IREX Blogging Workshop: Mafi Anglezi!


We live in Kuwait and the workshop has all the right to be conducted in the language of the people, however I wish it would have been written beforehand, or better yet to avoid confusion altogether, that the organizers had not sent invitations in English!

I left early.

Kuwait Regressing on Doing Business and Corruption


If anyone saw yesterday's newspaper, The Kuwait Times mentioned two separate articles on Kuwait's fall in ranking on two different studies, one on Corruption by Transparency International (a study that I mentioned last week on my blog, and the other on the ease of doing business in Kuwait. Regarding corruption, the article wrote:

KUWAIT: According to the Transparency International's yearly Corruption Perceptions Index, which measures perceived levels of public-sector corruption in over 170 countries, Kuwait has regressed five places internationally. The index is published by Transparency International, an anti-graft watchdog, and is included in the organization's Global Corruption Report 2009: Corruption and the Private Sector that was released in Berlin on Wednesday.

Kuwait came in 65th place in the index, tied with Cuba, while it came in seventh place among Arab countries. Kuwait's position remained the same in their previous index after failing to make any new steps to fight corruption.
The article on doing business in Kuwait reported that:

KUWAIT: Conducting business in Kuwait has become more difficult in the last year, according to a recently-released annual report conducted by the International Finance Organization and the World Bank. The report, which assesses the ease of doing business in various parts of the world, shows that Kuwait's rank has been deteriorating. The decline in the rank by nine points could affect the competitiveness of Kuwaiti market to attract foreign investors, which might delay achieving the government strategy to t
urn Kuwait into an international financial and trading center.

The study titled 'Doing Business 2010: Reforming through difficult times' ranked Kuwait in the 61st position among 183 countries covered by the study. Kuwait has slid down from the 52nd position when compared to the study conducted the previous year. The ranking is calculated according to the average obtained from nine different factors that regulate business concerns in the country, and whether they affect business and their development.

The most alarming detail about Kuwait's "doing business" status is the 'starting business' category, which looks into the number of procedures necessary to open a business, in addition to the cost of these procedures and the time range during which they can be completed. In this rank, Kuwait occupies the low 137th position, diving down from the 134th position back in 2009.

Professionalism in the Workplace


Due to my recent (mis)treatment at a service counter at a company that I prefer to remain anonymous, I began to wonder if anyone might know of businesses/workplaces in Kuwait that sponsor gender training workshops to help males and females treat each other as colleagues in the working environment, as well as with how to deal with clients in a more professional manner. Any such example of this kind of training or orientation that anyone knows of?

BBC News: Moroccan efforts to replace slums by Malcolm Borthwick


(link here)

Think of Casablanca and most of us imagine Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman's epic wartime love affair.

But this sprawling port city of more than three million people is also home of some of the largest slums in the Arab world.

The rising young population, and growth in rural urban migration, has put pressure on housing, in cities such as Casablanca.

Larbi Adri, a Moroccan electrician, showed us around the Casablancan slum where he lived for 10 years until a few weeks ago.

It is early afternoon and many of his friends are hanging around here, because they don't have jobs.

Unemployment is high, and without a steady job there's little hope of escaping the squalor.

Larbi took us to a pile of rubble where his shack used to be. It was demolished as part of the government's ambitious plans to rid the country of its shantytowns.

"The conditions are bad, there's rubbish all over the place," he says.

"They set the rubbish alight, so there was always the smell of smoke.

"My children had no place to play and when it rained the water came inside the house. It's not like living in a house, there is nothing here."

But Larbi is one of the lucky ones.

After this tour of his old home, he took us to his new three bedroom apartment, which he's just moved into with his wife and two children.

It's clean and spacious, and although close to the slum where he used to live, it's a world apart.

'Cities without Slums'

And most importantly, because it's subsidised, he can afford the mortgage payments of $125 (£77) a month, which is about a third of his income.

"The reorganisation of informal housing is part of the government's programme 'Cities Without Slums'," says Ouafa Messous, an urban planner at the Ministry of Housing in Morocco.

This is the type of success story that the Moroccan government is trying to build on.

"Its objective is to improve the condition of 298,000 homes. We're investing over $3bn in the project, and so far 138,000 people have been moved from informal to formal houses."

The scale of the project is huge, which is why the government has brought the private sector on board.

BMCE Bank, which is one of Morocco's largest lenders, specifically targets people who don't own property, and customers who have irregular incomes, such as taxi drivers and carpenters.

It's a growing business for the bank, which has about 9,700 mortgages for people moving into low cost housing.

It may seem surprising that lending to sub-prime customers would be an attractive proposition after the financial crisis.

But it is for Morocco's banks, according to a BMCE Bank spokesperson, who said the government secures up to 70% of the value of the loan, and that the bank reduces its risk by only lending up to 40% of a customer's income.

Able to pay?

The other major opportunity in low cost housing is for developers.

Just a stone's throw away from where Larbi used to live, Addoha is building tens of thousands of low cost apartments.

While many developers in the Arab world are posting shrinking profits and putting major construction projects on hold, the Moroccan developer Addoha is doing the opposite.

The developer says there's a shortfall of around one million low cost houses which need to be built in Morocco.

And with the help of government subsidies and tax breaks, the company is building more and more of them, and increasing its profits.

But when it comes to low cost housing, the margins are thin, which is why developers need to rely on economies of scale.

"Our strategy to make this profitable starts with buying the land," says Abderrazak Waliallah, deputy general manager, of Addoha.

"The bigger the land, the cheaper it becomes. A second thing is that we take land that needs some work, so it's cheaper.

"Also because we are buying in bulk, we can negotiate good deals with contractors and get the best price."

But the problem does not end with matching supply and demand, according to Fouad Ammor who's a Moroccan economist based in Rabat.

"The problem is, to what extent will those in need of housing be able to pay for it?" he says.

Addoha's low cost apartments, which sell for around $25,000, are still out of the reach of many.

'No safety net'

Mounia - who lives in the same slum as Larbi used to - told the BBC she feels trapped.

Workers building new apartment buildings
The government says 138,000 people have got new homes so far

She lives, eats, sleeps and wakes in a small room with her husband and two children. The room is about the size of most people's kitchen.

Her husband sells clothes on the streets, and they cannot afford to take out a mortgage.

"I cannot pay $125 a month on rent," Mounia says.

"Sometimes my husband works all day and he doesn't earn even one cent; sometimes he doesn't sell any clothes and we need to buy food - so how can we save $125 a month?"

This was a common story among the people we spoke to in the slums of Casablanca.

Some said they couldn't afford to pay the deposit for a mortgage, others that they were concerned about being relocated miles outside town.

Others said they'd rather stay in the slum with free accommodation, electricity and water, than risk falling behind on mortgage payments.

There's also a strong culture of home ownership in Morocco, which means that many people are reluctant to rent an apartment.

"We don't have a social safety net here, so when people are jobless you have no income unless you have income from a family member," according to Fouad Ammor.

"There is a big problem of insecurity here. When you have a house your needs are narrowed. You are secure, more or less."

The Moroccan government has helped hundreds of thousands of people move from the slums into low cost housing, and bringing in the private sector has helped accelerate its plans to create cities without slums.

But many of Morocco's poorest people cannot afford even low cost housing and so feel they have been left behind.

Huffington Post: Funniest Protest Signs of 2009


Here is the link to the entire slideshow.


"Polly Vous Francais"

Kuwait Blogger's Workshop


Monday, September 28, 2009
7:00pm - 10:00pm
Marina Hotel
gulf street, marina crecent
Kuwait, Kuwait

30 Mosques in 30 Days Project


Two Muslim-Americans, Aman Ali and Bassam Tariq, got to better know the Muslim Community in New York by going to a different mosque to break the Ramadan fast for each day of the holy month. Its an interesting little blog and, since I have not really written anything on Ramadan (Eid Mubarak to all my Muslim readers, by the way), I think it is nice to highlight on this sort of journey. Check out their website documenting their visits here.

2009 Global Corruption Report by Transparency International Now Available


I would like to obtain a copy of this, as the theme for this year is Corruption and the Private Sector, and I am quite curious as to what has been found for the Gulf region, but it does not seem available by download from the website. However, I am including here some information about the theme for this year's report:

Transparency International’s Global Corruption Report 2009 (GCR09) brings together leading scholars, business practitioners and civil society experts to examine a broad range of persistent and emerging corruption risks for business, assess the efficacy of existing remedies, and propose
practical and innovative measures to strengthen and future-proof corporate integrity.

Topics covered include:

  • Corruption inside the enterprise: responding to
    corporate fraud and conflicts of interest.
  • Needs-tailored strategies: addressing corruption risks in SMEs, high-risk industries and privatisation programmes.
  • The state of play in compliance, reporting, codes and regulation: what works, what doesn’t,
    what’s next?
  • Holistic corporate integrity – aligning values, incentives and market signals: engaging owners,
    lenders and gatekeepers.
  • New and emerging markets: compliance in a changing global economy.

6 October 2009: Iranian Art Photography at Sultan Gallery


(Information provided from Al-Watan Daily)

The exhibition presents the work of seven photographers from three generations: Bahman Jalali and his Image of Imagination series, Sadegh Tirafkan and Mehran Mohajer with Multitude and Camera Rosea respectively, and of the young and vibrant generation of Iranian artists, Dadbeh Bassir, Mohammad Ghazali, Arash Hanaei and Babak Kazemi complete the group.

Opening night on October 6 at 7 p.m. For details call Tel: 24714325 Ext. 110, Fax: 24714301 or visit Sultan Gallery, South Subhan, Block 8, Street 105, Building No. 168.

Take This UN HABITAT Survey on Your City Planning


World Habitat Day is October 5th, 2009, designated by the United Nations. According to the UN Programme on Human Settlements:

The United Nations has designated the first Monday of October every year as World Habitat Day. The idea is to reflect on the state of our towns and cities and the basic right of all to adequate shelter. It is also intended to remind the world of its collective responsibility for the future of the human habitat.
On the website, there is a survey that anyone can fill out asking questions on personal views of urban planning in your city of residence. Please take the time to take it, link here. The survey website states:
The theme for this year’s World Habitat Day is Planning our urban future. Tell us what problems your city faces and how you would plan for a better urban future .

Op-Ed by Dr. Shamlan Yousef Al Eissa at Al-Watan Daily: Dealing effectively with the sponsorship issue


Interesting op-ed today warning about the dangers of placing recruitment in potentially corrupt public hands in Kuwait.

"The Minister of Social Affairs and Labor Mohammed AlـIfasi announced that the ministry intends to set up a nonـprofitable government authority to hire and sponsor overseas labor, instead of having citizens and companies as sponsors. He said that the ministry is also mulling over the possibility of allowing laborers to be their own sponsors. Explaining the system, he said that the authority will bring laborers to Kuwait and allocate them to the various sectors based on the requirements of the market. This is aimed at eliminating the need for residency dealers and companies that bring in laborers after charging them huge amounts of money and then set them loose on the streets without any work.

I commend AlـIfasi for his attempts in eliminating the practice of private companies taking advantage of overseas laborers, since they deprive them of their legal rights and also take advantage of the loopholes existing in the local labor laws.

I would however, like to caution the minister against setting up a new government authority to bring in expatriate labor, because the government authority will only be corrupt and unable to execute its responsibilities especially regarding overseas labor, since some employees at the ministry collaborate with residency dealers and they will abuse the law.

Employees in ministries are incapable of eliminating corruption and even indulge in thefts in coـoperative societies. They have also failed to monitor money and donations that flow into Islamic charitable societies and political Islamic institutions that are managed by religious parties." (click here for link)

New Online Guide to Kuwait


One of my friends sent me this link to . Its a fairly comprehensive website with a directory of a host of different pieces of information for people settling in Kuwait.

Cherien Dabis' "Amreeka" (2009)


This little movie won the Critic's Prize at Cannes and is turning out to be the independent movie awards' darling hit of the year. Director and Palestinian-American director Ms. Cherien Dabis graduated from Columbia University with a Master's in Fine Arts. Amreeka marks her debut feature. The story tells the tale of a Palestinian mother and son who immigrate to the United States in the early 1990s. The official movie website can be found by clicking here and I am including a trailer of the movie below.

France Espouses Hapiness Economics in Development Indicators


Speaking at the last G20 summit, Sarkozy has adopted measures of happiness and joie de vivre into its calculations on how to measure France's progress. His change of heart comes after receiving recommendations from development economists Joseph Stiglitz and Amartya Sen.

However, some say that this kind of measurement might be aimed at making France, a country reknowned for its 35 hour work week,pleasant work/life balance and fanciful cuisine, look better than cold statistics would make it out to be.

According to the Telegraph:

He said: "A great revolution is waiting for us. For years, people said that finance was a formidable creator of wealth, only to discover one day that it accumulated so many risks that the world almost plunged into chaos.'

"The crisis doesn't only make us free to imagine other models, another future, another world. It obliges us to do so."

When the measures are adopted, France will move a step closer to the remote Himalayan kingdom of Bhutan, currently the only country in the world which puts happiness at the heart of government policy.

In Bhutan, the government must consider every policy for its impact on "Gross National Happiness". This has led to a ban on advertising, wrestling channels, plastic bags and traffic lights.

Mr Sarkozy told a packed hall at Paris' Sorbonne university the world could have predicted last year's economic crisis if it had looked at happiness, wellbeing and sustainability.

The French government is now planning to include many of the "happiness" indicators in its regular growth statistics.

Tupac in Kazakhstan


The Guardian: "Iran set to allow first transsexual marriage" by Robert Tait


Iran is set to allow what is believed to be its first transsexual marriage after the would-be bride asked a court to override her father's opposition to the match.

The woman, named only as Shaghayegh, told Tehran's family court that she wanted to wed her best friend from school, who had recently undergone a sex-change operation to become a man, but was unable to obtain her father's blessing, as legally required.

Now her father has agreed to permit the union on condition that the male partner, Ardashir, who was previously a woman called Negar, undergoes a medical examination intended to prove it would be a proper male-female relationship.

The case comes against the backdrop of Iran's notoriously repressive policies on homosexuality, which is illegal under the country's strict theocratic code. Gay rightsgroups have accused the authorities of executing homosexuals, although officials deny the charge.

The father's change of heart came after he was summoned to court to explain his opposition. He told the judge, Alireza Sedaghati, that he had been driven by "fear of humiliation".

"During the last several years, Ardashir came to our house many times and all the neighbours and relatives know him as a girl," he said.

"Now she has changed gender and turned into a man, I can't sit and watch my daughter's friend turning into my son-in-law."

But he relented in the face of his daughter's insistence that she be allowed to wed Ardashir.

"Ardashir and I have been together since adolescence and know each other very well. This familiarity can make us happy," she told the court.

Etemaad newspaper reported that the two had been friends for 12 years after meeting at school and had later studied at the same university, where their close relationship had been well known to fellow students.

After graduating, Negar changed sex under Iran's Islamic laws which deem transsexuals religiously permissible, in contrast to the blanket ban on homosexuality, which is considered a sin.

Iran carries out more sex change operations than any other country apart from Thailand after the late Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, spiritual leader of the 1979 Islamic revolution, issued a religious fatwa approving the practice, which has government funding. Critics have suggested that some of those changing sex are not true transsexuals but gays or lesbians who feel forced into the operation by social pressure. (link to article here)