It is the luxury retailer’s first-ever store abroad. And it opened at a cost
of about AED270million. It is very different from Bloomingdales in Manhattan
with a focus on ultra-high fashion instead of accessible luxury. There are
two Bloomingdale’s outposts in the mall, one dedicated to fashion and the
other to home. The two are not connected which is rather strange.
Macy’s Inc., which owns Bloomingdales, has joined up with Dubai-based Al
Tayer Group to open the store. Al Tayer runs the Middle Eastern operations
of a ton of Western retailers, including Balenciaga, Stella McCartney and
others like Harvey Nichols and Gap.
Bloomingdales cuts its overheads by having stores in store; including
Bottega Veneta, Balenciaga and Yves Saint Laurent.
In the Lower Ground floor home section you can find an outpost of Forty
Carrots, the famed frozen yogurt shop and a Magnolia bakery; baking
expensive cup cakes.
Bloomingdales plans on distinguishing itself from Dubai’s vast array of
departments stores—including Galleries Lafayette, the aforementioned Harvey
Nichols and Saks Fifth Avenue through a focus on brands you can’t find
anywhere else in the region.
had a quick walk around both sections of the store. It is upmarket. There
are lots of staff all in smart grey/black suits. And the price tags are very
small. But if you need to check the price tags in this store you should not
be shopping there anyway. This is a store for people with money to burn. The
rest of us are just sightseeing.
Will it work? Well, despite the fact that the entire country is in financial
shambles, shopping is still the number one leisure activity in Dubai. So
probably. Flying Cheap
1 February 2010
One year ago, Continental Flight 3407 crashed outside of Buffalo, N.Y.,
killing 49 people onboard and one on the ground. Although 3407 was painted
in the colors of Continental Connection, it was actually operated by Colgan
Air, a regional airline that flies routes under contract for US Airways,
United and Continental. The crash and subsequent investigation revealed a
little-known trend in the airline industry: major airlines have outsourced
more and more of their flights to obscure regional carriers.
In the USA regional airlines account for more than half of all scheduled
domestic flights in the United States and have been responsible for the last
six fatal commercial airline accidents. So TV's FRONTLINE producer Rick
Young and correspondent Miles O’Brien have investigated the safety issues
associated with outsourcing in their documentary "Flying Cheap" which will
air on Tuesday, Feb. 9, 2010, at 9 P.M. ET on PBS (check local listings).
The captain had failed five flight tests in his career and received
inadequate training on a critical safety system involved in the crash. The
co-pilot was making less than US$16,000 a year and had commuted overnight
the previous night from the west coast. There are a good number of regional
airline pilots that are working second jobs and overnighting on lounge room
The flights still carry the codes and colors of the major airlines. But
fewer and fewer of the majors are actually flying the commuter planes. That
job is increasingly outsourced to small regional companies with names most
of us hardly know.
This is all a part of a fiercely competitive industry driven by passengers
who want the lowest possible airfares.
The link above is to a part of the broadcast. Frontline talked to two former
Colgan pilots who agreed to speak publicly for the first time.
The industry turned to regional outsourcing in the wake of deregulation and
competitive pressure from new low-cost carriers such as Southwest. The
major airlines created the regional industry as a way of lowering costs.
The regional industry argues that flying is safer than ever. Despite the
string of accidents among the regionals, the overall fatality rate has
continued to decline since deregulation.
But are the public willing to pay more for greater oversight, better
training and more experienced crews?
The end of NASA as we know it
1 February 2010
The big news in the proposed US budget is that NASA's allocation for 2011
eliminates the funds for manned lunar missions
NASA did have a grand plan to return to the moon, built on President George
W. Bush's (rather foolish) vision of an ambitious new chapter in space
The Democrat budget numbers show that the Obama administration effectively
plans to kill the Constellation program that called for a return to the moon
by 2020. The budget, expected to increase slightly over the current $18.7
billion, is also a death knell for the Ares 1 rocket, NASA's planned
successor to the space shuttle. The agency has spent billions developing the
rocket, which is still years from its first scheduled crew flight.
Quite simply the USA cannot afford it. They have two unwanted wars to
finance and the impact of Republican tax cuts to manage.
Obama's budget will instead call for spending $6 billion over five years to
develop a commercial spacecraft that could taxi astronauts into low Earth
orbit. Going commercial with a human crew would represent a dramatic change
in the way NASA does business. Instead of NASA owning the spacecraft and
overseeing every nut and bolt of its design and construction, a private
company would design and build the spacecraft with NASA looking over its
Essentially the Obama administration has decided that the USA is not going
to be a significant player in human space flight for the foreseeable future.
Which means if we want to see a man on the moon the next one is almost
certain to be Chinese.
This is all bad news for Florida where 7,000 jobs will be lost when the
space shuttle is retired next year.
Air Asia X pulls out of Abu Dhabi
1 February 2010
AirAsia X is to pull out of Abu Dhabi after just three months in operation,
a setback for the fledgling carrier’s long-haul, low-cost business plan in
The surprise withdrawal is effective on February 21. Strangely this was also
the week that Emirates launched a third daily flight to Kuala Lumpur.
The Malaysia-based carrier, which launched its Kuala Lumpur to Abu Dhabi
service with great fanfare on November 23, said it hoped to resume services
as quickly as possible once it employed a more economical aircraft for the
route. It flies a four-engine Airbus A340, but hopes to restart the route
using an Airbus A330, which has fewer seats and is more fuel-efficient, with
just two engines.
Once again it is clear that the long-haul, low-cost concept, is fragile.
Witness last year's collapse of OASIS in Hong Kong. But Abu Dhabi was also
an unlikely destination for Air Asia X as both Abu Dhabi and Dubai both
thrive as transit airports for their local airline; Abu Dhabi in particular
would not see much point to point traffic from Malaysia.
Reducing seat costs by cramming passengers into an aeroplane and offering
minimal service is a tough business. That is precisely why the likes of
Southwest Airlines and Ryanair have never ventured to go long haul – the
concept does not work as well on longer routes.
The five most popular destinations from the Abu Dhabi in 2009 were London
Heathrow, Bangkok, Doha, Manama and Cairo.
Dubai World Silence on Debt Standstill Evaporates Bailout
1 February 2010 - Bloomberg
"Dubai’s failure to reassure investors its restructuring plan will succeed
is causing the emirate’s benchmark stock index to drop the most in the world
and forcing companies to scrap bond sales.
The Dubai Financial Market General Index lost 15 percent since Dec. 14,
wiping out a rally sparked by Abu Dhabi’s bailout of Dubai World that day.
Bonds of the state-owned company’s property developer Nakheel PJSC sank to
55.75 cents on the dollar from 67.5 cents, while credit default swaps on
Dubai government debt trade at 493 basis points, the highest level since Abu
Dhabi’s fund injection.
Dubai World, in talks to reschedule $22 billion of debt, failed to present
an offer in a meeting with lenders in December and declined to say when a
deal may be struck. Dubai Electricity & Water Authority said Jan. 17 it
delayed a $1.5 billion bond sale as borrowing costs were too high.
Lack of clarity on Dubai World’s restructuring plan “is creating uncertainty
that is weighing heavily on the market,” said Rami Sidani, the Dubai-based
head of Middle East and North Africa investment at Schroder Investment
Management Ltd., which oversees about $230 billion worldwide. “We’re not out
of the woods yet and we know Dubai will continue to struggle with a debt
Dubai stocks and bonds tumbled in November after the government said Dubai
World would seek to delay payments to creditors until at least May 30.
Investors speculated that Nakheel, which is building palm tree-shaped
islands off the emirate’s coast, would default after Dubai companies lost
access to cheap financing because of the global credit crunch and a 50
percent slump in Dubai home prices.
Abu Dhabi’s $10 billion bailout on Dec. 14 ensured that Nakheel would have
the $4.1 billion it needed to repay an Islamic bond due that day. Dubai is
the second-biggest of seven states that make up the United Arab Emirates,
whose capital Abu Dhabi holds 8 percent of global oil reserves. Dubai and
its state-owned companies borrowed at least $80 billion until 2008 to
transform the emirate into a tourism and financial hub.
The Dubai stock index jumped 10 percent and bond prices soared on the day
Abu Dhabi provided the funds. Dubai credit default swaps, which measure the
cost of protecting against the default of government debt, sank to 430 basis
points from 540.
The Dubai stock index has since posted the biggest decline among benchmark
equity gauges in the world’s 70 largest markets. While global stocks have
retreated on concern China will take steps to curb economic growth, the
Dubai measure’s 15 percent loss compares with a 4 percent decline in the
MSCI AC World Index.
Nakheel’s $750 million of 2.75 percent bonds due 2011 lost 17 percent during
the period, according to Citigroup Inc. prices on Bloomberg, while credit
default swaps jumped 63 basis points. A basis point on a credit-default swap
contract to protect against the default of $10 million of debt for five
years is equivalent to $1,000 a year.
“The Dubai World restructuring is going to be a long and tedious process,”
said Shehab Gargash, a managing director at Dubai-based Daman Investments
who’s holding half of his $1.5 billion under management in cash. “That’s the
main reason we decided to stay out” of Dubai’s “bear market rally,” he said.
Templeton Asset Management Ltd.’s Mark Mobius says the Abu Dhabi bailout
ensured the worst of the emirate’s debt crisis is over. The manager of $34
billion in emerging market assets said in an interview there’s “value and
opportunity” in Dubai markets and that Templeton bought shares during the
selloff in November and early December.
“There has to be more revelations about what is being done and how, but the
panic is over,” Mobius, the chairman of Templeton Asset Management, said in
the Jan. 28 interview in Melbourne. “We are trying to buy at a good price
given the fact that transparency isn’t complete.”
The Dubai stock index trades for 5.1 times analysts’ 2010 earnings
estimates, the cheapest level worldwide after Nigeria’s All Share Index,
according to data compiled by Bloomberg.
While investors speculate on the recovery values of Dubai debt, the lifeline
from Abu Dhabi is helping the state-owned companies meet their interest
payments. Nakheel paid a $10.3 million coupon last month on its 2011 bond.
Dubai Holding Commercial Operations Group LLC, the investment company owned
by Dubai’s ruler, made about $100 million of scheduled payments last month
on three bonds.
Dubai-based firms have to refinance $7.3 billion in syndicated loans and
$2.8 billion in maturing bonds this year, according to Deutsche Bank AG
estimates. Some of the biggest debt maturities include a $1.25 billion loan
due in June by Dubai International Capital LLC, an investment company owned
by Dubai’s ruler, and $1.5 billion in two floating-rate dollar notes issued
by Emirates NBD PJSC.
Emirates Telecommunications Corp., the U.A.E.’s biggest phone company, has
deferred plans to issue the equivalent of $490 million bonds as it has
enough cash for expansion plans, Ahmed bin Ali, a spokesman for the company,
said Jan. 28.
The Dubai government’s $1.93 billion Islamic bond issued in October was the
last sale of bonds from the emirate. Drake & Scull International PJSC, a
Dubai-based construction-engineering contractor that raised about 1.2
billion dirhams ($327 million) from its initial public offering in 2008, was
the last stock sale from a Dubai- based company, according to Bloomberg
“It makes very little sense for a Dubai corporate issuer to go out now and
just try to force the issue in the market,” said Abdul Kadir Hussain, chief
executive officer of fund manager Mashreq Capital DIFC Ltd. “Right now the
market is waiting for a strategy. How are we going to reduce the absolute
debt level in Dubai and how quickly is this going to happen. Investors are
taking a very conservative attitude toward the U.A.E.”"
Dubai's Business Bay
1 February 2010
picture from January 2010 with Business Bay in the centre and the Burj
Khalifa to the right.
31 January 2010
Now I know why Emirates needs to take the A380 to China. So we can all go
and see the return of Faye Wong.
Hong Kong artist Faye Wong is currently making preparations for her
impending comeback to the entertainment industry. After going on hiatus for
more than two years, she recently recorded a theme song called "You Lan Cao"
for the movie, Confucius, which has just been released in China.
Faye is now 40 years-old. manager admitted that Faye's comeback
schedule has been confirmed. She will be participating in the rehearsals for
a television programme where she will either share a tune with fellow singer
Eason Chan or perform her solo song from Confucius.
According to other reports, Faye's first comeback appearance was at a jewel
fair held in Shanghai this month. She attended the opening ceremony with her
husband, Li Yapeng.
The big rumour is of concerts before the year end. One of the locations for
Faye Wong’s (王菲) comeback concerts in November 2010 will be Shanghai’s
Pudong Expo Performing Arts Center. Ticket prices are expected to break all
She may also perform in Hong Kong.
Faye Wong (born August 8, 1969) is a Chinese singer, songwriter, actress and
31 January 2010
China Eastern Airlines has taken an initiative ahead of Emirates and will
launch flights from Kunming to Dubai. One of my 2010 predictions was that
Emirates would start this route.
Kunming is a southwestern Chinese city and acts as a gateway to South East
The airline, one of the largest in China, will operate the service three
times a week from February 22, it said.
A 260-seat Boeing 767-300 aircraft will be used for the service and the
flight to Kunming will take seven hours.
Only one of the three weekly flights, on Mondays, will be direct. The
Wednesday and Saturday flights will have a stopover in the Bangladeshi
capital of Dacca, which will add an extra hour to the flight.
"The opening of the new air route will help increase the contacts between
China and Dubai," an airline spokesperson said.
30 January 2010
From 1970 to 1975 my parents were living in Nigeria, Home was the Government
Residential Area at Ikeja, close to Lagos Airport.
35 years ago! Scary. There was only one hotel in Ikeja - the Lagos Airport
The hotel is pretty down market now- with the Sheraton and Protea taking the
foreign business. But the pool is still the same; with the same diving
boards. I used to spend the morning at Ikeja Golf Club; it is still there
and thriving - with new greens replacing the old browns. Afternoons were
spent with friends by the pool.
Paul McCartney and Wings (actually just Paul and Linda McCartney, guitarist
Denny Laine, and ex Beatles engineer Geoff Emerick - stayed there in 1973
recording Band on the Run - and also lounging around this pool.
There are many pictures of Lagos
link. But this picture brings back many memories.
Tanks in the night spark coup talk
Thai Takes by PHILIP GOLINGAI The Malaysian Star
30 January 2010
"Military coups have been part and parcel of Thai politics – friendly coup,
judicial coup, TV coup, silent coup – and the nation may yet see a coup to
get rid of the Opposition
TWENTY-TWO V-150 armoured personnel carriers (APCs) rumbled into the streets
of Bangkok on Monday night. And – not surprising for politically-jittery
Thailand – the immediate assumption was the military had launched a coup.
It turned out that the APCs were decommissioned from an operation in the
country’s restive southern provinces and were on their way via Bangkok to
Pathum Thani (a town north of the Thai capital) for maintenance.
The next day the military apologised for causing panic and for not informing
the public about the movement of the APCs.
It also denied that the army would stage a coup.
“It is out of fashion to talk about a coup,” said army spokesman Colonel
On the contrary – thanks to recent events (such as the crack in the Abhisit
Vejjajiva-led coalition government and the mysterious slap-in-the-face
grenade attack on the office of the Army Chief General Anupong Paojinda) and
conjectures (involving surprise, surprise Thaksin Shinawatra, the former
Thai Prime Minister who was ousted in a 2006 coup) – it is once again
fashionable to talk about an imminent coup.
This week Thai English-language newspapers ran coup-related news articles
(No impending coup, Anupong insists) and opinion pieces (Coup, what coup?
and Full circle to another military coup?).
The Nation also Tweeted: “Here’s one for 2day: A 14-yr-old nephew of
Pojaman’s told his school friends to ‘get out of Bkk’ on Feb 26.
(Translated: Here’s a rumour for today – A 14-year-old nephew of (Thaksin’s
former wife) Pojaman told his schoolmates to “get out of Bangkok” on Feb 26
(which is the day the Supreme Court decides on the 76bil baht (RM7.6bil)
that was seized from Thaksin after the 2006 coup).
But a coup by an Abhisit-friendly military against the Abhisit-led coalition
government? Mind boggling.
But this is Thailand. And there is such a thing as a “friendly” coup.
In his Friday column in the Bangkok Post, Abhisit’s cousin Suranand
Vejjajiva, who served in the Thaksin Shinawatra Cabinet and is now a
political analyst, wrote:
“The general analysis among political pundits is that, with pressure over
the verdict on Thaksin’s 76bil-baht assets case to be handed down on Feb 26,
the Red Shirts (a pro-Thaksin movement) could escalate their rallies and
“Riots could turn violent and there would be sabotage. The top brass have
been dissatisfied with PM Abhisit and the Democrats in controlling the
situation. There have been signs lately that they are distancing themselves
from the government.
“Given the circumstances, if another putsch is to be carried out, it could
be the first one in history with the intent of getting rid of the opposition
rather than to overthrow the government. It is Thaksin who is the target,
“Thaksin is viewed as a nuisance, and definitely a threat to the military’s
security if he ever manages to stage a comeback. In addition, Thaksin is
still widely popular, with polls indicating that if an election were held
today, Thaksin’s Puea Thai Party would win more than 200 seats, if not an
absolute majority in Parliament.”
The anticipation of a coup is the thing that I will miss the most when I end
my stint in Bangkok as The Star’s Thailand correspondent (which began a
month before the Sept 19, 2006 coup). Almost every other month since I’ve
lived in Thailand, tongues have wagged that a coup was imminent.
Though the political pundits and fortune tellers have been wrong on their
coup predictions, Thailand has seen:
a) A judicial coup (the court removed Pro-Thaksin Samak Sundaravej as Prime
Minister for moonlighting as a chef in a television cooking show).
b) A TV coup (army chief General Anupong – flanked by the navy chief, the
air force chief and the police chief – appeared on television to demand the
resignation of Prime Minister Somchai Wongsawat, Thaksin’s brother-in-law
and Samak’s successor).
c) Several “silent” coups (including the Abhisit-led government declaring a
state of emergency to allow the military to crack down on the Red Shirts
protest during Songkran, the Thai new year, in April 2009).
Today as I fly back to Kuala Lumpur, I wonder whether there will be a coup
in Bangkok tonight."
Blair's lack of regret
29 January 2010
Tony Blair was in front of the Chilcott inquiry from 9.30am until just about
If he was nervous it was about the performance he was about to give rather
than the certainty of his message.
By the afternoon, the old Blair had resurfaced.
His answers became longer, his head was held higher, and he was clearly in
control of the situation and of his message.
He remains evangelical about the Iraq invasion. He was asked twice in a
gripping final 30 minutes if he he had any regrets. None. Not a chance! He
was asked if he wanted to say any final words at the end of the enquiry. No.
Abrupt and clear. This ex PM is not for turning. i would do it all again was
It is an inquiry only. No one is on trial. It is likely that the inquiry
will find fault with the decision making process and the lines of
communication in government.
But the inquiry members did not pursue the key issue of their most people's
minds – why had he taken the country to war when the attorney general's
advice had been lukewarm at least, on the legality of such action?
Blair was defiant and emphatic as one expected, but he chose his words
carefully, seemed to go out of his way not to provoke needlessly. He was
His big picture message warned of the danger of WMD in rogue state or
terrorist hands, increased urgency after 9/11, the need to act rather than
run the risk of rogue WMD etc – but he avoided any details such as where
were the WMD. The system of decision making, the intelligence case, the law,
the preparations, the equipment, the unforeseen problems in Iraq after the
fall of Saddam, the deaths – all these are secondary in his mind.
The inquiry did not pursue the dubious intelligence about WMD, the confusion
of WMD and toppling of Saddam as the justification for war, his stifling of
legal opinion or the failure to plan for post-invasion Iraq.
Blair is something of a political outcast now. Once the dynamic leader of
new Labour he has lost much of that credibility. Today was a chance to show
some humanity; to acknowledge the sacrifice made by so many Iraqis and
allies. But there was not the slightest regret from him nor any expression
All Blair offered was that he felt a keen sense of responsibility "but not a
regret for removing Saddam Hussein. He was a monster."
At a minimum he should have prepared a closing statement that would express
at least sorrow for the men and women from all sides who had lost their
It was an alienating rather than appeasing performance. For Blair there was
nothing wrong with the grounds for the invasion, the planning of it, its
legality, the decision-making process or the conduct of its aftermath. He
believed strongly that Iraq was developing WMD.
The he created the 2010 question: where would Saddam be now if no action had
been taken? Wouldn't he represent an even greater threat today than he did
To be honest Saddam would have long been yesterday's news. He had no WMD.
His army was a ragtag mess with obsolete equipment. His people lived in
fear. Iraq was already a failing state.
Blair even then used his greater afternoon confidence to bring up the
subject of Iran; which is only minimally related to the Iraq invasion. The
arguments that applied in 2002 – about WMD falling into terrorist hands –
applied in spades to Iran in 2010, he said.
Blair clearly doesn't realise that the fastest way to damage any planned
military action against Iran is to associate it with the catastrophe of
Does Blair think that history will vindicate him – crediting him for seeing
the menace of Saddam and Iran and that where others want dialogue he
believes in strong action.
Reasons to swim in a Pool
27 January 2010
surfer has been bitten by a shark just off Dubai’s Umm Suqeim beach.
Australian Michael Geraghty needed stitches and hospital treatment for a
wound to his foot that he suffered as a result of the attack.
However, experts have told the public not to be alarmed as, although
sightings of sharks are common in the Gulf, such attacks are extremely rare.
Geraghty told 7DAYS that he was riding the waves on Saturday when he was
pulled from his surfboard.
When he looked down, he was shocked to see blood colouring the water.
The shocked 54-year-old was taken to Rashid Hospital’s emergency department
where doctors told him there were teeth marks around the big gash across the
ball of his foot.
The founder of research project Shark Quest Arabia, Jonathon Ali Khan, said
shark attacks in the Arabian Gulf were “exceptionally rare”. And he said
that even though dangerous species such as tiger, hammerhead and bull sharks
have been spotted in UAE waters, he suspected that whatever attacked
Geraghty was a lot less dangerous.
“Because the injury was not serious, it’s unlikely to have been one of the
more dangerous types even though they are typically more aggressive,” he
“It’s possible it was a baby or one of the local species, like a black tip,
just being curious and having a taste.”
The Doha debates
26 January 2010
"This House believes Dubai is a bad idea." It was the first time the
city-state's financial misfortunes had been publicly discussed in the
Three successive panel members who agreed to speak against the motion,
including Mark Beer, chairman and CEO of Dubai's British Businessmen's
Group, had to be replaced after they pulled out at short notice, while five
journalists representing Dubai newspapers and business publications also
withdrew their accreditation and failed to appear.
Although most of the absentees cited "operational or health reasons" for
their last-minute change of mind, those familiar with the debates said they
appeared to have decided the event was too contentious.
Dubai's ruler Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum was recently on record
telling critics of Dubai to "shut up."
In the wide-ranging session, Mishal Kanoo, Chairman of the Kanoo Group, one
of the largest independent groups of companies in the Gulf, attacked the
motion saying Dubai was where every Arab wanted to be.
The city, he said, had become a beacon of prosperity for international
companies and "a viable alternative to nationalism and extremism."
Rebutting suggestions that Dubai's rulers should have been more circumspect
in the way they ran the economy during the boom years, he asked: "When you
are in a speeding train, do you stop and ask whether everything is OK?"
A member of the audience replied to loud applause," why run a speeding train
when you cannot handle it?"
Nasser Al Ghaith, an Emirati financial analyst also speaking against the
motion, said he believed Dubai had taken "a wrong turn" after its
construction boom but "a self-correcting mechanism" was already in
"To say Dubai is a bad idea is to say the free market and globalisation are
Simon Jenkins, former editor of the London Times, suggested that Dubai was
doomed from the moment its ruler conceived his over-ambitious plan to build
an "anything goes" culture of capitalism.
"All over the world lie the wreckages of cities that expanded too fast.
Dubai failed through lack of government control. Uncontrolled capitalism
ends in tears and causes huge human hardship.
"It was a property boom based on oil money and debt. The hysteria of the
past five years will seem like a nightmare. The idea for growth went far too
fast and when you go too fast you fall much faster."
Sharla Musabih, an Emirati who has been living in the US since running a
Dubai-based centre for abused women and children, said the city had become
corrupted by greed and the pursuit of wealth.
"I remember the Emirates 10 to 15 years ago when they were simple and life
was sweet. Now there is intimidation and fear, a lot of people are afraid to
speak up for themselves. The beautiful vision we once had has gone."
As Olympics near, people in Vancouver are dreading Games 26 January 2010 - Sports Illustrated
"When I arrived in Vancouver, the first thing I noticed was the frowns.
The International Olympic Committee has leased every sign and billboard in
town to broadcast Olympic joy, but they can't purchase people's faces. It's
clear that the 2010 Winter Games has made the mood in the bucolic coastal
city decidedly overcast. Even the customs police officer checking my
passport started grumbling about "$5,000 hockey tickets." Polls released on
my first day in Vancouver back up this initial impression. Only 50 percent
of residents in British Columbia think the Olympics will be positive and 69
percent said too much money is being spent on the Games.
"The most striking thing in the poll is that as the Olympics get closer,
British Columbians are less likely to see the Games as having a positive
impact," said Hamish Marshall, research director for the pollster, Angus
Reid. "Conventional wisdom was that as we got closer to the Olympics, people
here would get more excited and more supportive." If the global recession
hadn't smacked into the planning last year, with corporate sponsors fleeing
for the hills, maybe the Vancouver Olympic Committee would be on more solid
ground with residents. But public bailouts of Olympic projects have
decisively altered the local mood.
I spoke to Charles, a bus driver, whose good cheer diminished when I asked
him about the games. "I just can't believe I wanted this a year ago," he
said. "I voted for it in the plebiscite. But now, yes. I'm disillusioned."
This disillusion is developing as the financial burden of the Games becomes
public. The original cost estimate was $660 million in public money. It's
now at an admitted $6 billion and steadily climbing. An early economic
impact statement was that the games could bring in $10 billion. Price
Waterhouse Coopers just released their own study showing that the total
economic impact will be more like $1 billion. In addition, the Olympic
Village came in $100 million over budget and had to be bailed out by the
Security was estimated at $175 million and the final cost will exceed $1
billion. These budget overruns are coinciding with drastic cuts to city
services. On my first day in town, the cover of the local paper blared
cheery news about the Games on the top flap, while a headline announcing the
imminent layoff off 800 teachers was much further down the page.
As a staunch Olympic supporter, a sports reporter from the Globe and Mail
said to me, "The optics of cuts in city services alongside Olympic cost
overruns are to put it mildly, not good."
But these aren't just p.r. gaffs to Vancouver residents, particularly on the
eastside of the city where homelessness has spiked. Carol Martin who works
in the downtown eastside of Vancouver, the most economically impoverished
area in all of Canada, made this clear: "The Bid Committee promised that not
a single person would be displaced due to the Games, but there are now 3,000
homeless people sleeping on Vancouver's streets and these people are facing
increased police harassment as they try to clean the streets in the lead up
to the Games."
I strolled the backstreets of the downtown eastside and police congregate on
every corner, trying to hem in a palpable frustration and anger.
Anti-Olympic posters wallpaper the neighborhood, creating an alternative
universe to the cheery 2010 Games displays by the airport. The Vancouver
Olympic Committee has tried to quell the crackling vibe by dispersing
tickets to second-tier Olympic events like the luge. It hasn't worked.
The people of the downtown eastside and beyond are developing a different
outlet for their Olympic angst. For the first time in the history of the
games, a full-scale protest is being planned to welcome the athletes,
tourists, and foreign dignitaries.
Bringing together a myriad of issues, Vancouver residents have put out an
open call for a week of anti-game actions. Different demonstrations on
issues ranging from homelessness to indigenous rights have been called.
Protesters from London and Russia, site of the next two Olympics will be
there. Expect a tent city, expect picket signs, expect aggressive direct
actions. Tellingly, according to the latest polls, 40 percent of British
Columbia residents support the aims of the protesters, compared to just 13
percent across the rest of Canada. Harsha Walia of the Olympic Resistance
Network said, "We are seeing increasing resistance across the country as it
becomes more visible how these Games are a big fraud."
The Games will also coincide with the largest and longest-standing annual
march in Vancouver, the Feb. 14 Memorial Women's March meant to call
attention to the hundreds of missing and murdered women -- particularly
indigenous women -- in British Columbia. The Vancouver Olympic Committee
asked the Memorial March organizing if they would change the route of the
march for the Olympic Games. As Stella August, one of the organizers with
the downtown eastside Power of Women Group, said to me, "We are warriors. We
have been doing this for 19 years and we aren't going to bow down to the
One thing is certain: if you are in Vancouver, and competitive curling
doesn't get your blood pumping, there will be quite the spectacle outside
What happens to the Thaksin billions?
25 January 2010
The newspapers in Thailand seem to have determined that 26 February is
critical to Thailand's political future. A decision is due that day in the
Bangkok court case that recently concluded hearings and which many expect
will result in the permanent seizure of 76.6 billion baht worth (US$2.3
billion) of exiled premier Thaksin's and his family's assets which are
currently frozen in Thai banks.
The highly anticipated February 26 verdict has already weighed against
political stability and could trigger volatile new street protests in the
At the heart of the case is alleged government policy corruption,
implemented, critics say, specifically to benefit Thaksin's family-owned
businesses at the expense of their contractual obligations to the state.
Former information communications and technology minister Sittichai
Pookkaiyaudom, who served under the 2006-07 post coup army appointed
government, estimated in his testimony last week that Thaksin's excise tax
policy cost the state around 60 billion baht in lost revenues.
He did not offer any statistical analysis to back that calculation. Combined
with the 16.5 billion baht tax exemption Thaksin's government handed to his
family-owned Shin Satellite on foreign-earned profits, the alleged
corruption tally conveniently equates to the 76.6 billion baht in question.
Thaksin's defense has throughout maintained that the charges are politically
motivated and legally invalid. His lawyers have argued that both the excise
tax policy, implemented through executive decree, and the cabinet resolution
that allowed operators to deduct the tax from their concession payments to
the state were deemed legal by the Constitutional Court while Thaksin was in
power and that those rulings should be considered final.
The defense has also argued that if Thaksin is found guilty of corruption,
the court has no legal basis for seizing all of his assets because much of
the money was earned legitimately before he took the premiership in 2001.
The current Thai government is clear that future stability in Thailand is
contingent largely on Thaksin's access to funds. If Thaksin has funds he can
finance the red shirt protests. Without funds he is impotent.
Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva told foreign reporters at the FCCT on
January 14 that he expects Thaksin and his supporters "will try to up the
game" and that "we can't rule out attempts at violence".
There are also allegations that Thaksin could finance a coup led by
disgruntled soldiers to pre-empt an expected guilty verdict. In the last two
days both of Thailand's English language newspapers have reported coup
rumours and quoted denials. But the fact is that discussion of potential
coups has increased dramatically in the last few days.
The Asia Times reported that behind the scenes, a dialogue mediated by a
Swedish parliamentarian interlocutor between the military, palace and
Thaksin's camp has after several months failed to make headway towards
reconciliation, according to a European diplomat familiar with the process.
The prosecution in the trial has made perhaps the strongest legal case yet
against Thaksin. This case appears much stronger than the 2008 criminal
conviction for a land deal between his government and former wife that drove
Thaksin into exile.
In addition to the excise tax policy charges, the state prosecution has also
focused on the unusual eight-year tax holiday given in November 2003 by the
Prime Minister's Office-run Board of Investment (BOI) to Thaksin's
family-owned Shin Satellite to promote its overseas operations. Thaksin was
the BOI's chairman when the estimated 16.5 billion baht tax break was first
announced in November 2003, but he was absent from the meeting where the
waiver was decided.
Court-called witnesses have said that those and other alleged preferential
policies caused Thaksin-linked companies - including AIS, Shin Satellite,
Shin Corporation, iTV and Thai Military Bank - to outperform the stock
market average in 2003 by 141%, as investors cashed in on what market
analysts then referred to as the "Thaksin premium". The five companies
accounted for nearly two-thirds of the total 320 billion baht market
capitalization gains recorded on the Thai bourse that year.
But not all of the money seized is Thaksin's money. Some belongs to various
members of his family and his (now divorced) wife's family. One solution is
to seize some of the money based on who owned the Shin shares. And then
return some of the money to his family members.
Attorney General Julasing Wasantasing has said that only a verdict
acceptable to both sides will bring the political crisis closer to the end
or at least will not amplify it. A bilaterally acceptable ruling would
require seizing some of Thaksin assets and unfreezing the rest. He told the
Nation that "justice means fairness and compassion." Adding that "national
interests and unity must be taken into account every time.
Can both sides be satisifed? Thaksin seems resigned to losing
some of the money, but how much?
No one in Thailand will be surprised at a history of politicians using their
government position to support firms owned by their families. And maybe this
is also the heart of the issue. The case against Thaksin does appear
politically motivated - if only because this is the only case that appears
to be actively pursued.
So the Thaksin supporters in the UDD complain with reason about judicial
double standards. Thaksin's supporters look likely to put pressure on the
legal proceedings through threats of chaos and street violence should the
ruling go against him.
Prime Minister Abhisit has recently allowed members of his coalition
government, including from his own Democrat Party, to resign over recent
corruption scandals that through public disclosure and media attention have
tainted his administration's image and credibility. He has also stood by a
Forestry Department order issued last Wednesday that royal advisor Surayud
must vacate the forest preserve land he apparently illegally owned.
Just maybe the rule of law will establish itself even among those previously
considered exempt. And just maybe politicians will be held accountable for
their past and present actions.
And if that is the case then it seems likely that Thaksin will be found
guilty and his billions confiscated.
Forbes.com Umaimah Mendhro
24 January 2010
""Get lost," a young Emirati woman howled at me as she snatched the cab I
had hailed on Sheikh Zayed Road in Dubai. "Go back where you come from!"
After living in the U.S. for over a decade, my husband and I were
considering moving to Dubai. The emirate's dual charm of being a plane hop
away from Pakistan, the country I was born in, and having a cosmopolitan
lifestyle in a Middle Eastern setting reminiscent of Saudi Arabia, the
country I spent my childhood in, were great attractions--in theory. However,
after spending one summer working in Dubai, in 2008, I was ready to go back
anywhere I had come from. I didn't love it there, yet the tiny desert
state's inherent East-meets-West contradictions and startling
accomplishments continue to provoke and amaze me.
Dubai is not a democracy. Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Dubai's
emir, is the 10th ruler in the Al Maktoum family lineage. He was hand-picked
by his father, who ruled the state for 32 years. Since the 1580s the heads
of the Al Maktoum family have designated their most able male offspring to
replace them, with no possibility that any ordinary citizen could endorse,
depose or run to replace them. They govern through royal decrees, which
range from appointing crown princes to establishing efforts for
environmental or financial sustainability. Every decree, as I saw during my
summer in Dubai, creates rapid, sprawling waves across the public and
private sectors throughout the state, with no counter-ripples in sight.
Dubai also cannot be proclaimed an unadulterated capitalistic society based
on a free-market system. Granted the state's free economic zones, including
Dubai Internet and Media Cities, contain more than 6,000 commercial
businesses, many of them 100% foreign-owned. Yet Sheikh Mohammed himself is
the founder, part owner and lead visionary of virtually every major local
company, including Emirates Airlines, the region's most successful air
carrier, Nakheel, the property developer that doubled Dubai's coastline with
man-made islands, and DP World, the international marine terminal
development and operations business. Sheikh Mohammed gets involved in key
strategic decisions for these businesses (Nakheel's official corporate
mission is to carry through his vision) and select tactical matters as well
(he personally chose the insignia and color schemes for Emirates Airlines).
Is that too much power, primed to be abused, in one chosen man's hands? It
certainly is enough to make an American-educated professional like myself
The effects of the global economic crises aside, how is it that such a
strictly directed economy managed to enjoy real gross domestic product
growth of more than 8% a year between 2001 and 2006, one of the highest
rates in the world? How did it manage to grow exports by an average of more
than 28% annually between 2003 and 2008? Why did education, health and
social development in Dubai continue to improve? Why haven't the rulers of
Dubai simply amassed wealth and power for themselves at the expense of their
nation, like so many other autocrats?
Neither democracy nor limited control ensures responsible leadership. After
all, unilaterally powerful chief executives often make decisions in the best
interest of their companies, and elected congressmen and senators often make
terrible moves. The right governing or executive system can provide a good
environment for good leadership, but the right seeds need to be sown first.
Sheikh Mohammed's grandfather, Sheikh Saeed, a deeply religious man, formed
an advisory council to give ordinary citizens a way to become involved in
executive decision making and to keep his own powers in check. He also
diversified Dubai's economy by developing local commerce and trading posts,
so that the state could prosper without depending on its limited natural
resources. Sheikh Rashid, Sheikh Saeed's son, spent hours at a stretch
listening to everyday citizens' concerns and requests as he propelled Dubai
toward economic prosperity. The leadership principles of the Al Maktoum
ruling family can be traced back to the teachings of Islam--if not to a side
of Islam we see much of today.
Abu Bakr, the first Muslim caliph (i.e., the first successor to the prophet
Mohammed and leader of the Islamic faith), said in his inaugural speech, in
the seventh century, "I have been given the authority over you, and I am not
the best of you. If I do well, help me, and if I do wrong, set me right.
Loyalty is nothing but a sincere regard for truth; treachery is nothing if
not disregard for truth." Sheikh Mohammed, then, has seemed simply to be
doing his part in driving the cultural values and family legacy forward,
much like the Tata successors in India, or the chief executives of General
Electric carrying the weight of and wanting to live up to their grand
legacies and responsibilities. Luckily, what the historic legacy has
demanded of Dubai's rulers has been service and results more than power and
obedience. "I have a vision," Sheikh Mohammed has said. "I look to the
future, 20, 30 years. I learned that from my father. ... I follow his
He also has said, "The biggest war that any country can engage in is that of
development. ... Let our victims be poverty, ignorance and backwardness. If
the cart is politics and the horse is the economy, then we have to put the
horse before the cart and not the other way around." Sheikh Mohammed has,
like his forefathers, chosen business as the means of achieving social
improvement in his state. Dubai's leaders have kept the entrepreneurial
fires burning by taking on seemingly impossible feats (erecting the world's
tallest building, building an indoor ski resort), being energized rather
than discouraged by constraints (doubling the size of its tiny island by
creating new artificial land) and staying agile, efficient and
nimble--strengths any venture capital firm looks for in a start-up. The
curious fact is that by going after real business and economic
accomplishments, rather than milking finite natural resources or relying on
foreign assistance for growth, Dubai's leaders have created a model for
development like that of a for-profit business. They've achieved a rate of
growth not possible from aid or oil and combined bold vision with smart
means to create a virtuous, self-fulfilling cycle of rapid development.
Dubai had a strong pearl-diving industry that went into a steep decline in
the early 1900s, overwhelmed by a depressed global economy and the
introduction of cultured pearls in Japan. When that happened, Sheikh Saeed,
Sheikh Mohammed's grandfather, invited foreigners onto his soil to help
diversify the economy by developing local commerce and trading ports. In the
1950s gold traders looking to sell to the Indian subcontinent started to
establish a base in Dubai, and Sheikh Rashid, Sheikh Mohammed's father,
welcomed them. He rushed to build up the state's infrastructure to prepare
the potential economic growth. In 1985 oil contributed half of Dubai's GDP;
today it makes up just 5%, thanks to industries created with the help of
foreign labor and investments. Today foreigners are 83% of the local
population; Emiratis are a minority of 17%.
Strategic globalization has not only made Dubai's meteoric rise possible but
has also positioned the emirate as an alternative voice against rising
Islamic fundamentalism. After the Sept. 11 attacks Sheikh Mohammed donated
$5 million of his own money to assist the victims, and he took the
opportunity to call for "peaceful coexistence between all religions and
sects." No question, peaceful coexistence is not only great for business but
also necessary for Dubai's continued development.
The strong legacy of Dubai's leadership for more than a century has led the
state's current heads to set grand, ambitious goals and build a
self-propelling economic system that leverages global commerce opportunities
to turn those goals into reality. However, whether Dubai's citizens, shrunk
to a minute minority in their own state, appreciate all that commercial
development or would prefer a simple desert life; whether they welcome the
herds of us Pakistanis, Indians, Europeans and Americans on their soil,
toiling away not only to better our own lives but also their state; or if
they want us all to go back to where we come from--that is all another
For me personally, Dubai's dizzying progress seems to have turned the state
into a lifeless artificial island where the natives have grown tired of the
never-ending flow of guests and visitors. I found that it simply didn't feel
like a warm, living, breathing community I could set roots in. Fortune must
come with a price. Nevertheless, when I am in Pakistan, amid corruption,
poverty and violence, or in Saudi Arabia, with no freedom to be myself, or
in the United States, my chosen home, where business and government are
theoretically kept separated and too much political or executive power makes
us nervous, I find that perhaps there are some lessons we can take from this
curious little state."
Umaimah Mendhro, along with Tony Mayo and Nitin Nohria at Harvard Business
School, conducted research on Sheikh Mohammed of Dubai for an HBS case study
to be published this year. Umaimah resides and works in Seattle.
Beware the vengeance of an angry flight attendant
24 January 2010
This appears to be a case that should never have made it to court. But note
below the harsh penalties that were being claimed by the prosecution. And
was the airline management in dealing with this issue and keeping it out of
The Gulf News reported on Friday that a flight attendant (this has to be
Emirates) has been acquitted after being accused of groping his male
The Argentinian flight attendant convinced the court that his colleague
maliciously levelled molestation charges against him following a work
"I am not guilty. I didn't molest or harass him sexually," argued the
Argentine attendant, A.B., when he rejected the molestation charge before
the Dubai Court of First Instance.
The court cleared A.B. due to unfounded and uncorroborated evidence.
Prosecutors charged the suspect of molesting his Arab national colleague,
A.M., by touching his buttocks.
A.B. strongly denied the charges and said in court: "He made up this case
against me… he lodged it maliciously before the authorities. I caught him
doing something wrong at work and informed our superiors. Due to the work
dispute, he lodged this case against me out of malice."
The plaintiff testified to prosecutors that the defendant intentionally
groped his backside while they were at a pub.
"I saw him touching A.M.'s back[side] in an obviously intentional manner," a
prosecution witness testified.
An Emirati first corporal, who questioned A.B., testified that he admitted
mistakenly touching the claimant's posterior.
"I touched him accidentally at the pub," the acquitted Argentine was quoted
as saying in his statement to prosecutors.
Prosecutors asked the court to implement articles 121 and 356 of the Federal
Penal Code, which stipulate that a suspect faces a temporary imprisonment
between three years and 15 years followed by deportation.
The court dismissed the charges against A.B. The primary judgment is still
subject to appeal.
China battles USA over Google
24 January 2010
for one am delighted to see Google take a hard line with China (at last) and
now stop its censorship of the google.cn search engine.
But what was then unfortuna is that Hillary Clinton and the US government
weighed in and made this a political issue and not a business decision.
And this has allowed the Chinese authorities to launch allegations of
political motivation and interference against the USA; a massive diversion
from the simple issue of the validity or otherwise of censoring the web in
Now the Chinese can do whatever they like. They are not alone in censoring
the web or allowing access only through proxy servers - the so called great
firewall. Thailand, Burma, the UAE all regularly censor the internet,
blocking sites that are allegedly politically or morally sensitive.
How far is google willing to go in potentially withdrawing its business from
The Chinese response is that google's position is political. China Daily
states that "from her dining with Google executives at the beginning to her
speech on Internet freedom on Thursday, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary
Clinton could easily be seen in the process."
The China Daily article (released by Xinhau today) continues: "In fact, the
Google incident has reflected the Internet strategy of the United States.
The essence of the U.S. Internet strategy is to exploit its advantages in
Internet funds, technology and marketing, and export its politics, commerce
and culture to other nations for political, commercial and cultural
interests of the world's only superpower. This is not merely sales, but
coerced trade under the disguise of protecting "universal values"."
China Daily states that "Google has no evidence at all to prove it was
intruded by hackers supported by the Chinese government." It really is down
to Google to provide and make public the evidence to support their
allegations and the links to the Chinese government.
To the patriotic flag waving Chinese this is just another example of US flag
waving imperialism. "The Google incident is only one pawn on the sandboard
of the U.S. Internet strategy; the United States is obviously seeking
Internet hegemony. The United States is trying to make people believe that
in the Internet age, there are only "high seas" without "territorial
While on the "high seas", the United States, as a nation with superior
power, can implement factual control in this Internet world. Therefore, it
believes the Internet can be employed to establish hegemony which may be
more difficult to achieve through other means. Internet freedom, though,
could serve as a handy and disposable camouflage of today."
The gulf between the USA and China on information access is enormous, built
on different value systems and different political regimes.
Whatever the faults of the American way, it has a basic belief in freedom of
In China the control of information is an essential element in the power
There is no way in which China is going to accommodate Google. Google has
uncensored (is that a word) google.cn. China will simply block access to the
google service and google will lose its potential access to 350million
I am far from convinced that lining up alongside google does anything for
the US administration which is already struggling in its relatiobship with a
more assertive, self-confident China. This was evident during Obama's visit
to Shanghai and Beijing in November and at the Copenhagen climate change
conference. The Treasury in Washington believed that a softly-softly
approach on the currency issue would induce Beijing to raise the value of
the yuan, but has achieved nothing at all.
The G2 concept may be a mirage but China and America have to find ways of
working together; one of the big disappointments of the Obama administration
to date has been its lack of creativity in seeking to do so.
China has its own issue to deal with. An edgy relationship with Japan, a
potential collapse in North Korea which would send millions of unwanted
refugees into China, unrest in Tibet and Xinjiang, the Taliban across the
border and the Taiwan issue far from resolved. With a seemingly
hostile US it would be easy to arouse Mao-era fears of encirclement.
China has a long tradition of rule by law (rather than rule of law), which
leads to the automatic conclusion that the likes of Google have to abide by
the regulations, whatever they may be, or face the consequences.
There are no shared values on information access and control. If a business
cannot accept the Chinese leadership's vision of the nature and flow of
information it has to say so clearly and deal with the fallout. And that
applies to government's as well.
A reality check at Cadbury
24 January 2010
Enough of the Cadbury patriotism. It is not good for Cadbury, Kraft or
the perception of British business.
After all foreigners own everything else from ports to airports or
It is time to stop waving the union flags and calm down. Dairy Milk bars are
not going to disappear. The Curly Wurly isn't under threat.
Kraft is not buying Cadbury to destroy it. It is buying Cadbury because
Kraft things that the Cadbury brands can significantly boost Kraft revenues.
Observing the British reaction Kraft's hometown paper the Chicago Tribune
reported: "Kraft's bid has Brits cheesed off; idea of corporate America
taking over their beloved Cadbury has nation in a snit."
A member of Cadbury's founding family described the deal as a "horror
story". The union Unite asserts that "thousands of jobs are sure to go". The
Liberal Democrats have even suggested that the government should use its
shareholding in one of Kraft's lenders, RBS, to block the bank from
extending finance to a "predator".
But Irene Rosenfeld and her colleagues want Cadbury because they like the
confectioner's brands and products. The plan is that Cadbury will be a
growth engine for Kraft, lifting its annual rate of sales increase from 4%
to 5%. To achieve that, Cadbury's factories will have to produce more
chocolate, gum and sweets.
Becoming a part of Kraft means that Cadbury's products will go through a far
bigger global distribution network. Products such as Creme Eggs and Fruit
and Nut will be introduced to giant economies such as Russia and China – two
of the superpowers of the 21st century where, as an independent company,
Cadbury has made little impact.
Yes there will be job losses. The $675m of annual cost savings sought by
Kraft include merging functions such as customer service, purchasing and
administration. But Kraft has gone out of its way to insist that production
will remain in Britain, where Cadbury employs 6,200 people, and the US firm
has even said it will try to save the Somerdale factory at Keynsham, near
Bristol, which Cadbury was planning to shut.
Firms can prosper as part of a broader organisation. Who would have thought
that Mini cars would be reborn as a cult, stylish hit with the US as their
biggest market? It's doubtful if they could have achieved that without being
part of BMW's global network. And they're still built in Oxford.
In the beer industry, the Belgian conglomerate Interbrew snapped up
Britain's Bass brewing at the beginning of the decade. There were fears
about brewery closures – but Bass beer continues to be made in
Burton-upon-Trent. And when General Electric bought Britain's Nycomed
Amersham in 2003, the US firm actually built on British operations by moving
the headquarters of its GE Healthcare division from the US to Chalfont St
We tend to cry foul over protectionism elsewhere. The Americans were roundly
mocked for blocking Dubai World's purchase of six of its ports on "security"
grounds. If you believe in free trade then patriotic protectionism has no
role to play.
Cadbury will thrive under Kraft without some of the financial and growth
restraints that it had as an independent company.
Making bad worse
23 January 2010
It is not the Thai way to stand up and say - yes we could do better. It is
not the Thai way to acknowledge that a foreign organisation might actually
be expressing valid concerns.
But the government's response to the comments in HRW's annual report are
enough to make grown men cry!
PM's Office Minister Satit Wongnongtaey said Saturday morning that the
government would soon clarify against "distorted content" of Human Rights
Satit suggested that the Red Shirts might have been involved in contributing
some information. He said that the HRW has been given wrong information
probably from pro-Thaksin groups. "I doubt this because the information of
the organisation is the same of the red shirts," Sathit said.
Foreign Minister Kasit Piromya said the government did not violate any laws
but he then said that he had not read the report. After all he is only the
Foreign Minister ! Bizarre.
Meanwhile Deputy Interior Minister Thaworn Sennean said the world needs to
know that Human Rights Watch can be biased. "Objective of some NGOs is only
to criticise the government. They can be lobbied or hired," Thaworn said
without further elaboration.
Thailand's human rights situation under Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva was
getting worse over the past year, New York-based Human Rights Watch said in
its annual report Thursday. More commentary on the HRW report is below.
Living in denial is just the easy way out.
Growth of aid and the decline of humanitarianism 22 January 2010 The Lancet
"Picture the situation in Haiti: families living on top of
sewage-contaminated rubbish dumps, with no reliable sources of food and
water and virtually no access to health care.
This scenario depicts the situation in Haiti before the earthquake that
catapulted this impoverished and conflict-ridden country into the
international headlines. Now the latest target of humanitarian relief,
international organisations, national governments, and non-governmental
organisations (NGOs) are rightly mobilising, but also jostling for position,
each claiming that they are doing the most for earthquake survivors. Some
agencies even claim that they are “spearheading” the relief effort. In fact,
as we only too clearly see, the situation in Haiti is chaotic, devastating,
and anything but coordinated.
Much is being said elsewhere about the performance and progress of relief
efforts in Haiti. It is crucial that the immediate needs of the Haitian
people are urgently met. But it is scandalous that it took a seismic shift
in tectonic plates for Haiti to earn its place in the international
spotlight. Political rhetoric is familiar: domestic and international
point-scoring during times of crisis and disaster is a common game played by
many governments and politicians. But this dangerous and immoral play has
many losers, especially since the rules include judging the needs of
desperate people according to subjective perceptions of worth.
For example, just think back 5 years to the dismal international response to
the catastrophic earthquake in Pakistan. Additionally, over the past 2 weeks
alone, flooding has displaced 30 000 people in Kenya and 4000 people in
Albania, and in Yemen, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and Somalia
hundreds of thousands of people have been displaced by further fighting. All
international agencies, including the World Food Programme, have recently
withdrawn from Somalia—one of the most violent countries in the world with a
population size similar to Haiti. It is unimaginable that international
agencies and national governments might one day compete for attention in
leading a Somali humanitarian relief effort. The reasons for their current
inaction are most un-humanitarian.
We have repeatedly drawn attention to the fact that when viewed through the
distorted lens of politics, economics, religion, and history, some lives are
judged more important than others—a situation not helped by the influence of
news media, including ourselves. This regrettable situation has resulted in
an implicit hierarchy of crisis situations further influenced by artificial
criteria, such as whether disasters are natural or man-made. As this week's
special issue on violent conflict and health shows,* the health needs of
people affected by conflict are repeatedly neglected.
Politicians and the media make easy targets for criticism. But there is
another group involved in disaster relief, which has largely escaped public
scrutiny—the aid sector, now undoubtedly an industry in its own right. Aid
agencies and humanitarian organisations do exceptional work in difficult
circumstances. But some large charities could make their good work even
better. The Lancet has been observing aid agencies and NGOs for several
years and has also spoken with staff members working for major charities.
Several themes have emerged from these conversations. Large aid agencies and
humanitarian organisations are often highly competitive with each other.
Polluted by the internal power politics and the unsavoury characteristics
seen in many big corporations, large aid agencies can be obsessed with
raising money through their own appeal efforts. Media coverage as an end in
itself is too often an aim of their activities. Marketing and branding have
too high a profile. Perhaps worst of all, relief efforts in the field are
sometimes competitive with little collaboration between agencies, including
smaller, grass-roots charities that may have have better networks in
affected counties and so are well placed to immediately implement emergency
Given the ongoing crisis in Haiti, it may seem unpalatable to scrutinise and
criticise the motives and activities of humanitarian organisations. But just
like any other industry, the aid industry must be examined, not just
financially as is current practice, but also in how it operates from
headquarter level to field level. It seems increasingly obvious that many
aid agencies sometimes act according to their own best interests rather than
in the interests of individuals whom they claim to help. Although many aid
agencies do important work, humanitarianism is no longer the ethos for many
organisations within the aid industry. For the people of Haiti and those
living in parallel situations of destruction, humanitarianism remains the
most crucial motivation and means for intervention."
Thailand's deteriorating human rights record
21 January 2010
Thailand's human rights situation under Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva has
deteriorated in the past year, New York-based Human Rights Watch said in its
annual report last Thursday.
"While Prime Minister Abhisit sometimes said the right things about human
rights in 2009, his actions didn't match his words," said Brad Adams, Asia
director at Human Rights Watch. "The government continually undermined
respect for human rights and due process of law in Thailand."
The 612 page World Report 2010, the organization annual review of human
right practice around the world, said there were growing crackdown on
protesters and other critics, including intensive surveillance of the
internet, a failure to curb abuses by security force in Thailand.
There were also serious breaches of the country's obligations to protect
refugees and asylum seekers, it said.
Mounting challenges from the red-shirted group has made Prime Minister
Abhisit increasingly dependents on support from the military for his
political survival, the report said.
The government's double standards in law enforcement worsened political
tensions and deepened polarization. Leaders and members of the red-shirted
group were arrested, detained, and criminally charged after the dispersal of
But the government has ignored public demands for an impartial investigation
into politically motivated violence and human rights abuses committed by the
yellow-shirted People's Alliance for Democracy (PAD) during its protests and
occupation of the Government House and Suvarnabhumi airport in 2008, which
created conditions that enabled Abhisit to come to power.
Long delays in prosecuting PAD leaders are fuelling a growing public
perception that they are immune to legal accountability, it said.
In deep south, where a separatist insurgency began in 2004, Abhisit's
administration has allowed the military to continue to operate with
No member of the security forces has been criminally prosecuted for human
rights abuses in the provinces of Pattani, Narathiwat, and Yala, even in
high profile cases such as the Krue Se mosque killings, the Tak Bai
crackdown, the torture and killing of Imam Yapa Kaseng, and the Al-Farquan
The failure to act against official abuses extended to the police. Despite
the government's strong opposition to the violent approach to drug
suppression by the exiled former prime minister, Thaksin Shinawatra, it
remained unwilling to bring to justice officials allegedly responsible for
more than 2,500 unresolved extrajudicial killings and serious abuses
committed during Thaksin's 2003 "war on drugs" and ongoing drug suppression
operations by the police.
"Democracy in Thailand suffers badly from draconian laws on lese majeste and
cyber crimes," said Adams. "A climate of fear looms over civil discourse and
in cyberspace as a result of increasing restrictions on freedom of
expression under the Abhisit government."
The government also has used both the lese majeste statute in the Criminal
Code and the new Computer Crimes Act to suppress critics of the monarchy and
persecute perceived government enemies.
Human Right Watch cited cases of Suwicha Thakor and Daranee
Charnchoengsilpakul who were sentenced 10 years and 18 years in prisons for
Abhisit's government blatantly breached Thailand's obligations under
international law to protect refugees and asylum seekers for its forced
repatriation of more than 4,600 Hmong to Laos and bad treatment of Rohingya
boat people, Human Rights Watch said.
"Prime Minister Abhisit did not honor his pledge to uphold human rights
principles and international law in 2009," Adams said. "Getting Thailand
back on track as a rights-respecting nation in 2010 is crucial both for the
country and the region."
But HRW is not going to get much of a hearing in Thailand. Expect things to
deteriorate before they get better.
Thailand's pathetic Haiti response
20 January 2010
All Thais should be embarrassed by their government's feeble response to
last week's terrifying earthquake in Haiti.
On 26 December 2004 Thailand, mainly the island of Phuket, was hit by the
Indian Ocean tsunami. Aid flooded into Thailand. Some 5,000 Thais and
visitors were confirmed dead in Thailand. Another 4,000 missing.
Far greater numbers were killed in Sri Lanka and in Indonesia.
Foreign aid flooded into Thailand.
In response to some 200,000 killed and the complete destruction of Haiti's
infrastructure what was the Thai government's aid response. US$20,000. This
from a government that is determined to confiscate US$2 billion from former
PM Thaksin Shinawatra. US$20,000. Pathetic. There was wide contempt.
And yesterday Thailand responded by boosting its humanitarian aid commitment
to Haiti to US$100,000 (3.3 million baht). It will also send at least 20,000
tonnes of rice to help the victims of the quake.
The additional financial assistance was approved at a government meeting
yesterday during which Foreign Minister Kasit Piromya was criticised by
cabinet ministers. Mr Kasit was blamed for making the government a target of
criticism by previously approving only $20,000.
Compare the Thai response to Canada: Canada has pledged $5 million in
immediate aid and the government said it will match donations made by
Canadians up to $50 million. On Monday, Quebec promised another $3 million
in emergency relief.
There are already 1,000 soldiers from Canadian Forces Base Valcartier in
Quebec supporting relief efforts in Haiti. Another 1,000 are also being
In addition, the military announced Monday that Canada’s DART — Disaster
Assistance Response Team — would build full field hospitals and concentrate
on infrastructure reconstruction and rebuilding communication systems.
The Canadian government also announced Saturday it is fast-tracking
immigration applications and prioritizing Haitian adoptions to reunite
families in Canada. It will expedite an estimated 5,000 immigration
applications to reunite families in Canada with relatives “directly and
significantly affected by the earthquake in Haiti,” MacKay said.
Getting Humanitarian Relief Right Laura Freschi, Forbes.com
20 January 2010
As international aid workers continue to descend upon Port-au-Prince they
confront a human disaster that is both unique to Haiti and grimly familiar.
Disaster response is tailored to the details of each emergency as it unfolds
on the ground. But reports from previous relief efforts--like the response
to the Asian tsunami that killed some 225,000 people in 12 countries in
2004--give a picture of practices that allow relief efforts to work quickly
and effectively, as well as those that result in waste and delays.
Post-relief reports from the tsunami and from the 2005 earthquake that
flattened the city of Bam in southern Iran, killing 30,000 people, emphasize
the importance of local people as first responders. Locals are first
responders by necessity since they are there when the disaster occurs, but
their knowledge of local language and geography also makes them well-suited
to the task. The majority of earthquake survivors are found by untrained
local people digging through the rubble with their hands and whatever basic
tools they find.
Similarly, experts recommend equipping local medical volunteers with
supplies and logistical support over sending in teams of foreigners who are
less familiar with the area. In Bam, expensive foreign field hospitals and
medical teams arrived three days after the earthquake, but they found that
people with major injuries had already been sent to hospitals in nearby
provinces and treated.
The limits of this advice are being challenged in Haiti, where the public
health system was weak before the earthquake, and damage to what health
infrastructure existed was widespread in Port-au-Prince. Still, reports such
as this one flagged Sunday in the New York Times Lede blog highlight the
importance of taking full advantage of local medical personnel and
"I work for a hospital--Sacre Coeur in Milot, 75 miles North of Port au
Prince. We were not damaged. We have room for 100 patients, we have over 20
Haitian doctors onsite including a medical trauma team and an orthopedic
team arriving today. Helicopters can land very close to us, only ONE landed
yesterday with 4 patients! People are dying in the streets AND in the
hospitals in Port-au-Prince. We have a full-service hospital with two ORs
and are NOT being utilized."
Second, coordination among government agencies, the U.N. and
non-governmental organizations always has been and always will be a huge
challenge in disaster relief. Many post-disaster evaluations discuss efforts
duplicated and resources wasted because of the sheer number of different
organizations and the chaotic conditions inherent to quick-response
international relief work. In 2004 Aceh province in Indonesia was the
closest to the earthquake epicenter and suffered massive casualties and
infrastructure destruction, yet it received praise for setting up a
relatively effective and flexible coordination agency.
In Haiti the challenge of coordinating the immense influx of actors seems
particularly acute. The U.S. military has taken control of the airport, and
the U.N.'s Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) is tasked
with overall coordination of 12 different sectors (food aid, nutrition,
protection, etc.), each led by different U.N. agencies. But news reports
coming in over the weekend underscored the incapacity of the Haitian
government and the feeling among residents and journalists that there is no
one authority that could yet effectively take charge.
Third, it's crucial for organizations to work together to assess local
needs. No one wants to hold up life-saving interventions to conduct a study,
but making decisions based on political or media pressure, rather than on a
comprehensive survey of needs--as donors admitted to doing in post-tsunami
evaluations--leads to waste. Aid can end up being driven by supply: In
post-tsunami Thailand, funding boats was popular among donors, so boats were
supplied, without regard for how many boats and which kind of boats were
Communicating these local needs to donors across the globe is the only way
to avoid what aid workers call “the disaster after the disaster,” the
avalanche of unneeded stuff that descends on a relief site and takes
valuable time and money to sort through and throw away. There have already
been several reports of unneeded and unrequested donations creating
bottlenecks at Haiti's one strained airport.
A study on drug donations to Aceh province in Indonesia found that 60% of
the drugs donated were not among those drugs needed by people affected by
the tsunami. Seventy percent had labels written in a foreign language and
couldn't be deciphered by local aid workers. These drugs wasted health
workers' time, took up limited storage space in hospitals, and cost millions
of dollars to destroy safely.
Unfortunately for Haiti, the success of relief and recovery efforts depends
in large part on the condition of the infrastructure and public services
before the disaster. Relief efforts in Port-au-Prince will do more for the
people of Haiti if they heed the lessons of Indonesia, Thailand, Bam and
other disasters before them. The persistence of similar recommendations from
one post-disaster report to the next points to just how big these challenges
Laura Freschi is associate director of the Development Research Institute
at New York University and a co-author of the Aid Watch blog.
From Bournville to Mournville
19 January 2009 - The Guardian
"It felt a little bit like a death in the family in Bournville today. Just
about everyone in this leafy model village on the edge of Birmingham has
worked at the famous factory or has a relative who has done so.
Even those few who had nothing at all to do with Cadbury had something to
say. They wanted to talk about their favourite brand, their best memory of
the company's many treats.
At Beryl's Florists, Julie Vaughan, said the whole village was in shock.
"Cadbury is what Bournville is all about. We're really worried about what is
going to happen," she told the Guardian.
Vaughan's husband, Carl, has worked at Bournville for 32 years driving
forklift trucks. His father and grandfather also used to work there. "It's a
family sort of place. People tend to stay there for years," she said.
The link between Bournville and the UK's most famous chocolatier goes back
to 1879 when a "factory in the garden" was built by George Cadbury, the son
of company founder and Quaker philanthropist John.
His idea was to create a profitable company but one that cared for and
nurtured its employees. By 1900 the estate included 330 acres of land with
313 cottages housing workers from Cadbury and elsewhere.
Today at Bournville Infant School, built in 1910 by George and Elizabeth
Cadbury, headteacher Pam Dexter was explaining how at one time almost all of
the pupils were sons and daughters of Cadbury workers. That is slightly less
so now but the factory is still a central part of the community. Dexter said
she was "concerned" about the developments but said she hoped that the new
owners would uphold the values that the Cadbury family had always lived and
worked by. She didn't sound too convinced.
Stop anyone outside Bournville's neat row of red-brick shops and they have a
memory. Jo, 22, recalled how her uncle had worked for 20 years at the
factory. "It was the sort of place people loved to work at. They stayed for
years. And wherever you went in the world, people knew about Cadbury. It
made you proud."
Jo said her favourite bar remained CDM (Cadbury Dairy Milk to outsiders).
Her friend, Sam, said her grandfather used to work there. He loved the
company's generous sports facilities and often came home with reject
chocolates or biscuits.
"That's another thing," said Stan Jones, not a worker but a chocolate fan.
"Is it going to taste different? When you go to America the Cadbury's
chocolate there doesn't taste as good. I'm worried that they are going to
ruin the taste even if they keep the company going as it is."
Local councillor Nigel Dawkins sounded furious that another of Britain's
"jewels" was being lost. "Completely mad" was his bottom line. This is a
corner of the West Midlands that has already been badly hit by job losses
over the last few years, not least the tortuous problems that have beset the
Longbridge car plant a few miles up the road.
Cadbury workers were reluctant to talk but one described the mood in the
factory as "very flat", adding: "We know it's been on the cards but you
always hope it's not going to happen. Suddenly today we all feel a bit more
insecure than we did yesterday."
It was a time for memories, as if it was a wake after a death. Someone
wanted to talk about those languid, sexy Flake adverts; someone else
recalled the iconic martian Smash adverts – the instant mashed potato was
another Cadbury product. Another person fondly remembered childhood
bed-times when she was comforted by Bournvita. "Can you still get that? And
what about Old Jamaica chocolate?" Suddenly the questions seemed to matter."
Abu Dhabi's depleted aid
18 January 2009
One month on from being Dubai's salvation Abu Dhabi's aid appears to have
shrunk to $5 billion.
The Wall Street Journal is reporting Dubai officials as saying that the $10
billion December bailout given to Dubai included $5 billion already
committed by two banks controlled by the Abu Dhabi emirate, signaling Abu
Dhabi's cautious approach to helping its debt-laden neighbor.
Analysts said news that Abu Dhabi had directly lent less than previously
thought also indicated the wealthy emirate wanted more evidence of Dubai's
fiscal probity, after helping it avert an embarrassing default on a
It is also another indication of the overall lack of transparency and
clarity in all the dealings over the Dubai debt issue.
A Dubai government spokeswoman said on Monday that the last minute lifeline
on December 14, included $5 billion raised from Al Hilal Bank and National
Bank of Abu Dhabi which had been announced on November 25.
Dubai rocked global markets that same day when it requested a standstill on
$26 billion in debt linked to its flagship conglomerate Dubai World and its
two main property developers, Nakheel and Limitless World.
"Obviously it's a lot less cash than we had assumed," said Raj Madha, an
independent analyst based in Dubai. "The interesting thing is what it says
about the behavior of Abu Dhabi: whether they are just rushing through a
large amount of money or whether they are providing funding where required."
Airbus reaches 6,000
18 January 2009
Emirates Airline and Airbus marked a major achievement by celebrating the
hand-over of the 6,000th aircraft in the airframe manufacturer's
40-year-history. The aircraft, an A380, was handed over to Emirates Airline
in a ceremony in Hamburg, Germany. The aircraft is Emirates' eighth A380.
This is the 25th A380 to be delivered (I think SQ have 10 of them). It was
also the 6,000th Airbus produced in the company's 40 year history. The
words' Airbus 6,000th Aircraft' are inscribed alongside the Emirates livery.
With a total order for 58 aircraft, Emirates is the single largest customer
for the A380. Established in 1985, Emirates became an Airbus operator from
the outset. Today, Emirates' Airbus fleet has grown to 55 aircraft with a
further 121 on order.
Airbus was formed in 1969, and by 2005 had reached more than 50 per cent of
worldwide deliveries in a single year, of all aircraft of more than 100
Airbus delivered its first customer aircraft in May 1974 - an A300B2; The
1,000th aircraft was delivered in March 1993 - an A340-300; The 2,000th was
delivered in May 1999 - an A340-300; The 3,000th was delivered in July 2002
- an A320; The 4,000th was delivered in September 2005 - an A330-300; The
5,000th was delivered in December 2007 - an A330-200.
18 January 2009
have not looked at the new EVIL cameras yet - but just on size they look
attractive - like taking a pocket digital camera with all the benefits of an
old style Digital SLR.
EVIL stands for Electronic Viewfinder Interchangeable Lens, and is part of
cameras like the Olympus Pen, the Lumix GF1 and the Samsung NX10. These
small, mirrorless, finderless cameras can fit in a pocket and outperform
bulky DSLRs. Will your next camera will probably be EVIL.
DSLRs are bulky. Their design comes from the film days when the only way to
see the exact image that would hit the film was to divert the light coming
through the lens with a mirror and send it to a viewfinder. This mirror
meant the body needed to be deep, and the lenses — further away from the
film than those in a mirrorless rangefinder — were also bigger.
Now we can see what the sensor sees either on a screen, or through an
electronic finder. With the mirror gone, the body can be a lot smaller, just
like a compact digicam. This means you can carry it with you everywhere, fit
it in a jacket pocket and be ready for *that* picture, wherever you are.
The trick with the new EVIL cams is that they have large sensors. In the
case of the Samsung NX10, this sensor is the same size as you’d find in a
DSLR, and the others use the Micro Four Thirds format, a sensor which is
half the size of a 35mm frame, but a lot bigger than the pinkie-nail-sized
sensor in a typical compact. This gives the high image quality and low-light
sensitivity of a DSLR. And because they have large sensors, the depth of
field is shallower, and you can throw a distracting background out of focus.
And yes you Can Change Lenses. And because the lenses are as compact
as the camera you may actually carry them with you. And with an adapter you
can use all your current DSLR lenses on the newer, smaller body.
Compacts have lost out to DSLRs by being slow. Slow to power up, slow to
zoom and slow to actually respond to your trigger finger. EVIL cameras have
fixed this, and are as responsive as any entry-level DSLR.
The downside; the EVIL is still relatively expensive, and you’ll pay as much
for a body and lens as you would for a prosumer level DSLR. For many, even
pros, the size difference alone is enough to justify this. For everyone
else, you could wait until the likes of Canon and Nikon inevitably enter
this sector. Then prices will start to fall.
Thailand: Faded smiles
By David Pilling and Tim Johnston - Financial Times
14 January 2010 (published 13 January)
"Like Banquo’s ghost, Thaksin Shinawatra still hovers at Thailand’s dinner
tables, boardrooms and cabinet meetings. Few discussions about the social
and political direction of the once-miracle economy are complete without a
heated debate over the ousted prime minister’s influence – past, present
and, quite conceivably, future.
The charismatic [that is the FT description - would not be mine - RS]
Mr Thaksin burst on the scene in 2001 when his party won a landslide. He
went on to become the first prime minister in modern Thai history to serve a
full term. Wildly popular among the poor but mired in persistent allegations
of corruption and tax evasion, his government was ejected from power in 2006
when the military mounted its 18th coup d’état since the country became a
constitutional monarchy more than 70 years ago.
Yet the discarded leader, whose appeal to millions of marginalised rural
voters uncorked the genie of social aspiration, has hardly vanished from the
scene. Though living in exile in Dubai, mainly to escape a two-year jail
sentence imposed in absentia over a conflict of interest, he has continued
to exert a powerful influence through two proxy governments and the “red
shirt” demonstrators who regularly take to the streets in his name.
This week those supporters promised to resume indefinite protests until the
fall of the latest government, this one headed by Abhisit Vejjajiva, a sharp
critic of Mr Thaksin.
Indeed, recent months have been dominated by clashes between Mr Thaksin’s
red shirts and the yellow shirts, supporters of the monarchy who nearly
brought the country to a standstill in 2008 when they occupied the
international airport for a week just as the tourist high season was about
Further violence around the Association of South-East Asian Nations summit
last April damaged Thailand’s international reputation still more when
demonstrators stormed a conference centre in the resort town of Pattaya.
Regional leaders including a bemused Wen Jiabao, China’s premier, were
hurriedly evacuated from the Land of Smiles.
The debate about the direction of democracy is being closely watched by many
in the region. The interest goes beyond that of investors such as Toyota,
Tesco and Seagate, which have looked on nervously as political instability
has gathered force. In a region where fully democratic systems in Taiwan and
South Korea are exceptions, Thailand is being seen as a telling example of a
fragile democracy struggling to breathe.
Political analysts are predicting that the street demonstrations could erupt
into even worse violence when the six-decade reign of King Bhumibol
Adulyadej comes to an end. Of the king’s protracted illness and fears of
what might happen when his mediating presence is gone, Mr Abhisit says in an
interview with the Financial Times: “When you have had a very strong,
inspirational leader for six decades, there is always going to be a sense of
anxiety about change.”
Thitinan Pongsudhirak, associate professor at Bangkok’s Chulalongkorn
university, goes further, describing Thailand as a “tinderbox”. He regards
the government of Mr Abhisit, nominated by parliament in late 2008 after two
prime ministers loyal to Mr Thaksin were removed by the constitutional
court, as a dam against the flood waters of social change.
“Abhisit is their last hope,” he says, referring to the monarchists, members
of the armed forces and well-to-do who benefit from the present social
arrangements. “He is the last democratic stop to put a lid on the forces
unleashed by Thaksin.”
Mr Thitinan does not dispute there were negative aspects of Mr Thaksin’s
populist administration, which was dogged by accusations of crony capitalism
and, in its war on drugs and southern rebels, of extra-judicial killings.
But he also points to Mr Thaksin’s introduction of a popular “30-baht
healthcare” scheme – allowing a hospital visit for less than a dollar – and
his championing of infrastructure and lending policies aimed at improving
opportunities for the rural poor. These, he says, began to address the
social and political demands of millions of Thais that had gone unheard for
“They should see this as a wake-up call instead of smearing or demonising
Thaksin,” he says of those in Thai society who would like to put the Thaksin
years behind them. “Thaksin was a catalyst for what needs to happen.”
The present government has sought to borrow Mr Thaksin’s political robes and
win over his north-eastern voters by continuing his progressive social
programmes. Yet in spite of Mr Abhisit’s attempt to shut Mr Thaksin out, the
ex-leader’s influence has, if anything, intensified. Provocatively, last
year Mr Thaksin accepted the position of economic adviser to Cambodia,
sparking a diplomatic standoff between the neighbouring countries. In a
rhetorical flourish, he even suggested he stood ready to counter any
intervention from the military by marching on Bangkok at the head of an army
of loyal north-easterners.
Thai leaders have consistently paid lip service to the creation of a stable
liberal democracy. Few have given much shrift to talk of “Asian-style
democracies” proffered by the likes of Singapore, dominated by one political
party since independence. Nor do many Thais, in spite of the hyperactive
role the military has played in politics, countenance the idea of
The splutterings of Thai democracy have also become intimately bound up with
analysis of the country’s economic development. In 1995, after a decade of
growth that outstripped even China’s, commentators began to chatter
excitedly about Thailand joining the ranks of the world’s top 10 economies
within a generation. The reality has been otherwise. Thailand’s development
has stalled. Income inequalities have widened.
True, the economy has regained a modicum of traction since the Asian
financial crisis of 1997 slashed 15 per cent off its gross domestic product
in 18 disastrous months. But even before last year’s global crisis lopped
off a further 3.5 per cent, it had been struggling to grow above 4-5 per
cent a year. That puts it towards the bottom of regional league tables,
outstripped by countries such as Vietnam and Singapore, let alone China.
Thai GDP per capita, at some $3,850 (£2,360, €2,640), remains less than
one-quarter of that of Taiwan, an economy with which not long ago it was
Tarisa Watanagase, governor of Thailand’s central bank, lays the blame
clearly on political turmoil. Private investment, growing at 12 per cent a
year earlier this decade, has ground to a halt, she says. Bank lending to
businesses languishes at two-thirds of 1990s levels, while the economy has
become far more dependent on exports than it was before the 1997 crisis.
“The biggest problem is the political situation,” she says. “With that,
neither the private nor the public sector can really focus on what needs to
The reasons for Thailand’s disappointing performance go deeper than that.
Stimulated by US capital inflows during the Korean and Vietnam wars and, in
the 1980s, by a wave of foreign investment from Japan, Thailand’s economy
grew beyond the tourism and agriculture on which it had traditionally
relied. But it never fully developed an indigenous capitalist class able to
compete internationally. Instead, local entrepreneurs – of whom Mr Thaksin
was one – prospered by forging close relationships with politicians, carving
out monopolies in service industries such as telecommunications and
In Thaksin: The business of politics in Thailand, their book on the populist
mogul, Pasuk Phongpaichit and Chris Baker write: “Big business was closely
connected to politics. The businessmen shared some of their profits with the
generals, who in return constructed a friendly environment for business, and
rewarded their particular friends with contracts, favours and other
profit-sharing advantages.” As well as stalling the creation of world-class
businesses, that cosy arrangement also held back the social transformations,
particularly land reform, that underpinned rapid take-off in Japan, Taiwan
and South Korea.
Much of the Thai elite is fearful of the aspirations stirred by Mr Thaksin.
Even Anand Panyarachun, a former prime minister associated with more
inclusive social policies, insists Thailand should shun the blind pursuit of
economic growth. “We have ambitions, but we don’t have exaggerated
ambitions,” he says.
Playing down social needs, he adds: “Here we are lucky in the sense that we
have such a temperate climate, and you don’t need much shelter, and you
don’t need much clothing and everywhere you go you can always get people to
give you food.”
But Mr Thaksin has shaken those paternalistic convictions. Political
analysts say it is not clear whether the status quo will survive the death
of King Bhumibol, now 82, who is widely credited with using his moral
suasion to keep Thailand’s delicate social peace – and that given that his
unique role depends more on the man than the institution, he will be all but
irreplaceable. Mr Abhisit says of the king’s unifying role: “Thai society
has got to mature to a point where we can sort out our own problems.”
Some are less coy, predicting outright social conflict when the king dies.
Mr Thitinan, implying some constitutional questions have been postponed out
of respect for the king, says: “Some of the vestiges of latent feudal
society will have to give way.”
Whether those vestiges go rapidly or gradually and whether they do so with
or without the direct involvement of Mr Thaksin is anybody’s guess. But many
Thai activists are braced for what they are certain are coming political
“Even if you remove Thaksin, there are still a large number of people left
to fight for democracy,” says Chaturon Chaisang, one of 111 opposition MPs
banned from politics. “In certain aspects, Thai politics have gone far
As King Bhumibol ails, Thais contemplate a more fractured future
The formal title of Bhumibol Adulyadej, Thailand’s king and the world’s
longest reigning monarch, runs to 35 syllables of exaltation, but for most
Thais he is simply “Por”: father, writes Tim Johnston.
The king’s formal powers are circumscribed by the constitution, which says
that the monarchy is above politics, but 63 years of hard work and astute
positioning have earned him what is in practice almost absolute moral
He has become the centre of gravity around which the dysfunctional political
firmament orbits; the source from which the unelected power elite aspires to
draw its legitimacy; and the revered embodiment of the qualities that most
Thais want to preserve in the face of huge social and economic upheaval:
community, charity and serenity.
But political divides that have recently widened seem immune to the
traditional appeals for unity that the monarch has used in the past to bring
the country together. The colour-coded battle between the red shirts and the
yellow shirts – both sides say they are fighting for the soul of Thailand –
is threatening to pull the “high institution”, as the Thais tend to refer to
it, into the middle of the conflict. Palace insiders say the king is unhappy
with the way his name is being invoked by different factions but is wary of
intervening lest it be interpreted as being too overtly political.
King Bhumibol inherited the throne in 1946 from his brother, who died from a
pistol shot to the head. The institution was already on its knees and the
generals were firmly in charge.
During the following six decades, the king has criss-crossed the country
dispensing largesse and comfort to the poor, and has provided a stable pivot
in a country that swings erratically between democracy and military rule.
His constancy has earned him undying love in a nation that has been serially
failed by both its politicians and its generals.
But King Bhumibol is now 82 and in uncertain health. He has been in hospital
since mid-September, originally with inflammation of the lungs and –
although the palace says he has now recovered and is merely receiving
rehabilitation care – it has rattled the population, most of which has never
known the country without him. More than 1.8m people have signed a get-well
book outside the Bangkok hospital where he is a patient.
Many people here say privately that the country is moving on from the
patriarchal style personified by the king and needs to have a more open
debate about the role of the monarchy in a post-Bhumibol Thailand. However,
ill-defined lese majesty laws, which are supposed to shield the royal family
from insult but more frequently are used by politicians to attack their
opponents, have muzzled any substantive discussion""
After the airports paralysis, ground is fast lost to regional rivals.
Thailand’s political turmoil has come at a high price, with foreign direct
investment tumbling in the short term. But given the worries for investors,
FDI has been notably resilient over the longer term.
“It is still coming in,” says Tarisa Watanagase, governor of the Bank of
Thailand, the country’s central bank. “We thought that last year, with the
global situation and the political situation, FDI would dry up, but it still
The fall was steep, however. In the first 11 months of 2009, FDI
disbursements were some Bt266bn ($7.7bn, €5.6, £5bn), down 43 per cent on
the same 2008 period. The slide was much greater than Vietnam’s full-year
fall of 13 per cent or Indonesia’s 28 per cent drop.
Analysts are reluctant to attribute the entire fall to political turmoil,
pointing out that Vietnam has benefited from being a low-cost producer and
Indonesia from its natural resources. Another factor in the mix was that
Japan and Europe, Thailand’s main foreign investors, were themselves hit
disproportionately hard, with Japanese FDI falling 75 per cent.
Long-term investors in Thailand are a hardy bunch, acclimatised to the
unpredictable rise and fall of governments and the enthusiastic
participation of the military in running the country. In the past, these
upheavals had little practical effect on the business environment.
That changed in December 2008, when thousands of anti-government protesters
took over Bangkok’s airports for a week, trapping tourists and businessmen
and blocking air freight export routes. The Bank of Thailand estimated that
the siege cost some $8.5bn.
Analysts say the problem is not so much that Thailand’s allure has declined
in absolute terms, though it has, but that it has declined so much relative
Sanctimonious Google gives up on China?
13 January 2009
Google was always going to get into trouble in China. It was depressing to
see them acquiesce to China's insistence on hugs censorship of its google.cn
site and the blocking of google.com.
Google was guilty of putting profit before ethics.
Now it may be trying to reverse that mistake. Google is saying that it is no
longer willing to censor search results on its Chinese service.
The decision followed a cyber-attack that it believes was aimed at gathering
information on Chinese human rights activists. It also cited a clampdown on
the internet in China over the past year. Its statement (see below) raised
the prospect of closing Google.cn and potentially closing its offices in
The Chinese government issued its first, cautious response several hours
after the announcement, saying it was "seeking more information". The two
sides spoke today. Google confirmed: "We have talked to the Chinese
authorities and we will be talking to them more in the coming days."
To launch Google.cn the company had to agree to censor and block sensitive
material, such as details of human rights groups and references to the
pro-democracy protests in Tiananmen Square in 1989.
Google says that over the next few weeks it will be discussing with the
Chinese government the basis on which it could operate an unfiltered search
engine within the law, if at all.
Human Rights Watch praised the decision and urged other firms to follow suit
in challenging censorship. That was predictable.
Google claimed the cyber-attack originated from China and that its
intellectual property was stolen, but that evidence suggested a primary goal
was accessing the Gmail accounts of Chinese human rights activists.
Its inquiry had shown that, separately, the Gmail accounts of dozens of
human rights advocates in China who are based in the US, Europe and China
appeared to have been routinely accessed by third parties.
The company added that it was sharing the information not just because of
the security and human rights implications "but because this information
goes to the heart of a much bigger global debate about freedom of speech".
Acknowledging the potential consequences, it stressed: "This move was driven
by our executives in the United States, without the knowledge or involvement
of our employees in China."
have not much sympathy for Google. When they agreed to comply with
government restrictions the company knew pretty well what it was getting
into. And now it is saying that the government action is a surprise. This is
China they are dealing with.
Google has only a third of the search-engine market in China, which is
dominated by the Chinese giant Baidu. Although its revenues have continued
to rise, many analysts believed it was finding business hard going,
particularly as it came under increased pressure from the government.
So is this a sanctimonious Google smokescreen meant to hide a retreat from
the Chinese market that Google is unable to conquer for business reasons. Or
is it really the moral high ground.
A Google spokeswoman said the company doesn't know the likelihood of
reaching an agreement with the Chinese government to run an unfiltered site,
but if the company ultimately closes Google.cn down, it will have an
"immaterial impact" on the company's revenue.
Baidu meanwhile has a predictable patriotic gloat. The firm's chief
architect Sun Yunfeng claimed Google was just trying to play down its market
failure. "Would Google top executives still proclaim that they would 'do no
evil'," he said, quoting the company's code of conduct, "and quit China if
they had taken 80% of China's search market?"
He added that the American company's move would "satisfy the imagination of
those Westerners who have never been to China and understand nothing of
China but still like to point fingers at China".
Baidu has strong links with the government and may be lobbying hard to gain
business advantage from this row.
Meanwhile Facebook and Twitter have been blocked in China for almost a year.
of currency trends is from Bloomberg today:
monthly rebound in the Dollar Index since January means faster gains for
Australia’s and Canada’s currencies as the recovering U.S. economy boosts
demand for their commodities.
The Canadian and Australian dollars will strengthen to trade at parity with
the greenback or better together in 2010 for the first time in 34 years,
appreciating at least 3 percent and 7.5 percent, three of last year’s four
best forecasters for both currencies say. Traders are favoring the so-called
loonie and Aussie over the dollar on the Chicago Mercantile Exchange even
while betting more than ever on the Dollar Index advancing.
Accelerating U.S. growth will spur demand for Canadian oil and natural gas
as China’s expansion boosts purchases of Australian iron ore and coal,
pushing both currencies higher, said Sacha Tihanyi, a foreign-exchange
strategist in Toronto at Bank of Nova Scotia. The loonie and Aussie both
rose last week even as the People’s Bank of China took steps to curb
“The global economy is going to strengthen, and the recovery is going to
broaden out from what has so far been a China-, Asia-led global recovery,”
said John Kyriakopoulos, head of currency strategy in Sydney at National
Australia Bank Ltd., the most accurate predictor for both currencies last
“We’re forecasting parity for the Aussie dollar, and we actually think the
Canadian dollar will go through parity” by March, he said. The bank is the
most bullish of last year’s most accurate forecasters on the two currencies,
predicting gains of about 11 percent for each by Sept. 30.
The Australian dollar rose 0.6 percent to 93.04 U.S. cents as of 11:01 a.m.
in New York and was 2009’s third-best performer among the 16 most-traded
currencies. Canada’s loonie, nicknamed for the aquatic bird on its dollar
coin, was little changed at C$1.0301 after gaining the most since 2007 last
IntercontinentalExchange Inc.’s Dollar Index -- a gauge against the euro,
yen, pound, Canadian dollar, Swiss franc and Swedish krona -- has rallied
3.5 percent since Nov. 25 after a 16.7 percent slide from 2009’s March 5
Three of the four best loonie forecasters in 2009 -- National Australia,
Royal Bank of Scotland Group Plc, JPMorgan Chase & Co. -- predict parity by
June 30; the other, Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce, sees it there by
As for the best Aussie predictors, National Australia says that currency
will equal the greenback by March 31; CIBC sees it there by year-end;
JPMorgan estimates it will be stronger than parity in the second quarter and
Commonwealth Bank of Australia is calling for it to stop 2 cents short of
one U.S. dollar.
Of the most active currencies, the Aussie, loonie, Brazilian real, Norwegian
Krone, South African rand and New Zealand dollar, known as commodity
currencies, posted 2009’s biggest gains against the dollar. The
Reuters/Jefferies CRB Index of raw material prices had its best performance
since 1979, gaining 23.5 percent.
History shows that a U.S. recovery coincides with increases in commodities,
the Aussie and loonie.
After the U.S. came out of the 2001 recession, the currencies rose 48
percent and 23 percent, respectively, in the two years ending with 2003 as
the world’s biggest economy expanded almost 6 percent. After falling 31
percent in 2001, the Standard & Poor’s GSCI Index of 24 commodities rose 39
percent and 11 percent in the next two years.
The Australian and Canadian dollars have rallied about 49 percent and 27
percent from last year’s lows as U.S. growth rebounded to 2.2 percent in the
third quarter after shrinking 6.4 percent in the first.
The U.S. economy’s expansion will accelerate to 2.6 percent in 2010,
compared to 3.1 percent for Australia and 2.55 percent for Canada, according
to the median estimates in Bloomberg economist surveys. Goldman Sachs Group
Inc. predicts the S&P GSCI Enhanced Total Return Index of commodities will
gain 17.5 percent this year.
“A lot of the Canadian dollar gains up to now have been happening in the
absence of strong growth in the U.S.,” said Tihanyi of Bank of Nova Scotia.
“Through this year, you’re going to see growth come back to what you might
see in a normal year, and along with that you’re going to see a pickup in
trade and demand for Canadian products.” Canada’s third-largest lender
forecasts parity by June 30.
The Canadian dollar rose versus the greenback for a fourth day on Jan. 5,
when the U.S. Commerce Department reported that automakers increased sales
in December. The loonie climbed again the next day for its longest winning
streak in two months.
The Canadian and Australian dollars are gaining support from the global
recovery as China’s central bank tries to curb record lending. The nation
may have exceeded its 8 percent growth target for 2009 by 0.5 percentage
point, said Zhang Xiaoqiang, deputy head of the National Development and
Reform Commission, in a Jan. 5 statement.
Commonwealth Bank of Australia, among the five most- accurate forecasters
for the Aussie and loonie, expects both currencies to end 2010 short of
parity after peaking in the second quarter as Federal Reserve interest-rate
increases add to the greenback’s appeal. Median Bloomberg survey forecasts
see the Australian dollar falling 3.4 percent by Dec. 31 as the Canadian
currency drops 5 percent.
“The U.S. dollar will strengthen in anticipation of rate hikes,” said
Richard Grace, chief currency strategist in Sydney at Commonwealth Bank.
Canadian policy makers will warn traders against pushing the loonie higher
to prevent damage to the economy, said Sebastien Galy, a foreign-exchange
strategist at BNP Paribas SA in New York.
“The problem with the Canadian dollar is the reaction function of the
central bank; they’ve been pretty vociferous about talking down the
currency,” Galy said.
Seven days after the loonie reached C$1.0207 on Oct. 15, its closest brush
with parity since July 2008, Bank of Canada Governor Mark Carney said action
to weaken the currency “is always an option.” Within two weeks, it fell 6.1
percent to a one-month low of C$1.0870. Measured in U.S. cents, Canada’s
dollar hit 97.97 before falling to 92.
For the Aussie, the risk is a pause in rate increases. Reserve Bank of
Australia Deputy Governor Ric Battellino described its monetary policy on
Dec. 16 as “back in the normal range” because lenders had raised rates more
than the policy makers had.
“Any paring back of those interest-rate hike expectations will weigh on the
Aussie,” said Sue Trinh, a senior currency strategist at RBC Capital Markets
in Sydney, who sees the currency peaking at 93 U.S. cents. “A sooner and
stronger-than- expected recovery in the U.S. is going to benefit Canada more
than the likes of Aussie.”
Currency strategists have pushed up first-quarter forecasts for the
Australian dollar, with the median prediction now at 93 U.S. cents, from 65
cents in March, more than estimates for the New Zealand dollar, real, krone,
ruble and Canadian dollar.
Futures traders are becoming more bullish about the loonie and Aussie even
as they increase bets on the U.S. dollar, data from the U.S. Commodity
Futures Trading Commission show. Contracts profiting from gains against the
greenback outnumbered bearish wagers by more than 40,000 on each currency
last week, the most in five weeks for the Aussie and 10 for the loonie.
Investors had an unprecedented 51,050 bets that the Dollar Index would rise
as of Dec. 29, according to the CFTC data. Even after such wagers fell to
48,623 last week, bullish contracts outnumbered bearish ones by more than 5
to 1, the most since March, when the dollar started last year’s slide.
Canada sits on the largest pool of oil reserves outside the Middle East. The
nation is also the world’s third-largest exporter of natural gas after
Russia and the U.S., according to the Energy Information Administration.
Australia is the biggest shipper of iron ore and coal. Merchandise exports
to China, the nation’s largest trading partner, grew 29 percent in 2009’s
first 11 months from the same period in 2008. Australia also sells gold,
crude oil and liquefied natural gas.
The Aussie and the loonie last traded at parity together in 1976, before the
November election of a secessionist Parti Quebecois government in Quebec
helped trigger “a protracted selloff” in the Canadian dollar, according to
James Powell’s “A History of the Canadian Dollar” on the Bank of Canada’s
The loonie most recently had the same value as an American dollar in July
2008 after rising to that level in September 2007 for the first time in
three decades. It hit its strongest level of 90.58 Canadian cents per U.S.
dollar two months later. The Aussie last reached parity in 1982, before the
government allowed it to float freely the following year.
With the U.S. dollar showing renewed strength, Barclays Plc’s wealth
management unit is advising investors to maximize returns on bets that the
Aussie and loonie will rise along with commodity prices by purchasing the
currencies with yen.
“If you had to pick a country in the world that’s most short of commodities,
it’s Japan,” said Aaron Gurwitz head of global investment strategy at
Barclays Wealth in New York.
Avatar fails to
11 January 2010
Get this for a
plot summary: A paraplegic marine dispatched to the moon Pandora on a unique
mission becomes torn between following his orders and protecting the world
he feels is his home. Does not sound much like a best seller. And the movie
cost an outrageous US$400 million. James Cameron may be the only Director
who could or would take this risk.
"Avatar" is a
Hindu word meaning incarnation or embodiment. Both this film and the Avatar
series are named after this concept.
I cannot imagine
why you would see this movie in anything but 3D. It is a very different way
to watch a movie - on an IMAX screen it must look fabulous.
But as a story -
it is little more that the usual
action-flick-with-moral-and-loads-of-clichés. The Na'vi are the good guys,
the greens, in tune with nature. The movie sees them in similar ways to the
indigenous people that America has historically exploited. Their is nothing
original in retelling the exploitation of the Native American Indians,
Vietnamese or Iraqis. Cameron nudges the film along with allusions to Dances
With Wolves, Jurrasic Park, Star Wars, Alien and Apocalypse Now. He turns up
the genocidal heat with such terms as "fight terror with terror" and "shock
and awe." Dialogue is not Cameron's strong suit and in this film it is lame.
The bad guys are
predictably military men verging on insane and weak corporate managers
worried about their shareholders.
The last third of
the movie is a battle between the Na'vi and their human destroyers. It is a
remarkable blend of digital effects and live-action. But it is also load and
very predictable. And it feels wrong for a movie preaching peace to hit its
visual peak with scenes of mass destruction.
Avatar extends the
possibilities of what movies can do. But it still feels like you are
watching a cartoon. There is little sense of reality. Maybe because the
story is just so predictable and the message is delivered without any
The clarity of the
3D is remarkable, and it's all undeniably dazzling.
But I feel like I
have been preached to by a zealot. The movie feels like a corporate
production rather than one with any human personality.
It was described
by one critic as: essentially, the CGI equivalent of Cirque du Soleil.
cleared in videoed torture case
10 January 2010
A member of the ruling family of the United Arab Emirates has been cleared
of the torture of a business associate.
Lawyers for Sheikh Issa bin Zayed al-Nahyan, the president's brother, said
the court ruled he had been drugged and so was "unaware of his actions".
The incident came to light when a videotape was circulated showing the
violent beating, said to have taken place in 2004. It was the first reported
investigation of a UAE ruling family member.
For details of the
original incident and of the torture tape - which is truly revolting - there
Lawyer Habib al-Mulla said the court had established that Sheikh Issa was
"not responsible" for the torture of Mohammed Shah Poor. "The court accepted
our defence that the sheikh was under the influence of drugs that left him
unaware of his actions," AFP news agency quoted him as saying.
Sheikh does appear to have been well enough to drive his 4x4.
The defence had previously claimed Sheikk Issa had been drugged by two men
who then then recorded the beating in order to blackmail him.
The video, circulated last year, shows Sheikh Issa repeatedly beating Mr
Poor, a grain merchant of Afghan origin, and running him over with a car.
Several other men assist in the tape, including one in a uniform of the
The incident came to light after US television network ABC broadcast clips
of the tape, which was smuggled out of the UAE by a former business
associate of Issa bin Zayed al-Nahyan.
Reports say the
merchant had lost a consignment of grain belonging to Sheikh Issa worth
$5,000 (£3,300). He survived the abuse, but needed extensive hospital
Mr al-Mulla said the fact the trial had taken place was "a sign that the UAE
is showing that everyone in this country can be put in front of law and
The UAE is a federation of seven wealthy emirates with substantial oil
reserves and a large expatriate population. Each emirate is run by a ruling
family and citizens are granted few political rights.
The UAE has been
listed below countries such as Colombia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Mongolia,
Swaziland, Azerbaijan and North Korea in terms of quality of life, according
to a new list compiled by a magazine specialising in moving overseas.
International Living magazine’s 2010 Quality of Life Index ranks 194
countries in terms of their quality of living and ranked the UAE 141st, just
below Kenya, Kyrgyzstan, Azerbaijan and North Korea.
Below North Korea
“This isn't about best value, necessarily. It's about the places in the
world where the living is, simply put, great,” claims the magazine, which is
based in Ireland.
The countries were scored in nine categories including cost of living,
culture and leisure, economy, environment, freedom, health, infrastructure,
safety and risk, and climate.
The UAE scored high in the economy and safety categories but low in the
environment, freedom and climate categories.
The freedom category measures “a citizen’s political rights and civil
liberties”, according to the magazine.
The UAE scored 50 points overall while France, which topped the list scored
82 points and at the bottom of the list on 194th was Somalia with 30 points.
Six of the top ten countries are in Europe. The top ten included France,
Australia, Switzerland, Germany, New Zealand, Luxembourg, the US, Belgium,
Canada and Italy.
Most of the Gulf countries ranked in the bottom half, with Jordan coming
104th, followed by Kuwait (106th), Syria (124th), Qatar (128th), Egypt
(135th), Iran (150th), Oman (168th), Saudi Arabia (169th), Iraq (170th) and
The UK was 25th, India was 88th, China was 97th and Pakistan was 178th.
Burj Khalifa –
a bleak symbol of Dubai's era of bling
stunning 828m skyscraper is an ideal monument for an era of credit-fuelled
over-consumption – irresponsible and unsustainable
Geraldine Bedell The Observer, Sunday 10 January 2010
"Dubai defies logic. Skyscrapers rear up out of the pitiless desert where, a
generation ago, there was only wind-blown litter. This city-state confected
from subsistence has now witnessed the opening of the world's tallest
building – the Burj Khalifa, steel-ribbed, glass-clad and completely
The 828m (2,717 foot) skyscraper boasts the world's highest swimming pool
and mosque and is said to contain enough glass to cover 17 football pitches.
Not since 1311, when the spire of Lincoln Cathedral first topped the Great
Pyramid of Giza, has the tallest structure in the world been located in the
Arab world. Some Arabs, not unreasonably, interpret criticism of the
building as resentment at Dubai's presumption in setting itself up as a
Stunningly designed by the Chicago firm of Skidmore, Owings and Merrell, the
Burj Khalifa is inspired not only by minarets and desert flowers, but also
by Frank Lloyd Wright's 1956 plans for the Illinois Sky-City in Chicago.
Neither the technology nor the money existed then to build such a structure.
Now that it does, Dubai would like to see its audacious building as a
metaphor for its role in the vanguard of globalisation, as a technocracy
capable of yoking Islam and modernity.
The symbol, though, is already tarnished. Before and during construction,
the building was called the Burj Dubai (Dubai Tower); its website still is.
The surrounding area was to have been known as Downtown Burj Dubai. But at
Monday night's launch, the name was abruptly changed to Burj Khalifa, in
honour of the president of the United Arab Emirates and ruler of Abu Dhabi,
Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed al-Nahyan.
Last month, Abu Dhabi gave Dubai $10bn to stave off financial collapse. The
name-change suggests the bailout may have come with conditions and that
Dubai's blander, richer neighbour may now exert some influence over its
In the space of one year, Dubai has gone from having the world's best
performing property market to one of the worst. The Burj Khalifa's
developers insist that 90% of its 900 apartments are sold and its 300,000
square feet of office space filled. In fact, most of the apartments were
bought at the height of the market by speculators. And while a way may be
found, for the sake of face, to occupy the office space, elsewhere in Dubai
large tracts lie empty.
It is impossible to get accurate information about this; Dubai is an opaque
place, where the line between government and private enterprise is blurred.
What we do know is that little attention was paid in the boom years to the
social or environmental consequences of development. All but 10% of the
population of Dubai are expatriates, whose interests really lie elsewhere.
The government featherbeds its few citizens but offers its majority of
foreign inhabitants little more than a dream of making money, encouraging a
short-term approach to the place. Certainly, it wants no political or civic
engagement from them.
Many of Dubai's construction workers live on starvation wages: £120 a month
on average for a six-day week, with shifts of up to 12 hours. Housemaids can
endure conditions approaching slavery. Laws exist to regulate working
conditions and to prevent employers from seizing workers' passports, but
they are not well enforced. Government figures are invariably owners,
partners or shareholders in private companies. You only have to travel an
hour into the desert to see the construction workers' shanty towns to get a
sense of what life is like for those who are building Dubai's skyscrapers,
but few do.
Construction workers on the Burj Khalifa have rioted on several occasions,
including in March 2006, when 2,500 protested at the site, and again in
November 2007. A Human Rights Watch survey found a cover-up of deaths from
heat, overwork and suicide in the emirate. The Indian consulate recorded 971
deaths of their nationals in 2005, after which they were asked to stop
Meanwhile, the Burj Khalifa's air-conditioning system is said to be the
equivalent of melting 12,500 tons of ice a day, in a city that has the
world's highest per capita carbon footprint. Dubai relies heavily on
CO2-emitting desalination plants. The Tiger Woods golf course alone requires
4m gallons of water a day. Short-term profits have repeatedly been put
There remains an outside chance that the emirate may yet become capable of
combining development with equity, transparency and environmental
sustainability. But at the moment, Dubai is built entirely on a capitalism
whose nakedness is clothed only in bling. And if that continues, the Burj
Khalifa will stand as a symbol of a meretricious, credit-fuelled era in
which no one with any choice would wish to live."
Not cleared for takeoff in the West Don Martin, National Post
10 January 2010
"The world's largest passenger jet, a two-storey Airbus 380 behemoth, lands
at Toronto three times a week packed with wealthy Arab tourists and
energy-based business executives.
The pride of the Emirates Airline fleet routinely fills more than 90% of its
489 seats to and from Dubai, sharing a near-capacity load with the United
Arab Emirates' other carrier, Etihad Airlines.
For 11 years now, Emirates Airline has been seeking permission to bring
daily flights to Toronto, Calgary and Vancouver only to be told by Transport
Canada there's no demand for increased service.
Being an airline recognized as among the best in the world with daily
service to 102 major cities evidently means that Canadian bureaucrats, not
its operators, know what's best for the airline.
Well, be careful Transport Canada, because Emirates Airline has almost had
enough of a country that bills its blue skies as wide open for business, but
routinely clips the wings of international competition.
Buffalo is showing up on its radar as an alternative location to Toronto and
Seattle is calling for it give up on its Vancouver or Calgary daily flight
dreams and fly south to its friendlier skies.
"It's a fair statement to say that of the developed world, Canada is the
most restrictive and we'd argue the most protectionist of any country we are
dealing with," cautions Emirates Airline senior vice-president Andrew
"The most powerful presentations we get are from American airports which
lobby us to give up on Vancouver and come to Seattle," he said yesterday.
"Now Buffalo says they're becoming a major player and want us to service
them and capture that part of Ontario."
This would be a one-off aviation anomaly if not for the fact that Transport
Canada's market interventions have already driven two global giants to
depart Canadian runways.
Both Singapore Airlines and Air France pulled out of Vancouver last year
after the federal government denied them daily flight access, relocating to
Seattle along with hundreds of jobs and the business benefits of non-stop
links to south Asia and Paris.
What's doubly bizarre is how wide and deep the support is for the UAE
airline's service to expand. Transport Minister John Baird has been
bombarded with pleas from Western premiers, mayors, MPs from all parties,
Toronto business interests and tourism officials to boost gravity-defying
links to the Middle East.
Alberta Premier Ed Stelmach is travelling to Dubai next week for a
conference and to meet with UAE airlines to discuss ways to increase
pressure for direct flights to Calgary.
Calgary Mayor Dave Bronconnier has met repeatedly with airline officials and
sounds fed up with the foot-dragging. "They've got the fleet, they're
willing to take the risk, they want to come to Calgary and we want them," he
told me. "We need the federal negotiators to get the deal done. If we really
believe in open skies, let's open them up."
Influential Calgary area MP Ted Menzies argues the airline's plans fit with
his government's current focus. "This is a no-risk, no-cost proposition for
our government that would provide an immediate economic stimulus."
The best Transport Canada can come up with to explain its reluctance to
approve daily service -- and it took its spokesperson two days to find her
speaking notes -- is "there is no shortage of seats to meet the demand."
That could be code for Air Canada protectionism, even though the airline
doesn't fly to Dubai. It does, however, have partner links to Dubai through
London or Frankfurt and it could well be using its domestic muscle to keep
this direct-flight competitor partially grounded.
Giving Air Canada protection "is anathema to any logical business thinking
and highly anti-consumer," argues the Consumers' Association of Canada.
For a pro-business Conservative government to obstruct its commitment to
open skies, a policy renamed to fit with party colours as a Blue Skies
policy, is unconscionable in a world where keeping our businesses globally
linked and competitive is a key to the recovery.
While Canada has inked an overdue agreement with the European Union, its
other deals are modest links to low-travel countries such as Iceland,
Ireland, Barbados and New Zealand.
If this restrictive air traffic control persists, Transport Canada will be
clearing more jobs and business investment for take off to the United
EK passengers charged
10 January 2009
Robert Fowles, 58,
from Dover, Kent, has been charged with making a bomb hoax and being drunk
on the Dubai-bound Emirates flight 004 last Friday night, the Metropolitan
Police has said.
Another man on the plane, Alexander McGinn, 48, also from Dover, has also
been charged with being drunk on an aircraft.
boarded the Boeing 777 at around 9.15pm on Friday, moments before take off,
after remarks made to cabin crew prompted passengers to raise the alarm.
Again it is unclear whether it was crew that raised the alert or passengers.
Fowles has been remanded in custody and will now appear at Westminster
Magistrates’ Court tomorrow. It will be interesting to see what he was
alleged to have said and to who. Did crew and passengers over react?
McGinn has been bailed and will appear at the same court on January 22, also
charged with being drunk on an aircraft. He is not the first man ever to be
drunk on board an airplane and given that the flight was still on the ground
the questions should be how he was allowed to check in and board the plane
without being challenged.
A third passenger on board the plane who was arrested at the time - a man
aged 36 - was released without charge.
More than 330 passengers were on the flight at the time of the alert. They
had to leave the aircraft while officers carried out a search.
Police later said they did not find any dangerous substances onboard.
Emirates arranged hotel accommodation for stranded travelers overnight and
they were allowed to depart on the aircraft on Saturday.
When silence is
not the answer
9 January 2010
The story of the
British woman assaulted at the new year in Dubai who was then arrested by
the Dubai police when she went to report the assault has been prominent in
the international media over the last two days. It is also a story that is
widely tweeted and blogged. Assuming that the story is for the most part
accurate it is a shocking story; and it is another story that is damaging to
both the image of Dubai as a tolerant and enlightened Emirate and by
extension damaging to the tourism industry on which the city depends.
Of course if you
red the Khalaeej Times and The Gulf News it never happened; because they
simply do not report it. This is of course part of the problem. If the story
is not reported; then there is no outrage and officials are not held
responsible or required to be accountable/
To their credit
The National from Abu Dhabi has not such concerns at reporting the story
which it did on Page 2 today; including large elements of the original text
of The Sun's story.
The details as
reported by the National are:
woman on holiday in Dubai with her fiance reported a rape to the police only
to be arrested herself for illegal sex and drinking.
The woman, a 23-year-old of Pakistani descent, was in the emirate for a
three-day break, celebrating her engagement.
But on New Year’s Eve she was allegedly attacked by a waiter while
semi-conscious in a hotel toilet. When she reported the attack at the Jebel
Ali police station the following morning, she was arrested, after reportedly
admitting to illegal drinking and having sexual intercourse outside
Her fiance, 44, was charged with the same offences.
The couple, both from London, have been released on bail and their passports
have been confiscated. They are awaiting trial and could be jailed for up to
six years if found guilty of the sex charge.
Reports say the woman, who is Muslim, admitted to having drunk too much as
she and her fiance celebrated their engagement at The Address hotel in Dubai
Marina. The waiter, believed to be Syrian, is alleged to have followed her
into the toilets and raped her while she was semi-conscious.
Her fiance, whose religion is unknown, later helped her back to the hotel
room, unaware of the attack, but when she told him what happened the
following morning they contacted the police, where they were then
The woman was given a blood test to prove she had been drinking. A rape exam
was administered following an appeal from the British embassy, which is
providing consular assistance to the couple.
attacker denied the rape charge, claiming the woman consented, but has been
charged with illegal sex.
Yesterday a spokesman for the hotel said, “The hotel cannot comment on the
matter as it is sub judice and being investigated by the authorities.”
Major Abdul al Kadi al Banni, director of the Jebel Ali police station,
confirmed that the woman had reported a rape on January 1. He said the
police took all necessary measures. However, he added there was also a case
filed against the woman and her fiance, for illegal drinking and sexual
intercourse. “The woman confessed that she had sexual intercourse with her
fiance and that she had alcohol. We cannot just ignore such an offence.”
All three suspects were referred to the public prosecution."
Today the UK
newspapers are reporting that the assault victim has been advised to drop
her allegation, admit she was drunk and marry her fiancé immediately - if
she wants to go home.
If the story is
genuine as reported then the lack of concern for the alleged rape is
alarming. And any faith or form of rule must see rape as a severe crime. The
troubling aspect of this case is that the victim and her fiance are British
Muslims who really should know better than to be so drunk in Dubai that at
least one of them passes out.
The trouble is
that the foreign media and the online community are up in arms at the Dubai
authorities over this case. And there is no one giving the police version of
the incident; how it was handled at the police station, the status of the
investigation or an account of the actions of the couple.
And that is where
the media silence does not help Dubai. We all end up getting the real news
about Dubai from the foreign press. There is more to this story than we are
It is worth remembering that a huge number of westerners live in or visit
Dubai every year but it is still relatively rare for Britons to fall foul of
its morality laws.
But when they do the consequences are serious.
drunks arrested on Emirates plane at Heathrow
9 January 2010
stormed Emirates Airline flight 004 at London's Heathrow airport as it was
about to depart for Dubai and arrested three men on suspicion of making a
The Emirates flight was preparing to take off late Friday when a “verbal
threat” was either heard by a crew member or heard by another passenger and
reported to the crew. News reports are conflicting on what happened.
“Police were alerted and armed officers boarded the plane,” a police
statement said. “Three men aged 58, 48 and 36 were arrested and are now in
They have been arrested on suspicion of making a bomb threat.”
Passengers said officers brandishing guns and in body armour burst onto the
plane and hauled the suspects away. They also said that the men arrested
were English and appeared to be drunk.
The alert came amid heightened security at airports around the world
following an alleged attempt by a young Nigerian to bomb a plane landing in
Detroit on Christmas Day by concealing explosives in his underwear.
The flight was due
to leave at 20.00 for Dubai. After a late push back the Metropolitan Police
said they were alerted after the threat was made at around 21.15.
passengers were taken off the plane at a secure part of the airport and the
airplane was searched. The airport — one of the world's busiest air hubs —
remained open throughout.
also to be individually questioned and all their bags searched.
So three idiots
drink too much, start saying stupid things on the airplane; enough to alarm
the cabin crew. And those actions massively inconvenience over 300 people.
Selfish and stupid.
There is one
necessary solution; stop selling alcohol at airports and on airplanes; close
the bars and stop selling duty free alcohol. Drunk passengers are rarely
stopped from boarding a flight and regularly course offence or exhibit
threatening behaviour onboard.
The airplane, crew
and passengers are still in London and expected to leave on Saturday morning
Towers - the depressing reality
8 January 2010
was originally due for completion in Q1 2008.
Then this was the
press release put out by Dubai Properties on 27 March 2008. It is, in
hindsight, either shameful, embarrassing or simply hilarious. Because it was
clearly a bare faced lie. Yet no one is held accountable.
March, 2008 - Dubai Properties, leading master real estate developer, today
announced the AED 3 billion Executive Towers, which are markedly visible
from Sheikh Zayed Road and Al Khail Road, is nearing completion, and the
anticipated Handover date will be during the fourth quarter of 2008.
Work is proceeding simultaneously on all 11 buildings of the Executive
Towers, which include nine residential units, the Aspect Tower, and the
Business Bay Hotel. The development's outdoor component, the Bay Avenue, is
also on its way to deliver 175,000 square feet of retail space as well as
With all the units of the Executive Towers sold out, the handover of all
towers will commence in the fourth quarter 2008.
Dubai Properties' first project in Business Bay, the region's new business
capital, will also be the second major project to be handed over by the
Master property developer following the successful release of Jumeirah Beach
Residence in 2007, handing over 6000 apartments. Yaqoob Al Zarooni, Deputy
CEO, Dubai Properties, said: "While we are committed to adhere to our
delivery schedule, we are equally keen on providing our investors with
latest updates on each project. The feedback we have received from our
partners and contractors has been positive as we work together to ensure we
deliver on our promises to investors."
Al Zarooni said: "With 5,400 on-site workers, we are delighted to inform
that our ambitions for the Executive Towers will soon achieve fruition. The
towers and the lifestyle they represent are geared towards people who
celebrate success and an intelligent way of life, and we are confident the
development will set new benchmarks in the industry."
With two-level shopping mall, clinics, health clubs and other facilities,
the Executive Towers will boast a contemporary design and architectural
theme reflecting Dubai's progressive outlook.
The main contractor for The Executive Towers is Al Habtoor Engineering,
while the Business Bay infrastructure is being handled by Halcrow
refund clauses for failure to deliver the project within a year of the
original completion date contained in the sale and purchase agreement were
worthless. As a buyer you could have tried to fight Dubai Properties in a
local court but you would have needed great patience, a good lawyer and to
afford significant legal fees.
So the only option
was to wait for completion and handover of the property.
On 21 June 2009
Samer Zabian, the Director or Customer Service (never has a department been
so badly named) wrote to the owners to announce - " We are delighted to
announce that the completion date for the Executive Towers project is now
confirmed as 20 July 2009."
More fiction. Just
an attempt to bring in some cash from the final payments.
(this time) on 15 November said that Tower B would be handed over from 30
November. And the threats started - failure to book your handover
appointment by 26th November 2009 may result in your account being marked
No matter that the
building was already almost 2 years late.
appointment was then replaced by a January appointment; although I only knew
that when I rang to confirm the December appointment and was told there was
a further delay.
Now lets look at
the process. How this should work; the purchaser examines the property;
prepares the snagging list (defects to be addressed before handover) and
ensure the snagging list is resolved before the final payment is made and
the property is handed over by the developer.
Not so with Dubai
Properties. We will take your money first thank you.
Then you can go to
the property and prepare you snagging list. You are now paying utilities and
management fees for a property that is not yet fit to inhabit.
service function at Dubai Properties head office is an embarrassment. So I
will move onto the handover.
did not put management of Executive Towers out to tender. They just
appointed their subsidiary management firm - Salwan LLC. A company that has
no history of property management and that appears able to charge whatever
management fee it wishes.
Salwan did retain
some UK consultants to advise on the handover process. The consultants said
complete the pool, gym, public areas. Ensure there is safe access to the
Some of the
consultants have been retained by Salwan to manage the handover. They are
openly embarrassed to be handing over the project in this condition.
Towers is not ready to be handed over.
The pool may open
in a month.
The gym may open
in three months.
The mall area may
open in six months.
But remember these
are Dubai Property dates so are subject to lengthy delay.
There is no
landscaping. The towers sit on a mud patch.
Access to my
tower, Tower B, is available through the car park only. Only one of the
three elevator banks is working. The car park is dirty, dusty, poorly lit,
full of building materials and is base camp for the many labourers still on
site. I am sure they are delightful people but I do not think my wife should
have to walk through them all if she comes home alone to the building. I do
not regard it as either safe or secure.
And finally you
get to your apartment and see it for the first time.
The view out over
the Burj Khalifa. Lovely.
Inside - I have
never been more disappointed. The plasterwork, grouting, paintwork, looks
like it was completed by five year olds using playdoh.
The flooring is
stone tiles; it looks like the tiles that you might use on a garden path.
mould/fungus on the walls. There are panels missing. There are chips, marks,
damage throughout. Door fames are damaged. Doors are chipped. Switches and
sockets are missing. Cracks in the plaster work have been painted over.
Tiling is uneven. Doors do not fit properly etc.
The saddest part
is that there appears to be absolutely no quality control and no sense of a
duty of care. Isn't this what customer service is supposed to do. There can
have been no check of my apartment to ensure that basic fixes had been done;
that obvious damage had been repaired. None of this is rocket science. The
contractor should be signing off on this apartment before I am expected to
The schedule of
finishes in the sale and purchase agreement said that "All finishes,
fixtures, construction and installation will be to relevant international
and local standards." That must have been in the fiction section.
Properties web site eulogises on Executive Towers : "The Executive Towers
comprise 12 towers: ten residential towers, one commercial tower known as
Aspect Tower; and one hotel called the Business Bay Hotel. The apartments
come equipped with modern amenities, high-tech facilities and
internationally designed interior spaces that embody superb architectural
innovation and breathtaking views of the winding Creek." It makes you weep
to see the reality.
Khalid Al Malik, Group CEO of Dubai Properties Group, said: "The handover of
The Executive Towers confirms Dubai Properties’ commitment to the continued
development of Dubai’s landscape by delivering projects that surpass our
My expectations were pretty low already - and they could not even meet those
!! Pathetic; shameful; incompetent.
I have no confidence that the snagging work will be done - let alone
expedited. It is a shame. The people on site from Salwan and Idama do appear
to care. But the contractor is not interested and Dubai Properties
management have simply taken the money without any thought of their
And finally just a
few of the pictures of the interior damage in the apartment. There is no way
that the apartment, or the building, should be handed over at this time and
in this condition.
surviving the handover The National (UAE)
First published on January 4th 2010
"It should be an
exciting time for homeowners who have waited years for the keys to their new
villas. But the rapid decline in prices has left thousands moving into
properties that are worth less than the amount they paid.
Now many are feeling the pain as the final handover usually means the first
mortgage repayments or the final payment to the developer.
At the same time, developers are rushing through completions, often before
projects are fully ready to occupy, to book desperately needed revenues.
“Some developers obviously do try to speed up the handover because they want
their money in,” says Charles Neil, the chief executive of the brokerage
Landmark Properties. “They say the property is ready but there are still a
lot of issues, including in the finishing, for instance.”
Tamweel, the country’s second-largest home finance company, refused in
November to accept the handover of the first completed properties from The
Villa development built by Al Mazaya Holding, located within the Dubailand
Tamweel is the financier and an owner of the estate, which comprises about
Khaldoun Abdul Kader, the executive vice president of Al Mazaya, said late
last year that the buildings were completed and infrastructure would be
finished by the start of this year.
Developers are also starting to hand over new towers within Dubai’s Business
Bay and Jumeirah Lake Towers developments.
“In reality, people can’t move in for all sorts of reasons,” says Matthew
Hammond, the head of agency at Jones Lang LaSalle. “No connection to power,
though, is the biggest cause for developers not to be able to hand over.”
Owners have clashed with developers over handover issues at Business Bay,
which was originally planned to include 200 towers.
Many homeowners in the project’s 12 Executive Towers paid their final
instalments in August before being told by Dubai Properties, the master
developer, that they would not be able to move in until late last year.
“People have been able to move into some residential units in Business Bay
but I am only aware of one of the Executive Towers and the electricity is on
the generators,” said Porush Jhunjhunwala, the manager of commercial leasing
at the brokerage company Better Homes.
“As for the office space, a few landlords are still doing the fitout. No
business has moved in. There are still challenges in terms of
Disputes over “snagging”, or fixing problems relating to the finishing of
new homes, are also becoming more prevalent, brokers say.
Investors in Al Reef Villas, a development in Abu Dhabi, have been asked for
snagging lists even before their homes have been connected to power and
“We started the snags in September for the first phase of the project …”
said Faiza al Zarouni, the chief operating officer of the developer Manazel,
late last year. “Yes, power and water connection is under implementation,
but obviously we will not hand over to the owners without the utilities.”
Some residents in the handed over villas of Al Reef, however, are still
receiving their power from generators, although they were promised a
connection to the federal grid soon.
“The day I came for the first time, I did not know that it was the official
snagging but I pointed a lot of defects,” says Khawar Sheikh, 35, an Indian
banker who moved in last month. “They treated that particular day as the
official snagging and I paid the balance.”
Mr Sheikh says he pointed out several flaws, such as uneven walls, damaged
kitchen fittings and broken tiles. “On December 15 I got the key and I said
I would be moving in with my family by the 25th,” he says.
“But now, even though I have moved in, nothing has been fixed. And I am
still getting electricity through generators.”
Brokers say owners should be especially vigilant of snagging issues and
should not accept properties that have not been properly finished.
“It is not usual to do the snags without having power and water,” says Mr
Neil. “You’ve got to check all the equipment, whether the AC is working or
not, for instance. You need to see that the water is running – all this
before the handover.
“You should not accept the unit unless the water and electricity have been
Developers are also likely to encounter more problems on buildings where 70
per cent or more of the purchase price is required on completion.
“Many buyers have not secured a mortgage for their last payment,” says Mr
Neil. “That is one of the big issues at the moment. The majority of the
payment plans for off-plan properties here include a big payment in the end,
after completion, often about 70 per cent.
“The reason the developers did this was to sell, as buyers wanted a small
payment upfront to flip the units and make a premium.”
Some buildings in the Jumeirah Lake Towers development reaching completion
are understood to be under this kind of payment plan. Some towers in Abu
Dhabi were sold in the same way.
“Many investors who bought those properties at Dh2,500 (US$680) per square
metre before the downturn thought it was not necessary to get a mortgage,”
says Susan Cronin, a consultant with Al Jar Properties. “They had a year and
a half to resell the property before delivery.”
Ms Cronin says securing a mortgage at this price is now close to impossible.
“I bought two apartments with a group of seven friends,” says Francoise
Harris, an investor in the Marina Blue building on Abu Dhabi’s Reem Island.
“The last instalment of investors was due on completion, which according to
the company is December 31. But the building was obviously not going to be
ready by that time. We only want to pay on real handover.”
For their part, developers say many investors are seeking excuses to delay
or avoid making their final payment because they do not have the funds or
their homes are now worth substantially less than the price they paid.
“People are much more critical,” says Markus Giebel, the chief executive of
Deyaar Properties, Dubai’s third-largest developer.
“Sometimes they really look and try to find something wrong, which
afterwards can be used against us in order to stall the last payment.”
Deyaar’s Citadel tower, an office high-rise building in Business Bay, which
had a last instalment of 50 per cent due on handover, has been the scene of
problems with some owners on delivery.
“We have no issues with about 50 per cent of the customers,” says Mr Giebel.
“But with the other 50 per cent, we have to negotiate.”"
to suspend work on Dubai metro
7th January 2010
Contractors on Dubai’s metro are poised to suspend work because they are
owed $10bn (£6.27bn) by the client.
A consortium comprising four Japanese contractors and one Turkish firm:
Obayashi, Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, Mitsubishi and Kajima, received
$5.7bn (£3.57bn) worth of orders from Dubai’s Roads & Transport Authority in
2005 to develop the Dubai Metro.
In a bid to collect its outstanding bills, which due to actual construction
expenses may be twice that of initial projections, the consortium is
understood to have slowed down the pace of work and could fully suspend
further construction on the Dubai Metro.
This could delay opening of the Green Line, scheduled for 2010.
Japanese firms in Dubai, working on a total of 18 projects in the emirate,
are owed collectively an estimated $15bn for work done before October 2009,
according to local press reports.
earlier stories about foreign contractors not being paid. The story gets
plenty of coverage in the construction trade press but not the local UAE
media. The green line does not look like it will be ready for a mid year
opening; or maybe it will see a partial opening as did the red line which
now has 11 of its 29 stations open.
6 January 2010
The Labour Party
in the UK looks like it wishes to commit electoral suicide just five months
before the likely date of the next general election.
Two ex Labour
cabinet members (now assassins of Mr Brown) have written to the Labour party
MPs calling for a secret ballot on Gordon Brown's leadership; the text of
the letter is below. The Conservative opposition must be gleeful at this
apparent split in the Labour Party ranks. And the Tory media will lap it up.
My bet - Gordon
Brown will lead the Labour Party into the next election. And that the Labour
Party will rally around him; and just maybe he will win the election or lead
a coalition with the Liberal Democrats.
Anything but the
I like Gordon
Brown. He is not telegenic like a Blair, Cameron or Obama. But he is a smart
man; he does care; he works very hard; and he is sincere about what he does.
And he has a decent team around him. The Milibrand bros, Balls and others.
As we move towards a General Election it remains the case that the
Parliamentary Labour Party is deeply divided over the question of the
leadership. Many colleagues have expressed their frustration at the way in
which this question is affecting our political performance. We have
therefore come to the conclusion that the only way to resolve this issue
would be to allow every member to express their view in a secret ballot.
This could be done quickly and with minimum disruption to the work of MPs
and the Government. Whatever the outcome the whole of the party could then
go forward, knowing that this matter had been sorted out once and for all.
Strong supporters of the Prime Minister should have no difficulty in backing
this approach. There is a risk otherwise that the persistent background
briefing and grumbling could continue up to and possibly through the
election campaign, affecting our ability to concentrate all of our energies
on getting our real message across.
Equally those who want change, should they lose such a vote, would be
expected by the majority of the PLP to devote all of their efforts to
winning the election. The implications of such a vote would be clear –
everyone would be bound to support the result.
This is a clear opportunity to finally lay this matter to rest. The
continued speculation and uncertainty is allowing our opponents to portray
us as dispirited and disunited. It is damaging our ability to set out our
strong case to the electorate. It is giving our political opponents an easy
In what will inevitably be a difficult and demanding election campaign, we
must have a determined and united parliamentary party. It is our job to lead
the fight against our political opponents. We can only do that if we resolve
these distractions. We hope that you will support this proposal.
Geoff Hoon and Patricia Hewitt"
Abu Dhabi - we
have a problem
6 January 2010
- Only 18 seconds - do watch to the end !
6 January 2010
In the following
paragraphs Khi Kwai (Federico Ferrara, assistant professor at the University
of Singapore) introduces his latest book manuscript Thailand Unhinged.
Khi Kwai provided
the following summary to "Absolutely
Bangkok" where he introduces his analysis looking back on Thai history
to explain why the country is in such a mess:
"Thailand’s 2007 constitution begins with a tawdry, obscene fabricaton. With
Orwellian audacity, its preamble states that “Thailand has been under the
rule of democratic government with the king as head of state for more than
75 years.” No mention is made of aborted transitions and military takeovers.
No significance is granted to the decades of repression Thailand experienced
under the thumb of ghastly military dictators – men who governed the country
with a level of savagery only exceeded by their greed. No meaningful role is
attributed to the hundreds of brave young Thais who lost their lives in the
mass protests of 1973 and 1992, just so that others would have a say on how
they should live theirs.
Not so much as a footnote is reserved for pro-democracy students at
Thammasat University, whom paramilitary death squads raped, murdered and
hanged from trees – their eyes ripped out of their sockets, their mouths
stuffed with old shoes – in October of 1976. The official, comic-book
version of Thai history that the government routinely imparts to millions of
school children nationwide has no place for the Thai people’s painful
struggle for democracy. Those who died, lost limbs, went to jail, or fled to
the jungle for the cause did all of this for no reason whatsoever.
Of course, plenty of elections have been held in Thailand since the 1930s,
at a frequency which has at times surpassed that of countries with rather
more distinguished democratic records. But many such elections took place
under conditions of severely limited competition, had their outcome
predetermined by fraud or massive deployment of state resources, or in any
case turned out to be irrelevant to the exercise of real political power.
For much the intervening time, moreover, government alternation has
typically been accomplished through coups, not elections.
And though introducing, restoring, or otherwise saving democracy has
reliably served as the rationale for many of the plentiful coups that have
forcibly, if often bloodlessly, removed a succession of Thai governments,
most of the “permanent” constitutions that have cyclically been promulgated,
suspended and unceremoniously repealed were designed as a way to provide the
regime of the day with the veneer of a legal foundation more than to
regulate anything vaguely resembling democratic competition. Government
propaganda notwithstanding, Thailand has only been a “democracy” in any
meaningful sense of the word for a relatively small portion of its history.
In each such instance, the military had to step in to “restore order” and
“protect the unity of the nation.”
Thailand Unhinged offers a trenchant analysis of Thai politics and society
over the tumultuous years that followed the ouster of the former prime
minister, Thaksin Shinawatra. It explains Thailand’s ongoing political
crisis by bringing important lessons from the country’s post-absolutist
history to bear on recent events. At the same time, it takes Thailand’s
current predicament as exemplary of the myriad ways in which prominent
unelected institutions have typically sought to undermine the country’s
notoriously fragile democracy.
Whatever the constitution might say, in particular, the book argues the real
story of the past eight decades is not the development of democracy. It is
rather the systematic sabotage of any meaningful democratic development, the
routine hijacking of democratic institutions, and the continued suffocation
of the Thai people’s democratic aspirations engineered by an unelected
ruling class in an increasingly desperate attempt to hold on to its power –
all the while, cloaking its “dictatorship of the big men” in the benign,
legitimizing language of “Thai style democracy.”
To be sure, since at least the 1980s, elected representatives and ministers
drawn from their ranks have enjoyed ample freedom to use their positions to
get rich, help their protégés get ahead, and repay contributors for their
support by plundering state coffers with impunity. What elected officials
cannot do under the present circumstances is place the military under
civilian control, take control of the machinery of government, and set
national policy – especially the kind of national policy designed to
re-distribute some of the country’s wealth to the provincial masses. In
fact, whether an elected government acts within or without the constitution
It’s when it begins to operate outside the confines set for it by the
“network” that the country’ elites spring into action. If they can, they
will use their control of the courts to overturn the results of elections
through means that have the appearance of being legal. If they need to, they
will send onto the streets gangs of paramilitary thugs to castrate the
government and paralyze the country, all the while guaranteeing that the
nation’s laws will not apply to them. And, if they absolutely must, they
will roll out the tanks and the special forces – formally taking power just
long enough to write a new constitution capable of insulating them from the
nuisance posed by elected officials.
In light of Thaksin’s sickening record, one could be forgiven for having
sympathized with the argument made in support of the 2006 coup. But we
should have known better than to think there is any such thing as a
“democratic coup d’état.” Much like Chatichai Choonhavan before him, at the
end of the day Thaksin was done in less by his efforts to establish an
“elected dictatorship” than by his attempt to project his government’s power
deep into institutions traditionally impervious to encroachments by elected
officials. After his bone-crushing victory in the 2005 elections, however,
Thaksin was much too strong to be effectively undermined, let alone removed,
through any of the gentler means at the disposal of Thailand’s economic,
military, bureaucratic, and aristocratic elites.
And so the military had to step in, not merely to unseat Thaksin, but
perhaps especially to lay the groundwork for his prosecution, confiscate his
assets, dismantle those provisions in the 1997 constitution that protected
his dominance, and put new safeguards in place against his return. When
Thaksin did come back, if only by proxy, out came the PAD’s paramilitary
thugs that softened the government’s support by raising the terrifying
specter of an ugly civil war. And when the people had had enough of that,
out came the constitutional court with its tendentious decision to dissolve
the People Power Party.
The book includes scathing critiques of Thaksin’s administration as well as
the military-backed governments that came to power in the wake of the 2006
coup and again in late 2008, following the week-long siege of the country’s
busiest airports. Individual chapters explore Thailand’s long history of
so-called “democratic coups d’état,” the build-up to the 2006 coup as well
as the organization, operational strategy, and worldview of the PAD, the
events that led up to Abhisit Vejjajiva’s elevation to the office of prime
minister, the nexus of prostitution and class structure, the compatibility
of Thai culture with democracy, and Thailand’s prospects of finally setting
on a path to genuine democratization. The essays are written in a
provocative, confrontational style – making Thailand Unhinged a decidedly
unconventional mix of academic scholarship, literary journalism and radical
As for some of the more memorable quotes from the book, here is a sampling
of relevant passages:
Page 32 – But if the chasm between city and countryside is an important
reason why Thailand never quite ceased to drift in and out of military
dictatorship, the conventional wisdom offers little more than a caricature
for the interests and aspirations of both urban and provincial voters. We
should not be misled, moreover, into exchanging the politicization of
demographic differences, however real and important, for inevitable. Nor,
for that matter, should we fall for the notion that, at its core, this fight
has anything to do with democracy. Beyond the apparent lifestyle
differences, the rift is arguably about self-image – in particular, the long
held stereotype that portrays northeasterners as lazy, halfwitted grunts –
more than it is about any coherent, deeply held ideology. And at stake here
are not competing visions of democracy, but rather the kind of naked power
that the vanguards in both camps value far more than any principle or idea.
In this very old-fashioned struggle for the right to control and plunder
state coffers, to hoard the people’s money, “democracy” is but the
rhetorical bludgeon wielded by each side to score political points against
its rivals, earn itself the enlistment of useful idiots it may use as cannon
fodder, and cloak its hegemonic aspirations in the shallow trappings of
polite international discourse. In this fight, just as provincial voters
could be said to often fall prey to the machinations of unsavory local
bosses, the urban middle class – vast differences in education, wealth and
status notwithstanding – is every bit the pawn of the Bangkok elites.
Page 50 – It should be noted that the use of the word “Democracy” in the
title of an organization devoted to the disenfranchisement of tens of
millions of people should not be mistaken for mere chutzpah or hypocrisy.
Nor is it just a definitional question about the appropriate size of the
demos. To claim the mantle of true democrats while denouncing democracy as a
dangerous utopia is rather reflective of a far more insidious worldview. The
PAD, specifically, claims to speak “for the nation” because the natural
order made it their role to think for the masses. As such, not only is there
no contradiction in asserting that the PAD embodies “the will of the people”
even though its entire agenda is predicated upon substituting the people’s
choices for their own. The PAD’s is in fact a superior form of democracy –
one that recognizes the functions proper to each of the various components
of Thailand’s social organism. Those who oppose the PAD’s vision are
“traitors” and “enemies of the nation” because the idea of individual
equality undermines natural hierarchies whose preservation is integral to
the survival of the organism as a whole. For the PAD, what the majority
actually thinks is irrelevant. The “will of the people” is what they say it
is. It’s simply not the purview of the uncouth peasantry, the ignorant
drudge, or the feckless cab driver to hold political opinions.
Page 51 – The PAD finally got its long sought-after bloody shirt on October
7th, when skirmishes outside the Thai parliament building left at least two
people dead and scores injured. To the surprise of many, the violence on
October 7th did not precipitate the coup the pad had been clamoring for –
the familiar kind of coup complete with the deployment of tanks, the
proscription of political organizations, and the imposition of martial law.
In fact, the PAD got something much better than that – the slow but
inexorable cooking of the government’s goose. At the end of the day, that
amounted to a coup all the same, but the
pretense of bourgeois legality was carefully preserved through the outward
observance of otherwise worthless constitutional provisions and
Page 56 – In fact, the democratic movements of times past have never enjoyed
the kind of protection that institutions like the military and the Privy
Council have afforded the PAD. Nor have they ever received much in the way
of financial backing from Bangkok’s feudal and capitalist elites. Each of
these constituencies, whose long-standing dominance over Thai politics and
society is threatened by the possibility that Thailand might embark upon a
path to real democratization, has rather more commonly sought to crush past
Page 69 – In fact, whether an elected government acts within or without the
constitution is immaterial. To be sure, since at least the 1980s, elected
representatives and ministers drawn from their ranks have enjoyed ample
freedom to use their positions to get rich, help their proteges get ahead,
and repay contributors for their support by plundering state coffers with
impunity. What elected offcials cannot do under the present circumstances is
place the military under civilian control, take control of the machinery of
government, and set national policy – especially the kind of national policy
designed to re-distribute some of the country’s wealth to the provincial
masses. It’s when it begins to operate outside the confines set for it by
the “network” that the country’s elites spring into action. If they can,
they will use their control of the courts to overturn the results of
elections through means that have the appearance of being legal. If they
need to, they will send onto the streets gangs of paramilitary thugs to
castrate the government and paralyze the country, all the while guaranteeing
that the nation’s laws will not apply to them. And, if they absolutely must,
they will roll out the tanks and the special forces – formally taking power
just long enough to write a new constitution capable of insulating them from
the nuisance posed by elected officials.
Page 86 – The biggest challenge to the dominance of the military, the Privy
Council, and the Bangkok elites is not Thaksin or even Thai Rak Thai, but
rather the emergence of any strong, organized, national political party that
takes its electoral mandate seriously. So long as Thai politics remains
factionalized, fragmented, personalized, parochial, corrupt, and
patronage-based, their ability to run the show behind the scenes remains
intact. At the same time, should anyone call them out on it, they can always
point to the ineptitude and corruption of elected politicians as evidence
that powerful unelected institutions are actually needed to protect Thailand
from the inanity of its own citizens.
Page 87 – Of course, Thailand’s problem is not that it has had too much
democracy, as some in the blue-blood jet conveniently allege, but rather
that what little democracy it has experienced since 1932 has been
systematically undermined and then subverted whenever it produced results
its unelected masters didn’t like. As such, having never been given the
chance to develop into a functioning system of government, democracy has
cyclically produced the kind of inept, fragmented administrations that made
the rise of a brash, decisive, populist leader like Thaksin Shinawatra
possible in the first place.
Page 109 – Follow the money. For every miscreant who descends upon Thailand,
weighted down by the oversized baggage of smug condescension Westerners
carry with them everywhere they go, there are thousands of enablers in this
country. These enablers benefit – of course, some more directly and more
bounteously than others – from the Farang Juice Company’s sustained
cropdusting of Thailand in imported, protein-rich fertilizer. They have a
deal, you see. It’s an unspoken one, but as iron-clad as any contract you
could sign in this country. And, thus far, successive generations have seen
it fit to honor it. All the modernized, urbane elites are asked to do to is
refrain from making too big a stink about the wide availability of plebeian
girls. So long as they don’t do a damn thing about it, in return they get to
publicly berate the white man’s shocking degeneracy, bemoan his influence on
the ignorant, impressionable little people (whom they have always argued in
need of guidance from the civilized urbanites), and thus proudly wear the
mantle of strenuous defenders of Thailand’s national identity. All the
while, behind closed doors, millions of their own men engage in much the
Page 111 – For the Thai bourgeoisie, the great thing about the status quo –
beyond the fact that tourism makes businesses more prosperous, jobs more
remunerative, and taxes less burdensome – is that while the measly sum
families upcountry receive from their daughters keeps them afloat and hence
mutes the clamor for a more interventionist role of the state, in the
absence of real economic development millions of provincial bores never go
far beyond mere subsistence. Incidentally, though “sufficiency” is all the
elites and the local press say provincial Thais should aspire to, the
continuing reality of rural poverty perpetuates the incentive structure that
makes prostitution the best possible career choice for upcountry girls by
the hundreds of thousands. You can force people into mere sufficiency, but
it is quite another thing to permanently extinguish any yearning for
self-advancement, to forever sear upon people’s faces idiotic smiles of
contentment. Nor, for that matter, would the elites really want for the
slogging proles to surrender all hopes of a better life — not lest they piss
away the steady supply of cheap labor that makes their parasitic lives so
Page 121 – Notwithstanding the lip service frequently paid to the customs,
practices, values, norms, and beliefs that cumulated over centuries of Thai
political development, there is nothing “Thai” about lining up scores of
dissidents against the wall of a Buddhist temple and mowing them down with
machine guns. There is nothing “Thai” about the shameless hypocrisy required
to praise a military dictator who stole billions and murdered hundreds, with
the blessing of the country’s highest authorities, and in the same breath
adduce “corruption” and “human rights violations” as justification to stage
military coups against elected leaders guilty of a fraction of those
offenses. There is nothing “Thai” about turning religion into an instrument
of political legitimacy. There is nothing “Thai” about cults of personality.
There is nothing “Thai” about the enlistment of mass media and schools in
the dissemination of propaganda. And there is nothing “Thai” about
repressing the poor to benefit the rich. These are not the hallmarks of
culture, Thai or otherwise. These are rather the attributes of
authoritarianism – the main features of which were pioneered, for the most
part, by generations of Western dictators.
Page 135 – Culture is now the first refuge of dictators. But it’s important
to recognize that “Thai-style democracy” doesn’t amount to anything more
glamorous or exotic than your average European-style dictatorship. In fact,
the real hindrance to democratization in Thailand is not Thai culture; it is
rather the interest of elites who are otherwise eager to borrow from abroad
what can be used to entrench their power at home. As such, to reject
democracy on cultural grounds, is not to protect Thailand from Western
impositions. It is rather to acknowledge the authority of pompous, inbred
big men to define what is compatible with tradition and what is not."
EK announces Madrid
5 January 2010
This is turning
into a big year for new routes for Emirates - Prague, Tokyo and Amsterdam
are already announced.
Now the Dubai
based carrier is to open services to the Spanish capital, Madrid, from 1
August this year.
The airline will operate daily non-stop to Madrid from Dubai.
Emirates will use Airbus A330-200 aircraft on the route, configured with 12
first-class, 42 business-class and 183 economy-class seats.
Madrid will bring to 25 the number of Emirates destinations in Europe, says
Dubai Khalifa opens
4 January 2010
After six years
construction the building formerly known as the Burj Dubai was formally
opened today and was immediately renamed.
renaming the tower the Burj Khalifa looks like a part of the price that
Dubai has paid in return for a financial bail out (called support by the
local media) from Abu Dhabi.
There will need to
be a lot of new signage produced very quickly. The announcement of the name
change seems to have surprised everyone.
fireworks were spectacular - my pictures are
here - there are probably far better ones elsewhere.
There were also
six parachutists at the opening of the event. Rather oddly both Arabian
Business and Dubai One tv are insisting that they parachuted from the top of
the tower. No they did not. They came out of an airplane.
Traffic was a
nightmare. It is always OK for the helicopter arriving, police escorted
dignataries; but it seems that every major UAE event is beset with traffic
problems. And that just looks like bad planning.
Zayeed Rd came to a standstill in both directions. All six lane of the
highway were a parking lot approaching the Dubai Mall junction. Road access
from Sheikh Zayeed Rd to the Old Town was also closed off and Al Khail Rd
looked like a parking lot as well. Many people will have been watching the
fireworks from their cars.
It is far from
clear how much of the Tower will be occupied and when but the observation
deck on the 124th floor will be open from tomorrow. Tickets for admission to
the At The Top observation deck will cost from Dh100.
Admission for immediate access to the tower can be purchased at Burj Dubai
for Dh210 (US$57). Or you can pay AED100 and join the queue.
Just don't look
4 January 2010
- The Guardian
tallest building may be a triumph of beauty and ambition, but the soulless
cityscape surrounding it is another matter.
We're going to
need a new word. The Burj Dubai doesn't scrape the sky; it pierces it, like
a slender silver needle, half a mile high. It's only because Dubai never has
any clouds that we can even see the tower's top. And, judging by the images
released so far, the view is more like looking out of a plane than a
building. It has made reality a little less real.
The facts and figures about the tower are equally surreal – like the one
about how it could be eight degrees cooler at the top than at the bottom, or
the one about how you could watch the sunset at the bottom, then take a lift
up to the top and watch it all over again. It's a new order of tallness,
even compared to its nearest rival, Taiwan's Taipei 101, which it exceeds by
more than 300 metres.
But, beyond height, is there anything to celebrate here? From our current
perspective, the Burj Dubai symbolises catastrophic excess – of money,
confidence, ambition, energy consumption. And the fact that it will most
likely stand empty for years to come has been noted with great satisfaction
here in the west. But isn't this how we've responded to every tall structure
of note, from Babel onwards? And even its many critics have to admit the
tower is a rather stunning piece of architecture. Chiefly designed by Adrian
Smith, formerly of skyscraper specialists SOM, and engineer Bill Baker, it
is beautifully sleek and elegant, rising in a graceful series of silver
tubes of different heights. It looks less like a single tower than a cluster
of towers, an organic formation rather than a self-consciously iconic
object. This is surely the best-looking tall building since New York's
Chrysler and the Empire State in the 1930s.
In environmental terms, the Burj Dubai is way too tall to justify itself,
but there is at least some structural efficiency to the form. Its Y-shaped
plan – three wings extending from a central core, like the roots of a tree –
"confuses the wind", in the architects' words, while the core stops the
wings from twisting (which would give top-floor occupants nausea). For
super-tall buildings – and surely there will be more, one day – this
"buttressed core" design is likely to become the prevailing form.
More worrying than the tower itself, however, is what's around it. In 1956,
Frank Lloyd Wright unveiled a scheme for an elegantly preposterous mile-high
skyscraper for Chicago, safe in the knowledge that he'd never have to figure
out how to build it. It was undoubtedly an influence on the Burj Dubai. It
even had a similar triangular structure. But Wright's intentions with his
mile-high skyscraper were to create a concentrated human habitat, the better
to halt Chicago's unstoppable urban sprawl, and free up ground space for
parks, nature and leisure.
The Burj Dubai, by contrast, has become the tentpole for several more acres
of anonymous, soulless, energy-hungry cityscape. You can apparently see for
60 miles from the top, but when you look down, the immediate landscape is
the same schematic real-estate tat you see everywhere else in Dubai: vast
shopping malls, bland office towers, sprawling residential developments
semi-themed to resemble "traditional" Arabian villages, outsized ornamental
fountains. The Burj Dubai might be a triumph vertically, but what about the
under court threat
4 January 2010
- The Bangkok Post
Shinawatra's multi-billion baht fortune rides on the outcome of his trial on
conflict of interest charges before the Supreme Court's Criminal Division
for Political Office Holders.
His family fortune of 69 billion baht has been frozen by banks pending the
The trial started in July. Last month, the court extended its hearings, with
the next date set down for Jan 11.
Fugitive former prime minister Thaksin and his ex-wife, Potjaman na Pombejra,
have been tried for an alleged illegal shareholding in Shin Corp.
They are also being tried for allegedly dubious business transactions
leading to a 76.6 billion baht profit which his family made from the sale of
its 49.6% stake in Shin Corp to Singapore's Temasek Holdings in 2006.
One question which the judges must answer is whether Thaksin and Khun-ying
Potjaman held shares illegally during Thaksin's prime ministership from 2001
Other questions centre on the extent of his alleged unusual wealth and
whether Shin Corp benefited illegitimately from telecoms policies which
The court has sought a long list of documents and reports from state
agencies and companies.
The now-defunct Assets Scrutiny Committee asked the court to seize the
Shinawatras' share-sale profits on the grounds the couple directly owned the
shares and benefited from the share value increase and other gains which
stemmed from Thaksin's telecom policies.
But Thaksin's lawyers claim he had made a significant portion of his wealth
before he came to office in 2001.
The ousted prime minister's witnesses, including an official from the Stock
Exchange of Thailand, have told the court the increase in the Shin Corp
shares' value was influenced less by Thaksin's policies than natural
increases in the share price.
The court has asked for an assessment of Thaksin's telecoms policies from
Thailand Development Research Institute economist Somkiat Tangkijwanich.
It has also sought papers from the National Economic and Social Development
Board and SET records showing the stock value of Shin Corp and related
The ASC alleged Thaksin's introduction of excise tax on telecom services
provided advantages to telecoms company Advanced Info Service, in which Shin
Corp held a 42.9% stake.
The policy weakened the financial status of state-owned TOT Plc and blocked
full competition by others in the industry, the panel said.
One Somkiat study found that right after the telecoms excise tax policy
announcement in February 2003, listed companies with close connections to
the Thaksin cabinet, including Shin Corp and its affiliates, enjoyed an
increase in capital gains of 4.65%.
On Thaksin's policy to give a tax exemption to Shin Satellite Plc for its
investment in an IPStar satellite project, the study suggests the company
was not entitled to the privilege, which gave it a profit of 16 billion
The Somkiat study says Thaksin's policy to reduce AIS's revenue-sharing
obligations to TOT for its mobile phone pre-paid services, from 25% to 20%,
helped AIS gain 13.4 billion baht in value from October 2001 to September
However, the ASC's estimate of Thaksin's "unusual wealth" goes beyond the
gains which the family made from the sale of its stake, to include future
gains estimated until the end of the firm's concession in 2015. For the
pre-paid service policy, it gave a total figure of 70 billion baht as part
of his alleged unusual wealth. For Thaksin's policy on network sharing for
mobile phone operators, it gave a total figure of past and future profits of
18 billion baht.
The court has yet to set a date for its verdict"
A marvel, a
folly, or both
3 January 2010
evening Dubai will have officially opened its mammoth tower; the Burj Dubai.
The next day it will be largely closed again as the builders work on
competing the surrounding infrastructure and fitting out the building.
Here is the tower
- pictured over the last three and a half years. At some US$20 billion for
the Burj Dubai and the surrounding developments the tower was not cheap, and
perhaps it was even unaffordable.
The Burj Dubai is
the world's tallest building and will be inaugurated on January 4, 2010, by
His Highness Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, UAE Vice President &
Prime Minister and Ruler of Dubai.
As a building it
is decently attractive; it is shiny, elegant and confident looking. And it
is part of am emerging new city centre of Dubai that has a growing energy
and life. There is no questioning the audacity of those who said build it
and those who undertook the engineering.
To add to the fun
there is an open observation deck on level 124. The views are not exactly
Manhattan or Paris but the mix of sand and sea and old and new will be
interesting. And you are still 36 floors from the top !
ribbon-cutting is not a the best time for Dubai. The city's ambitions have
been severely dented by the financial woes of the property sector. The lack
of transparency and information have added to concerns over the credibility
of the city's vision. The white knight, so far, has been Abu Dhabi, but the
cost of their bail out is unknown.
The grand party,
fireworks, laser show and fawning and lavish commentary from the local media
will be too lavish; this might have been a good time to show a little
restraint; to show responsibility. But we are already being promised the
party of the year.
become rather less iconic since the awful events of 11 September 200; and
like many of the world's past tallest buildings, the Burj Dubai was planned
and built during the boom years, and finished during a property crash. The
Empire State Building was completed during the Great Depression in the 1930s
and the Petronas Towers in Malaysia during the 1990s Asian financial crisis.
Will there be life
after the opening? In time probably; but not overnight; except for tourist
buses heading for the observation floor and gift shops.
The tower is
likely to stay empty for the foreseeable future. Though most of its 900
apartments have been sold, virtually all were bought three years ago -- near
the top of the market -- and primarily as investments, not as places to
live. There is little demand in Dubai at the moment for office space. The
Burj Dubai has 37 floors of office space.
The BBC reports one Mohamed Abdul Hadi, a local investor who made millions
out of Burj Dubai long before the building was completed. "In 2007 we bought
three floors on Burj Dubai," he told the BBC. "The first investor paid 2,500
UAE dirhams ($680; £420) per square foot. We bought at AED 3,500 and one
year later we sold at around AED 5,000. Look at the profit, where else can
you have this but Dubai? And with no taxes."
But not everyone wins. Those who invested late will be nursing large losses.
Late stage investors are suffering from property prices that have come down
by 50% and may still fall further. There is an oversupply in the
property market today. Analysts say that vacancy rates may be 25% to 30% for
residential property in a year's time, and for commercial property the
vacancy rate is already 40%. Burj Dubai is not immune to that. Location and
quality will help, but over time.
Megalomania or a Grand Achievement?
3 January 2010
- Der Spiegel
"Dubai, like no other place in the world, epitomizes globalization,
"innovation" and "astonishing progress," as US President Barack Obama said
admiringly in his speech to the Muslim world in Cairo in June. But it also
stands for mind-boggling excess. In Dubai, utopias almost feel real
sometimes, and reality is sometimes nothing but a mirage.
Nevertheless, the excessive building of cities and towers seems to be a
cross-cultural constant, a dream and nightmare alike for mankind, from the
Babylonians to the heroes and villains of the present. The ruler of Dubai
isn't the only one who has carried out his plans in reinforced concrete and
President Nursultan Nazarbayev of Kazakhstan had Astana, an entire city of
monumental avenues, triumphal arches and pyramids built as his new capital,
where marble contrasts with granite, buildings are topped by gigantic glass
domes and, on the Bayterek Tower, every subject can place his or her hand in
a golden imprint of the president's hand.
In the Burmese jungle, dictatorial generals had an absurd new capital,
Naypyidaw, or "Seat of the Kings," conjured up out of nothing. Yamoussoukro,
the capital of Côte d'Ivoire and a memorial to the country's now-deceased
first president, Félix Houphouët-Boigny, is even a step closer to the brink.
The city is filled with grandiose buildings, but there are hardly any people
to be seen. The Basilica of Notre Dame de la Paix is a piece of lunacy
inspired by the Basilica of St. Peter in the Vatican, but the African church
is even bigger than St. Peter's. Indeed, it is the world's largest Catholic
It is easy to ridicule the megalomaniacs and their hubris and to rail
against the record-breaking mania reflected in their ostentatious buildings,
phallic symbols of the rise to power of nouveau-riche potentates.
And yet, aren't Brasilia and Canberra, the South American and Australian
versions of the man-made model city, remarkable successes? Hasn't history
proven at least a few visionaries right, people whose achievements we
continue to marvel at today: the creators of Giza on the Nile, Machu Picchu
in the Andes and Angkor in Cambodia, or the planners of St. Petersburg?
Today, the pyramids of the pharaohs, the mountain fortress of the Incas and
the sacral ruins of the Khmer are admired as part of the world's cultural
heritage, places that attest to man's greatness. They are the great and
magnificent achievements of past eras. Nowadays, the center of St.
Petersburg—designed on the drawing board, like Dubai today, more than 300
years ago—is still considered an ideal city and an example of successful
Where the emirates are built on sand, the banks of the Neva River were once
swampland. At the behest of the czar, St. Petersburg was not just created as
Russia's window to the West, but as a reflection of what the modernists of
the day defined as utopian. "Now, city of Peter, stand thou fast,
Foursquare, like Russia; vaunt thy splendor! The very element shall
surrender And make her peace with thee at last," Alexander Pushkin, the
congenial poetic counterpart to Peter the Great, wrote in his poem "The
Bronze Horseman." It was pure hubris, cast in the form of magnificent verse.
What happens today in Dubai—or in Shanghai or Astana—generally happens under
the conditions of an authoritarian form of government. In democracies,
people cannot be dispossessed and driven off their property but, instead,
can hire attorneys to assert their rights. In democracies, more or less
reasonable building codes and ordinances, as well as licensed appraisers,
ensure that uncontrolled growth and injustices are kept in check. But this
limiting effect also applies to creativity, spontaneity and "positive"
megalomania, resulting in a general leveling of things.
"This society is mediocre," the poet and sharp-tongued contemporary critic
Hans Magnus Enzensberger once wrote about German reality. "Its political
leaders and its works of art are mediocre, as are its representatives and
its taste, its joys, its opinions, its architecture, its media, its fears,
vices and afflictions." And then, in his essay "Mediocrity and Delusion,"
Enzensberger writes: "There is something cathartic about this realization."
Somewhere between Western suburbs and Yamoussoukro lies Dubai. Whether its
Burj, its tower, will ever become a part of the world's cultural heritage is
still open, as is the question of how long it will remain the world's
tallest structure. China, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait are already planning
towers that will be much taller than the Burj Dubai, reaching more than
1,000 meters into the sky.
In the Book of Isaiah, the Bible describes the fall of Babel as follows:
"And suddenly your downfall will come, and it will come unexpectedly." If
the words of the Old Testament are to be believed, the megalomaniacal tower
builders of today cannot expect external support: "Thus shall they be unto
thee with whom thou hast labored, even thy merchants, from thy youth: They
shall wander every one to his quarter; none shall save thee."
The Burj Dubai was not cheap, and perhaps it was even unaffordable. But at
least the sheikhs of Dubai have taught their contemporaries one virtue: the
virtue of taking the plunge."
Talking up the
3 January 2010
newspaper and the PAD are allied in talking up a potential showdown with
former prime minister Thaksin and his red shirted supporters.
Now former Army
commander and now president of the king’s Privy Council, General Prem
Tinsulanonda has appeared in military uniform in public for the first time
since the 2006 palace-military coup.
PTT and Bangkok
Pundit in their blogs have highlighted that Prem recommended a newspaper
article by Thaksin critic Chirmsak Pinthong (แนวหน้า, 28 December 2009).
Prem recommended the article to those who were visiting him, saying it
“important and a must-read.”
As I cannot read
Thai I will paraphrase PTT's summary of the article.
Firstly note that
Chirmsak Pinthong is a supporter of the yellow-shirted People’s Alliance for
Democracy and has been an important intellectual critic of Thaksin and the
red shirt movement.
In his article, Chirmsak’s basic point is that Thailand has entered the
first phases of a yet to be decided civil war. On one side is the
“legitimate government” of the “kingdom of Thailand.” On the other side
there are the Thaksin forces. They aim not just to overthrow the Abhisit
government, but to radically change the system of government, eventually
establishing a republic and a dictatorship.
that the Abhisit government is legitimate as it came from the same elections
as the Samak and Somchai governments and there should be no reason to reject
This is typical
PAD/Democrat rhetoric which ignores the 2006 coup, the airport occupation
and subsequent legal proceedings that established a Democrat-led coalition.
exonerates the PAD from any responsibility because he like the rest of the
PAD sees them as nationalists, while the red shirts are traitorous.]
There is also the media feud; with both groups aiming to confuse and divide
the public by inventing stories and misleading people so that there is
hostility towards the other group. The trouble is that Chirmsak sees the
government and its supporters as faultless and points to DTV and complains
that it is media established solely with a political purpose to undermine
the state and the Kingdom of Thailand.
But the PAD
pioneered this inflammatory journalism with ASTV/Manager.
Chirmsak sees the
recruitment of old soldiers to Peua Thai as highly dangerous as it threatens
a split in military ranks when a “final showdown” looms. The government
supporters also see the pro-Thaksin loyalty of the police as dangerous.
The recurring theme from Chirmsak is to accuse Thaksin and the red shirts of
traitorous acts. Either that of of simply being in it for the money.
Among the red shirts he argues are republicans and like-minded red-shirt
academics who hate the idea of “democracy with the king as head of state.”
The implication is that either there are no principles involved or if there
are principles, they are held by those who are dangerous to the monarchy.]
Chirmsak regards the poor as being people with insufficient information.
They look to Thaksin to resurrect their failed dreams. This is an old and
alarming PAD argument. The PAD's appeal is to a middle class, alarmed and
concerned at its role in society; meanwhile the poor are a nuisance who
should not have the vote in teh first place.
The civil war analogy contunues; Chirmsak's article talks of the “big boss”
who is firing off the “intercontinental missiles” that “drop from the skies
on the Kingdom of Thailand”. Some red shirts are the “infantry” creating all
the problems in the country. Others are the “artillery,” using television as
their weapon. The Peua Thai Party in parliament are the “cavalry in tanks,”
protected by their parliamentary position but causing confusion. The “spies”
are the senior government officials who are provide secret information,
impede and disrupt.
The PAD wants to
see greater use of state power to crush the red shirts. So that the
government may maintain stability to protect the interests and happiness of
What majority? Or
is this just a majority of those that Chirmsak and the PAD would accept as
enfranchised. After all the coup overthrew a government that was elected by
the majority of the voters.
But the question asked by blog writers is why Prem singled out this account.
The views are not new and underpin the actions of the Abhisit government.
But the new theme
for 2010 is of a civil war. This is claimed to be the red shirt strategy and
it is to be opposed by any means available to the Thai state.
The question is
whether a showdown is inevitable.
3 January 2010
restaurants and cafes must immediately stop adding any service charges to
their consumer bills in compliance with the decision of the Higher Committee
for Consumer Protection, said the Director General of the Ministry of
Economy, Mohammad Ahmad Bin Abdul Aziz Al Shehi.
But - and it is a
big but - Al Shehi has confirmed that it was illegal for non-tourist
restaurants to add service charges.
So what is the
difference between a tourist and a non tourist restaurant. And why does the
no service charge rule apply only to non tourist restaurants.
Apparently restaurants and cafes operating inside hotels and those paying
fees to the local governments are allowed to charge service fees. But how
does the consumer know if a restaurant is paying fees to the government? And
surely the 10% service fee is meant to go to staff - not to offset the
The Ministry of Economy had earlier declared that imposing a service fee is
illegal, and that it will soon come up with a bylaw to prevent outlets from
charging customers the extra fee.
So do restaurants
in the malls pay service fees? Do restaurants at JBR walk pay service fees.
1 January 2010
Found lurking this
evening in the Butcher Shop and Grill at the mall of the Emirates: actually
he was eating with a group of friends and was very gracious about our
The Burj Dubai
and architecture's vacant stare
1 January 2009
- The Los Angeles Times - arts section
"One of the odder,
more complicated moments in the history of architectural symbolism will
arrive Monday with the formal opening of the Burj Dubai skyscraper. At about
2,600 feet high -- the official figure is still being kept secret by
developer Emaar Properties -- and 160 stories, the tower, set back half a
mile or so from Dubai's busy Sheikh Zayed Road, will officially take its
place as the tallest building in the world.
Designed by Adrian Smith, a former partner in the Chicago office of
Skidmore, Owings & Merrill, the Burj Dubai is an impossible-to-miss sign of
the degree to which architectural ambition -- at least the kind that can be
measured in feet or number of stories -- has migrated in recent years from
North America and Europe to Asia and the Middle East. It is roughly as tall
as the World Trade Center towers piled one atop the other. Its closest
competition is Toronto's CN Tower, which is not really a building at all,
holding only satellites and observation decks, and is in any case nearly 900
Monday's ribbon-cutting, though, could hardly come at a more awkward time.
Dubai, the most populous member of the United Arab Emirates, continues to
deal with a massive real estate collapse that has sent shock waves through
financial markets around the world and forced the ambitious city-state, in a
significant blow to its pride, to seek repeated billion-dollar bailouts from
neighboring Abu Dhabi. Conceived at the height of local optimism about
Dubai's place in the region and the world, this seemingly endless bean-stock
tower, which holds an Armani Hotel on its lower floors with apartments and
offices above, has flooded Dubai with a good deal more residential and
commercial space than the market can possibly bear.
And so here is the Burj Dubai's real symbolic importance: It is mostly
empty, and is likely to stay that way for the foreseeable future. Though
most of its 900 apartments have been sold, virtually all were bought three
years ago -- near the top of the market -- and primarily as investments, not
as places to live. ("A lot of those purchases were speculative," Smith, in
something of an understatement, told me in a phone interview.) And there's
virtually no demand in Dubai at the moment for office space. The Burj Dubai
has 37 floors of office space.
Though Emaar is understandably reluctant to disclose how much of the tower
is or will be occupied -- it did not reply to e-mails sent this week on that
score -- it's fair to assume that like many of Dubai's new skyscrapers it is
a long, long way from being full. In that sense the building is a powerful
iconic presence in ways that have little directly to do with its
record-breaking height. To a remarkable degree, the metaphors and symbols of
the built environment have been dominated in recent months by images of
unneeded, sealed-off, ruined, forlorn or forsaken buildings and cityscapes.
The Burj Dubai is just the latest -- and biggest -- in this string of
monuments to architectural vacancy.
The combination of overbuilding during the boom years, thanks to easy
credit, and the sudden paralysis of the financial markets in the fall of
2008 has created an unprecedented supply of unwanted or under-occupied real
estate around the world. At the same time, rising cultural worry about
environmental disaster or some other end-of-days scenario has produced a
recent stream of books, movies and photography imagining cities and pieces
of architecture emptied of nearly all signs of human presence.
And so in the same week that you could read the news that the Sahara Hotel
and Casino in Las Vegas has entirely sealed off two of its three towers (and
its buffet!) for the holiday season, citing slow demand, you could head to
the multiplex to watch the movie version of Cormac McCarthy's novel "The
Road," in which a father and son wander through a post-apocalyptic landscape
where buildings for the most part have been reduced to burned-out shells.
And it's not just "The Road": The Roland Emmerich destruction-fest "2012"
and the upcoming Denzel Washington vehicle "The Book of Eli" are full of
similar images; Jason Reitman's "Up in the Air" moves its characters through
a series of downsized companies where abandoned desk chairs swim in empty
Or you might
discover online a group of photographs called "Empty L.A.," part of a series
completed recently by Matt Logue, showing a number of recognizable
intersections and stretches of freeway in and around the city where people,
cars and other signs of life have been scrubbed away, presumably through
digital manipulation -- and in the same trip around the Internet find a Q&A
in Entrepreneur magazine with a man named Mike Enos, who runs a firm that
encloses foreclosed houses, half-built hotels and other objects in plastic
wrap and reports a surge in business since the economic collapse last year.
This movement in the direction of emptiness is profoundly difficult for
contemporary culture -- and particularly American culture -- to grapple
with. Occasional recessions and other setbacks aside, we assume that our
national trajectory always moves toward fullness, that our cultural progress
can be measured by how much new square footage we've created and occupied.
But that process has completely reversed itself in many of cities hardest
hit by economic crisis. Detroit, as Rebecca Solnit put it in Harper's
Magazine, "is now so depopulated that some stretches resemble the outlying
farmland and others are altogether wild." And as P.J. Huffstutter reported
recently in The Times, Hantz Farms is planning to buy and plant as many as
5,000 acres of land within the Detroit city limits.
In Los Angeles, there are parking lots where great towers, planned during
the exuberant middle of the last decade, were supposed to be. At Rick
Caruso's Americana at Brand complex in Glendale, every one of the
development's 100 condominiums sat empty during 2009, even as shoppers
browsed in the stores below. Occupancy wasn't allowed until more than half
of the units had been sold, a mark that was finally reached in December
buildings go, the Burj Dubai is elegant. Smith is an unusually talented
shaper of skyscraper form, as he proved at Shanghai's 88-story Jin Mao
Tower, which he designed before leaving SOM in 2006. The Burj Dubai's
profile, which Smith says is inspired by a range of local influences
including sand dunes and minarets, grows more slender as it rises, like a
plant whose upper stalks have been peeled away.
But the extent to which the building had to battle worries about the wisdom
of its construction even before it was finished -- the way it seemed doomed,
at least in financial terms, while it was still going up -- may be unique in
the history of skyscraper design. In that sense it seems impossible to write
about the Burj Dubai without at least mentioning the Tower of Babel, which
also, if the biblical story and various historical sketches are to be
believed, combined a tapering, corkscrew design with heaps of
Dubai's economy will recover, at least in some chastened form. But the
hyper-confident Dubai that Smith's tower was designed to mark and call
global attention to is already dead, as is the broader notion, which the
emirate came to symbolize over the last decade, that growth can operate as
its own economic engine, feeding endlessly and ravenously on itself.
If the Burj Dubai is too shiny, confidently designed and expertly engineered
to be a ruin itself, it is surely the marker -- the tombstone -- for some
Terror and the west: A decade of misjudgment
Editorial The Guardian, Friday 1 January 2010
"The revelation in this newspaper that the kidnap of five British men in
Iraq in 2007 was masterminded by Iran's Revolutionary Guard caps an unhappy
week, the last of a parlous decade. The kidnap had two motivations – to
bargain for the release of the Shia cleric Qais al-Khazali, and to prevent
Peter Moore, the only British hostage to have survived, from installing a
computer system that would have prevented millions of dollars of
international aid from falling into the hands of Shia militia groups in
Iraq. This story should serve as the epitaph for the invasion. Far from
stabilising, or spreading democracy, the presence of foreign troops in
Afghanistan and Iraq proved combustible. But the follies of the old decade
are set to last into the new one.
Ten years ago, when Tony Blair hosted a bizarre entertainment to open the
Millennium Dome, things looked different. Financiers thought they had
created an economy that defied the laws of gravity and basic accountancy.
Generals thought invasions were quick and painless. Scientists were
optimistic that global warming could be contained. Mr Blair emerged from the
Dome brimming with optimism. So much so that he said he wanted to bottle it.
The events that followed punished judgments like these.
The trigger to the decade's woes did not come out of the sky over Manhattan
and Washington in 2001. There were many precursors, but they were ignored or
misinterpreted. Like the bombings in Madrid and London, these attacks
brought the best out of ordinary people – witness the heroism of the New
York firefighters – and the worst out of their governments. Al-Qaida's
attacks may have looked and felt like a declaration of war (the Guardian
said so in its headline) but that, in retrospect, was the least appropriate
The inability to see how non-state actors functioned across state borders,
and the continuing belief that a malign sponsoring state must be pulling the
strings in the background, led to the deaths of innocent Iraqi and Afghan
civilians. Terrorists were conflated with insurgents. Anti-terrorist
operations became invasions and wars. Consequently, neither anti-terrorism
nor counter-insurgency succeeded. Osama bin Laden was allowed to slip the
net around his bunkers in Tora Bora, but his leaving card was a conflict
that lasts to this day.
The chaos continued this week. The suicide bomber who struck a remote base
used by the CIA in southeastern Afghanistan appears to have used a stolen
uniform from the Afghan national army. The alternative is even worse: that
the army's ranks are infiltrated by the Taliban. And the generals advising
President Barack Obama are still slow to respond in the right way. Like a
judo throw, the Taliban (still mostly lightly armed) are using the kinetic
force of the lumbering military machine to tip it over. Meanwhile, almost 10
years after 2001, midair horrors continue. Al-Qaida affiliates in Yemen have
ended the decade as al-Qaida central started it, by trying to crash
airliners landing in the US. But if Yemen becomes the next target of the US
drones, where next?
If there is one lesson to be drawn from all this, it is that a military
superpower no longer has effective supremacy. The next decade must see the
re-establishment of a co-operative international system that was badly
damaged by the unilateral endeavours of Britain, America and their few
committed allies. Western military powers, especially weakening ones, should
bend all their efforts into transforming and supporting international
institutions such as the United Nations and the international criminal
court. The idea that governments in London and Washington should handpick a
general secretary of the UN for his weakness, as they did the current one,
is absurd; that was perhaps the greatest error of a decade strewn with
mishap and misjudgment."
EK to link KL and Melbourne
01FEB10 is adjusting service to Kuala Lumpur and Melbourne.
EK408/409 nonstop Dubai – Melbourne will be replaced by Dubai – Kuala Lumpur
– Melbourne routing, aircraft remains with Airbus A340-500. As a result,
there will be:
3 Daily Dubai – Kuala Lumpur (increase from 17 weekly, replacing current
1 Daily NONSTOP Dubai – Melbourne
2 Daily 1-stop Dubai – Melbourne via Kuala Lumpur and Singapore
"For lawyer Wilfred Goh, the sign it was time to leave Dubai came early in
2009, when the financial crisis took its toll, plunging the emirate's main
stock index down roughly 70 percent in a matter of months.
After speaking to friends and government officials, Goh decided to return to
Asia, with the thought that Hong Kong, China or Singapore offered better job
opportunities. Goh, 47, eventually got a job back home in Singapore.
"We just felt Dubai's economic climate was not very good and they had
started to retrench people," said Goh, who works at the Central Chambers Law
Corp in Singapore.
The flight of top foreign work talent from the Gulf's financial hub began in
early 2009, and levelled off as the market recovered toward the middle of
the year. But then Dubai dropped a bombshell in November, disclosing a delay
on a massive debt pile.
The $26 billion debt debacle sank Dubai's markets and spurred many foreign
professionals to hasten their retreat from the city-state for more job
Precise numbers of job losses is unknown, but estimates say thousands of
foreigners have been fired or forced to leave Dubai this year.
The defection of executives from Dubai to places such as Hong Kong looks to
reverse a trend seen about four years ago when financial and legal
executives from Asia flocked to the emirate to capitalise on its rapid
expansion and economic growth.
Dubai's zero percent tax rate also helped lure executives.
Not all foreign workers are shipping out.
But should the situation worsen, a further brain-drain from Dubai could have
serious implications for its economy. Estimates say that expatriates make up
more than 80 percent of Dubai's 1.7 million population.
On Nov. 25, Dubai requested a delay in payments on $26 billion in debts
linked to conglomerate Dubai World and its two property units, Nakheel and
Limitless. The news was especially bad for Nakheel, which cut 400 jobs in
July on top of the 500 jobs it eliminated in 2008 after Dubai's property
Stock indexes in Hong Kong, Mumbai, and Shanghai rose at least 50 percent
this year. Dubai's rose around 13 percent.
Its stock index hit 8,500 points in November 2005, dropped, and rose back up
to 6,300 points by February 2008. The index is now trading around 1,800
Kara Keough, a marketing manager for an international real estate company,
moved from Dubai to Singapore in September after completing a three-year
contract with a major property developer.
"My husband and I decided to evaluate our long term options. Job
opportunities in Dubai were becoming rare," she said.
Keough, 26, and her husband, who works in recruiting, moved to Dubai from
Brisbane, Australia in 2006. The couple ultimately decided Singapore would
be a better city to live and work in.
Still, others see promise in Dubai's economic future despite the recent
Steve Brice, head of global markets for Standard Chartered in South Africa
said fears of a large exodus of financial service professionals were
"Assuming you can keep your job in Dubai I don't see any problems of the
long term viability of the region," Brice said.
Brice left Singapore for Dubai in August 2005 to become head of research at
Standard Chartered for the Middle East and Africa.
"Obviously oil prices are still very high and don't look like they are going
down significantly over the next 5-10 years," said Brice who moved away from
Dubai for personal reasons. "In that environment I think the region is still
going to thrive and Dubai is still the financial and trading hub for that
Brice's colleague Philippe Dauba-Pantanacce was also optimistic.
"Despite the noise surrounding Dubai's debt debacle, this region is still
one of the most resilient and promising regions in the world," said
Dauba-Pantanacce, a senior economist at Standard Chartered who has worked in
Dubai for two years.
Where they are optimistic, others are however packing up.
A senior executive at a multinational company and his wife who have worked
and lived in Dubai all their lives said they are planning to move to
Singapore in 2010.
"We would rather experience the professional working environment in Asia,"
she said, adding that Asia's growth prospects were also a major factor.
A senior executive at the National Bank of Abu Dhabi who moved to Abu Dhabi
from Dubai after 11 years said the prospects for Dubai are dim. Both the
executives did not want to be named because of the sensitivity of the
"Companies are unable to raise finance, job opportunities have disappeared,
the real estate industry is in quagmire and tourism is down," said the