*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. 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 Here, Here, 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.