Sunday, April 10, 2005

Whinging Poms And That

You may have noticed that the Gulf News is a bit of a source of inspiration for me. Especially the letters page.

When I first came to Dubai, the Gulf News featured some spoof characters (actually they might have been real) like S. Ganguly and Dr Jingly. These guys were prolific posters and always expressed fairly outrageous views. It were grand. Sadly, for about the last 5 years, there's been nobody like that. What there is is a bunch of people moaning about things they're upset about, and mostly using the letters page as an easy way of complaining about Etisalat, taxis, buses and TV. 'Can the concerned authorities do something about this, that or the other?' And knowing how impossibly difficult it can be to get any kind of complaint or comment to these kinds of organisations, I don't blame them. Gulf News will actually take up your complaint with the relevant organisation, and generally get some kind of answer.

In recent weeks there has been much complaining about rising rents. Nearly everyone here lives in rented property that is owned by UAE nationals. If you are lucky, your company will pay your rent as part of your compensation package. But plenty of people have to pay their own rent. Rents have been increasing of late, by quite serious amounts, and nearly everyone is fed up with it, because their salaries are not increasing at all.

Now there must be some kind of supply and demand situation operating here, or it could just as easily be a cartel. Whatever, it's becoming a big problem and lots of people have been having their say about it in the Gulf News. So it was interesting to see this little beast appear on April 2:

"Stop cribbing – go home! Whinge, moan, whinge ... Am I the only person who is sick of people moaning about rising rents and road tolls?
It is quite simple - if you cannot afford the rents, leave, go back to where you came from ... do us all a favour.
This is a market economy, not a Stalinist state. Also, if you cannot afford to pay a couple of dirhams a day for a congestion charge, sell your car, use a bus, walk, share a car.
Why a certain segment of this population thinks it has a divine right to get everything for nothing is beyond me.

From Mr J. Andrews

Yow, scary stuff hey? We are here as guests of the country and so we have absolutely no right to express an opinion. Marvellous. No doubt Mr Andrews is comfortably off and has no worries about paying his rent. The 'certain segment of the population' he refers to is South Asian, typically earning Dhs 5,000 a month tops (except for a few senior management types and entrepreneurs). And the average rent for a small apartment in Dubai is Dhs 40,000 to 50,000 a year, and Sharjah maybe 30 to 40,000. I have no idea how these folks can manage it.

There is no doubt that the UAE has an economic problem - actually the whole Arabian Gulf region shares the same problem. As a halfway point between the East and the West, the region tries to be all things to all people. 30 years ago, when oil was coming onstream and the locals realised that they were sitting on a serious amount of money, the Gulf was a hardship posting. You had to pay people a lot of money to come and work here. Typically, a Westerner would be paid about twice what they would get back home. South Asians would get about 10 times what they could earn back home (because nobody could exist here if the pay was on a par with Indian or Pakistani wages). Expat Arabs would be somewhere in the middle. Working locals probably get a lot more than Westerners (but they're not letting on). As the place developed, the Gulf stopped being a hardship posting, and became a place that people actively want to come to.

You might want to read this article, Dubai's Fascination With Bigness (heh heh), and in particular the comments attached to the article.

So, pay packages for Westerners are nowhere near as good as they used to be, but a lot of South Asian workers still manage to live very cheaply and send a large proportion of their meagre income back to their families. The economic problem is, how can you have these different groups of people, with seriously different levels of income, and still make it possible for everyone to enjoy a reasonable standard of living? Answer? I'm stuffed if I know.

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