Sunday, September 28, 2008

One big parking lot

View from my office at 2.15pm today. I never seen traffic so bad before in the CBD. It was like this from around 1.45 till 3. It was like the CBD turned into one big parking lot.

This morning my commute to work, which usually takes 25 to 30 minutes, took a whole hour. It's getting really bad in Muscat and there will be no relief in the coming year. The new expressway wont be ready till the end of 2009 and congestion is going to get worse in the coming month as 3 bridges are going to be constructed in the Qurm area in front of Al Harthy Complex and Sultan Center. Also, next year they are planning to convert the major intersections in the CBD and Wadi Al Kabir into underpasses. Traffic is going to get a lot worse before it gets better.

Saturday, September 06, 2008

Magazines now more expensive than paperback books?

The price on the sticker is RO. 6.250. That's just under £10 for a magazine which sells for £3.90 in the UK.

Are magazines flown to us on first class seats on British Airways?

Customer Service: Galfar

Our neighborhood is right on the edge of what will become the Muscat Expressway (previously called the Southern Expressway) which has been under construction by Galfar since 2005 and wont be ready till early 2010. Earlier this summer construction activity increased in our area and there is a constant flow of large tipper trucks carrying gravel and sand rumbling through the area at very high speeds. Due to their weight and speed the road leading into our area, which isn't paved, deteriorated severly and became dustier than it was before. The more trucks that come through on the road, the worse the road got and the more dust and dirt resulted. We can live with the dust. It's temporary till the work ends. But the speed at which the drivers were driving was a risk to the people who live here, and the deteriorating road was damaging our cars. I looked up Galfar's website, and was pleased to find that they had the email addresses of the top management, as well as the office of the vice chairman. I sent an email to the head of the roads and bridges division, head of quality and HSE, and of course CC'd it to office of the vice chairman, Mr P Mohamed Ali.

An excerpt from the email I sent on August 9th:

The drivers rarely wear seat belts. The speed they drive at is extremely dangerous, especially since they are crossing a public road and continuing onto a gravel road. The high speed on the gravel road causes large clouds of dirt and dust throughout the day. Midway through the day, water is sprayed on the road to reduce the dust but that also has the effect of turning the road into a large puddle of mud. The gravel road itself has deteriorated very rapidly because of the weight of these trucks and has now become very rough and bumpy. As residents of the area we have no choice but suffer through the dust and dirt. But now the deteriorating roads are damaging our cars as well.

I am writing to you as a concerned citizen and resident of the area. I appreciate the effort that the government is making to develop Oman, and I am proud that Galfar, a local company, has the responsibility to build the prestigious Muscat Expressway. However, I am concerned for the health and wellbeing of the residents of South Ghoubra, and also your own drivers. I am sure that your company invests a lot into health and safety training for these drivers. You should know that many of them are not following their training. Safe driving does not allow for high speed driving on dirt and gravel roads, especially when driving a huge tipper truck, filled to the brim with sand or gravel. The most basic aspect of safe driving is wearing the seatbelt and many of the drivers don't even do that.

I hope you give serious consideration to the safety practices of your drivers.
There was no response from the company to acknowledge receipt of my email. At first I thought they had simply decided to ignore me, but then on August 16th, I received the following email from the company:

We thank you very much for highlighting the HSE concern to Galfar drivers and the public at large.

Please see the actions initiated to ensure that mistakes done by the drivers are not repeated again.

We would appreciate your continued feedback to further improve our commitment to all stake holders, with particular emphasis to HSE and Environmental aspects.

Enclosed with the email were forwarded copies of the entire chain of forwards and responses from various people within the company, culminating with the following from the Preject HSE Advisor, Mr. Sandeep Nambiar:

Dear Sirs,

The graded road being addressed in this letter refers to the Haul road from backside of Slaughter house (in Bausher) to IC # 07.

This road is being used by other Galfar Heavy & Light Vehicles as well as some Third Party Heavy & Light vehicles.

Reasons for the dust cloud and pot hole formation on these roads were due to:-

  • Irregular sprinkling of water observed due to off-road status of Water Tanker on that section
  • Regular plying of Loaded Heavy Vehicles (Galfar & Third Party) in speed on these graded roads
  • Sprinkling of excess water on the graded road covered with fine dust (generated due to continuous pounding of graded roads under the wheels of Heavy vehicles)
  • Irregular frequency of grading

Action Taken Status to correct the above deficiency

  • The entire section of the road would be periodically graded everyday in the evening and fine dust generated on the road throughout the day would be cleared off
  • Controlled sprinkling of water is be carried out regularly twice a day after grading
  • Awareness Session on Safe Driving was carried out for all the drivers plying on that road in Bausher (attached attendance sheet)
  • Traffic sign boards were installed along the road & at road crossing. (attached photographs)
  • Increased frequency of RSMT (Road Safety Monitoring Team Inspection) on that particular stretch of road is carried out.

In addition continuous monitoring would be carried out to ensure that safe working environment is maintained near our working area.

Not bad, eh?

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Article 61

Six weeks ago, July 19th to be exact, someone with the nickname "boozallen" posted a topic titled Omantel on OmanForum. The post detailed the management restructuring that had occured in Omantel under the recommendations of their consultants, Booz Allen. The writer claimed that the promotions and appointments were not based on merit, but on the internal politics of the organization. If this was the topics only point, it would still be there on OmanForum for you to read. However, the writer went on to attack Omantel's top management in detail with allegations of nepotism, using their positions for personal gain, accumulating properties and wealth, and so on.

Without knowing the details of Oman's laws, I knew that keeping the topic on the forum would probably expose me personally, as OmanForum's administrator, to responsibility for publishing the article since similar to the case of Ali Al Rasdhi a few years ago, people who were attacked on the Sabla complained to the Public Prosecutor and the PA held the site's owner responsible.
I took a quick decision and deleted the article in full. By the morning of the 20th of July, the article had been copied on other forums, most importantly Sablat Oman (

Last night I read on the Sabla that the public prosecutor's office had called in Ali Al Zuwaidi (known online as Bin Daris), the moderator of the Sabla's politics and economy forum, for investigation charging him with responsibility under Article 61 of the Telecommunication law (
قانون الاتصالات) which makes website owners as well as moderators and administrators of forums responsible for the content published by their users. It's not clear if he's being charged or if it is really for this particular topic, although everyone assumes that it is. I would assume that if it is for the Omantel topic, then it would be because of a complaint by the company or it's CEO to the Public Prosecutor alleging slander or defamation. I am not a legal expert, I hope Blue-Chi can tell us more about the law, and whether the Public Prosecutor can begin such an investigation without the person being defamed's own complaint.

Regardless of the technicalities, I have dodged a bullet. I think I was right to delete the topic. If the article was entirely about facts, I would have allowed it. Instead, it was full of direct attacks on individuals accusing them of gross misconduct without giving any facts to support the allegations. If I had kept the topic, would I have been under investigation as well? I'm not sure. I believe that English forums and blogs aren't given importance and don't come under scrutiny like those which are in Arabic. Having said that, I wouldn't want to be the test case.

We need to know more about the law. That's for sure.