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".