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(Alleged) Corruption at BCCI

(Alleged) Corruption at BCCI

I don’t believe that the Bahrain Chamber of Commerce and Industry is in a good state. It hasn’t been looking after the business community for quite a while and to most businesses in Bahrain, it’s dead but somebody forgot to officially bury it.

To wit, what we hear from the BCCI is the constant chest thumping and false promises. Its board of directors seem to be more interested in scoring personal points, get on to travel gigs and do whatever possible to benefit themselves rather than their electorate. As a paying member for 27 years, I cannot remember a single instance where the Chamber has helped me or just paved the way for my business and others in a similar vein to success.

The Chamber has become irrelevant. It has no function to play within the business community. It is high time that its suffering be ended and it be put to rest. No new elections and no new blood can ever bring it back to its halcyon days. Those are just a memory. A blip on the horizon. And the future with its digital more agile economy doesn’t require it.

One reason for this stasis is its complete legal subservience to the government. The minister of commerce exercises oversight over its decision and nothing can be promulgated without his consent. That takes away its critical independence through which it can actually serve its electorate. If this fact alone doesn’t convince you, as a businessperson, to demand that it be closed down, then maybe you would be well served just to ignore it. This should be a primary goal of any block or person running for elections, but I fail to see this mentioned in any of their agendas, and if it’s there, they fail to outline how they’re going to regain that independence.

The other reason is that it is a(n allegedly) corrupt organisation. Some of its board members are said to be waist deep in this quagmire. And the board doesn’t seem to be interested enough to exercise its basic fiduciary responsibility to arrest this corruption, and hold those who are implicated to book. The government here is to blame too, as it has a decisive role to play and it seems to prefer to turn a blind eye. The public prosecutor should move and investigate these claims and do their job for the benefit of the whole society, not just businesses and businesspersons.

For example, here’s an audio electioneering clip allegedly done on behalf of one of a current board members who is standing for re-election, plainly offering bribes for votes. And he is just one. I wonder how many others are treading the same path. We will not know because no action, or even an investigation, appears to have taken place by the BCCI’s board.

We – as the business community – can’t be blamed to continue to hold the BCCI in contempt. One way for us to show this contempt is to forget about it, forget about its sham of elections and just get on with our work. Because the BCCI is not serious about doing the right thing, let alone looking after our interests. Its current structure is weak, its current board is by default supporting the alleged corruption by not taking action. The very least they could have done is suspend the person who has been implicated in this scandal while an independent investigation is conducted and the truth be unearthed. Transparently and professionally. Had they done that, at least they would have saved a little bit of face.

As to the current “blocks” who are so busy all of a sudden in their electioneering and over-sized promises – yes, even the cute Batman Movie Lot – they seem to all be conveniently forgetting the real importance of the Chamber’s independence. Rather than emphasising the issue of regaining the Chamber’s independence, they are bending over backwards to brush that issue under the carpet. So what – pray – are all of them really going to contribute to the advancement of businesses and the economy?

The BCCI will never augment our existence and it cannot and will not provide us with any platform off of which we can launch and maintain our success. We’ll continue to do that on our own. Thank you very much. Without any auspices of the defunct BCCI organisation.

Here. At least enjoy this little Batman skit.

blah blah blah blah blah blah….

A post shared by AlGhad (@alghad.bh) on

They’re the dark knights. The saviours. But wait! Where’s the Joker? It’s that salesperson who sold them this. Tell him – if you know him or her – that s/he can get a job with me immediately! What a stellar job! What this clip tells me is that this lot simply does not realise the gravity of the situation. They think that their comically superhero characters are enough to convince people to turn out for them. They seem to think that what we really need in this country are weightless knights who can come and save us from our situation by us shining their Batman logo on the night’s sky. Nice one.

Yeah right.


Wall of WHAT?

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I know I know, I’m a glutton for punishment. That’s why even while on holiday, I can’t help but follow the news in Bahrain; but then I give myself a break and some hilarity by reading the Bahraini local papers online and chief amongst those providing me of some merriment of course are the sycophantic Gulf Daily News and the incredibly unimaginative and obsequious Daily Tribune. I tend to not look at Akhbar Alkhaleej, Alwatan or Alayam unless I feel that my blood pressure is on a low side that particular day, leaving my edification of all things news about my little spit of a country to international online sources of repute.

As to the “noos”, it’s no surprise that all local papers are leading with something or another about the forthcoming by-elections, with a continuous articles and bylines “encouraging” the electorate to go to the ballot boxes and submit their votes. The areas affected of course are those vacated by the Al-Wefaq 18 who were responsible for over 187,000 voters accounting for 48% – 65% of the eligible electorate, depending on who you talk to.

I use the term “encouraging” with poetic license here of course, because all I’ve read so far does not entice voters to participate, but threaten them almost with ex-communication if they don’t! The regime, not unsurprisingly, wants this “political experiment” to succeed, or at least give the impression of success; hence, they seem to be using their usual mouth-pieces and threat of arms – as in police protection to voters – to do so.

The “encouragement” is somewhat contradictory though. Consider this from the Al-Mahmood who intriguingly called for the dismissal of the reigning prime minister – one of the ubiquitous red lines the country is filled with – only to now make concerted and continuous efforts to retract those statements by espousing even more extreme – and sometimes farcical – positions, like this one for instance, to probably compensate for his error in judgement, ehm, sorry, the Washington Times misrepresenting his statements:

A total of 187,080 people will be eligible to cast their ballots during the September 24 election being held to fill seats vacated by members of opposition group Al Wefaq. Authorities have pledged to do their utmost to safeguard voters and candidates after several candidates said they were threatened by groups opposed to the process.

Dr Al Mahmood condemned those who were seeking to pressurise Bahrain’s silent majority in the name of religion or sect.

Okay… strange that a cleric opposes using religion for anything, it’s their stock-in-trade and the reason for their existence in any case.

Quoting the Quran, he said Muslims must cherish the values of uprightness and probity while assuming their duties towards their well-being and that of humanity. [source]

Ah, that’s better! He’s quoting the Quran. So it’s okay for him but not for the others. I understand.

I don’t particularly care what any cleric says in regards to pluralism and democracy because we already know their positions intimately. What I do care about is the position of the state in this; if it censures one cleric for meddling in politics, why doesn’t it for this guy as well? Or is censure only reserved to those who oppose it?

As to participation in any elections, isn’t my decision whether to vote my democratic right? Why then all these shenanigans with ministers, other officials and paid-for journalists continuously harping on, threatening, urging and cajoling us to do so? My suggestion to all of them is to simply leave us alone to practice the democracy they’re so hung up on and be prepared to accept the free and unfettered result of our actions.

Getting people to believe in the democratic process and be active participants in it do not require all these machinations. All it does, is having a fair and equitable platform off of which we can leverage the powers of democracy to better ours and the country’s lot. Those don’t include threats and a concerted effort to lay the blame of your failures on your opposition.


Dossary operates by foreign remote control

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Two reports in this morning’s GDN and the Daily Tribune suggest that one of the candidates of the Southern Governate has practically pulled out of the race in favour of his opponent even though he got through to the second round. The reason given for his withdrawal is quite intriguing, but I suspect should even be criminal in this case…

Here’s the clipping out of the GDN, with my descriptive graphic:

So this right not-so-honourable and copiously bearded gentleman operates by remote control, acquiescing to tribal dictates from a foreign country. Excellent. So why did he bother to enter the election fray then? One would suspect that if he operates under the direction of his foreign tribal leader, he could have saved himself and his supporter’s efforts and just not run in the first place or seek that “guidance” to start with, no?

I guess the droves who drove to the General Election Centre at the King Fahad Causeway from Saudi didn’t tick his box or were not given his lovely picture to ascertain that they were actually directed to vote for him!

What a farce.

Will the government now come out with a statement that the Dossaries are not loyal to Bahrain and receive their instructions from a foreign nation? Will they now find “administrative errors” in granting them the precious Bahraini citizenship and hence withdraw their passports and citizenship?

The guy not only implicated himself in this mess, but his whole tribe. So what are they waiting for?


Waad concludes electioneering campaign, calls for unity

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I’ve just come back from the last election rally for Waad on the night of the 21 October before the polls open on Saturday 23 October to receive Bahrainis who will cast their ballots for parliamentary and municipal councillors for a four year term, the third such event in Bahrain’s modern history.

The rally took place in Sami Siyadi’s electioneering “tent” – normally a surrounded and shaded public plot of land in which rallies are held. Tonight, both Waad candidates in Muharraq joined forces there. Waad’s chief, Ebrahim Sharif joined Sami Siyadi to bring the activities to an end. The tent was well attended with several hundred in seated in the crowd with several standing on the fringes.

The third Waad candidate, Dr. Munira Fakhro was at her electioneering tent in the fourth central district in Isa Town. Technical innovation and the power of the Internet allowed us to view her speech projected live in Arad.

All candidates emphasised their commitment to the country and their voters. They were also inclusive rather than exclusionary and invited the security forces to vote with their conscience and reminded them that as the ballot is anonymous, then the only other entity with them in the election booth was God. This emphasis was due to the various rumours of the state directing dependents and especially the military and other security forces to vote as directed – to ensure the election of those close to the government’s view, rather than side with its detractors. They even made a short video clip showing a military man in conflict but finally deciding to go with his conscience and vote based on merit rather than direction.

To me, the most important speech was that of the Bahraini thinker, author and intellectual Dr. Ali Fakhro. I was able to record it and represent it here for your pleasure [Arabic]:


Regardless of how Waad fairs in these elections, and although they are very much ahead of their competition according to the Al-Wasat Newspaper polls, machinations still could happen to keep them away from parliament. But regardless, I think this time particularly they have made a difference. Fielding just three candidates and having an excellent election program and planning the various activities have endeared them to the Bahraini voter and think that they should have a much better chance this time.

[ed: audio added 22 Oct 2010 @ 1057] Click to listen to Waad’s supremo Ebrahim Sharif Al-Sayid’s speech wrapping up Waad’s 2010 election campaign [Arabic]:

Good luck Waad and every single person honestly contesting the elections. If Bahrain and its unity is on your mind’s eye, then regardless of your personal fortune in these elections, Bahrain wins.


A truck load of cash for 2nd place?

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So far, Khalid Al-Shaer, the candidate running for the 4th District in the Central Governate against Dr. Muneera Fakhro of Waad is in second place, according to this poll in Al-Wasat this morning in which Mr. Alshaer got 29% against Dr. Muneera Fakhro’s 43%.

Quite surprising really as his purported electioneering budget needs a truck to haul it around. Allegedly half a million Bahraini Dinars!

Where the hell do people get money like that from? Or rather, how much money does a 38-year-old have to throw away half a million smackeroos with not compunction whatsoever?

Never mind though. Even with that stratospheric number for Bahraini elections, he’s still in 2nd place and the 1st is just a pipe dream in this case. 2nd place doesn’t get jack.

Well, unless some dirty tricks take place on the day that is, like what’s supposedly happened in the last election in the very same district against the very same Waad candidate

Strange, really really strange.


MUHARRAQ! Forgive me for leaving!

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I wish I never left Muharraq.

We lived in Arad for about 5 years in the 90s and it was great there. True, a rented house, but the neighbourhood, the people, and the feelings were unique, like no where else in Bahrain. It is not strange, therefore, that the island boasts the most integrated, and least sectarian atmospheres between Bahrainis. Even their cemetery is shared between Sunnis and Shi’as without a wall in between the graves. Nothing reminds me of my father like Muharraq. Although he lived most of his life in Manama, he was born there and it was there that incubated his most precious memories. Just looking at his paintings would immediately transport you to the magical narrow Muharraqi neighbourhoods he grew up in.

With the elections only a couple of days away, I just look at my brothers and sisters in that beautiful island with envy for their real chance at effecting positive change in this country. With candidates like Ebrahim Sharif and Sami Siyadi, their choice should be easy when they tick the box. The same for those lucky voters in Isa Town as they have Munira Fakhro and they should proudly tick her box on Saturday. With these three, salvation for this country’s ills is at hand if they are given the slim chance to effect change.

Not so when it comes to my chosen area of abode now. Now, I have half-wits and nincompoops to choose from! Two women who’s electioneering campaign ran on subjugating their women-kind even further by categorically declaring that they will not support Personal Status Law as that is against their religion. I doubt that they believe that, but they’re pandering to their electorate the majority of whom live within a stone’s throw of Isa Qassim, the supremo religious cleric in the area. The others include Al-Mitghawi from Diraz who appears to have spent the last four years in a coma on his bench in parliament, and then we have a couple of others trying their luck at the jack-pot; hey, they get 40% of their salary as pension after four years, so why not!

So who am I going to cast my vote for this time? Not much of a choice, and as I object to every single one of them in my area, I won’t bother. Not because I’m boycotting or abrogating my national duty, not at all, it’s because I genuinely don’t think that any of those running in my area deserve my vote. And there are no alternatives.

Of course this is exactly what happens if a country as small as ours has such an impotent way of districting. With a country not much bigger than a provincial town in India, wouldn’t you think that someone would think it better to declare the whole country as one district and then allow us voters to choose on anyone we think is best to represent us rather than having to be lumbered with what we have in our own little districts?

So my friends, although I’m not casting my vote this time, I throw my full weight unabashedly behind the three people whom I think can make a difference to this country’s future, and would do so without any sectarian or overt religious dogma.

I throw my full weight behind Ebrahim Sharif, Sami Siyadi and Muneera Fakhro.

Good luck, and just by running and engineering an election program which has educated the multitudes in this country, you have already won the hearts and minds of your fellow Bahrainis. I’m sure that if the elections are unbiased, true and fair, we shall see you in parliament soon.


Elections fever warming up

The GDN this morning carried a piece stating that 8 women will be contesting the parliamentary and municipal elections in Bahrain in 2010. I hope they all get in. I’m convinced that they will do a much better job than the current crop of MPs and councillors whose vision, for the most part, is to turn this country into another Afghanistan, Iran or another flavour of religious/sectarian extremism.

The question is, though, will my compatriots who chose these bozos actually change their minds now and select their representative based on criteria other than chauvinism and sectarianism?

I’m not too sure, people who elect to have someone like Saidi not only represent them, but allow him to actually dictate the country’s agenda – Yemen is only one example – will probably require a generational change to get them to alter their behaviour, precepts and allay their unreasonable fears.

amal-shereedaHowever, being an eternal optimist, I am glad that a woman is contesting that seat. Ms. Amal Shereeda, according bahrain2010.com is a retired banker with 25 years of experience in banking and business management and apparently supported by the Supreme Council for Women. For parliament, she might be the ideal person to replace 8 years of sectarian under-dealing and the spread of hatred and strife throughout the community. We are much more in need of professionals to run for parliament and get engaged in actively helping our country progress, rather than someone who wears political religiosity as a vehicle for self aggrandisement and practical sedition.

lateefa-bunoathaI am just as glad that another lady is contesting the seat of Khalifa Al-Dhahrani the two-timer. Presided over parliament for two terms is frankly long enough. I think it’s time for him to also start walking, and it would be a sweet thing if Lateefa Al-Bunoatha – the manager of planning and projects in the Ministry of Education – helps him on his merry way.

Will all this be a pipe dream? Will the powers that be create seats in outlying islands to ensure that women are adequately represented in parliament? I don’t know. What I do know; however, is that there is a dire need for change in this country. People more than ever are pessimistic, and while that pessimism cannot exclusively be attributed to the parliament, their shenanigans certainly aid and abet that destructive feeling.

Yalla. It’s time for change. And change is in our hands!


The Chamber’s folly

IMG_3034A new board of directors have been elected to lead the Chamber of Commerce forward. Apart from a few new faces, the incumbent board remains largely intact. The birth of this new board; however, was a bit onerous.

Arriving at the Chamber to render my vote at 1pm, I discover that there are over 200 voters ahead of me. The speed at which the numbers were called suggested that it will be a long wait, so rather than just remaining in the ante-room, I went to have lunch with my wife in the nearby Seef Mall. I came back after lunch, some 45 minutes later, and my turn was still to come, but another 100 voters or so. This thing is going to be slow.

IMG_3032So like so many others, I sat back and chatted with various colleagues awaiting our turns. The hold-up was clearly not the organisation, there were many pods serving people as they came in. The hold-up was rather the penultimate step in the voting process, one that is governed by the Chamber’s own by-laws. It appears that voting must be done manually on paper, and before receiving the ballot, the voter must sign against his or her company’s membership register. Add to that the fact that each commercial registry (rather than person) is eligible to vote and that many people had multiple entities, and the fact that some eligible voters abrogated their right by assigning their vote to a block – some allege this is a prime method of buying such votes – one could easily recognise the bottleneck.

IMG_3031So we waited for our turn to come up. That wait; however, wasn’t without entertainment! I personally witnessed two almost-full-blown-fists-flying fights between candidates and other representatives and officials! I still am unaware of why those fights started and frankly, I wasn’t going to even attempt to find out beyond recognising the so called businessman/candidate who was seeking votes and making absolutely sure that I would not vote for him.

The papers the next morning carried several reports of alleged corruption and corrupt practices. I wasn’t privy to the alleged vote-buying. I clearly witnessed several infractions which should be noted and corrected for future elections. As Human Rights personnel were present to monitor the elections, I hope they noted them too and have raised the proper objections with the elections committee.

Here are my observations:

  • 1. Candidates were milling about unhindered in the ante-room, clearly still campaigning;
  • 2. Candidates supporters/family/friends were also present in the room and they too were actively campaigning for their candidate;
  • 3. As every voter received a queue number, and as the wait was very long, some candidates exchanged higher numbers with lower ones, clearly attempting to influence the voting process. If someone gives you a number that will save you an hour, what would it cost you to simply tick their name, I mean you still have 17 more choices to make!
  • 4. I was aghast that Kadhem Al-Saeed gained the most votes. For a first time candidate and one who has been convicted and imprisoned for harassing a minister, I find it surprising that his candidature was (a) accepted and (b) gained the most votes, even surpassing the incumbent president of the Chamber!
  • 5. The other surprise is another first time candidate – Mohammed Sajid Sheikh – a controversial figure, gaining the third highest votes cast. This gentleman apparently was helped by the large Asian business community in Bahrain, but his candidature created a flurry of unsavoury accusations, least of which that he doesn’t speak Arabic properly, being Pakistani originally whose mother tongue is Urdu, and like Mr. Al-Saeed, both are alleged to have worked for months prior to the elections to buy as many votes as possible. The surprising results for both gents speak for themselves. As each candidate must be seconded by two members of the Chamber, I’m not sure what Othman Sharif and Jawad Al-Hawaj had in mind when they seconded this unsavoury gentleman, regardless of his origin and affiliation.

This brings me to my hero of the day. And that is my good friend Jassim Abdulaal, an MP of note in the first parliament in 2002 (and my tough auditor I must say) who stood up to Sheikh when the other ruffled his feathers unnecessarily at the end of the evening after the gates for casting votes have closed and his supporters complained about a lone person still to vote in the voting hall:

I’m not very optimistic that this board will actually enact any changes to the business society in Bahrain, nor can I see them creating an effective lobby to push parliament and the government to create better opportunities for businessmen and women, especially when you consider that their traditional roles have been severely curtailed by the advent of Google on one hand, and the creation of various government institutions like the EDB, Tamkeen, and others who individually and collectively do and have done a better job.

Now with at least two members of this new board buying their way in (allegedly of course), they water down the effectiveness of the board and its respect in the community.

No wonder that for the first time in its modern history, HRH the Prime Minister didn’t bother to visit them on election day.


Elected to President of Rotary Adliya

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rotary-adliya-emblemI am honoured to have been elected by my fellow Rotarians this evening for the position of President for the Rotary year 2010/2011.

The Rotary Club of Adliya has an illustrious history of helping the local community in so many ways. Since inception, the Club has raised more than BD200,000 (US$530,000) which has been used to support the community; it has also pioneered and maintained the Bahrain Model Nations which helped shape a number of young leaders; helped build a special needs rehabilitation centre at the Ministry of Social Affairs and of course ran several fund raising events over the years from an annual Golf Charity Tournament through to Cricket, Bowling, Art Competitions and other worthy programs.

I look forward to helping the community even more through my year in the RCA, and of course continue to render even more assistance through the Club.


Obama’s Middle East

It doesn’t surprise me at all to hear Obama’s unreserved support of Israel, delivered in his speech at the pro-Israel AIPAC lobby. I expected it in fact, maybe to demonstrate his disconnection from the background and descent that dogged him in his campaign. I suppose this will now intensify even more now that he has been chosen and he will direct his full attention to defeating the Republicans’ McCain. But in doing so, he will go even further to the right than McCain would even wish for.

It’s not a knee-jerk reaction, really, he didn’t need to even go to AIPAC now that he secured his position, but going there and reneging on his promises that he has to offer some explanations afterwards is something that we will probably get used to. Maybe this is due to his fervour and age. Or even a deeply rooted complex. But in whatever case, I really don’t hope for much in his Middle East policy if he does become the World’s president. I hope I am mistaken in this belief, but only time will tell. I still think Clinton would have probably made a better president, but it’s not me who’s casting the ballot.