Thursday, May 22, 2014

Omani invents amzing car, well meaning journalist invites mokery with crap article

Times of Oman ran an article about a new Omani invented car. You can read the article here. Sultan Al Amri is a local tinkerer, inventor, and maker of things here in the Sultanate, and has been in the press occasionally with this car thing and possibly a wristwatch thing since 2007 or so.

Looks pretty cool to me! 

But I'm not sure how it's going to do in a side impact collision. 

Before we all launch into mocking this guy, and heartlessly crushing his dreams, can I just take a second to point out that maybe we should be applauding his initiative instead. Sure the car is preposterous, but at least he is out there actually doing something, and creating something. So let's all try to be kind, and not turn this poor dude into an internet punching bag.

That lecture accomplished, let's look at a few quotes from the article so we can all learn more about this revolutionary new vehicle!

The car, says Sultan, has many unique features which cannot be found in any other car. It is a four door salon car, the design of which is inspired by the form of an Omani cat...
The rear seats can be reclined to form a majlis while passengers can also enjoy watching 12 television channels aired via satellite on an inbuilt screen....
Attention has also be paid on minor details, which most established brands overlook, like provision of a mini waste-bin, a dedicated space for placing a tissue box...
See that? A dedicated space for placing a tissue box! If you have spent more than 5 minutes in Oman, you will understand why THIS CAR MUST BE PRODUCED ON A MASSIVE SCALE. Because dedicated space for a tissue box!
As for changing flat tyres, which is a difficult task for women drivers, the vehicle has provision for elevation of tyres as well release of the bolts with the simple touch of a button. The car also has a 'black-box' connected to all the 4 cameras, which can be of help during eventualities. 
Our talented Journo goes on to wrap the story up with this gem of a summary:
Sultan's car can very well be termed as Oman's first invention, once the necessary clearance comes by, as it would allow him to produce Oman's very own automobile, something which people had never imagined a few decades ago.  
 May I point out that the way the journalist chose to write the article basically opens the door to the whole world making fun of this guy and by proxy, Oman. More care in the editing (and writing!) could have gone a long way toward lending the dude some much needed credibility, instead of detracting credibility from what would appear to be a somewhat farcical endeavor.

 Interestingly, here in Detroit, a city with insane unemployment levels, and an adult literacy rate hovering at about 50%, somebody actually went and created a factory to make high-end wristwatches, bicycles, and luxury leather goods. And it's going gangbusters! It's called Shinola, and their branding, manufacturing, and everything else is pretty slick. The watches are gorgeous and covetable, and the bikes the stuff of dreams.

There isn't any reason that Oman couldn't do something similar. Think Amouge fragrances, but with other luxury goods.

I would like to close with the following quote from SUltan himself, which maybe bears pondering, given the amount of ink we have been spilling on the subject of Omanisation.

"Whenever, I buy anything, I always check out where it has been manufactured and always wonder why we, in the Arab world, cannot manufacture it."- Sultan Al Amri  

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

How do you spell sexy? D.A.T.A. baby.

Are you a great big nerd? Do you love reading studies and research papers? Would you rather read the economist than Playboy? Maybe you are wondering why, exactly, we in Oman are not living it up large like the Qatari's, and where, exactly, is YOUR Lamborghini? Or perhaps like me, you are a bored housewife desperately trying to avoid housework.

Then buckle up bitches, because I have some reading for you!

If you are interested to examine the myriad of reasons that we are not, and will never be, Qatar, one of the best places to start is by looking at Gross Domestic Product per capita (GDPPC). This is a measure of the total output of a country that takes the gross domestic product (GDP) and divides it by the number of people in the country. The per capita GDP is useful when comparing one country to another because it shows the relative performance of the countries. A rise in per capita GDP signals growth in the economy and tends to translate as an increase in productivity. 

Looking at the GCC states, one can see that Oman's GDPPC is in the vicinity of $23,500. Qatar's by way of comparison, is about $94,000. So using those rough metrics, Qatar is about 4 times as rich as we are. That's why you don't have a Lamborghini. 

Qatar is not richer because they are harder workers, or smarter, or funnier, or nicer, or prettier. They are richer because they are sitting on a shit-ton of hydrocarbon reserves. Lucky Them! 

Oman's GDPPC compares pretty nicely with Saudi's and with Bahrain's. so if we want to compare the quality of life and workforce nationalisation issues, those might be good places look. They had, of course, a 30-40 year head start on development. And don't feel too sad, in the GDPPC Olympics we are totally kicking Yemen's ass, so that's something!

Anyway, back to the light reading...

  • The World bank has a wonderful interactive data map that you can find right here. Zoom into the GCC area and select from about a hundred data sets to contrast and compare to your heart's content. 
  • One of the best papers I have read on the issue of Omanisation is available through Google Scholar. it's called Progress Towards Omanization: Implications From A Psychological Contracting Perspective and you can find it  Right here Its the top link in the search results. Google Scholar BTW, has HUNDREDS of other papers on the subject of Omanisation available to read online.
  • Lastly, Google has access to a million billion different datasets, and an interface for people like you and me to browse through them and compare data. Everything from infant mortality to agricultural exports to literacy to self reported happiness. It's there. Here's the link to get you started. Scroll down and look through the pages and pages of data sets available. You should be able to postpone doing laundry or sweeping the floors for weeks with this one. 

Now, none of this is the word of God himself, OK? There are likely data errors here and there and things that stick out as anomalous. Like, some of the stuff pertaining to Bahrain makes me thing they changed the way they collect data in 2010, or are submitting bullshit reports, or ??? 

In other news, I finished the laundry yesterday. I also vacuumed the carpets and holy hell you would not believe the amount of dog hair. So. Gross.

Monday, May 19, 2014

Showing Our Dirty Laundry

Literally. I'm down to my last pair of underwear, and the kid had to wear yesterday's socks to school today. I have another few posts in the chamber, but I need to put them aside for the moment in order to do the Laundry.

On the subject of laundry, we have a dryer and washer that do the most annoying thing in the world.  When they are finished washing / drying, they play this super happy chirpy, upbeat tune. It fills me with RAGE. Because why are you so happy that I now have to fold and put away all this laundry, asshole?

This. This is how I feel every time you play that stupid ditty.
In the interim, If you would like to read a much more salient, and less long winded post about Omanisation, it would seem that Undercover Dragon, of Muscat Confidential, has shared a few thoughts on the matter.  I would really like to buy that guy a beer sometime.

Ok. Back to the laundry. Y'all be good.

Sunday, May 18, 2014

How about a meritocracy?

So, Wednesday night I published an expletive laden rant regarding Omanisation as it stands here in the Sultanate. If you have not read it yet, feel free to go over here and give it a quick scan. I'll wait.

Done? Great. It's Saturday afternoon now, I have filed the points down off my claws, wiped the spittle off my laptop screen and settled in with a pint of Ghettoblaster.  (Best name for a beer, Ever!) I'm still going to swear, but instead of just heaving stones at all and sundry, I'm going to bore you all to death with a series of posts on how to make Omanisation a reality, and a successful one at that.

And just who the fuck are you to tell us how to achieve Omanisation, Suburban? 

Y'all, I'm Nobody. And it's not like anybody else, anywhere else, has figured this shit out perfectly either. So take it with a grain of salt. Tomorrow I'll link to data sources and studies regarding the nationalisation of workforces and demographic / economic data. You should read them so that you can make your own informed opinions, which may well be different from mine. 

The first thing I would like to talk about is changing the work environment in the public sector to something that resembles a meritocracy . The weird thing about this is that is doesn't really involve or relate to Expats. They are completely irrelevant, for today! This is one of the only issues where we cannot blame expats, expel them, imprison them, or make excuses for needing them. This one is entirely on us, guys.

an elite group of people whose progress is based on ability and talent rather than on class privilege or wealth.
a system in which such persons are rewarded and advanced: The dean believes the educational system should be a meritocracy.
leadership by able and talented persons.

Ouch. That cuts a little close to the bone. 

Of the three definitions above, the one I am most concerned with at the moment is #2. Promotion, payscale, and benefits based on a system of MERIT, would be a great place to start. E.g. If you are a hard worker with great ideas and great results, you get promoted and get more money. If you are mediocre, you stay where you are. If you really suck, your shit gets fired, asshole. Nobody owes you anything.

And there is no better place to start introducing the concept of Meritocracy, than within the ministries themselves.

If you work for a ministry, your payscale promotions are generally not based on merit, but on how long you have been working there. You can bust ass all you want, and you will still receive promotions and pay raises at the same rate as your useless colleagues. In fact, if you are really and truly an awful employee, you will often be selected to go on lengthy overseas training courses, or reassigned to "watch the beach" just to get you out of the office. I don't need to tell you that this does not encourage the others to work hard. Indeed, it is a real demotivator for the many talented and hard working ministry employees who would like to get shit done, and view their jobs to be an opportunity to improve and serve their country. Can you imagine how much it must suck to be a highly motivated ministry employee?

Interestingly, if you work in a ministry, it is literally impossible to get fired. Really. Two  personal examples (although I have many more):

1) I was sexually assaulted by a no-wasta underling in the ministry of REDACTED. Dude grabbed my head and my tits, shoved his tongue in my mouth, pinned me up against a wall, and grabbed my tits and crotch. He did this in front of my boss, two undersecretaries, and six other employees. (And No, I am not making this up). My boss raised holy hell, as did I, The minister himself was livid, the witnesses spoke up, and.... The guy got a promotion. He still works at that ministry, and is one level below undersecretary these days.

2) In another ministry, I was assigned to work closely with a specific undersecretary. The only thing he had to do was co-sign the cheques we were writing against the budget, and show up for a bi-weeky meeting. The guy would go on drunken benders for weeks at a time, making our payroll late, our payments to overseas vendors late, and ultimately costing us thousands of rials in additional expenses and bridging loans. He would show up to press conferences and events wasted and angry, screaming obscenities and kicking over tables. He brought the project, and the ministry itself into disrepute. His reward? Not Rehab, not counseling, not AA meetings, not termination, but eventually being "retired" to the Diwan, with a pay raise.

These guys are not representative of the majority, but they are in no way a statistical anomaly, and we should not allow our government to subsidise, coddle, insulate, and promote incompetency. We should all be considered lucky to work for a ministry! We should be honored to be serving our country.  A ministry should be able (and encouraged) to fire an underperforming employee like they are blowing their nose. Are you useless? then GTFO.  Nobody should be entitled to have, or to keep, a ministry job if they are not giving 100%.

If you work in a ministry, your hours are predictable, and super short. Ministry employees have more vacation, fewer working hours, better benefits, and  absolute job security. Landing a ministry job, with it's cushy hours, benefits, perks, wasta and guaranteed payscale promotion is pretty awesome, makes a job in the private sector seem unattractive by comparison. Indeed, ministries are such a desirable place to work, that many private sector businesses have a hard time recruiting Omani's.

And that, guys, is a perverse incentive. We are creating more cushy, accountability-free jobs in the government, thinking it's a good thing, while in fact those policies are crippling true Omanisation.

Why? Because The government is unintentionally competing with, and  defeating the very Omanisation initiatives they promote, by turning the ministries into what amounts to glorified adult daycare facilities. The private sector, where there is a real bottom line, and where our much trumpeted SME's exist, simply cannot compete with that.

And that's pretty fucked.

Great, Suburban, and really sorry you got your junk fondled, but how does all of this go towards actually fixing the Omanisation  issue?

Good question. Let me ask you a question in return?  What if the ministries were actually creating good, clever, inspired employees? What if they were instead the training grounds for outstanding people? What if the first place you looked to poach an Omani employee was a ministry? What if working for, and successfully staying employed by a ministry actually looked great on your C.V.?

The unpopular thing that has to happen is to make the ministries hire, fire, and promote based on MERIT. Let's start firing people who suck. Let's lengthen the working hours of the ministries to match what would be expected in the private sector.  Let's start making people apply for promotion, and EARN it. Let's invest our training dollars in the people who deserve more training. And lets pay and reward the truly outstanding employees for being truly outstanding. They deserve nothing less.

I understand that this will be extremely unpopular, and perhaps the merit system would be best rolled over / applied to people who have joined ministries in the last 5 years or are just joining now. It's going to suck a little, but I promise it will be worth it.

But, this is totally impossible! How will we create the systems to handle a meritocracy in a country such as Oman! OMG, what you are suggesting is insane! The Omanis will never stand for it!

It's not totally impossible. The highly (indeed almost totally) Omanised  ROP and MOD (the branches of the government that actually matter) already promote on merit, most of the time. If you want or are due for a promotion, you interview and justify it. While I am not sure they actually fire anybody, you can become pretty motivated if the alternative is guarding some communications shack on the Saudi border, or directing traffic full time.

Promotion, hiring and firing based on merit can be done in Oman. We should demand, and expect nothing less of our public servants.

Friday, May 16, 2014

Thank You!

I have a couple of follow up posts regarding Omanisation, in the works, the first of which should go up Saturday afternoon. So please, do come back and visit then.

In the interim, I wanted to say thanks for the astonishingly kind comments I've received via facebook, email, twitter, etc... It is perhaps a case of the right time, the right place, the right friends...  but this latest post on this long neglected blog had 4,500 plus views since I published it with 3,800 +/- coming from Oman. Clearly, this is a subject that continues to generate a lot of interest in the sultanate.

I don't for a second imagine that I can facilitate any sort of change on a national level, or that anyone in their right minds would change policy based on what an underemployed mommy blogger has to say. I'm really just one asshole with an opinion.

While I finish off the upcoming posts, I thought I would share a brief update on life over the past three years, and answer a few common questions I've been asked.

One of the first things everybody asked me on my last visit to Oman was the following "What's it like without a maid? Do you have any help?" Those of you who knew me in Oman know that I was HIGHLY housemaid dependent. we had not just a live in maid, but a live in nanny as well. I was totally THAT lady.

What's it like without a maid? It's an adjustment, to say the least. I spent the first six months in the states buried on laundry and house work, and being super frustrated that I could never really stay on top of things. The house was never really, truly, clean. At some point I had a moment of clarity, and stopped trying to hold myself to an impossible standard of housekeeping. We have accepted the fact that we are total slobs, and embraced the filth. Here is a picture of my kitchen counter this very moment.

Don't even ask about the floors.
It looks like this all the time. I have not seen it clean and empty in over six months. And you know what? It's OK.

What are you driving these days? Here in America I have an unlimited selection of crappy used cars. Surprisingly, I have been pretty restrained, and only managed to purchase three, a 1973 VW camper van (big mistake) a 1988 Deisel Chevrolet Suburban (small mistake), and a 1991 Petrol GMC Suburban (second best car I have ever purchased). Stone drives a manual transmission Subaru Outback, which is a lot of fun on dirt roads and in the snow.

How are the kids, or have you sold them? The kids are doing great, with the oldest ones having flown the nest for the world of work / university. Pebbles, our youngest has blossomed into a confident, hilarious, and clever little girl. We decided to homeschool Pebbles this year so that we could travel, and while it has not always been easy, it's been great, and we have had some really stonking adventures.  As our daughters get older, the more I value arranged marriages. Seriously, just let me pick a good one for you sweetheart.... Thus far, the kids have declined my matchmaking expertise. Sigh....

So, America... What's it like there? America is pretty bizarre, but I think we have found our happy place. The thrill of going to a massive hardware store with adequate parking has not yet worn off. I fucking LOVE Home Depot. OMG, guys, you have no idea what you are missing out on.

Anything else?  Yeah, we got a dog. I hate dogs. HATE DOGS. But I have to admit a grudging and slow growing affection, or even perhaps love, for this brainless mound of fur.

The kid and the dog are inseparable. 

And that's really all there is to say about that. Talk to you guys on Saturday.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Omanisation. You're doing it wrong

*This is going to be a really long post. Maybe grab a coffee or a beer, and get comfortable.  

So.... I got bored last month, and hopped on a jet to Muscat because I have really been missing you guys. I had a lovely stay and the weather cooperated, I can report that the new Muscat expressway is a thing of wonder, that the traffic in Ruwi is still terrible, and that we are totally and unequivocally failing at Omanisation.  

You don't need me to tell you this, of course, as you need only look around anywhere in the capitol and see that expats doing like, 75% of everything. Dude who made my coffee? Expat. Man who rented me my car? Expat. grocery store bagging guy? Expat.  Lady who sold me a pretty cocktail dress? Expat. Dude who asks if you want fries with that? Expat. 

There is, truthfully, no fucking reason we should need to import people, by the thousands, from half way around the fucking planet, in order to enquire, do I or do I not want fries with my Big Mac. Seriously.  (also, great run-on sentence there! Hi5!)

Before we continue, may I ask you to ponder the profound demotivational poster below? Think of it as a Zen Koan, and meditate deeply on how it may apply to our current employment situation in the Sultanate. 

*See also "Christmas is Over" 
While I was in town last month, I noted an interesting article in Muscat Daily, which I will Excerpt below, though I encourage you to go read the whole thing

The sultanate's population crossed the 4mn mark on April 1 this year, with Omanis making up 55.8 per cent, latest statistics revealed by the National Center for Statistics and Information (NCSI) show. As on April 2, the total population stood at 4,000,345 - 2,232,949 Omanis and as many as 1,767,396 expatriates (44.2 per cent)....
NCSI figures show that compared to December 2013 figures, the number of Omanis has increased by 20,256 in the first quarter of 2014, while expatriate numbers increased by 23,049 during the same period.....
Muscat governorate had the highest number of expatriates – 62 per cent of the governorate's total population – at the end of March this year. Omanis constituted 38 per cent.
You read that right, in Muscat governate, expats make up more than 3/5ths of the population. that's just over three people out of every five, and nationally, we have imported more expats, than we have managed to produce "organically" despite our high birthrate. In a country that has been pushing Omanisation HARD for more than a decade. How can this possibly be? 

Well, I had a few thoughts on the matter back in 2007, and again back in 2008 and while I am by no means an expert economist, I think I can say that exactly what I predicted / observed continues to come to pass. 

There is no single factor in why Omanisation has thus far been an unprecedented failure, but one of the biggest reasons, in my opinion is something called Cobra Effect. Cobra Effect, also known as a perverse incentive, and less accurately the law of unintended consequences, is what happens when the ACTUAL effect of something is the OPPOSITE of what was intended. I'll quote a few examples below, to make sure we all have this in context before I press on. 

The British government was concerned about the number of venomous cobra snakes in Delhi.[3] The government therefore offered a bounty for every dead cobra. Initially this was a successful strategy as large numbers of snakes were killed for the reward. Eventually, however, enterprising persons began to breed cobras for the income. When the government became aware of this, the reward program was scrapped, causing the cobra breeders to set the now-worthless snakes free. As a result, the wild cobra population further increased. 
In Hanoi, under French colonial rule, a program paying people a bounty for each rat tail handed in was intended to exterminate rats. Instead, it led to the farming of rats.
Providing company executives with bonuses for reporting higher earnings encouraged executives at the Federal National Mortgage Association and other large corporations to artificially inflate earnings statements and make decisions targeting short-term gains at the expense of long-term profitability. 
This brings me to the latest news that pretty much the entire country has been discussing the last week... I am going to totally oversimplify and generalise the new rule here but in essence here it is: Expats may no longer quit their jobs for a better one in the Sultanate. You don't like your job? Employer is an A-hole? Greener pastures are available down the street? Too Bad, Motherfucker! You stay where you are, or you go home for two years. 

So we are back to where an Omani Employee can pack up and pursue better opportunities with another company, and an Expat staffer is effectively imprisoned in his existing job. This does not exactly incentivise me to hire or invest much training in an Omani. 

Admittedly, the information from the government and the media has been totally contradictory and misleading. Are there any adults running the show at the ministries? Piss-ups and Breweries come immediately to mind... Sigh. 

Muscat Mutterings has a series of posts on this matter, which you can read HereHere, Here, and Here. Twitter, facebook, etc... are afire with comments both for and against. Indeed, the comments on social media make me hate Expats, Housemaid-dependent families, and Omanis in equal measure. Everybody, I hate you. 

While the specifics on the implementation of this particular law are beyond the scope of this post, I want to talk generally about Omanisation in the last decade and a half. Ready? I am finally getting to the whole point of this post!!!!! 

Despite being well-intentioned, almost* everything we are doing in the name of Omanisation and controlling the expat Labor market for the benefit of Oman's long term growth and sustainability.... is having the EXACT OPPOSITE EFFECT. From the manpower related Omanisation initiatives, to the sponsorship system, to the unequal wages, to the unequal benefits, to the total lack of meritocracy in the ministries, to the fact that the guy offering me fries is a SALARIED, but semi-imprisoned employee, to the fact that it is absolutely impossible to fire an underperforming Omani from a job without spending many months and many Rials in the labour court, before likely losing. 

This is because most of the rules and regulations as they stand, make it less attractive to hire or employ an Omani, and negatively incentivise Omani's to apply themselves, to do stuff like show up for work, get dirty, and bust ass while they are there. Because there is no incentive for them to be outstanding employees, and no disincentive for being a crap employee. 

Why, Exactly, do we have a million imported and cheery Philippinos proffering fries and ice cream sundaes at every fast food joint in the Sultanate, when in most other countries that job is performed by pimple speckled teenagers and people with felony convictions or meth habits? 

Because by and large, everybody expects to be an Astronaut. Or a Manager, or a successful business manager presiding over hoards of hardworking Indians. I have news for you guys, no country, anywhere in the world, even one as nice as Oman, has the kind of intellectual capital and outstanding DNA that allows for EVERYBODY to be a successful manager. Some of us are going to have to collect the trash, pump the gas, develop meth habits, become telemarketers, or work at Subway. 

I don't have enough fingers and toes to count the number of companies I know of where they "employ" and actively recruit a huge staff of "Sleeping Omani's". What is a Sleeping Omani? It's an Omani whom you pay to stay home. Their only role is to receive a minimum wage salary each month in exchange for propping up your Omanisation Quotas. 

How astonishingly sad is that? It breaks my heart, truly. 

It's not like we don't know how to work and do Manual labour. Oldies can still recall in the 50's and 60's Omani's going to Kuwait, Saudi, and later the UAE as street sweepers, houseboys, and menial labourers. So I don't want to hear any uppity shit from Expats about how "The Omani's Just don't have the ability to work... Sigh..." Because that's bullshit. 

If we are among the lucky, we have been trained, like good little pavlovian dogs, that there is no real benefit in working hard, since merit rarely pays. We have been indoctrinated to believe that everything about our country and culture is the best, so that zombie-like, we reject any opinion that differs. We have been brainwashed into believing that we all deserve to be astronauts because we are on some level better, or more worthy of those coveted good jobs. We drink the Kool-aid and believe ourselves to be above manual labor, to be above taking orders from lesser beings. Our sense of entitlement is outsize to our ability, and our position in our companies infallible. We cannot be fired. 

If you are among the unlucky, you have been raised by parents and grandparents completely unprepared for the world they were setting you out into. We are shuffled through chaotic schools, badgered by teachers with no real passion for teaching. We graduate with education and skills worth less than the paper our diploma is printed on. We are denied opportunities at every turn thanks to Wasta, corruption, bureaucracy, oppressive religious dogma, lack of mass transport infrastructure, and the sheer terror that any company feels when hiring an Omani. Should we find a job, and do well at it, We are denied opportunities to learn and improve ourselves by our expatriate co-workers who are far more concerned with their job security than sharing information with us. We can work our asses off, yet always be promoted at the same rate as the guy at the next desk supervising the inside of his eyelids. 

If we are like most people, we perhaps fall somewhere in the middle. 

The situation as it stands isn't anybody's fault, rather it's EVERYBODY'S fault. It's your fault, Consumer, for not being willing to pay fair market prices for goods. It's your fault, Business, for not investing in training and caring well for the local employees you have. It's your fault, Parents, for raising dumb, lazy and entitled fuckwits instead of responsible and contributing members of society. It's your fault, Expats, for covering your asses, entrenching yourselves in whatever position you are in, refusing to help your Omani colleagues realise their full potential. It's your fault, schools and colleges for turning out "graduates" who lack even the most basic job skills. But above all, it's your fault, Omani Government, for kowtowing to wasta-laden big businesses, for yielding to spoiled, entitled citizenry expecting to do little in exchange for much, and for buckling in the face of a few unruly Arab Spring inspired teenagers with molotov cocktails. 

You, Omani Government, should have told every single soul in the country, entitled Expat and entitled Omani alike, to grow a pair of balls, and Man The Fuck Up.

You should have done it years ago. You are now looking down the barrel of a gun that you made, loaded and pointed at your own metaphorical face. Is there is anyone in charge at the Ministries or Diwan or Majlis Ashura who is capable of doing the soul searching necessary, and making the hard and unpopular choices that the country needs? I don't know, but I hope so. 

*As a former PRO, I can tell you that the Omanisation of PRO's was a genius move, and has worked out quite well for everybody concerned.