroy the value and integrity of the property, which is also home to other endangered species including, the Arabian Gazelle and houbara bustard.

I visited the Oryx Sanctuary in 2000 and by then because of the poaching all the oryx had been taken out of the wild and brought in to a fenced area to protect them. The poachers were working for the sheikhs in the UAE and Qatar who were taking the oryx alive and placing them in private zoos for these sheikhs.

The problem, which most people don't seem to comprehend, is that the Oryx Sanctuary is massive. It is 27,500 square kilometers. For comparison the entire state of Kuwait is 17,820 sq. km, while Qatar is 11,437 sq. km. So basically the Oryx Sanctuary was about the size of Kuwait and Qatar combined. It is not easy to protect an area that large when all what a poacher needs is a land cruiser abu shanab and a rifle to go in under the cover of darkness, shoot an oryx or two and drive through the desert, slip the border into KSA or UAE and sell the animal to a rich sheikh who would gladly pay thousands of rials for that oryx.

The decision to reduce the size of the sanctuary was by royal decree 11/2007 on January 28. This isn't some ministerial decision. This came directly from the Sultan of Oman. In fact, the Oryx Project itself is managed directly by the Diwan of Royal Court through the Office of the Adviser for Conservation, not the Ministry of Regional Municipalities. And even now with the sanctuary reduced by 90% it is still about 2,842 square kilometers, i.e. about 4 times the size of Bahrain!

Let me play devil's advocate with this question to my fellow Omanis: with your country's main income coming from oil and production having already dropped by about 300,000 bpd in the past few years, what's more important to you, more oil exploration or an oryx sanctuary bigger than some neighboring countries?

And to those who are complaining about why they didn't know before that the government had reduced the size of the sanctuary by 90%, or how come there hasn't been a statement from the government in response to UNESCO's decision; why are you are surprised? Was there a statement when Oman withdrew from the GCC monetary union last year or Gulf Air this year?

PS. Oman still has four other sites on the list.

Saturday, June 23, 2007

Gonu Happened

It feels petty to want to write anything on the blog without mentioning Gonu. For posterity's sake, here's my take on Gonu. I wouldn't want to come back to this blog a year from now and find a big hole where the biggest event to hit my country in thirty years happened.

We got back from Thailand right before Cyclone Gonu hit Muscat. We were told that ours would be the last flight to be allowed to land in Muscat before the airport closes. Thank God, because we couldn't imagine ourselves being away from home while a hurricane batters our country and all our loved ones. So we landed and went home quickly, didn't even wait for all our luggage to come out. It started to rain two hours later.

I'm not going to go through it all. It's been two weeks, and frankly we've been Gonu'd out. It's devastating and heartbreaking: Thousands of homes damaged. Thousands of people living in shelters. Roads and bridges collapsed. Cars piled up in heaps everywhere (at least 10,000 cars totaled by one estimate).

The official death toll is mysteriously stuck at 49 since two days after the hurricane. We keep hearing stories of bodies being found every day but the police insist that only 49 people perished. I've been told that over 100 bodies were found floating in the sea alone. There's one workshop in Wadi Adai which reported 40 of its workers missing and so far 12 have been confirmed dead. Some guy swears that there are over 350 bodies in the Armed Forces Hospital which are still to be identified. Another guy claims that the total bodies kept in hospitals is already around 1000. Another guy who is usually quiet well connected claims that his sources confirm 1600 dead as of last Wednesday.

No matter which way you look at it, it is a major catastrophe. The initial estimates of the damage by the government were at around $4 billion of damage. The final figure would probably be around 6 billion. Reconstruction costs are going to be much higher than estimated. Price of building materials is already shooting up. Oman was already facing cement shortages before the hurricane. And with the existing shortage of labor in the construction industry the cost of rebuilding will definitely be high.

The government has a team of about 600 surveyors going around to all the houses that have been damaged by the hurricane making estimates of repairs as well as replacement of damaged items. However, there is yet to be any confirmation from the government of what the extent of compensation that citizens can expect. Will the government pay to rebuild these houses or will it only give partial compensation?

And what about the cost of rebuilding? Oman has steadfastly refused all outside aid. Initially the spokesman for the National Council for Civil Defence said that we don't need aid because we have a 6 month supply of emergency food and water. But what about monetary aid. Is Oman planning to cover the cost of rebuilding itself? It's just about the equivalent of last year's budget surplus which was transferred into the State General Reserve Fund. But our reserve fund isn't transparent like some other countries. Oman was running on a deficit for years until oil prices shot up earlier this decade. And the country has been investing into large big ticket projects like refineries, dry docks, a fleet of LNG tankers, not to mention Oman Oil's investments abroad. Have those been financed from the reserve or other sources? Since Oman thrives on rumors, word is that the country has agreed to accept monetary aid only from GCC countries on condition that the donations are kept secret. Who knows, it could be true that Saudi Arabia has pledged half a billion dollars and the UAE a slightly lower amount. Or it could be bogus.

On the positive side, despite the bitching and complaining by many (we Omanis love to bitch, it's our national passtime). The government did do a brilliant job tackling the disaster. If His Majesty the Sultan hadn't declared a national holiday and forced people to stay at home, the disaster would have been much greater. Many people thought they were getting a 4 day vacation, little did they know. The government forced an evacuation of coastal areas and sent thousands of people to shelters. They evacuated the entire population of the Halaniyat islands. The biggest fear was the strong winds and the extreme waves and tides. Little did we know that it wasn't the sea that was going to be the enemy, but the massive amounts of rain that fell in the mountains and came rolling down to the cities in a torrent unlike any we've ever seen. The response in the initial 48 hours following the hurricane by the various government bodies was excellent whether it was Oman TV and radio keeping people up to date with news of casualties, road conditions, electricity and water availability, etc. One criticism here is the lack of information in English. I kept switching the English FM during the hurricane and whenever I did all I heard was a continuous stream of pop songs.

Muscat Municipality did an outstanding job in rebuilding damaged roads. I was told by a couple of large construction companies that as soon as the weather calmed, the president of the municipality was personally calling them and mobilizing their entire available fleets of equipment without any discussion of payments or anything of the sort. All that could be done later, but getting roads opened was priority number one.

Two weeks post Gonu, in some parts of Muscat it's hard to tell that a hurricane had passed through. But in many places it will be quite a while till all's back to normal. The Qurm shopping area is still a ghost town with no electricity and shops still under layers of mud.

The beaches have been cleaned, but the ecological damage is immense. Assessments are still being done on the status of coral reefs, but the initial news is no good at all. In some popular dive spots the reefs have been entirely removed by strong currents or debris. The sea conditions are still bad and complete assessments will take time.

Was Gonu a freak incident, one of those once every 30 years storms that hit Oman? Or was this global warming in full effect? It's only been two weeks since Gonu and already there was a threat of another cyclone could be heading to Oman. Are we really in the midst of a shift in the world's weather patterns? Would Oman henceforth be a cyclone zone every summer? I hope not.

Links:

Flickr: All photos tagged with Gonu
YouTube: Gonu videos
Gonu Relief Blog
OmanForum.com's Gonu Discussion Forum
NewsbriefsOman.info - very good posts about Gonu

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Hikayat Turabik (A song about Oman)

Hello everyone. I know its been a while, but... Oh well, not buts, it HAS been a while.

I know we weren't in the best of spirits because of what happened (Gonu and whatnot), but if you are reading this, then Im sure you have survived it :)

I wanted to share something special with you. Its Salah's Al Zadjali's new song. One which he wrote during the aftermath of Gonu..

Enjoy!

http://www.box.net/shared/x0nilajnmh

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Rush

We couldn't deal any more with how things are never kept in stock here in Oman. Every supplier has catalogs and display pieces of just about any design you can think of, but if you want to buy, they all give you the standard "allow six to eight weeks for delivery". With our house already a few months behind schedule, I'll be damned to wait 8 weeks for simple things like door handles or light fixtures. So like the majority of my fellow Omanis, I packed my family into the car and drove 4 hours to the shopping wonderland otherwise known as Do-Buy.

I swear to God, I think we spent half our three days in Dubai stuck in traffic. The average driving time between any place and the other was 1 hour 15 minutes. I couldn't believe it when we left a restaurant at 12.30am on Thursday night thinking we're gonna drive home in peace and instead found that the roads are just as congested as they are in the day time. Time it took us home? Yep, 1 hour 15 minutes.

Anyhow, so I'm still on leave from work. I have like 60 days accumulated and when I asked for a few days off my boss forced me to take 2 weeks. Since Saturday I've been going out every morning around 9 and driving all over town running errands till 1 or 2pm. What we call traffic here is nothing. It's a pleasure to drive in, compared to the traffic hell of Dubai.

I've been listening to the new station Hala FM a lot while doing all the driving. Doesn't it strike anyone as weird that Oman's first private radio station doesn't have any advertising? Is this deliberate? And they also don't have any on air presenters except during the morning and evening drives. Other than that it's just nonstop music and Hala FM jingles. Some people have been complaining that they don't play enough Khaleeji music. I've been so out of touch with the new Arabic music scene that whatever they play all sounds fresh to me, so no complaints. Can't wait till they open their sister station which is going to be in English. Another thing I've noticed is that Omanis love calling in radio stations. The presenters treat them like friends, and I wonder if these callers really are lonely souls who think that that voice on the radio really is a friend. I've yet to hear the presenters on this station entice callers with the chance to win anything. People are just happy to call and hear themselves on the air. "I'm calling from Saham, and the reception is really clear here. I love this new staton. Thanks for putting me on the air!" or "Hi, I'm Fullan, remember me I called yesterday also. I love your station. Thanks for putting me on the air again. Can I dedicate a song?" I'm not trying to be sarcastic and make fun of these people. I think their simplicity is endearing. It shows what simple we Omanis are.

I'm flying to Bangkok tonight for some check ups at that big hospital that everyone's been singing the praises off lately. I've been seeing doctors here in Muscat the past month for something that's been bugging me and I got tired of having to wait a week between appointments while the doctors keep eliminating possible diseases from their lists. Finally it was my dad who got tired of all the worrying and declared "we're going to Bangkok". I feel like a kid. I don't know anything about the trip. For the first time in my adult life, I'm the kid again. He did the bookings and just told me "we're leaving Tuesday". It didn't even come to my mind to ask where we're staying and how long we'll be there till my wife asked me the next day when I tried to convince her to come with us or at least to follow us at the of the week. It's funny, here I am in my mid 30's, now at the age where you start worrying about every thing. Your back hurts and you think it's a slipped disc. Your arm hurts and you start panicking about a heart attack. And yet, you're still a kid to your parents. And just how we worry about every little thing with our son, it's the same to my parents about me.

So yeah.. I'm flying to Bangkok. If all goes well I shall be back in a week.

دعواتكم

Monday, May 21, 2007

Hala FM















At long last, Oman has its first private FM station. Hala FM, broadcasting on 102.7 FM, started test broadcasts earlier this month and will have its launch on May 23th. It's an all Arabic station, but the choices have been quite good. It'd be nice to have a good English music station, but I can understand that it makes more commercial sense to play Arabic music. I hope the other private stations follow now that frequency allocation has (apparently) been sorted.

Friday, May 18, 2007

Insane: Inflation in Zimbabwe

  • The cost of living doubled in Zimbabwe last month, lifting the annual rate of inflation above 3,700 per cent.
  • Economists forecast that inflation will continue to spiral out of control. Tony Hawkins, an independent economist in Harare, said: “It will be well above 10,000 per cent by the end of the year, probably nearer 15,000 per cent.”
  • A single brick now costs what ten years ago would have bought a mansion in the capital’s upmarket areas. This week the cost of postage stamps went up 600 per cent.
Even more insane: Robert Mugabe has a degree in Economics from London University! [link]

Wolfowitz

Paul Wolfowitz has finally agreed to resign from the World Bank.

The following however was his position with the board of directors when he met them while negotiating his resignation:
In a last-ditch plea to save his job, Wolfowitz appeared before the board Tuesday. "You still have the opportunity to avoid long-term damage by resolving this matter in a fair and equitable way that recognizes that we all tried to do the right thing, however imperfectly we went about it," he told the board. [link]
The article goes on to say that, "The controversy, which has gripped the bank for a month, has threatened to tarnish the poverty-fighting institution's reputation and hobble its ability to persuade countries around the world to contribute billions of dollars."

For real? More damage than bringing one of the main architects of the US invasion of Iraq to run this "poverty-fighting" institution?

Blog layout updated

I finally updated the blog to Blogger's new layout. It still looks the same because I haven't changed the template but changes are now easier to make. I've added a new "Shared Items" box in the side bar from Google Reader in which my most recent shared items are listed. In case you haven't tried Google Reader, I can't recommend it enough. I've been using it the past 3 or 4 months and it's a life saver. A lot of people complain that they prefer offline aggregators, but for me what I like the most about Google Reader is the fact that it's online and not one my computer. I can log on to it from any computer anywhere in the world and get access to all the feeds which I've subscribed to. I've never used any of its extra features before, but it gives you the option to share blog posts which you like. Henceforth, whenever I like a post on any blog that I read, I will share it and you will see it on the box or you can click the link at the bottom of the box to go see the full shared items page.

Sunday, May 06, 2007

Let's play pretend

Ok, boys and girls, let's pretend this is the first we hear of this:
Bahrain has become the sole owner of Gulf Air after Oman said yesterday that it was ceasing to be a stakeholder in the airline with immediate effect.

Oman's formal withdrawal was stated in an official letter delivered by its Economy Minister Ahmad Bin Abdul Nabi Makki to Bahrain's finance minister Shaikh Ahmad Bin Mohammad Al Khalifa at a meeting in Manama.

Following the decision, the Gulf Air board of directors held an impromptu meeting that included representatives from both countries to discuss the modalities of the transfer of the Omani shares and assets which, according to analysts, should last a maximum of six months. However, Bahrain's solo management of the company started yesterday. [link]

Sunday, April 29, 2007

One more reason our internet sucks

I posted two short posts on this blog an hour and a half ago and they still haven't shown up no matter how much I refresh the page.

Update:

I'm not sure if this is an Omantel cache problem or it's caused by switching to the muscati.com domain. The three posts I put up yesterday on the blog did not show on the main page till about 16 hours later even though they were accessible on their direct URLs and on the RSS feed. And even now when each of the posts has one comment, the main page shows no comments on any of them. Is any one else facing this problem?

Where Are The New Private FM Stations?

If I'm not mistaken the law governing the licensing of private TV and radio stations came out in August 2004 and the license fee structure was agreed by committee overseeing the process in April 2005. Three FM stations and one satellite station were were approved in October 2005. Not one of them has started broadcasting yet and the reason given is that they are yet to be allocated frequencies by the TRA because "the TRA wants to make sure any frequencies handed out are not already being utilised by a neighbouring country." That was in September, and at the time they said that they should have this sorted out and the stations on the air within 6 months. Well it's 7 months now and still no sign of these stations on the air.

Today's Al Watan has news of two more FM stations licensed:
منحت وزارة الإعلام (لجنة المنشآت الخاصة للإذاعة والتليفزيون) شبكة الترفيه الإعلامي ترخيصا لتشغيل محطتين إذاعيتين بعد أن استكملت الإجراءات القانونية والمالية المطلوبة بموجب قانون (المنشآت الخاصة للإذاعة والتليفزيون) وتبث الإذاعتان عبر موجة FM الأولى بمسمى هلا FM باللغة العربية والثانية هاي FM باللغة الإنجليزية ويشمل بثهما محافظة مسقط.
ومن المتوقع أن يبدأ بث هاتين المحطتين الإذاعيتين خلال الفترة القليلة القادمة حيث تأتي هذه الخطوة في إطار فتح المجال من قبل الحكومة للقطاع الخاص لممارسة هذا النشاط وتدعيمه وتشجيعه بما يتفق وقانون المنشآت الخاصة ولائحته التنفيذية المنظمة في هذا الخصوص

Wow, two more stations with licenses and no frequencies to broadcast on. Excellent!

Gulf Air stake talk baseless: Macki

The Omani way of giving out information:

The Sultanate’s government has not received any intimation from the Bahraini government regarding the plan to own Gulf Air in full, HE Ahmed Bin Abdul Nabi Macki, Minister of National Economy and Chairman of Financial Affairs and Energy Resources Council, told Oman Tribune in a statement. “The news circulated by a number of newspapers about the same does not reflect the official view of the Bahraini government,” he added.
As for the talk on Gulf Air’s intention to lay off 1,500 employees, most of them expatriates, Macki said such talk was groundless.
Talking about the share of each government, Macki said: “As of today, Bahrain has 80 per cent share in the carrier, while the Sultanate has 20 per cent.” [link]
The first official response to Bahrain's decision to take over Gulf Air, and incidentally, the first acknowledgement from our government that Bahrain has indeed increased its shareholding to 80%.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Check it out

This blog's new address is: www.muscati.com

I registered the domain muscati.com with Network Solutions in 1999 and never used it. I tried to activate it a couple years ago when I get active in blogging but couldn't remember the user name or password under which I had registered it. I've been trying half-heartedly with Network Solutions ever since to regain access but they kept insisting on sending the details on my original email at the time when I bought the domain back when Omantel used to be GTO and our emails used to be @gto.net.om. I finally bit the bullet a couple weeks ago and sent a fax to Network Solutions with an email address form, copy of my picture ID and a utility bill that proves my address. There was no reply from them. I called their support line which kept me on hold forever and finally someone whose accent I could barely understand finally explained to me that they had received my fax but since my ID had some "strange characters which aren't English" (i.e. Arabic) they cannot accept it. At which point I blew my top off and cussed the hell out of the guy and Network Solutions for about 5 minutes and then slammed the phone. It apparently worked because I received an email from them yesterday saying that they've changed my email address which means I could finally reset my username and password to regain access to my domain.

Anyhow long story short. We've got a new url, same old semi-active blog.

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Two countries, one airline

Gulf Air is currently equally owned by Oman and Bahrain and is the official flag carrier of both countries even though Oman has its own airline, Oman Air. Two weeks ago (March 15 to be exact), Bahrain's finance minister, Sh. Ahmed Mohammed Al Khalifa announced that Bahrain plans to increase its ownership in Gulf Air to 80% by May 1. The Omani government did not give any formal reply to either confirm or deny the move till this date.

Yesterday: Mahmoud Al Kooheji, Gulf Air's deputy chairman, went on the record to say that Bahrain is aiming to own 100% of Gulf Airnot just 80%. He was quoted in Gulf News saying: "We have reached an understanding between us and Oman for 80 per cent ownership by Bahrain, 20 by Oman ... Of course the prince's comments are true."

Still no comment from Oman. But…also in yesterday's Gulf News:

Bahrain raising its stake in Gulf Air to 80 per cent was a one-sided announcement from Manama and Oman knew nothing about it, said a top executive of Oman Air yesterday, while announcing the airline's ambitious plans to expand further. "It was a one sided announcement and nobody knows about it in Oman," Ziad Bin Karemi Al Haremi, Oman Air CEO, said at a press conference held yesterday. [link]

Although Mr. Al Haremi isn't a government official, he is the only person to go on record from Oman with a reply on this. Since the Omani government recently increased its ownership of Oman Air from 34 to 81% we can assume that Oman Air's CEO would have the contacts to have asked the concerned government officials about the situation.

It's interesting to look how Oman and Bahrain have been managing Gulf Air. Oman has been seen as a silent partner in Gulf Air, while Bahrain has always been the active partner. Gulf Air's head quarters are in Bahrain. The main hub has always been Bahrain. The biggest beneficiary in employment and spill on benefits has also always been Bahrain. In fact if you look at Gulf Air's current board you'd notice how Bahrain looks at its stake much more seriously than Oman. The airline's board is split equally between the two countries with the chairmanship rotating between them. Oman's board members are all high ranking government bureaucrats: the minister of transport, secretary general of the ministry of finance, the undersecretary of transport, and the undersecretary for civil aviation. Who does Bahrain have to represent its interests on Gulf Air's board? Professional financiers and experts: the deputy CEO of Bahrain Mumtalakat Holding Co, a principal from Investcorp, the managing director of Roland Berger Strategy Consultants (Middle East), and the country senior partner of a leading regional chartered accounting firm BDO Jawad Habib.

While it is understandable that Oman is thinking about improving its own airline rather than continuing to spend on Gulf Air, which has been an ailing airline for so long that no one really remembers when exactly it was that this company was ever in good health. Still Gulf Air has assets that other regional airlines would kill for: landing rights all and a destination portfolio accumulated from its 50 years of operation that no other startup airline has. In fact it was rumored after Etihad Airline poached James Hogan from Gulf Air to be their CEO, that the next move would be for Etihad to buy Gulf Air itself.

If Oman were to abandon Gulf Air without actually selling its stake to Bahrain, it would be giving up these valuable assets. Oman needs Gulf Air, at least for the time being. According to Ziad Al Haremi, Oman air can't find planes in the market, not even on lease. They signed a letter of intent with Airbus to buy 5 A330-200s which will not be delivered before 2009. Until then, without Gulf Air to serve Oman's travellers to destinations which Oman Air doesn't currently serve, we would be relegated to having no direct flights anywhere.

The silver lining is that the Omani government is finally showing a commitment to Oman Air. They are putting their money where their mouth is and Oman Air is finally in the hands of a management that has pride in their work. They are talking about aligning the company's strategy with the government's tourism strategy. They are hiring consultants to rebrand the airline. Maybe they can finally come up with an airline that Oman can be proud of.

Post script: I found this interesting article from 2003, Conflict of interest at Oman Air, which starts with:
"The Muscat government has worked hard to rebuild Gulf Air. Meanwhile, it has run its own national carrier into the ground".

Monday, March 12, 2007

Too much information

SP_A0060.jpg

They say that knowledge is a double-edged sword, and here's a case to prove it. Rents in Oman have been going through the sky for the past six months and the situation is now heading out of control. In the past month people have been getting notices from landlords increasing rents by unheard of amounts, and with immediate effect as well. I know people whose rent has doubled overnight. A lot of expatriates have been complaining to the press about this, and TheWeek decided to take up their cause. We all know that increases are capped by a 15% limit, right? Somebody has to stop these greedy landlords from sucking the blood of their tenants. Well TheWeek investigated and it turned out that we're all wrong. The 15% cap is not true. There is no rent increase cap in Oman. Oops.

Guess what, most land lords didn't know that. But now that the information is out, I've heard stories of landlords giving their tenants copies of that TheWeek issue along with their rent increase letters.

How's that for the power of information.