Firstly, it's been raining, obviously! I enjoy the rain, especially listening to it at night. Its been looking like it was going to rain for days and days, so I was happy when it finally started to pour yesterday (I get a couple days off from watering my plants!). There were a few drops on Thursday as well but not much. The latest forecast on Weather Underground shows that by Monday we should be back to the sun.
Now, someone commented on a previous post of mine their surprise about me choosing not to write about the demonstration (Green March) last week. I wanted to devote a bit more time to it before blurbing about it in my jumbled up post last week.
Last week, on Monday the 17th January, 2011, approximately 200 (source is this Gulf News article) Omani's demonstrated in the Wizarat Ministries area protesting over the rising cost of living, low wages and corruption. As far as protests go, this was pretty poorly attended. Which surprises me because there was clearly quite some organization in getting an approval to come and protest, yet spreading the word about the protest did not seem to be done very well (it seems it was done via SMS messages). The Gulf News article seems to attempt to link this demonstration with those that have recently been occurring in Tunisa. No idea why, and I think perhaps the author was trying to spin something into their article that simply wasn't there.
People were chanting:
Salaries! Salaries! Jobs! Jobs! No to corruption! No to corruption!
Now, the cost of living here in Muscat has indeed increased pretty sharply in recent years, and I certainly believe that there are many Omani nationals here who are under-paid for one reason or another. I have no doubts in my mind that there is corruption here as well.
I think the pay scale should be the same for many jobs here. There's plenty of competent and capable Omani's who are paid less for doing the same job as an expatriate worker. Let's be clear here, Salary is different to living allowances, which are often paid to expatriate workers to cover their incurred living expenses for moving here to the Sultanate. That is another kettle of fish but is essentially the carrot to bring people like me over here.
For me, the single biggest piece of news here was that a demonstration was allowed to even take place. I'm going to put myself out there a bit and say that for the most part, Omani's are very fortunate people, they have these following nice perks:
- Free healthcare
- Subsidized fuel, power and water (heavily subsidized)
- Omanization protecting jobs (you wont see this in Europe)
- Practically free land awarded via lottery frequently
- No income tax
- No property/council tax
- No road tax (just the RO 20 per year renewal fee for the mulkia)
However, the minimum wage for Omani's (holding high school diploma certificates) is pathetically low (its around RO 150), and as the cost of basic food items has increased, and continues to do so, this minimum wage has not been increased. This rise in food costs is reflecting the world market's general trends as a whole, but many people do not see an uplift in their salaries each year to account for inflation.
It appeared that the demonstration was targeting the Merchants who are charging increased costs for these basic foodstuffs. That could really only mean flour and rice, seeing as how Oman locally produces dairy products, meat, vegetable and fruits, and the cost of these items are low.
Merchants such as Lu-Lu's, Carrefour, The Sultan Centre, Al Fair and so on are naturally charging for items to generate a profit, this is the nature of a free market. Perhaps what is needed is a combination of increased salaries (revised minimum wage) to those in low-paying jobs, and an industry watch-dog to ensure that merchants are not gouging customers at the tills.
But that is not the entire story. It is all too often a common story when you hear about people and their debt's here. That is another blog post in itself, and one I probably would not do justice, something more up Muscati or Undercover Dragons street. Possibly people here are living beyond their means, and I'm generalizing and know full well that not every Omani is living beyond their means, but as a general trend, it seems this way. People changing their phones every few months, brand new cars and so on. So perhaps a little attitude change from people is required as well?
I'd hazard a guess that the three big loans that any Omani (man, women would be a slightly different story) has to obtain are:
You start work, and you need a car. So one is financed. How many people buy brand-new cars on finance, when realistically they should do what many other people just starting out around the world do, and buy used? (read: really used! - my first car was a Citroen ZX 1.4 and it was a dog, it kept over heating, one time the brakes even stopped working when driving in rush-hour city traffic!).
Why throw an over-sized wedding if you can't afford it? Why must Dowry's be paid? These seem social issues that are effecting the economic health of the citizens of this country. And as Oman matures as a developed nation, the harsh reality that having a large number of children is not something that can be sustained economically.
And finally, the single biggest commitment most of us will make in our lives (and no I don't mean saying "I do") is getting a mortgage to buy a home.
It's a fact of life for almost all of us in this world - we do not have enough money to buy a home, and so we need to borrow the money to do so. And hopefully over time the value of our home increases and we can build our financial stability around it. How are people earning these low wages meant to feed and clothe themselves, before even attempting to start buying a home?
It would seem that the minimum wage is simply too low. People need to earn more money to keep up with inflation.
What do you all think?