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tail wagging the dog

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According to Fadhlalah, Isa Qassim and a bevy of other religious scholars taxes are haram.

With this opinion, our largest parliamentary bloc has been falling all over itself yesterday and today to distance themselves from their unanimous decision to adopt and approve the “Unemployment Benefits which automatically deduct 1% of everyone’s salary which will be jointly administered in a fund between the Ministry of Labour and the General Organisation of Social Insurance. This fund will exclude the security services – including the military – ministers and members of parliament of course, all of whom are regarded by the scheme as foreign to our society and not part of it.

What is the objection, I hear you ask? Simply that in Islam you cannot force people to give up their hard earned money, so if that money is collected from an unwilling participant who should give it up freely, then the receiver would have received “tainted” money, hence haram, should he or she accept it.

So what is a modern country to do, in light of these conflicting fatwas and interpretations thereof? Should we just shut shop or make any law specifically contingent on the acceptance of a disparate Shari’a scholars who can’t even decide to unify when the Maghreb prayer should be, let alone a whole calendar, or should we – as a modern country – turn our backs on them and go along with modern principals and studies to enable us to not only compete but be part of this world?

There is another dilemma of course for the government, they do not want to appear “anti-Islamic” so they will try to find a face-saving gesture to go around this new conflagration, rather than stick with modern principals, turn their backs on religious interpretation on modern economic principals and join the train with the rest of the world. My guess also is that as Bahrain is the “center of Islamic banking” – that chestnut that has been swallowed so readily because every institution therein employs and very handsomely rewards Shari’a enabled scholars who are ready to ameliorate differences of principals set 1,400 years ago with today’s business and economic arenas by creative interpretations and hearsay – the government will opt once again for the short-term gain rather than step up to the plate and for once declare that it is intent on looking way into the future for the benefit of this country and its citizens.

What we need are drastic measures and this is the perfect opportunity to grasp the moment and enact them.

What we need now is an unambiguous declaration to remove Islam from the basis of our constitution and rule the country with modern ways and thinking rather than stay for ever beholden to a bunch of folk’s disparate and desperate interpretation of ancient texts.

But then again, my money is on them taking the short-cut to keep ’em quite quiet.

Until the next time.


Corporate social responsibility

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Loki suggested that I am unfair in singling out Batelco for criticism, while (s)he suggests that I should have my beef rather with the TRA.

I think I should lay out here why I do put the blame on Batelco, and why I do hold it at a higher elevation than other companies in Bahrain. This started out as a response to Loki’s comment but I thought it deserves a post on its own as it discusses other point worthy of consideration.

In the original comment (please take the time to peruse our exchanges in the Batelco feeling the heat thread) (s)he says:

Fair point, but I would argue that your beef should be with TRA not Batelco. If you were the CEO of Batelco would you actively make life easier for your competitors?

You see, this way of thinking is what I classify as “the old way of doing business“.

I think that as the business environment changed appreciably now to be more aware of their surroundings, environment and community as successful businesses actually derive their success from those factors directly and indirectly, it is therefore incumbent on the businesses to be more socially responsible to give something back to their benefactors; this will allow them to become more sustainable.

All of this is typical of “knowledge based businesses” and this is the virtually the only type of business that will survive in the future; their “value add” must be knowledge based, rather than “hardware based” where a product is sold and forgotten. Selling hardware is simply an enabler to provide an even more involved knowledge-based product: how to benefit from the product most, how to use and utilise it to make other products, etc. If one takes that approach, then no longer will the thinking be of competition, but rather cooprition where a business will cooperate and compete with others to provide a more creative and knowledge value irrespective of the hardware. Therefore, businesses will recognise that they do not have to re-invent the wheel, they will no longer have to “keep” the customer close to their bosoms (the customers are much more knowledgeable anyway) and be afraid of “losing” them.

In fact, another of my theories will come into play: the boomerang effect which I can explain as the more valuable “content” and “knowledge” you provide your customers (who should be regarded as partners anyway) and the more you actually lead them to a competitor of yours who can provide them with a better service in a specific way that you cannot (for any reason) the more they will actually come back to you and bring in more of their friends as the level of trust will increase appreciably!

Putting it rather simply, don’t you just hate sites that forces you to follow links in a new window? What does that tell you as a visitor? That they are afraid that you will leave and never come back to their site or that you are simply too lazy to hit the “back” button, in either situation it denotes a level of mistrust in themselves and you.

That is why I put the blame not on the TRA completely, but on Batelco squarely because they have had 25 years in which they could have developed the country a lot more if they embraced their role as an enabler and as a socially responsible company.

They should have talked to Abdulrahman Al-Sayyid or Jawahry for tips, but somehow I do not think that they ever will think in that way. Their social irresponsibility is so ingraned and typified in their arrogance.

That company SHOULD be broken up. We would be doing the country a big favour if it were to be broken up if only to show others coming into their traditional environment (big corp) that they have a role to place within the community and recognising that is simply good business practice.

What did Batelco achieve by their capping their bandwidth offering, for instance, other than provide the basis for other telco operators to simply copy its lead? Did it engender creativity? Did it engender competitiveness? No, all it did is allow the others to make silly capped offerings at slightly higher benefits.

And who benefits from those? No one. But if one does, they are simply labeled “trouble maker” and simply sidelined and the “drummers” continue to praise their benefactor without stopping for an instance to evaluate the position as far as the community and the country is concerned. Batelco just sets the lead and the others – even its competitors – follow like beaten sheep! And why shouldn’t they? It’s easy money, no one complains and no one demands a better service. “Good enough” is okay and the reward for mediocrity as excellence continues. This has almost become a cultural phenomenon.

Do we, for instance, have any real e-commerce solution? A gateway to accept credit card transactions?



Because Batelco has entrenched the lead in greedy and irresponsible corporate culture. There is no reason to innovate whatsoever, because they have killed competition with the government – whose main responsibility should be the raising of standards and the performance and competitive bar – aiding and abetting it.


Batelco is feeling the heat!

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Batelco new ADSL package details

With the various schemes and announcements from potential competitors like 2Connect with their 30% reduction in tariffs for broadband changes when compared to Batelco, the mediocre and meagre offerings of MTC Vodafone’s 3.5G access and latest from both MENA Telecom and MTC Vodafone’s WiMax initiatives, Batelco surprised no one when they announced yesterday in their press conference that they are reducing the tariffs of business broadband by 25% while 2 new packages were introduced at a reduction for businesses with an unlimited threshold. That’s the good part, the bad of course is that they are still too expensive when compared to the rest of the world and there is a lot of improvement room left not only in price, but also for the speeds available, which, I am certain, will come along a lot faster now that competition is heating up.

I refuse to believe that these changes have happened to “help” the community, Batelco had ample time and resources to do that amidst the community passionate appeals for them to do so, they brushed those appeals aside, lifted their noses high and went ahead and did what pleases them. So the following seems rather strange coming from them, it is as if they have just woken up to the power of communications in general and are philanthropically and selflessly now contributing to the country’s development and global competitiveness:

“Information and communication technology (ICT) and e-services can complement the kingdom’s financial sector in accelerating Bahrain’s future economic growth,” he noted.

“To enable businesses and ministries to embrace the advantages of electronically delivered services, the availability and cost of high speed broadband connectivity is crucial.

“Batelco has, therefore, introduced new managed data services and reduced its prices for business broadband by 50pc.”

This will create the most competitive rates for high speed dedicated Internet access across the GCC, said Mr Kaliaropoulos.

“Online delivery of services and information by ministries and businesses, not only creates a sustainable, knowledge-driven economy but also creates high value jobs and encourages innovation in creating and delivering content via portals and fixed and wireless devices,” he said.

“Fixed and wireless broadband technologies introduced by Batelco and now, extremely competitive Internet access services, are crucial components for regional leadership in e-services.”

No Mr. Kaliaropoulos, what you did is respond to mounting competitive pressures, which a normal company is fully condoned in doing of course; however, Batelco, being effectively the sole operator in the country and the criticality of its product in the development of our economy and creativity, you should have responded without having to wait for the competition to knock on your door. Had you done so, you would have already realised the increased market size and profitability as you have already noticed in your mobile telephony offerings:

واوضح ان “المنافسة في السوق خلقت زبائن جددا ولم تؤثر كثيرا على الشركة التي فقدت فقط نحو 15% الى 20% من زبائنها، في حين ارتفع عدد مستخدمي النقال في البحرين من 300 الف الى نحو 620 الف مشتركا”.

“Competition in the market created new customers and did not affect the company too much as it lost only about 15% – 20% of its customers while mobile users increased from 300,000 to about 620,000 subscribers in Bahrain”

The question now is will the TRA play your game and allow you to offer these prices? I hope they will, but only to force you and your competitors to achieve better competitiveness through efficiency and strengthening the market size in order to offer even more reasonable reductions in exorbitant tariffs.

So thanks.

I want more competition, please.


Bahrain leads Arab world in broadband penetration

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Depends on how you interpret “penetration” when it comes to Batelco!

But hold on to your horses, don’t get too excited yet:

TCCM for the Arab World
click for larger image

The TCCM shows the extent of connectivity of individuals in a certain country whether via fixed lines, cellular lines and/or Internet.

What about broadband I hear you ask?

The Arab World still lags behind developed countries in the penetration and use of broadband Internet and Internet access at large. For example, Bahrain leads the Arab World with a 5.79% Internet broadband penetration (total broadband accounts by total population). Still this is much lower than Denmark’s 32%, South Korea’s 29% or the United States’ 20%.”

5.79%, that’s it? For a country that is supposedly “wired”, this is what we have? What pittance. Of course, Batelco’s game is margin over revenue, not stopping for a second to consider that should they open up this market and uncap the stupidity they call “broadband” will most possibly unleash the creative juices and we might, just might, start using the Internet for commerce and entertainment as it should be used, rather than having to count the bytes as if this is still the telex age.

Let’s see how the “traditional” press spins this one out tomorrow; I predict a big bold headline in the GDN… hold on, it’s coming it’s coming; ahhhh:




Brief thoughts on the job market and its reforms

‘can we talk’ said in a comment:

meanwhile the guy who took the burger-flipping job for peanuts has long moved up to a better paying job

This is as good an opening as any to re-open the labour and job situation in Bahrain, so let me start with this:

I talked to two businessmen last week about the job situation in Bahrain, both had the same opinion:

“we are ready to pay taxes, pay fines, establish a ‘General Organisation of Fly Castrators’ or ‘General Organisation of Counting Rice Grains’ or whatever; just put all those Bahrainis which the Ministry of Labour is throwing at us in those organisations and we will pay the monthly salaries of BD200 a month and will not require them to punch-in and punch-out; just give us the opportunity to employ whomever we want who we can hold responsible for their performance and fire when warranted – but don’t force this stupid ‘Bahranisation’ on us. We are not charities.”

A third businessman who owns a factory told me another story:

We employ over 100 people, we give everybody the chance to learn if they want to, and then find the appropriate position for them if that position wasn’t predetermined. We also embrace and promote those people who excel.

Let me give you an example: several years ago we employed a tea-boy from India. He couldn’t speak Arabic nor English, he was completely illiterate: couldn’t read nor write. We paid him BD40 a month. He was diligent and poked his nose into everything, asked questions and slowly, over a period of a year he learnt to read and write enough to get by, he also knew exactly where every nut and bolt and other stock’s locations in the store. He got to be faster than the old storeman and better, now a few years later, he is the full storekeeper and is earning many times what he earned when he started.

Another example: we hired a Bengali as a general dogsbody on the factory floor and he got lost between the other bodies. We almost forgot we had him, until we noticed that he learned how to use a very technical machine and excelled at producing works of art with it! The customers started asking for him by name (the person who did that piece, and that sort of thing)! That was just 9 months from the minute he stepped onto the factory floor! He is now regarded as a full artisan and is being paid handsomely, many times that what he started with.

Final example, and a symptomatic one, unfortunately: we had a Bahraini driver; he takes the workers to the site, comes back after dropping them off and just sits around smoking, drinking tea and making jokes with his co-workers in the factory until he has to bring the workers back at the end of the shift to their accommodation.

I approached this fellow Bahraini and advised him to make use of his time; try to learn what goes on here, try your hand at helping those people at that machine so that you can learn.

He just looked at me, rose with a lot of grumbling and said to other co-workers that “they only pay me BD150 for being a driver and want to squeeze the life out of me and use me in other jobs as well!”

I called the guy back and explained the situation to him, I told him: “look, regardless of your presence, the factory will run. If you are sitting here smoking and drinking tea, the factory will run. If you are sitting in the car reading magazines and making phone calls, the factory will run. If you are here or not here doesn’t really matter, the factory and our work will not stop. We are not dependent on you. If you didn’t understand why I asked you to put your hand at something else it was for your benefit, it is so that I can justify increasing your salary and helping you learn a trade. Do you want to live the rest of your life as a driver?

Needless to say, the driver continued to be a driver, but no longer with that factory.

Unfortunately there are a lot – an awful lot – of people like the third person. Of course there are many who are like the first and second too, but the numbers who equate with the third kind are many, unfortunately. And I can give you many more horror stories that I have experienced personally.

Why that is? Lethargy, deficient self-worth, frustration, poverty, and not bothering with education are some of the problems faced.

Still, if you read a bit more into the new Labour Reform packages soon to be implemented and the stages and targets they have, you have to lift your hat quite high for the perpetrator of these changes. I truly believe that at last the problems have been identified and being tackled courageously and that’s why we should support them.

You will notice for instance that labourers and drivers are not the main target of these reforms, at least not in the first phase. Those will come. The biggest change that that package will introduce is the employers’ ability to hire and fire based on performance, regardless of nationality and gender. And it is this – in particular – that will ultimately force the Bahraini worker to re-evaluate his and her position and become more productive. Believe me when that happens, we will rule the world, because – ironically – we are not lazy, we just needed that huge chip to be knocked off our shoulder!


The tumbling Dollar breaks the non-forthcoming single GCC currency

Kuwait saw this:

Tumbling US Dollar chart

and got rightly concerned, so:

Kuwait drops dollar peg in blow to Gulf currency union

KUWAIT, May 20 (Reuters) – Kuwait unshackled its dinar from the tumbling U.S. dollar on Sunday and switched the exchange rate mechanism to a basket of currencies, throwing plans for currency union with other Gulf Arab oil producers into disarray.

Kuwait’s central bank, which battled speculators for weeks to defend the peg, said the dollar’s slide against other currencies had forced it to break ranks with fellow Gulf states to contain inflation from the rising cost of some imports.

Now I do hope that the others follow. I see no reason why we should be beholden to a tumbling currency when we import a lot more from Japan and Europe than we do from the States. It is eating us up and my company for instance is no longer competitive in some projects as I have to pay top prices for products from Germany and the UK.

So come on Bahrain, follow suit, sooner rather than later please.

picture credit chicken smith


That thing about smoke and fire…

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A few days ago all hell broke loose when Al-Wasat broke the story that the largest constellation of coral reefs in Bahrain was up for grabs, if it hadn’t already. Ministries were quick to vociferously deny such a thing and issued legal threats to sue everyone who dares to suggest a transparent government.

Well, today we see in the press that what Al-Wasat broke could well have a large part of truth in it:

قال نائب الرئيس التنفيذي لشركة ممتلكات البحرين القابضة (ممتلكات) محمود الكوهجي ان ‘’ممتلكات أسست أخيرا ثلاث شركات بملكية كاملة للاستثمار في بعض القطاعات داخل وخارج البحرين، لا سيما العقارية والسياحية’’.
وبين ان ‘’إحدى هذه الشركات ستعمل على تطوير جزر حوار بشكل شامل لجذب الاستثمارات السياحية بكلفة إجمالية لا تقل عن مليار دولار (377 مليون دينار)، تتضمن إنشاء منتجعات سياحية وفنادق وشاليهات’’.
وأوضح لـ’’الوقت’’ ان ‘’رئيس مجلس إدارة هذه الشركة هو سمو الشيخ عبدالله بن حمد وهي مملوكة بالكامل لشركة ممتلكات، في حين قد يدخل معها مستثمرون آخرون في بعض المشروعات التي تنوي إقامتها’’، مؤكدا انها ‘’بدأت بإعداد وتجهيز الخطط للبدء بالمشروعات المزمع تنفيذها’’.
أما الشركة الثانية فهي بحسب الكوهجي ‘’البحرين العقارية’’ وهي تعنى بإدارة العقارات التي تعود ملكيتها للحكومية، موضحا ان ‘’هناك دراسات تهدف للاستثمار في بعض المواقع وتنمية أعمالها’’.
وأضاف الكوهجي ان ‘’الشركة الثالثة والتي تعرف باسم العوالي ستكون مسؤولة عن تطوير منطقة فشت الجارم الواقع بين قطر والبحرين’’، ولكنه لم يعط أي تفاصيل عن طبيعة التطوير، الا انه أكد ‘’انه سيشمل الفشت بشكل كامل’’.
الوقت – ١٧ مايو ٢٠٠٧

That’s a statement from the vice president of the Economic Development Board Mumtalakat, a wholly owned company by the government of Bahrain, stating that the islands of Hawar will be developed to the tune of one billion Dollars, while another company (Al-Awali) will be tasked with developing the complete area (260 square kilometers, which is approximately one-third of the total land-mass of Bahrain) for tourism projects.

So first it looks like the dugong population will be screwed, (dugong herds live in the deep channels in Hawar’s environs) and then the fish, shrimp and of course the humans who depend on them will.


It doesn’t end there. It appears that what the government was saying all along is only 30.769% of the truth. MP Jawad Fairooz suggests that the government of Bahrain only actually owns 80 of the 260 square kilometers known as Fasht Al-Jarem:

أبدى مسؤول ملف الأراضي في كتلة الوفاق، النائب جواد فيروز، تخوفاً من أن تكون الإدعاءات التي جاءت على لسان الحكومة بشأن بيع فشت الجارم ”نصف الحقيقة”ØŒ موضحاً أن ”جزءاً من فشت الجارم والبالغ 80 كيلومتراً مربعاً، ملك للدولة، وذلك من إجمالي مساحة الفشت البالغة 260 كيلومتراً مربعاً”.
وأضاف فيروز في تصريح لـ”الوقت” أن ”الكتلة، مازالت متوجسة من أن تكون الحكومة، باعت بالفعل الجزء الباقي، ففي زيارة ميدانية للفشت، تبين أن هناك شركة أجنبية تقوم بالتنقيب في المنطقة عن النفط على ما يبدو وسط حراسة”ØŒ لافتاً إلى أن ”هذه المسألة، ستطرح في الجلسة المقبلة وبالصور”.
الوقت – ١٧ مايو ٢٠٠٧

Let’s see if parliament will act – even for once – to do something good for the future of Bahrain.


Gulf Air, time for a name change?

Gulf Air logo

Bahrain now officially owns Gulf Air, well, within 6 months anyway, once they divvied up the assets, so will it by then hire some bright spark branding company and spends millions of Dinars to change the name to it’s national flag? Will it then be called “Bahrain Air” and leave a rich heritage of decades and a rich history behind?

I’ve worked for Gulf Air for 13 years, that was my first “real” job and I love the company and its people to bits. I have enjoyed the majority of my time there, but on hearing the inevitable announcements of first Qatar leaving it to form its own airline, followed by Abu Dhabi then finally Oman to leave it the sole property of Bahrain leaves me with mixed feelings.

From a business point of view this is ludicrous of course. Airlines much bigger than all of the Gulf’s carriers put together declared that they cannot survive on their own and sought at least code sharing agreements, if not full partnerships with competing entities in order to weather the vagaries of the fickle airline business, yet we in the Gulf, with a total population under 30 million choose to split up rather than combine companies, thus, demonstrating that our ego is much much bigger than our business acumen and sense.

G-DHDV Dove (Devon VP981) Coventry, August 2000, painted as G-AMJZ for Gulf Air anniversary. source: Paul Middleton

Okay, fine, each little and large country wants to fly its own flag, further demonstrating that there is no real value to the “cooperation” in the acronym GCC and although that some could possibly break even and probably make a profit, they collectively are wasting windows of competitive opportunities in a global environment. But again, the whole scenario is ego based.

So what is to become now of Gulf Air? The most ancient of airlines in the region? I can’t see it making a profit. With this latest move it has ceased to be a regional airline and has become a local provincial one that has no future, except if the government of Bahrain signs comprehensive open skies agreements with various destinations that Gulf Air can become a regional player with landing and boarding rights to and from those destinations. But again, I see a lot of difficulties in that as the whole roost in the Gulf is ruled by jealousy rather than cooperation.

I wish you the best of luck Gulf Air, you will definitely need it going forward and thanks again very much for the opportunities you have given me. God bless all the good people who are dependent on you and may they fly high with you.

But you need more than luck at the moment I think.


Seef IPO

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Are you going to get a piece of this:

Seef mall extension panorama

Good luck if you are, I know that I will try to. I’m just a bit hesitant though when 30% of the Seef Mall (or is it Seef Properties in full) is actually owned by limited income families, bestowed upon them by his majesty the king to help elevate their financial capability a bit, and the last time they went to collect dividends they got pittance, but I guess the investment is in the actual shares rather than what they bring in every year. At least they will be able to trade their shares (I think) if they wish once the shares go up on the stock exchange.

What do you think the shares will be worth in 6 months time? A year? 5? Are you going to buy?


Transporting humans

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A few months ago, the Ministry of Labour meekly suggested that workers should be transported in covered vehicles, they meant buses I assume, which should be adequately air conditioned. So canny businessmen slapped on some plywood boards around the back of 6-wheel trucks and shoved all their labourers in there.

That should have been enough – as far as those businessmen are concerned – to provide a safe, covered and as it was open to the elements, would also provide adequate air conditioning if the truck driver put peddle to the metal – which seems to be their specialty anyway – slowing down only enough to discharge their load of humans, but never stopping in the interim. If a worker falls as he disembarks and cracks his skull, well so what, it’s a lowly Indian anyway.

Two days ago, something pipped the Ministry of Labour again to have their undersecretary once again meddling with businessmen’s profits:

New rules governing workers’ transportation have been drawn up by the Labour Ministry and the Interior Ministry’s General Directorate of Traffic.

Trucks should be used only to transport materials and not human beings, said Labour Ministry labour relations director Shaikh Ali bin Abdulrahman Al Khalifa.

“Workers should be transported on buses and not on trucks or pick-ups,” he told the GDN.

“We are concerned about the safety of workers. They should be transported on vehicles which have proper seats equipped with seat-belts.”

Fair enough. But the “business community” (I’m not one of that club, I refuse to be one of them) went ape.

However, the business community in Bahrain says it is not practical to transport all workers by buses to their workplaces and back.

“It will cause huge financial burden for businessmen,” said Bahrain Chamber of Commerce and Industry (BCCI) board member and contractors’ committee chairman Samir Nass.

“The number of labourers in Bahrain is about 200,000.

“The cost of providing air-conditioned transport for all of them is estimated at BD50 million to BD100m.”

Mr Nass said transporting construction workers on air-conditioned buses would also adversely affect their health.

“After travelling in an air-conditioned environment for half an hour or so, when they step out into hot and humid weather conditions, they are likely to catch cold,” he said.

“It will affect their productivity.”

1. 2. 3. 4. 57678910

Mr. Nass had a “serious lapse of reason” (just in case he takes personal offence at using a certain “b” word and decides to take me to court too!) actually several lapses which you can pick yourself from the linked text above.

migrant workers transport in Bahrain

I was discussing this with my wife coming over the Sitra causeway this afternoon and seeing several of these contraptions which Mr. Nass and his colleagues ascertain are more than enough to transport workers in, they are looking after their health after all! Frances suggested why don’t they try this mode of transport for themselves – meaning the businessmen – and see how they like it?

That’s a good suggestion! We should hire one of those very safe, naturally aerated and conditioned, sun-protected worker transport units and get all those businessmen to be transported in to/from their places of work for a few days. We too would like to take care of our captains of industry (no, they are not captains of indentured workers, how dare you!) and see how they fair, especially that the smelly season is upon us?

Any takers for this campaign? I think it would be very educational for our capitans and this will also give them the opportunity to show their leadership by practicing what they preach!

Let’s find out when Mr. Nass’ committee actually meets at the Chamber of Commerce & Industry, bring a truck to the door and shove the whole committee members in the back of these trucks for a field trip of discovery!