Tuesday, 28 June 2011

Humanizing the Petrol Crisis

With the silence continuing over the petrol crisis in Sharjah and Northern Emirates, the statement that appeared in Gulf News today by an ENOC spokesperson is a real classic.  The quote from Gulf News, the person literally said:

"I cannot give a statement now, don't ask me questions I cannot answer," he said. "I agree that we should be more transparent, I agree 150 per cent, but we have directives not to talk about this issue now."
Pressed for answers, he made casual comments on the weather to change the subject.
Enoc's silent spell lasted for about two weeks while the spokesperson was on holiday after the trouble started. Repeated attempts by Gulf News to contact the company were unanswered.

Get the last drop while you can.

Inspite of everything that's transpired in the last one month, ENOC make it seem like a non-issue and it really undermines the pain and suffering that those who've been stuck without petrol have had to live through.

I know personally of a case where a mother and an infant were stuck in a car in the blistering heat outside a petrol station for hours because it ran out of fuel.  Their son was at a birthday party and the father drove in from Sharjah, picked up the son and then went on rescue the mother and baby.  What type of city are we living in?  I'm sure are thousands of such stories but we don't hear about them unfortunately.  The press won't cover such this in this part of the world so the officials who govern policy sit around twiddling their thumbs and act as if its business as usual.

There is a human element to this story which the country has to be made aware of.  Had the human element been highlighted much earlier during this crisis, I believe we would've seen possibly some answers or a solution transpire much quicker.  Now to sit around and wait till someone fixes the problem in Ramadan leaves us with a sense of hope but as is the case often, it's a a chance of hope that we take with a pinch of salt as promises have been made earlier as well as the residents of Sharjah know only too well which didn't quite pan out.

With the summer holidays coming, one can only hope a lot of families will be away from the torturous summer period and many parents won't have the school pick-up and drop-off's to worry about, but even then, how long can they stay indoor and do nothing until this crisis is resolved?

To read the whole story in Gulf News, click here.  Local blogger, Alexander McNabb has also been writing extensively on this crisis and I'd encourage to have a read at his blog here as well.

Saturday, 25 June 2011

The Hangover, ENOC and Abu Dhabi

With everything that's been happening in Sharjah and Northern Emirates in the last few weeks with the petrol shortage and the announcement yesterday that Sharjah was shutting down all branches of ENOC / EPPCO for good, it got me thinking about how Abu Dhabi had come to the rescue again.

ADNOC had said they would fill the void left by ENOC in Sharjah earlier in the week which was in itself an admission by Dubai that Abu Dhabi was again fixing a problem that was essentially Dubai's.

Then this morning there was a series of Tweets by Dubai-based journalist, Tom Gara (@tomgara on Twitter), who is one of the most hilarious journalists out there on Twitter.  He started sending out Tweets about how different the movie, The Hangover, could have been if shot in different locations in the Middle East (click here to read a summary of his Tweets).  He was of course pulling reference to the fact that the original Hangover, which was based in Las Vegas and the sequel, which was shot in Bangkok, was essentially the same movie but based in different cities.

Well, the story of ENOC in Sharjah sounds like the one of Dubai World and their debt repayment.  As different as they make the plot, the end result has been that Abu Dhabi has come to save the day.

As much as we say it shouldn't set the precedent going forward, you can't help but think it has in fact been what we've come to expect.  Hopefully The Hangover III has a different story line and those of in Dubai will hang on to a thread of hope that the next time around, we see Dubai as the superhero that comes to the rescue. 

Wednesday, 15 June 2011

Double Standards: Petrol & Consumer Rights

While reading this morning's  Gulf News Business section, I saw a photo caption on the continuing fuel shortage in Dubai and Northern Emirates which said "The fuel crisis in Sharjah continues as Emarat, Enoc and Eppco petrol stations faced shortages yesterday...Representatives of petrol retailers were unavailable for comment when contacted yesterday."

On the page facing this, there's a huge headline that reads "Consumer rights on DED radar."

Just look at it these two statements and you see clearly the double standards that exist.  The Department of Economic Department (DED) is quite rightly promoting their consumer rights campaign and ensuring all retailers adhere to a set of standards with regards to exchange policies, etc. for consumers and to also act a policing body when there are consumer disputes.  However, when major petrol retailers refuse to comment or give any sort of clarity, there is silence and we're supposed to accept that as the norm.
Image courtesy: nonprofituniversityblog.org

Something is seriously wrong here and if as expatriates we are to feel comfortable or if Dubai as an Emirate hopes to rope in more international investment, there has to be a certain sense of transparency.  Such headlines and lines outside petrol stations send the wrong message to potential investors in the country and despite all the progress that the country has made, a few negative headlines like this, tarnish the reputation of Dubai and the UAE internationally.  Lines outside petrol stations is something that you expect to see in third world countries and the UAE is definitely not a third world country.

There needs to be an end to the double standards that exist.  If as consumer we are to have rights, then we have the right to demand an explanation from the petrol companies.  If the existing petrol companies can't operate profitably, then open the market to competition and let petrol retailers enter the market and let market forces operate.  At the moment we're seeing clearly that protectionist policies aren't working.  This protectionism seems to be a lose-lose game at the moment.  Changing all of this is something that can happen in the long term but in the short-term, please open up, make a statement and stop acting as if it is business as usual.

Monday, 6 June 2011

Why ban what's already not allowed?

There have been a flood of headlines that came through my Twitter feed today such as that in The National, which read "Shops banned from stinging customers with credit card surcharge."

This was a message which came through the Dubai Media Office as a directive that was passed down which said retailers can't charge a surcharge if you decide to pay by credit card.  This may sound like a victory for consumer rights advocates but as per the merchant agreements that major credit card companies like Visa and MasterCard have with retailers, they don't allow you to impose a surcharge anyway.  As a result, this practice has been under control for years and anyone caught doing this, risks having their credit card machine being yanked away by the merchant banks that represent Visa and MasterCard.

This is the reason the petrol stations stopped accepting credit cards a few years ago as they got into a dispute with the credit card companies as they said they couldn't sustain the commission that had to be paid for accepting credit cards and knowing they'd be in violation of their merchant agreements if they charged a premium, they decided against accepting credit cards going forward (click here to see a Gulf News report on this in 2007).

No Petrol if you pay by credit card.
Image from gulfnews.com

With a statement like this being issued by the Dubai Media Office, you then have to wonder, what was the point of it?

It sounds like positive PR that's supposed to leave you feeling warm and tingly inside.  If you don't feel warm and tingly now, I suggest you write back to The National, Gulf News and anyone else who carries this story in the newspapers tomorrow morning to tell them just that. Their column inches could be better used to tell us something that is more newsworthy. 

Saturday, 4 June 2011

Was FIFA inspired by WWE Wrestling?

After writing my last post on Dictatorships & Sports: FIFA & F1, I got to thinking if there can indeed ever be a clean sport if the administrators who run them seem to be corrupt.
Sepp Blatter preaching Fair Play. Who is he kidding?
We've seen or heard stories of matches being fixed or results being pre-determined by bookies in sports like cricket, tennis and football for years now.  There have been all sorts of enquiries made into these allegations over the years and occasionally you find a player or two suspended but that's about it.
Did Vince McMahon and the WWE set the trend for how
sports should be run?

With corruption at the top level of these sports becoming increasingly more evident, you have to wonder how much of this roots down from them to the playing field.  Could they be encouraging this?  If the people who conduct the enquiries into match-fixing are also the same people appointed by the same set of corrupt administrators, is there really any true independent enquiry into match-fixing?

I don't know about you, but I've gotten more disillusioned with sports in general in the last couple of years.  Don't get me wrong, I still enjoy my sports but somehow at the end of the day you have to wonder if it was entertainment or sports. WWE Wrestling may have set the precedent for the rest of the sporting world to turn around and say it's OK to fix the results and call it "entertainment" instead of "sport."

Friday, 3 June 2011

Dictatorships & Sports: F1 and FIFA

At a time when dictatorships around the region have been questioned and shaken to their roots, a funny sort of dictatorship has been challenged; that is one in the sports world.
The Sepp Blatter Comedy of Errors still continues.
Picture courtesy: cdn.worldcupblog.org

With the cartoon show that was FIFA's re-election of Sepp Blatter or the re-instatement of the F1 race in Bahrain, it's clear to see that despite these organizations are being run like dictatorships no matter how they may appear otherwise.

Enough has been said of the FIFA saga this week so I won't delve further into that but the F1 race coming back on the calendar in Bahrain is a joke.

Yesterday, The Guardian ran a story about how teams would be blackmailed into accepting a decision to have the F1 race in Bahrain go ahead, even if it meant extending the season and cutting the break that teams and drivers get in the close season (click here to read this story).

To quote from The Guardian, they said: "The main reason for that will be financial, given the existence of severe penalties for non-attendance. Bahrain paid £40m for the right to stage the first grand prix of this season, a sum which is split between the teams and the commercial rights holder at 45% (£18m) each. The responsibility for that money would be added to by potential penalties for breaking contracts."

So money talks basically?
Democracy in F1? Dream on.
Image courtesy: overdrivetv.co.za

However, the fact that Bahrain paid a huge sum of money to host the race and the teams benefitted is fine but is it right to blackmail the teams now and threaten them for a breach of contract when Bahrain originally was the one that forced the postponement of the race earlier this year?  Racing calendars, logistics and everything that's involved in F1 is planned well in advance so when a race like this doesn't go ahead, it disrupts all the planning that the teams undergo.

I'm not debating here whether the morality, political situation or human rights record during and after the protests in Bahrain should play a part in determining whether the race happens or not.  That's not for me to decide but to come back and claim a breach of contract against the racing teams when an event is cancelled at the last minute is just wrong.  I'm sure the racing teams would've spent money in anticipation of Bahrain that they lost when the race didn't happen.

F1 racing has always been a sport where the decisions have been in the hands of an elite few.  The same is true of many other sporting organizations and sadly, attempts to break such monopolies have often failed.  Examples of this can be seen in the world of cricket (the ICL was the forerunner of the IPL which wasn't recognized by major cricket boards or the International Cricket Council), rugby (where Rupert Murdoch and Kerry Packer had a stand-off to control the sport) or even in F1 itself (when a bunch of teams attempted to start their own rebel sport and failed).
Sepp Blatter says we must respect it. He forgets, it has to be earned.
Image courtesy: www.guardian.co.uk

The difference that now comes in political dictatorships and those in sports is that in a political dictatorship, you can go out on the streets and revolt.  In a sporting dictatorship, sadly, the same isn't true.  Standing and demonstrating in Tahrir Square in Cairo isn't going to make Sepp Blatter lose any sleep.  Eventually, money talks, member countries are shut up and everything stays as it is.

How long will this continue for?  Who knows.  In the meantime, the credibility of these sports may suffer in the short term but after an exciting race or a stunning exhibition of the beautiful game (a la Barcelona), we move on and accept it.  Is it right?  No.  However, until a way is worked out to rebel in the sporting world, little will change.