Saturday, May 31, 2008

Its official. Omanis are even fatter than Americans

For those of you who think I was being a bit harsh earlier, here’s some facts. Plus, I feel I should correct a popular myth that it’s the Americans who are the real global fatties. This should be a wake-up call Oman: in 2000 you were even more obese than the Americans.
And lets face it – you aren’t getting any thinner since then are you?

In 2000, a study examined the proportion of overweight and obese adults in Omani citizens: In men it was 48.8%, women 51.1%. In 1991 it was 39.3% and 54.6%.
The average percentage of officially obese adults (BMI>30) in Oman in 2000 was 20.2%, even more than the US, which in 1999 was 18.9%.
Its official folks. On average you’re got more obese people than Americans. And a larger proportion of Omani women are overweight or obese than American women.
Wow. That’s some performance. Well done Pizza Hut, Hardies, McDonalds, KFC, curry dripping in Ghee, shwarma, ice cream, etc etc etc.

This is a problem. Its not even just the asthetics and the diabetes, but add increased risk of heart problems, and kidney failure. And if you’re really fat, they can’t transplant a kidney at all. Plus, you have a set of genes that make you more likely to get diabetes in the first place.

For those interested with the diabetes link, its not just about being generally fat (‘big boned’), but especially bad is being fat around the gut, the so-called waist circumference or waist-hip ratio. I think these statistics speak for themselves.
The medics report. Body fat distribution and the risk of non-insulin-dependent diabetes mellitus in the Omani population
Here’s a link to a nice paper published in the Eastern Mediterranean Health Journal, Volume 5, Issue 1, 1999, Page 14-20, by D.H. Al-Asfoor, J.A. Al-Lawati and A.J. Mohammed showing how likely you are to have diabetes if your Omani by Body mass Index and waist circumference.

Body Mass Index Overweight = BMI >25, Obese BMI>30
USA data
US 1999:
Overweight + Obese 59.4% for men, 50.7% for women and 54.9% overallObesity: overall average 18.9%

Oman data
Oman 2000:
In the year 2000, the age adjusted prevalence of obesity reached 16.7% in men, compared to 10.5% in 1991. In women, the prevalence was 23.8% in 2000, compared to 25.1% in 1991. Similarly, the prevalence of overweight increased among men, from 28.8-32.1% and decreased among women, from 29.5-27.3%.

Oman - a nation of fat diabetics eating sugar & junk food?

A bit of a rant today. It always makes me feel sad when I see the contents of some of the baskets at the supermarket check out in Oman. Piled high with fake fruit drinks (you know the sort - mostly refined sugar and citric acid and not much fruit), fizzy drinks (1 cup of sugar in a can of coke), long-lasting sponge cakes (refined flour, sugar and fat), bags and bags of potato chips (starch, salt and ~40% fat), white rice, white flour, white bread, cheap pasta, corn oil. You’ll see these great kids, all bouncing around, begging for whatever extra sugary-crap they have at the checkout, while their parents are, lets say, packing more than a few spare pounds. And I'm sure a lot of the purchasing is well meaning, but just based on a serious lack of knowledge about how to eat well.

Diabetes is a huge problem in Oman. Reportedly around 15% of the adult population, and growing. (for comparison, the rate in Europe is half that). The reason is pretty simple – Omanis generally eat too much crap, don’t exercise enough, and too many adults are, lets face it, FAT. FAT FAT FAT. Its fortunate the national dress of Oman isn’t based on spandex and lycra I can tell you.

As body-mass index increases, the risk of diabetes rises exponentially. We can talk about ‘genetic predisposition’ but that often strikes me as a convenient excuse to avoid placing the blame where it belongs: our choices of life-style, diet and exercise. Instead of glowing PR when yet another fast food franchise opens in Oman, or when Pizza hut figures out how to get even more cheese down out throats, we should be complaining at yet another attempt to subvert the diets of our children. For a country with an acknowledged problem of diabetes, there seems to be more sugar consumed here than anywhere I’ve ever lived.

The Government should be doing a lot more to encourage healthier diets: fresh vegetables and fruit, whole grains (brown rice, whole wheat flours), skinless chicken and fish (not cooked to death either), olive and canola oil rather than corn and sunflower oils, and pure fruit juices. Hell, why not tax sugar and junk food?

But it’s not just Oman that continues to promote food that is bad for health. Here a story about Qatar too that mirrors what’s going on here. (and from the UAE based Gulf News – the Dragon’s preferred source of news about Oman!) Qataris on a fast track to serious health problems
Qataris on a fast track to serious health problems
Published: May 30
Doha: With the increasing popularity of fast food outlets among Qatari and expatriate residents, health officials have expressed concern about the long-term impact of junk food consumption on public health.

Since the first fast food outlet opened in 1995, at least 27 international fast food chains have set up hundreds of eateries across Qatar, changing the population's eating habits for good. The result is catastrophic, experts have warned, with diabetes spreading like wildfire among adults and children in Qatar.

"Obesity is the major risk factor leading to diabetes and the modern fast food culture is an important factor behind the increasing number of overweight children and adults all over the world.

"Unfortunately, governments and policy makers do not take the issue with the seriousness it deserves," said Samad Shar'a, honorary president of the International Diabetes Federation, during a recent visit to Doha.

Shar'a called for a total ban of junk food at least in school cafeterias, to protect youngsters from diabetes, a life-long condition that affects many in the Gulf. According to the World Health Organisation the prevalence of diabetes is 15 to 20 per cent in the Gulf region, against 8 to 11 per cent in South East Asian countries.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

The Dark Castle

Has anyone noticed the huge new fortress being built on a high mesa above Muscat? (I had wanted to have a picture to show you, but will organise that later).

If you stand on the hills of Qurm and look across to the mountains, there it is. Huge. Nice view. Sort of in the style of a fort.

Word has it that its a big new Omani Military headquarters. Sort of an Omani Pentagon if you will. Mostly admin, plus central command of Omani Special forces.

Heard of some people walking a dog up there (....hmm shades of James Bond with that excuse tho', don't you think?). They were shoo'd away by the boys in camoflage and armed.

Strange that it hasn't been in the papers, but I can't wait to be able to check it out with Google Earth! If anyone already has a photo of the Dark Castle, please email it to me and I'll put it up. It really is big, if you hadn't already noticed.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Tourism Enriches! And Gay Tours of Oman

More fun observations for you, on today's theme, Tourism.

Indeed, Oman is moving up in the world of Tourist destinations, its official! As lauded in the simply brilliant Times Of Oman Oman a fast growing travel and tourism economy.
Tuesday, May 27, 2008 11:31:02 PM Oman Time
MUSCAT — Usama bin Karim Al Haremi, head of corporate communications and media of Oman Air notified that the two important reports have been issued discussing important developments within world tourism, and the status of each country in this regard.

The first report was issued by the World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC), where the second research was conducted by the World Economic Forum (WEF). According to the latest World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC) report ‘The 2008 travel and tourism economic research on Oman’, Al Haremi pointed out that Oman being a fast growing travel and tourism economy as per the report.

Oman’s travel and tourism should grow from 9.8 per cent (RO1,678.6m) to 11.1 per cent (RO2,265.4m) in this same period.

Yes, the tourism business is great, offering employment and investment opportunities while making the most of the almost endless beaches and vibrant culture of the Sultanate. Tourism also is known globally for mixing quaint and pristine native cultures with the more sophisticated social mores of the international jet set. This is going to present a challenge for Oman in the medium term. Skimpy bikinis and even topless bathing are now a far from unusual sight in the 4 and 5 star resorts in Oman. And who hasn't seen the tourists in their tight mini-shorts and sleeveless tops wandering around the Souk or Sabco Centre.

And so it progresses, with the simply darling company
Man Around Travel
now offering organized holidays to Oman especially for Gay Men…

It sounds like a nicely organised tour, including Turtles, Wahiba sands, Wadi Shab, Tiwi, Nizwa, Jebel Akhdar, Al Sawadi Beach, the Souk (pashmina, pashmina… sir?) and crowned with, of course, a visit to the Amouage factory. I wonder who the local tour guide company is?

I presume it’s a question of ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ at the hotels, because if unmarried men and women can check into The Chedi and Barr Al jissa (as they can), what can possibly be wrong with 2 male ‘friends’ sharing a room. I wonder if the king size bed is offered as an option…

Tourism Enriches indeed.

Note: Comments may be edited from this post in line with the law and at the whim of the dragon …

A snapshot of the itinery
Day 2
arrival Muscat
Arrival at Muscat airport, meet/greet by local guide, transfer to the hotel. Time to rest or to enjoy Qantab Beach (just a few minutes by taxi). Overnight at Ramada Hotel ****, Muscat

Day 3
Muscat (B)
The Omani capital Muscat is tidy, clean and most of it modern, nevertheless it is very oriental! We will start by visiting its most recent landmark, the impressive new Sultan Qaboos Mosque. Then Natural History Museum, Oil Museum. Picknick at Qantab Beach. Afternoon tea at the world famous Bustan palace Hotel. On the way to Matrah, the most traditional quarter of Muscat, we will stop near the Forts of Jilali and Mirani and some ministries (all from outside only). Time to shop at lively souq (bazaar) of Matrah, an excellent place for example to buy a typical Omani dagger. Overnight at Ramada Hotel ****, Muscat

Maybe another storm - again

OK team. Sorry to bore you on Gonu II, Son of Gonu, but its a pretty important issue.

A contributor sent me a link to this great site of a major weather geek in the US: The International Weather Blog. This guy is into weather forecasting and numerical modeling in a big way. Cool. Check out the photo. He's the geek from central casting, which appeals to my stereotypical bias. Somehow I trust him more than if the picture was a gorgeous blond or an old white guy with a suit and executive hair.

He was very dismissive of the original UK based 'cyclone on the 29th' model prediction that scared everyone last week. But now he says that several numerical models are starting to predict conditions appropriate for generation of a tropical storm at least just around the time of the anniversary of Gonu, or a week later. Really. As Andy says today (last sentence best):
...Numerical forecast models are showing high pressure locking in aloft over Arabia to Iran. This is allowing for an area of "weakness" (relatively low pressure aloft) over the Arabian Sea. Broadly at least, this is in keeping with seasonal shifts. For one thing, it means that the train of easterly waves that will be watched by Atlantic hurricane forecasters can begin its seasonal trek across Africa from Ethiopia to Senegal. And it also can become the site of tropical cyclone formation.

The GFS, as of 1200 UTC, now shows a low within 72 hours west of Maldives. This could become a tropical depression, if not tropical cyclone. And the scenario shows a cyclonic whirl spinning in a slow wander over the Arabian Sea into the second week of June.

Now, for a look at the ECMWF forecast scenario. Here is the 240 hour forecast (based upon 1200 UTC Tuesday) of surface pressure and 850-mb wind speed valid 1200 UTC, Friday, June 6. We are right back where we were at about this time last week: a major tropical cyclone east of Oman. I have little to say objectively to this; however, subjectively, I believe that it is overwrought once again. Just the same, I do believe that things are fairly favorable for a tropical depression, if not moderate tropical cyclone, to arise over the Arabian Sea within the next one to two weeks.

So, if you've been working on your emergency preparedness list and fighting little old ladies for the last of the bottled water in your local supermarket this week - well done!

I'll keep you posted.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

No its still not a cyclone.

The lack of water in the Omani supermarkets is testament to the fear of another Gonu II. And, hey, I stocked up on water too last week. Not because of a cyclone. Because I don't want to run out of bottled water when everyone ran out and bought it.

Some of you will be thinking: OK, you think you're so smart Mr Dragon, is it then just co-incidence that right now, its raining in Salalah!!!!!

Yes. The rain is because there was a small storm that's drifted in from offshore Yemen. You can see it on the sat pic. This is not a tropical cyclone. And, hey, its Salalah. They often catch a piece of one of the chain of monsoon storms constantly rolling across the Indian Ocean from the NE tip of Africa across to India at this time of the year. You can see them beautifully on the Infrared satellite here.

The Muscat area, and the area that generated Gonu last year, is still totally clear of anything remotely looking like a cyclone.

Although, now the UK peaple who mis-predicted a possible cyclone are now apparently predicting another one. Hmmm. Maybe they'd notice the first one didn't appear. And maybe their model needs correcting???

If Gonu II does appear, you'll have at least 2-3 days warning people.

Ministry warns of open season on Tourists and Expats

Here’s an announcement I didn’t see in the newspapers, funnly enough, about how its no longer OK to go wadi bashing just anywhere in this beautiful country.

"the ministry [of tourism] again calls upon all tourism agencies and hotel establishments in Oman to ensure that tourists are informed of any sites where photography is prohibited. Moreover, these tourism companies must not organize tours and activities near restricted border areas, oil establishments or other sensitive sites."

Helpfully the Ministry don’t really specify where these sites are, or how far from the border constitutes sensitive. Great.

I heard of some Expat off-road motorcycle enthusiasts who were out enjoying the winter weather a few months ago near Lekhwair, at least 10km from the border with Saudi and well away from any oil installations. As they were going merrily along, unbeknown to the riders the Oman Army were hot on their trail and actually opened fire on them with automatic weapons, narrowly missing one rider but hitting the bike’s engine. They were then all arrested. It seems the Army lads were a bit frustrated they couldn’t catch up with them, and so opened fire!

So, just be careful out there. It seems the army, and the Oil & Gas Installation Protection Squad (a paramilitary unit of the ROP) have got beefed up instructions, and shooting a few innocent citizens is an acceptable price to pay. Whether this relates to a specific increase in terrorist threats or is just a better safe than sorry approach, I don’t know.

But don't take them lightly. They will shoot, and may kill you. Or in beautiful example of Omani symantic PC language, cause 'unnecessary complications'.

PDO announced this gem in a warning to their staff:
These instructions are also applicable to those who travel off-road in Oman without tourist guides or tourist agents. We have had reported incidents, which resulted in unnecessary complications, mainly because staff were not fully aware of these instructions. Non-compliance could result in exposure to injury or arrest.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Gonu II fears continue to boost water sales

Well, I guess the Met Office could do to improve its communications with the ordinary citizens. Supermarkets again today are seeing huge demand for bottled water and Pharmacies for medicines as people stock up in expectation of a storm. As I've said, that's probably not a bad idea generally. People are rightly worried, and most I guess can't watch the sat picture for themselves via the net. As of now there is no sign at all of anything on the sat pic. But a decent front page story giving the reasons why the met office can be so confident might help the less sophisticated members of society to avoid listening to the astrologers and other wackos.

Just remember if you are taking the time to build an emergency kit (see earlier post) to regularly replace expired items (like water and food). A lot of the key long term stuff you can put in plastic zip lock bags or labled garbage bags and pack into a large plastic bin with a lid, and keep it in a store room safe for when you might need it. Print off a list of the other items so you can run through a check list and not forget anything at the last minute.

Todays story in Times of Oman: Relief as Met office allays fears of cyclone
Sunday, May 25, 2008 1:15:38 AM Oman Time
MUSCAT — The Directorate-General of Meteorology and Air Navigation has reassured residents of Oman that there is no weather event of significance that could affect the Sultanate on May 27, as was reported by some local newspapers last week.

The Directorate-General has also said that it is constantly monitoring weather activities over the Arabian Sea using satellite imagery, numerical weather products and observation data.

The Dubai Meteorological Office is also not forecasting a tropical storm for the region and forecasters say they have not received any advisory from the Joint Typhoon Warning Centre which monitors the world’s oceans for such events.

“We have been seeing some unsettled weather in Socotra Island in southeast of Yemen. There’s some cloud and thunderstorms there which could be triggering the other warning, but nothing we would recognise as a tropical storm,” a forecaster said.

However, the Met office would be “keeping an eye on developments”, he added.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Government stepping up anti-corruption?

I missed this story (see below) last week on a ‘reliable Government source’ reportedly saying the Government is going to do more about corruption. Apparently.

What I was curious about is when have the media in Oman ever ‘tackled such issues’? I almost spilt my coffee in mirth. And why was this not an official announcement?

Speaking of corruption, a little bird told me a story about the land being used to build those big new apartments and shops next the motorway in Shatti, just near to the Intercon (they’re the ones with the Blue tinted windows). Apparently a Senior Government official in the Diwan took photos of the area, and then requested that HM give him the land as clearly nothing was being done with it. HM acquiesced, being a generous guy, and hey presto, the man was suddenly the owner of some pretty prime real estate in downtown Shatti. Of course, the reason the land was vacant was in case it was needed to expand the motorway sometime in the far future. Knowing that that little factoid might come to light, once title to the land was obtained the official almost immediately sold it to the developers, in exchange for a promise of future payment once the development was sold. In that way, the land could not be taken back. Smooth.

Apparently it’s common practice for Ministers and other senior Government officials to approach HM with photos of ‘unused land’ and a request that it be given to them. Of course, it helps if you know which pieces of land are subject to plans already, and which ones aren’t.

Now, where’s my camera…????
Government to take corruption head-on
By Mohammed Al Balushi
Monday, May 12, 2008 16:47 Oman Time
MUSCAT : The government will strengthen its efforts to further check corruption, which has become an international phenomenon, and which of late, has started giving tough times to the governments world over, said a reliable official source here yesterday.

Governments worldwide are devising their own plans and mechanisms to confront this social evil.

The Sultanate, like other countries, was subject to this phenomenon, the source said, adding that all institutions in the Sultanate, at all levels, would strengthen their mechanisms to monitor and confront this evil practice. Each and every official would be made accountable where corruption and such other malpractices are concerned according to the prevailing laws.

In the past, the government had focused on setting up infrastructure projects and had worked towards ensuring essential services to the citizens on a priority basis.

This naturally necessitated in shifting to the second stage, further strengthening the state institutions, said the source, adding that in the current phase, along with continuing to establish infrastructure projects, the government would also confront corruption as part of the nation’s domestic agenda.

Making the public aware of such issues was one of the fruits of the blessed Renaissance era, the source added.

It also hailed the role of the media in tackling such issues, and other issues of concern to the citizens and the residents.

Officials misusing their positions for personal benefits was unacceptable and each official should discharge his/her duties in the interest of the nation and safeguard public interest, the source added.

Finally, in another classic of shameless self promotion by Essa bin Mohammed Al Zedjali, editor-in-chief of Times of Oman, this gem from the always insightful Times Of Oman
Editor-in-chief of ‘Times’ off to attend launch of Arab-Korean Organisation
Times News Service
Saturday, May 24, 2008 1:03:34 AM Oman Time
MUSCAT — Essa bin Mohammed Al Zedjali, editor-in-chief of Times of Oman, left for Seoul yesterday to attend the launch of the Arab-Korean Organisation, scheduled for Monday. The visit is taking place on the invitation of the Korean government.

The launch is scheduled as part of an international conference to be held in the South Korean capital for this purpose.

The organisation, an initiative of the Korean Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade, is aimed at creating future partnership with the Middle East region, which is currently seeing unprecedented development and prosperity.

The organisation is expected to help strengthen further the understanding between the peoples of Korea and the Arab countries.

So, the Editor in chief of the Times is off to Seoul on a jolly hosted by the Koreans(and presumeably paid for as well). Does anyone care? Will we be seeing quid pro quo articles in praise of the Koreans in the Times? Let's see!

Omani Cyclone Emergency kit

A suggested Omani Household Cyclone Emergency Kit. Please add any suggestions for things I’ve missed by posting a comment!

OK, everyone is still worried about a cyclone. Apparently bread was out of stock yesterday, and certainly the supermarkets were doing an especially busy day. To help you prepare for the yet to actually appear cyclone, here’s a list of things you’ll need to be self sufficient for a week. It’ll also be useful if Oman has a big earthquake too, or just the usual big rain spell… Hopefully the list will remind you of things you’d otherwise forget.

Emergency List
Drinking water (at least 8 litres per person per day for a week)
Canned food, rice, coffee and sugar
Some fresh bread and vegatables
Can opener!
UHT milk (small packets)
Baby formula and pet food if required
Portable stove & spare gas
Basic pans, cooking utensils and cutlery
Disposable aluminium containers
Garbage bags
Torches and lots of spare batteries
First aid kit & any regular medication (insulin!), multi-vitamins
Toiletries - include toilet paper, nappies, baby wipes and sanitary products)
Water free hand cleaner/disinfectant
Mobile phones, important numbers and some credit recharge cards
Spare mobile phone battery (charged!)
Radio (battery powered, with spare batteries)
Tarpaulin & wadi mat
Buckets, medium sized plastic bags & loo paper (emergency toilet)
Bucket and dish soap
Masking tape/duct tape (for X on windows, and emergency repairs MacGyver-style)
Jerry can petrol (plus move cars, filly gassed up, to higher ground)
Sandbags (put one sandbag into every downstairs toilet to stop reflux of sewage into your house!)
Your lap top computers, CD/DVD backups of anything important
Important documentation in zip-loc plastic bags, incl. mokia, passports, ID cards, credit cards, insurance paperwork and premiums which have been PAID, recent bank statements)
House keys and car keys
Some cash, in small bills, in zip-loc bag
A few soft carry bags & some rugged Spare clothes, esp underwear & socks,
Solid shoes
Pack of playing cards, tennis ball, copy of War & Peace.
Cigarettes, beer, whiskey and gin & tonic (ensure you have at least twice as much of these as you think you’ll need. Remember, they’ll probably be nothing else to do except smoke and drink all day)
Bottle of Clorox (a couple of drops in a litre of water sterilizes it after 10 min)

Secure family photo albums and any valuables in a big water-tight container.
Fill baths with water the day before. Make sure house water tank is full too.
If windy, tape windows in a big X and keep curtains closed.
Don’t go outside.
Secure pets.
Secure loose objects outside (like garden furniture)

Get squeegees and some flat bladed shovels for the clean-up afterwards!

Rent Control finally enshrined as a Royal Decree

Well, it looks like someone with more than half a brain has finally thought about the problem of hyperinfating rents in Muscat, how to control those rents, and has considered some of the obvious side-effects. Another good thing is its been done as a Royal Decree, and is therefore Law, rather than the previous ad-hoc 15% statement from the Council of Ministers which was more of a polite request.

HM released a decree yesterday (unusually, a Friday) that caps rents for 3 years to a 7% rise, makes lease contracts for residential dwellings effectively 4 years, and (finally) explicitly tries to control the previous ‘work-arounds’ landlords were using to evict tenants and then re-lease after a 50% or more hike, such evicting ‘for a relative’ to use the house, for ‘renovations’, or even selling the house to a relative, and then repurchasing once the tenants were gone. See the story in The Oman Tribune here.

Of course, there will be side-effects to this new decree too. Firstly, the prices of houses and especially land should drop a bit, but that’s probably a good thing. Secondly, there will now be 2 types of leases, those that are effectively rent-controlled by being under a lease before 23 May and those that are not (for example a newly built house). So, I’d expect new leases post 23rd May to be very expensive, but if you’ve just signed a lease with increased rent, lucky lucky you, it looks like you’re in great shape for ~3 years.

The more nasty side effects will be present, as anywhere with controlled rents. There will a huge (and growing) temptation for landlords to use threats to force tenants out, to cease doing any maintenance, or perhaps even to cut off power and water or other such tricks. We’ll see. Hopefully the decree status will encourage the press to publish reports of any such miscreant landlords.

Next post will be a suggested cyclone emergency kit for Oman.

Amendments in rent law to ensure stability
MUSCAT HE Sheikh Saif Bin Mohammed Bin Saif Al Shabibi, Minister of Housing and Chairman of the committee formed by the Council of Ministers to devise a mechanism to address the problem of rising rents, said in a statement to ONA that the issue has been one of the main concerns of His Majesty Sultan Qaboos Bin Said.

Shabibi said the new amendments introduced by the Royal Decree No.72/2008 aim at preserving the contractual relationship between the landlords and the tenants and also maintaining the interest of both parties.

He said the ministerial committee has taken into consideration the various social and economic aspects while drafting the amendments to ensure stability in contractual relations. The provisions of the Royal Decree are applicable to both existing and future tenancy contracts, he added.

According to the new amendments, the landlord does not have the right to raise the rents of residential, commercial and industrial units before three years from the date of the lease contract or from the last increase introduced in these contracts. The increase, when eligible, should not be more than 7 per cent of the annual rate shown in the contract. The landlord also does not have the right to request the eviction of tenants of residential units before four years from the date of lease contract and seven years in case of commercial and industrial units.

In case, the landlord wishes not to renew the lease contract, he should notify the tenant at lease three months before the expiry of the lease contract. The lease contracts will remain valid until the expiry date and will be automatically renewed during the period at which the landlord is not entitled to request eviction of the tenants.

The landlord has the right to request eviction in the following cases:
-If the unit is utilised for purposes other than those specified in the lease contract or in violation of laws, which includes those on public morality.
-If the tenant subleased the unit or assigned it to a third party without getting prior approval from the landlord except in cases of the commercial and industrial units which is included in the lease contract.
-If the landlord wishes to operate the unit himself or by any of his close relatives who do not have vacant units, provided the tenant is given a six month notice period. If the same unit is not utilised within three months from the date of eviction, the tenant may be reinstated.


Wednesday, May 21, 2008

The Panic Begins - Gonu II?

As if the rumours of a second Gonu weren't enough, and totally expected, the Brits have weighed in saying their computer models do predict a cyclone on May 29th.
Maybe. But that they don't make predictions for ordinary people, and we should ask Oman, ie DGCAM. This has got the nation into a rumour frenzy today.
The current satellite pics, and the typhoon warning centre show nothing right now. The official version from the Government scotching the rumour, and with the Brits changing their statement, is at the bottom here.

Dragon's advice: Keep checking the excellent (and free - thanks America!) US Navy Typhoon Warning site here and the infrared sat here.

And don't panic.

But as lots of other people ARE going to panic, you may want to buy some cases of water now. You can always drink it later. And you all already have a storm kit anyhow, right? With batteries, torches, a spare charged mobile phone battery, some emergency food, etc? And an evacuation plan.

But it begs the question: how usual does weather have to be to cease being unusual?...
Gulf News
Weather bureau warns of repeat of Cyclone Gonu in Oman
By Sunil K. Vaidya, Bureau Chief
Last updated: May 20, 2008, 18:01

Muscat: Less than a year after Cyclone Gonu devastated the coast of Oman, a UK-based international weather bureau has predicted that another tropical storm could hit Oman and Yemen at the end of May. This time the forecast of landfall of the cyclone is on May 29 around Oman/Yemen coast.

A senior official at the Directorate General of Meteorology and Air Navigation (DGMAN) confirmed that they have initial reports about the possibility of a storm.
“We are in preparedness,” Badr Al Rumhi of DGMAN told Gulf News on Tuesday. He, however, did not elaborate.

According to the European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts (ECMWF), the onset phase of this year’s monsoon could feature a cyclone in the west Arabian Sea.

However, when contacted in London, Manfred Kloeppel, Assistant to Director, ECMWF, said: “We do not issue any warnings ourselves to any states in the world but make our products available in particular to our Member and Co-operating States.” Kloeppel further added that the forecast last Monday (May 19) showed a system developing and hitting Oman on 28 May. “This not so prominent in Tuesday’s forecast,” he added. He also clarified that ECMWF do not forecast a cyclone to hit the Gulf states, although "there clearly is still some potential for this to happen."

He added that the message from the forecast was that such a development might happen, but one must wait and see what happens in the next forecasts, a task, he stressed, was with the National Meteorological Services.

The forecast states that “the system is forecast to develop in the west central Arabian Sea and is expected to make a landfall over the Yemen/Oman coast around May 29.” It further states that the timing of the ‘cyclogenesis’ (birth of a cyclone) and the path for onward movement would resemble those of tropical Cyclone Gonu, which killed 48 people when it struck Oman on June 6 last year.

The only redeeming feature, according to ECMWF, would be that this time the storm would be comparatively at a reduced strength...

The meteorology office (DGCAM)- the only official weather information source in Oman - has of course dispelled the rumour, as they claim that an accurate forecast could be provided only 78 hours in advance. "Citizens are urged not to believe in rumours, unconfirmed stories and create panic situations" Times of Oman
MUSCAT — The European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecasting (ECMWF) has withdrawn the cyclone watch in the Arabian Sea apparently in the face of invading westerly systems sweeping the northern fringes of the basin one after the other.

The cyclone watch put out on Monday had depicted a system of moderate strength making a landfall over Oman/Yemen around May 29.

But the latest seven-day forecasts valid from yesterday did not indicate any significant weather event for the region.

The Times of Oman office was flooded with phone calls after a television station based in India reported a possibility of a cyclone in the west Arabian Sea, with the ECMWF expecting a yet-to-be-born rogue circulation to spin up to class-matching strength. When we contacted an official at the Directorate-General of Civil Aviation and Meteorology, he ruled out any possibility at this juncture and added that an accurate forecast could be provided only 78 hours in advance. He also urged the citizens not to believe in rumours, unconfirmed stories and create panic situations.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Anniversary of cyclone Gonu vs Myanmar

The current situation in Myanmar is proving to be an interesting ‘compare and contrast’ exercise with Oman’s recent cyclone Gonu.

Nowadays the cyclone is only referred to by the media within Oman by the semantic phrases ‘unusual weather conditions’ or ‘last year’s adverse weather conditions’. [For examples, see a recent article in the Pulitzer prize-winning Times of Oman, or the incisive Oman Tribune.] Presumably this re-writing of history is so as not to frighten the tourists and avoid an increase in the insurance premiums of the Wave, Yeti, Sifa or the countless other ocean front developments (all of which could get hit really hard by another tropical cyclone, should one appear).

The 1 year anniversary of tropical cyclone Gonu, for that is what it was, will be on June 6th. Will the anniversary be ignored, or used to remind everyone how absolutely fantastic all the Government’s emergency response efforts were, with some parades and more medals for the great and the good? As far as I know, officially only 49 people died. While rumours abound that the actual number killed or never found was more than a thousand.

Or will the date be used to highlight the current state of recovery in Quriyat and Sur, Tiwi and Wadi Shams, Ras Al Had? And the lack of any significant improvement to the storm drainage of the capital?

Interesting though, how when Oman refuses immediate emergency aid from other countries after a cyclone [oops, I meant to say unusual weather] it's naturally a good thing, done only to test the countries true emergency response capability (which of course they passed with flying colours. Nothing could have been done better or faster, and no outside help was needed). This was effectively clarified in the interview His Majesty gave recently.

But when Myanmar refuses immediate emergency aid from other countries after a cyclone, everyone seems to agree they are a country being run by arrogant dictatorial idiots needlessly exposing innocent people to further depravation...


I sincerely hope another Gonu does not spoil the party this summer. The country seems just as unprepared as it was before, with no significant improvements to critical infrastructure or drainage. Oh, I forgot, we have built a lot more buildings in the Wadis of Qurm and Seeb though, so that'll be great…

Monday, May 19, 2008

Oman's useless newspapers and the even crappier food we eat

Generally, Oman is served by really, really bad newspapers. The only thing that generally comes close to analysis is carping about the Israelis and the Americans in the vein of 'its not the fault of the Arabs' I don't read Arabic unfortunately, but my Omani friends assure me theArabic ones are also total crap too.

Of all the Omani newspapers, Oman Tribute is definitely the one that occasionally dares to carry stories (like this one below) that point out when the spin of the Government is at odds with the facts.

We need a LOT more of this. Second paper would have to be The Observer, tremendously anti-West it may be. The Times of Oman is almost completely useless, and so far up the establishment’s butt as to be effectively just a propaganda piece for whoever the self-obsessed Editor Essa bin Mohammed Al Zedjali wants to suck up to. See here for a classic opinion piece on how fantastic the Ministry of Commerce and Industry is.

Tribune Monday 19th
Acute water shortage hits Nizwa
NIZWA Belying the tall claims made by authorities of supplying sufficient quantity of water to the Wilayat of Nizwa, residents are still facing acute water shortage.

Moreover, many wells and Aflaj, which were source of water supply to the locals, have dried up due to intense summer.

For days and weeks, residents get water from the distribution network only for minutes. They have to go to far-flung areas in search of water to do their household work.

The rich can pay the price of water from tankers but the poor cannot and hence suffer a lot due to water shortage as one gallon of water is being sold at RO1.700. The price of water increases further in the interiors if the road to the area is not approachable.

The wilayat was allocated 600,000 gallons of water. But the residents say that the quantity allocated is not enough for the people of the wilayat to meet their day-today household needs.

Oman rated a good betIn other news, thanks to the tremendous boost in oil revenues these past few years enabling Oman to climb out of the debt hole it got into in the late 90s, Oman is also looking good on the financial rating of its Sovereign bonds, effectively the country’s credit rating, scoring an A and putting Oman in the same basket as countries like the UAE, Qatar, Australia and New Zealand, to name a few. You see the whole list here:

And finally under the ‘Last Things Oman Needs More of’ section, another international purveyor of crap food is launching in Oman. Great. Again, it shows how Oman's reporters and editors are so lazy and desperate for cheap copy that they'll print any PR release verbatim.Oman Observer report.
By A Staff Reporter
MUSCAT — Dunkin’ Donuts, one of the world’s largest quick service restaurant companies, continues its rapid expansion and has announced its imminent launch of operations in Oman. Matrah Cold Stores LLC in partnership with the UAE franchisee have formed a joint venture company to manage the Dunkin Donuts brand in Oman. The initial outlets for Dunkin’ Donuts will open in Madinat al Sultan Qaboos, Ghala and at Shatti Cinema. David Rodgers, General Manager of Dunkin Donuts, UAE, said: “Due to the international popularity of the brand and the consumer demands of the rapidly changing environment in Oman, we are excited to have a presence here in the Sultanate, and feel that by partnering with MCS we are arriving in Oman at an excellent time and with MCS’s proven record in Oman we will be able to provide to customers an outstanding brand experience”. The launch has been confirmed for late May with the Dunkin Donuts being produced twice a day in the new purpose built and equipped kitchen in Wadi Kabir that will serve the shops to be established in the Muscat area.

Khalid Dalaty, Operations Manager for Dunkin Donuts Oman, said: “Having experienced a successful recent expansion within the UAE, we are sure Oman will enjoy the presence of Dunkin’ Donuts. News of our entry into Oman has been met with keen interest and we are delighted to offer Omani customers the very same service and quality that Dunkin’ Donuts is renowned for across the world.” Fans of the fast food restaurant chain will find its pleasantly styled and practically designed outlets globally, including in the Philippines, Indonesia, South Korea, Germany, Spain, Greece, Turkey, the UAE, and the United States. Worldwide, the quick service restaurant company recorded sales of over $4.7 billion in 2007.

Unusually, the launch of the dazzling new Dunkin’ Donuts business is coupled with an insightful partnership in the sphere of 'On demand medical treatment', a first for the Sultanate. Dunkin’ Donuts’ partner in Oman, International Insulin Corp, will be setting up small clinics specializing in the treatment of Type 2 diabetes directly adjacent to the new stores. ‘This will represent a real breakthrough for Oman’s current diabetics, and the many future ones. Oman is already a huge market for our insulin products and proprietary blood sugar testers, but the potential for massive growth is still here. Our partnership with Dunkin’ Donuts will significantly help to boost demand for diabetic treatment in the Sultanate, because while Oman’s youth represent more than half the population many of them have yet to develop diabetes like their parents. People will be able to feast to their pancreas’ content on refined starch, sugar and fat, and then obtain an instant boost of much needed insulin just a few steps away.’

The more observant of my readers may have spotted the last paragraph wasn’t actually printed… I just made that bit up.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

AAJ is back with Oman fullpage ad

Good to see AAJ holding had a full page ad on the back page of the Oman Tribune today, celebrating being awarded a big project in Bahrain. It also mentions their involvement with the 'successful Blue City Project in Oman'. Someone obviously didn't send them the memo that officially its now always referred to as Al Madina A'Zarqa.

Interesting. I wonder if the Times of Oman also took the ad? (given the link between Blue City, Cyclone LLC and the ownership of Times of Oman, the Chairman of Blue City being Anees Issa Al Zadjali). I haven't had time to check the Times today.

I'm still trying to get some more details on what's really happening on this project behind the scenes following the recent court case victory of AAJH. Expect an update next week, it takes time to verify things on the QT.

Of course the official websight has still expunged all mention of AAJH. The list of consultants is long, but of course the Architects now are Foster & Partners, and not AAJ's outfit. But construction of the camp for the workers for phase 1 looks almost complete. So despite the wrangling, at least the project is still moving. Certainly the PR machine is going strong.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Rice and Qatari Gas, plus Some questions for the Majlis

Sorry for the lack of posts for a while – not only have I been super-busy, but also not a lot of news anyhow. So a couple of items on rice and imported gas.

Ministry tries to pretend there is no problem.
World food prices continue to soar, especially rice. But fear not Oman, the Ministry of Commerce and Industry is subsidising rice for the population, so there’s no need to worry. These statements are dutifully reported by the press here, with no actual analysis or questions.

Of course, in the current situation, I’d have to disagree with the official who described hoarding of rice as 'unjustified'. It seems highly justified. When the free market price of something you need increases by 70% in a few weeks, and seems likely to keep rising, buying in bulk seems a pretty good return on capital.

Plus, buying in bulk is what Oman residents have been doing for years. Whenever a nice and perhaps unusual imported item arrives, we Expats always tend to buy shedloads, as usually when you only buy 1 or 2, when you go back to the supermarket it’s missing for months! I can remember last year when the Carrs Cracker ship seemed to be delayed for about 4 or 5 months. The Dragon likes his cheese, and you can’t enjoy cheese without a decent cracker.

So, the country is now subsiding rice, oil, flour, cement and petrol... And nationalizing the cement distribution system. All this micro-economic distortion is very inefficient. Governments are usually pretty crap at the supermarket business and at guessing what people want and need. But the Government also seem unable to increase the wages of the general population. The Government’s rice is, of course, also pretty low quality, surprise surprise. If you want decent rice, its inflated world prices for you.

Ministry allays fears on rice stocks
MUSCAT The Ministry of Commerce and Industry dismissed rumours regarding shortage of rice in the local market.

An official in the ministry told Oman Tribune that the unjustified hoarding of such products would be counter-productive.

He warned the consumer against any such rumours. Rice is available in the market at the prices approved by the authority despite rise in rice prices across the world.

He called upon the consumers to depend on information issued only by the competent authorities.

The authority will ensure the supply of foodstuff to meet day-to-day demand in the market. Rice supply in the local market has been doubled due to high demand in recent days, he said. It is likely that the ministry officials would meet the rice importers after confirming that the prices of the commodity have gone up by 70 per cent in the last three weeks. The ministry would discuss with them the reasons behind the record rise in rice prices.

The ministry officials also made field visits to ensure that the shopkeepers are not manipulating the prices.

Several traders and consumers confirmed that there is big demand for rice due to continuous price rise. It has created instability in the local market, they said. Some of them accused the importers of listing high prices to capitalise on the situation. One trader alleged that the importers are behind artificial price rise as they are hoarding rice to keep the prices high.

Gas Imports delayed
In other news, the importation of gas from Qatar has been delayed by several months as Oman couldn’t get its shit together, according to reports today. Dolphin Energy gas supply to Oman delayed This will not be a significant problem, as Oman has plenty of domestic gas capacity in the short-term. Although at the moment the Government's brand new Kauther Gas plant is down, and has been for weeks with some sort of technical problem, my friends in the Ministry of Oil and Gas tell me Oman’s other fields can easily meet the demand. Of course, while the Kauther plant is down, the Omani Government is losing around $5 million a day from lost condensate production apparently. Ouch.

The article’s author doesn’t understand the problem though. The issue is not capacity (the amount of gas that the system can deliver on a given day), but long term volume. Gas is sold and committed years in advance. So while gas can be pumped today, that’s gas you can’t sell in 15 yrs time. It also means that spare capacity at the LNG plants in Sur can’t be utilized. Hopefully that will change when Iranian gas comes along in 8 years or so. Of course, the lack of gas didn't stop them selling super-cheap gas to the Sohar industries... Now here's a set of questions for the press, or perhaps a brave mmember of the Majlis Al Shura, for the appropriate Ministers:
'Excellencies, can you tell us: (1)at what price is gas being imported from Qatar, (2)what is the volume weighted average price of gas being supplied to The Methanol plants, Aluminium smelter, steel smelter and private cement companies? and (3)what is the profit Oman is losing from not having gas available to use our spare capacity at the LNG plants, taking into account both upstream and downstream profits?'
RAS LAFFAN, Qatar: Abu Dhabi-based Dolphin Energy will begin supplying natural gas to Oman in August or September, a few months later than planned as Oman has yet to complete the infrastructure.

"In August or September we expect the gas to come to Oman," Oman Oil Company chief executive Ahmed Al Wahaibi said at the inauguration of the Dolphin gas plant in Qatar.

The Dolphin project linking Qatar's giant North Field with the UAE and Oman was the first cross-border gas project in the Gulf region. It has pumped around two billion cubic feet a day of gas from Qatar to the UAE since February.

Oman is struggling to meet both domestic demand and its gas export commitments.

Dolphin has a contract to supply 200 million cubic feet a day of gas to Oman.

Omani officials said last month they expected gas supplies from Dolphin to start next month.

"There is some issue with the gas compression," said Al Wahaibi. "It is on our side of the pipeline," he said.

A gas compressing unit compresses gas to ease pumping through the pipeline.

Dolphin general manager Ibrahim Al Ansari said the firm was still working on gas metering stations in the UAE. "The gas is there ... on our side we are ready to export."

Saturday, May 10, 2008

ATM Scammers in Oman, Naughty Syrians, Oman telcom probably bugged by German Intelligence

A few nice stories.

Criminals Scamming ATMs in Oman
First a report has been issued by the British Embassy in Oman yesterday that some pretty sophisticated devices are being used by criminals to scam your ATM card details, after which they clone your card and can empty your account. Here’s a picture of a ‘plate’ used on top of the real ATM keyboard to record your pin. Watch out!
Please be aware of ATM card frauds using skimming devices in ATMs in Muscat. These are of course also found in the UK and many other places. Please find attached a picture of one part of the device. The other element is a plastic card reader added to the machine’s card slot.

Syrians Very Naughty Boys
Remember that mysterious surgical bombing of Syria by Israeli jets last year? And the denials from all sides? The Economist had a great article last week, describing how the Americans have finally released information detailing their evidence that the installation taken out by the Israelis was actually a North Korean designed reactor specifically for producing weapons grade plutonium. It just shows how big brother is watching. The Economist: Oh what a tangled web they weave
The shadowy half-life of Syria's supposedly non-existent nuclear reactor.
“TOTALLY undocumented and untrue”, thundered Syria this week at a meeting in Geneva of the signatories to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). “A fantasy”, fumed Syria's man at the United Nations last week. Since America released photographs taken inside and outside the building that was later bombed without explanation by Israeli jets in early September last year, it has been Syria's denials that have strained credulity. However it is still unclear where exactly the tangled web of intrigue surrounding the discovery that Syria was secretly building a nuclear reactor, in an otherwise deserted canyon east of the Euphrates river, will now lead.

Ironically, the most damning pictures were taken shortly after the Israeli raid. Syria's frantic efforts to destroy what was left of the building, remove tell-tale components and bulldoze earth over the site briefly laid bare its purpose to any passing satellite: construction of a gas-cooled, graphite-moderated nuclear reactor that lacked the power lines and other paraphernalia to hook up to an electricity grid and was ill-suited to research. It was, however, ideal for making plutonium for bombs—and could have produced enough for one or two within a year once it was fuelled up and operating, said the CIA's director, Michael Hayden, this week.

Just as damningly—says the Bush administration—Syria had turned to North Korea to help realise its nuclear ambitions. The almost-completed reactor was a clone of the one North Korea built for itself at Yongbyon, and whose plutonium extracted from the reactor's spent fuel-rods was used.

Germans Bugging Oman for Years?
On a related big brother story, remember how Siemens were busted bribing Telecom Officials around the world to win contracts, including it seems likely, Oman. (That’s in addition to the widely reported – outside Oman naturally - Ericsson bribe of the then Omani Telecommunications Minister see earlier post).

It is reported that Siemens installed sophisticated communication intercept wiretapping equipment for the Oman Government [Hi guys!], and therefore the German Intelligence Agency (the BND) have probably been reading all our emails and texts ever since. Business Week report
The scope of the Siemens affair is staggering and centers on a current estimated €1.3 billion ($2.1 billion) in dubious payments—mostly in bribes to secure business for the company. Indeed, the company is believed to have paid bribes around the world often amounting to between 5 and 10 percent of a deal's value, and in some cases as much as 30 percent.

The Germans had fallen behind in terms of technical innovation and, as a bookkeeper in one division put it, many were convinced bribes were the only way the company could score big contracts abroad. In some divisions, executives became convinced that without bribes it would be impossible to get contracts in many countries, including Vietnam, Thailand, the Arab world and large swaths of Africa, Iran and other states.

Close Ties with Foreign Intelligence Service
The current SPIEGEL report also details Siemens' allegedly close working relationship with the German foreign intelligence service, the BND. Because the company manufactured virtually every type of high tech product, it served as the BND's virtual house supplier for technology—providing wiretap-proof mobile phones as well as reconnaissance tools. The relationship is said to have been extremely important to the BND because it was interested in getting hold of the access codes to wiretapping systems Siemens had sold to countries all around the world, including Russia, Egypt and Oman.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Pornographic Video Games in Oman?

I wonder if Oman will ban the hit video game Grand Theft Auto IV? The just released, adults only, video game does have random acts of extreme violence (like many other games on sale here already) but in addition, some pretty raunchy sex scenes. A lawyer in the US is trying to get the game banned. And that’s in the home of freedom of speech, the USA. You can read the report here.
Thompson sent a copy of the letter to Ars Technica, and his demands are far-reaching. "Indictments should be returned against Take Two corporately and its Chairman, Strauss Zelnick, along with other Take Two officers. Indictment should also be against Sony and Microsoft which are making this pornographic game available to minors, and openly so, on their PS3 and Xbox systems," Thompson wrote. "Further, indictments should be handed down against Wal-Mart, Best Buy, GameStop, and all other retailers distributing this game to minors at their retail stores, openly, to kids who are only seventeen."

He then compares the game to, of all things, polio. "Grand Theft Auto IV is the gravest assault upon children in this country since polio. We now have vaccines for that virus... The 'vaccine' that must be administered by the United States government to deal with this virtual virus of violence and sexual depravity is criminal prosecutions of those who have conspired to do this. If you doubt me, look at the aforementioned streaming audio/video. It will make you sick."

This is where the story takes a turn, because Jack Thompson provides a link to a video, put together by the gaming news site IGN, called "Ladies of Liberty City." Be careful clicking on that link; there is absolutely nothing there that is safe for work.

The video strips the game of all context and merely shows scenes of sexual content and violence, one after the other. In fact, it can be hard to watch for that reason, and it's a rather numbing experience. The game's lead character, Niko, drives up to prostitutes, honks the horn, then shoots them. You see a simulated sex act, only to have Niko run the hooker over afterwards with his car. The video shows graphic lap dances featuring one, and then two, girls. The language is even worse, including—and excuse the stars, "F*** the s*** out of it, you nasty f******."

Hmmm. Nasty, yet intriguing, and I would imagine potentially really popular in the Middle East. And hardly the thing you'd want your young teenage son playing in his room, I bet. If you just want to see the video, just cut straight to the compilation video here, depending on your proxy status I guess… Ladies of Liberty City (X-rated).

I must admit, I often feel rather sorry for teenage and young 20s men (and women) here, especially if unmarried. They can’t drink, they can’t have sex, are usually living with their parents and fully dependent on them for income, can’t even easily just hang out with the opposite sex. Hell, they aren’t even supposed to masturbate. Sure, the rich ones can date western girls and generally sow their oats with gusto before officially settling down with a nice Omani girl, and I’ve been to several awesome parties held by the kids of the elite, in beautiful palaces in MQ and Shatti, with booze and scantily clad girls all over the place. Mmmmm, nice.

But for your average Omani guy, there are really only 4 things you can do: smoke cigarettes, play football, go to movies, and drive a car. For me, it explains the weekly Shatti cruise-by show, with all the boys out in their (or their Dad’s) car, cruising around all night very slowly in tiny circles, often on their own (especially sad). Really pathetic. But then I remember, what else can they do? Of course, in other parts of the region there are other things – they can grab a gun and become an insurgent.

This over-abundance of raging testosterone with no-where to go in the young male population of the middle east is, I think, a significant reason for some of the problems in Yemen, Saudi, Iran and Iraq.

Oman needs more things for them to do. Things that help burn off the hormones and help resist the urge to think about women. Here are the Dragon’s suggestions. Perhaps the Municipality can actually do some good.
- Build a race track. It doesn’t have to be F1 standard, just something that they could use for track days, some street drag racing, night racing, under some sort of standards and safety control.
- A proper quad-bike and off-road bike place, where they can rent them, wear helmets and body armour, and have a blast off road
- A real indoor climbing wall and recreation center. Rock climbing and bouldering should be a national sport here. Low cost, rocks everywhere, and infinitely challenging.
- May be some sort of ‘open’ or club-based car workshop, where they can learn to work on their own cars, and maybe even get the skills to become real car mechanics
- Paragliding. Yeah, get them jumping off cliffs
- Where's Oman's Wild Wadi? It doesn't have to be HUGE, but come on. Mara Land?

‘Course, another option is to somehow turn a blind eye to them having sex, but I suspect that option with be a loooooong time coming. Many of the Omani youth do have sex of course, surprise surprise. And the fear of pregnancy and of not being a virgin (if female) explains the popularity in Oman of, lets say, 'alternative passages' (or so I’m told). It seems many a young man in Oman is a back-door man.

Another option would be for the Government or HM to provide a dowry grant, of say, 3k, once only, for any Omani male over 21. I think they do this in the UAE? It wouldn’t cost them that much, say 5 million rials a year, especially compared to all the other subsidies lately. And it would make a lot of men (and women) very much happier!

Sunday, May 4, 2008

Omani official unemployment 5%

This article today I found shocking – Omani unemployment only around 5.5%? I find that hard to believe, but there it was. Times of Oman
Jobs ... but no takers?
MUSCAT: Unemployment rate in Oman decreased to 5-6 per cent in 2007 from nearly 20 per cent five years ago, a top government official said yesterday.

Vigorous policies and procedures pursued by the Ministry of Manpower, under the wise leadership of His Majesty the Sultan, to cut down the rate of unemployment by increasing Omanisation percentage and upgrading training levels has paid results, Dr Younis bin Khalfan Al Akhzami, director-general of planning and development, Ministry of Manpower, told Times of Oman.

Well, but not quite. When you read on, we find that's just an estimate, based on some huge guesses on critical info due to them still not completing a big-brother database on all Omanis, their employment status and a CV (which seems a Herculean task anyhow if you ask me, with 80,000 high school grads a year coming onto the job market). I still seem to come across a lot of those 5% crowd I guess, especially men between 18-35 with few formal skills and who who are unmarried (because they can’t afford the dowry). I just don’t believe 5%. Maybe by not counting women, and assuming most of those in the Wadis are ‘employed’ simply because they have nothing else to do but go fishing or tend dates. He continued..
“Since then we have progressed well in that direction but we need more cooperation from all the ministries to complete the database. We also need to include some of the private sector activities that include agriculture, fisheries which employ a lot of Omanis,” Dr Younis said. This data has to be used by other ministries as a focal point to employ Omanis in their ministries. The register is an indicator and reference as it includes names, level of studies, any experience of the candidates and has any kind of information that will help in employing the Omanis.

Speaking about challenges in employment of Omanis, Younis pointed out that rate of unemployment varies as the Ministry of Manpower believes that the people employed in the agriculture and the fisheries sector and other sectors are not taken into account as there is no record of them yet. “Around five years ago, young Omanis were searching for jobs and they were not getting any, but now we are looking for skilled Omanis to fill up certain jobs in certain sectors and there is a shortage because most of them are already employed,” Dr Younis stated. “There is also a problem of skilled Omanis as locals have to be trained before they are employed in any sector,” he said. “Our ministry is seeking people who can be employed in some of the sectors like the construction sector but we don’t have enough skilled Omanis,” he added.

As to the last comment, he must be kidding. No Omani’s working in construction because of a skills shortage? What planet is this guy on? I know of many training courses organized and paid for by the Ministries, where the students show up, but not to be trained! They are there for the salary they get while on the course, because they can't get a job. Carpentry, for example. There have been countless carpentry courses run for Omani, but how many Omani carpenters do you know? None. Because (a)the pay is low, and there is no national scheme for apprentices or vocational qualifications (or requirements for those vocational qualifications anyhow), and (b)employers prefer to get carpenters from Pakistan or India who cost a lot less and can be made to work 6 days a week (or more), 12 hrs a day.

Also, employers are hesitant to employ an Omani because they are more expensive, can’t be fired, leave easily once trained, and, lets face it, don’t generally work as hard as other potential workers. I know that’s a huge generalization, and that there are many Omani’s working hard and with a real work ethic. But I'm not convinced that's true for the majority, unfortunately.

Saturday, May 3, 2008

News on Oman's secret cyclone, our new taxation plan, and naughty Iranians

The International Monetary Fund, or IMF, just released its latest annual Public Information Note [PIN] following discussions with the Oman Government. Apart from the stuff about banking and inflation, and how the Government needs to use fiscal policy to control it (ie the Government needs to rein back its growth in spending), there were two real nuggets.

The first highlights the very strange way last year's Cyclone Gonu is reported here.

Here’s the Oman Press version of the opening paragraph, as printed in the outstanding Times of Oman
IMF Praise for Oman growth
Oman’s economic performance during 2007 was strong. The economy withstood well the impact of last year’s unusual weather conditions and real GDP grew by 6.4 per cent, supported by high oil prices and rapid growth of non-hydrocarbon sectors such as petrochemicals, trade, and transport and communications, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) said in a recent report on Oman.

Well, actually, that’s not quite true, is it Times Of Oman, because that’s not what the International Monetary Fund (IMF) actually said in their recent report on Oman. Here’s the IMF version
Oman's economic performance during 2007 was strong. The economy withstood well the impact of the June cyclone and real GDP grew by 6.4 percent, supported by high oil prices and rapid growth of non-hydrocarbon sectors such as petrochemicals, trade, and transport and communications.

Note how The Times (and all other Omani papers) have changed June Cyclone to last year’s unusual weather conditions? It was always a bit Orwellian how, sometime later last year, all mention of a cyclone, Gonu, and the cause of the damage it did was replaced with the magically semantic phrase unusual weather.

The second piece, again totally unhighlighted by Oman’s extremely perceptive press corps, was that Oman is apparently planning to institute a value added taxation system.
Directors called on the authorities to restrain the growth of wages and transfers, phase the implementation of lower-priority projects. They encouraged the authorities to reduce over time the implied subsidy on petroleum products, and supported efforts to increase non-oil revenues through the introduction of a value-added tax.

Hmmm. A value added tax, also known as a goods and services tax, will be extremely regressive. That means that families who spend most of their income will face a much higher effective marginal tax rate than rich families who either save and invest money or spend it overseas. Perhaps Oman will choose to implement a more distorting (and more expensive to administer) VAT whereby food for example is excluded. Lets see. But interesting that we have to find out about this through the IMF...

Iranians caught supplying Iraqis with arms.
Well, no surprise there I guess. The Americans have been claiming since last year that the road-side explosive devices being used had reached levels of sophistication that indicated Iranian military support. It will be interesting to see how the Gulf countries react to clear proof of active Iranian support for the insurgency in Iraq.

Iraq shows proof of Iranian support for militants

BAGHDAD An Iraqi delegation in Iran has confronted Iranian security officials with evidence that Teheran is providing support for militias battling Iraqi government forces, an Iraqi official said on Friday.

"They presented a list of names, training camps and cells linked to Iran," Haidar Al Ibadi, a member of Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri Al Maliki's Dawa party, said.

"The Iranians did not confess or admit anything. They claim they are not intervening in Iraq and they feel they are being unfairly blamed for everything going on Iraq," he said of the talks, which took place on Thursday. Ibadi said he had been in contact with the delegation.

Washington has long accused Teheran of backing militias, particularly cleric Moqtada Al Sadr's Mahdi Army, providing them with weapons, funding and training. It has displayed some of the weapons, including rockets and mortars.

The Iraqi government, however, has generally been more restrained in its criticism of its neighbour, which denies the charges and says it supports the government.

The US military said this week that "very, very significant" amounts of Iranian weaponry had been found in Basra and Baghdad during offensive against militants. Some of those arms were made in 2008, a senior US military official said on Friday.

The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said there had been a "sea change" in Baghdad's view of Iranian activity in Iraq since the discovery of the weapons.

"Basra changed it for the Iraqis. I'm not sure they believed it before. But they went to Basra and saw it first hand," he said.