Tag Archives government

Bahraini Parliament frees Palestine!

Shaikh Khalid bin Ahmed Al-Khalifa - Bahrain’s Foreign MinisterI couldn’t believe the stuff carried in the papers this morning about the palava in parliament yesterday. MPs are “absolutely” incensed that our foreign minister shook hands with the Israeli foreign minister on the sidelines of a meeting at the UN. That minister being female and and Israeli is a double whamy for them. I guess the Muslim Brotherhood MPs could possibly forgive him for shaking hands with an Israeli, but an Israeli woman is a no no.

One chooses to label other human beings as low as dogs while the other calls parliamentarians as hypocritical killers

Anyway, the foreign minister was upfront about it and explained the country’s position when the story broke and the newspapers had their pound of flesh. Now it’s the MP’s turn to have theirs. Who’s been trusted with this task; however? Well it’s the plagiarist of course! He’s heading the “Boycott Israel” camp in parliament and wants his few minutes in the limelight. Well he’s got it with a bang. But he obviously didn’t bank on being mauled by the minister in the process… so from “demanding” that the minister washes his hands 7 times, one of which with sand – a reference to cleansing oneself from touching the muzzle of a dog, an unclean part according to Islam, and a reference to Jews being unclean as far as he’s concerned, he’s now saying that he just suggested it so that Shaikh Khalid purifies himself after touching the “dirty” (Jewess) Livni.

Brilliant isn’t it? We should set up a stall at the entrance of the parliament chambers and sell palm-sized rocks or at least some pebbles to increase the fun. This is Politics 101 Bahraini style!

he just suggested it so that Shaikh Khalid purifies himself after touching the “dirty” (Jewess) Livni.

One chooses to label other human beings as low as dogs and as unclean as his persuasion makes him believe, while the other calls parliamentarians as hypocritical killers – in reference probably to Hamas too being of the Muslim Brotherhood persuasion and that they are terrorists I presume; hence his outburst of “the blood of Palestinians are on your hands” – but the jury’s still out until he explains the comments thrown.

The end result? Well, Palestine is still occupied, Israel continues to exist while some Bahrainis still sleep with hunger pangs, live in houses some of which have been categorised as condemned, thousands are still without jobs, various reforms are stagnant, and freedom robbing laws are still in existence and parliament ignores all of that and passes a resolution to sever all links with the Jewish Enemy.

Here I am thinking that one has to keep lines of communications open with even an enemy in order to reach an amicable solution.

The end result? Well, Palestine is still occupied, Israel continues to exist while some Bahrainis still sleep with hunger pangs

Keeping that in mind, I honestly do not see the problem in our foreign minister meeting with the Israelis at an international location on the sidelines of an international conference especially as the meeting was not solely bilateral but included 8 other Arab countries. I could even excuse him for meeting “the enemy” in bilateral talks if the result of that meeting was some good coming to Palestine and Bahrain, especially when the Palestinian leadership themselves know about this meeting and have condoned it.

Demanding – as the parliament has done by passing a resolution to the effect – never to have any contact in whatsoever form with Israel is nonsensical and impractical. This is politics after all and a country must look after its own interests first and foremost and use its influence to bring points of view closer, even between enemies.

It’s a very emotive issue. Of course it is. But parliament and senior politicians should never allow themselves to be dragged into situations like this. This shakes the country’s confidence in the organisations they represent even more than the level they enjoy at the moment. At the very best, this outburst from both sides will busy the whole country for days on end needlessly and shove the important issues they should be discussing to the back of the queue, once again.

This is a government and a parliament with grasshopper attention span. Let’s see what the following few days will hold for us. Big smiles and hugs probably while the cauldron of emotions continue to bubble and each waiting for the other to slip.


Accountability resurfaces

Posted on

It was with pleasure that I read the following on the front page of the GDN this morning:

A new law will force ministers, top government officials, MPs, Shura and municipal councillors to declare their personal finances. An independent commission of judges will have sweeping powers to investigate their finances, including those of their spouses and children.

Those who fail to comply, or found guilty of financial crime, will face heavy fines and/or jail sentences.

This is obviously in response to a Parliamentary Wish tabled some time ago requiring such a thing to happen, the government then formulated this wish into legislation – which is its right under the by-laws – and returned it back to parliament for approval.

I didn’t see the draft law yet, but like everyone else concerned with accountability in Bahrain, I am anxious to see its contents; particularly the exceptions – if present – and what the actual penalties are and if they are sufficient for deterring corrupt officials from continuing to abuse their positions. Will this law, for instance, only limit the declarations of wealth to be “correct and acceptable” from the time it is issued, or will it have any provision to force officials to show how they got their current wealth? What is to happen to that wealth should it be considered ill-begotten? All this remains to be seen. I am not very enthusiastic as what has been reported as fines and sentences in the papers is a pittance when compared to the wealth amassed by various officials in this country. But I’ll keep the final judgement to when the law is applied and convictions are made.

It is important; therefore, to understand how the law defines corruption, as when it was last attempted, the result was quite varied and officials suggested that concept is quite elastic; thus, rendering the definition and the law toothless.

Which brings me to the question of the independence of the commission tasked with overseeing this new law – when and if it sees the light. The question must be asked, will they ever be independent and be seen as such if they are appointed – with all due respect – by his majesty? Or will they be subservient to the government’s wishes and not pursue the fight against corruption with the required gusto? Or even worse, will they drop a case once identified due to governmental or royal court pressure due to their affiliation?

As to the judiciary, so far it has been shown somewhat ineffective and there is quite a road to tread to get it to improve and gain the people’s trust and confidence. Hence, it is just as important to completely reform the judiciary in parallel to effecting this new legislation.

I hope these kinds of reactions to the low level gained by Bahrain in the recent Corruption Perception Index will continue. The government seems to finally have gotten the message, as the options to continue to ignore world opinion in this regard particularly will shake the foundations of the country’s economy. It looks, so far, that the government are finally acknowledging this fact and are doing something about it.

It is up to the parliament to ensure that these oversight tools are not watered down one bit, but strengthened with their determination to extricate corruption and corrupt officials. Abrogating their responsibility by continuing to colour their decisions based on confessional association is not an option. They must act in a cohesive bipartisan manner in order for this country to pull itself out of the entrenched quagmire.


No passports needed to visit Saudi

Bahraini ID Card

Finally, after 25 years or so of establishing the Gulf Cooperation Council, citizens of both Bahrain and Saudi will soon be able to visit each other’s country by just using their identity card rather than a passport. This will take effect in 30 days due to an agreement signed at the Interior Ministers’s meeting in Riyadh yesterday.

Thanks! That should make things a bit easier. You wouldn’t believe the number of times that I found out that I didn’t have my passport with me when I reached the border point on the causeway! Soon, I won’t have to worry about that.

One thing they could do is unify the visas throughout the Gulf so that residents in one country can easily go to another without having to go through the onerous steps of getting a recurrent visa from one country or another. For instance, we go through hell (and a lot of begging) to get our engineer a visa so he can visit our customers in Saudi.

Ah well, one step at a time I guess. As allowing citizens to travel to each other’s country has taken 26 years to achieve, to get residents to do so will probably take oooh, another 260 years. Not bad.

Incidentally, did you know that there is a page listing the lost and found ID cards on the Ministry of Interior’s website? Quite nifty isn’t it!


Just Fifteen?

Mohammed Sangoor, secretary of the Ulama Council of Bahrain
The turbans are up in arms, some of them at least, accusing the government in interfering in God’s law and the Prophet’s by introducing a minimum age for marriage. Boys should wait until 18 while girls the minimum is 15. Otherwise the marriage cannot be legally recognised.

If the girl can cut her own food then surely she should be bundled up in black and transported to the matrimonial bed

Well, why should there be a limit at all? If the girl can cut her own food then surely she should be bundled up in black and transported to the matrimonial bed – regardless of her wishes and the louder the screams for mummy to come help her while clutching her teddy bear to her immature chest the better. If she hadn’t started having her periods yet, well then, I suppose it should be regarded as training-time until she gets the capability of doing her honourable vocation and be a venerable breeding machine.

I wonder what would have happened if (God forbid) the government proposed (as it should have) to put the minimum normal marriage age at 18 for the couple?

How dare the government propose such an ungodly law?


Corruption Index slips again

CPI comparison table from 2005 - 2007

When the crown prince announced that we must eradicate corruption in our country, he couldn’t have timed it better.

I don’t know whether the thing that prompted both him and the prime minister to reiterate their intention to correct this situation is due to them receiving advance copies of the 2007 CPI Report or they were genuinely alarmed at the depth of corruption uncovered which gave rise to accelerating corruption cases brought against various companies in which the government has a stake in, but I am happy enough to give them the benefit of the doubt in that they did notice the money being bled from public funds and made the required political decision to staunch that flow.

Transparency International logo

Political decision alone is of course not going to resolve this down-ward spiral. What would help is primarily reforming of the judicial system and separate it completely from the executive – practically as well as constitutionally – and remove influence peddling and interference to subvert the course of justice. That is in general as far as corruption cases are concerned, but specifically competent courts and arbitration panels should also be enacted under the same criteria to adjudicate business cases expeditiously. Business cases have been known to go on for years if not decades. This of course gives comfort to corrupt individuals and practices. Who of us don’t remember the various corruption cases through the past few years?

Countries with a significant worsening in perceived levels of corruption in 2007 include Austria, Bahrain, Belize, Bhutan, Jordan, Laos, Macao, Malta, Mauritius, Oman, Papua New Guinea and Thailand.

The most important factor in winning against corruption of course is the presence of social justice and good governance, both of which are somewhat rather lacking, and this latest CPI report is symptomatic of this condition and should act as a clear warning that intrinsic changes must be enacted to bring the country back to a correct and sustainable path in which every Bahraini takes ownership in Bahrain’s future.

This is an alarming situation we are living in. It gave rise to the dangerous down-ward spiral we have entered with corruption; Bahrain – one might say – has become “حارة كل من إيدو إلو” (taking the law into one’s own hands / acting with impunity) – in the great words of Duraid Lahham.

How do we rise above this then?

Establish social justice and good governance. No one, no one, should be above the law. A simple formula that requires quite a lot of sacrifices from the leadership much more than it would from the common man. It means loosening the control strings and believing in Bahrainis. It means learning to genuinely trust each other. It means the eradication of sectarianism in every form it takes. It means the equal distribution of wealth. It means recognising flaws and genuinely fixing them.

Glossing over these issues and just using that tired adage that “we are one family” just won’t cut it any more. Action on the ground is needed, otherwise I can guarantee that the 2008 ranking will be even worse. Even staying still is not an option any more, others will continue to overhaul us as some already have.

How about starting with an honest and complete change of the cabinet rather than just reshuffling it? It is plainly obvious that real new capable persons be either appointed or elected into all of those positions with complete disregard to tribalism and sectarianism should be sought. Positions which should be answerable to parliament to ensure that should financial or administrative corruption be discovered, it is effectively and severely dealt with.

We have good men and women throughout our society who could shoulder these burdens, why not give them a chance to do so?

Once again, reports like this should not be discouraging. They are providing us with mirrors through which we can plainly see ourselves. What we do with that image is completely up to us.


Emirates retools press law

Good news this morning from a southerly direction that we hope that our newly appointed minister of Information as well as our parliamentarians will immediately emulate:

UAE rules journalists not to be jailed over work

9 hours ago

DUBAI (AFP) — The prime minister of the United Arab Emirates decreed on Tuesday that journalists should not be jailed over their work, two days after two were jailed for libel, the state WAM news agency reported.

Sheikh Mohammad bin Rashed al-Maktoum “has issued instructions … not to imprison journalists for reasons related to their work,” said the head of the National Media Council, Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed al-Nahayan.

Sheikh Mohammad stated that “other measures can be taken to penalise a journalist who has committed a particular violation,” added Sheikh Abdullah, who is also foreign minister.

Abdullah said the prime minister also called for speeding up the enactment of a new press law in line with amendments introduced by the National Media Council.

The amendments drop imprisonment as a penalty for press offences.

Sheikh Mohammad is also ruler of the booming emirate of Dubai, a member of the UAE that hosts scores of regional and international news organisations operating out of Internet and media free zones.

His move came two days after two Dubai-based journalists — an Indian and an Egyptian working for the English-language daily Khaleej Times — were sentenced to two months for libel, according to local press reports.

They have since been released on bail and are appealing.

Two UAE nationals were also recently sentenced to jail for defamation on an Internet site in the emirate of Ras al-Khaimah, another UAE member, and are appealing the rulings. The website has been closed.

Abdullah Omran, lawyer of one of the two, hailed Sheikh Mohammad’s decision and said he hoped it would apply to Internet sites.

“We welcome this positive move, which proves that our wise leadership is responsive to the aspirations of its people. We hope it will extend to electronic sites, and that violators will be penalised by measures other than imprisonment since they are electronic journalists,” Omran told AFP.

Omran is the lawyer for Mohammad Rashed al-Shehhi, owner of the website who has been jailed for a total of 17 months in two defamation cases involving local officials.

Fellow Emirati Khaled al-Asli was sentenced earlier in September to five months in jail on charges of writing an article on the site that slandered a local official.

Asli, who has denied writing the article posted under a pen name, has been released on bail while Shehhi is behind bars.


Ah, “reshuffle” announced

Two new faces replace old and bedraggled ones after being “harassed” by an Islamist-led parliament. In other countries this kind of “harassment” would probably be classified as nothing more than a gentle tickle, but hey, some good things are happening and we should be positive.

new cabinet ministers join - Faisal Al-Hamar and Jehad Bukamal

I don’t know much about Al-Hamar, other than being the brother of the previous Minister of Information and majority stakeholder in Al-Ayam newspaper as well as being the special media consultant to his majesty the king. Mr. Faisal Al-Hamar has been in the Ministry of Health for 32 years, most recently he was tasked with the deanship of the College of Health Sciences so he had some managerial history under his belt, whether he will be able to tame the beast and turn it into even a scowling and bad-tempered tom-cat remains to be seen, an outcome that a lot of Bahrainis would be rather satisfied with. Such is the reputation of the Ministry of Health which he has taken over which doesn’t need resuscitation but major invasive surgery to get it to a station at which Bahrainis would not tend to kiss their loved ones goodbye and hand them a shovel before entering its hallowed halls.

Jehad Bukamal takes over the Ministry of Information. Now that could be a breath of fresh air. Let me tell you why, Bukamal is first and foremost a businessman, a member of the Chamber of Commerce and an ex-member of parliament. He is also a moderate, so maybe – it is my fervent hope in any case – that he will drag that ministry from the dark ages and bring it to the real world, and maybe he will break the Islamist’s hold on that throbbing organ and let it release its creative juices which has been suppressed for ages, most certainly since it’s departed MP sat on it.

Maybe now – I hope once again – we will see less of the useless pre-packaged religious programs (especially those presented and chaired over by sitting members of parliament! Talk about conflict of interest!) and change them with community-centric ones and maybe we will actually get some entertainment out of that very important edifice. Who knows.

Oh, maybe we will even get to hear the myriad of beautiful different accents from all over Bahrain and see their faces, and not get presented with just one “type” for a joke or be presented exclusively in degrading situations.

Maybe we will finally get rid of that stupid and inappropriate slogan of “The Arab Family TV” and replace it with a much more appropriate “Bahraini Family Fun Channel”!

Maybe also now hotels will collectively exhale!

Maybe now the tourism department will actually change into a real tourism-encouraging catalyst rather than continue to be nothing more than thinly covered Religious Police with a political drive.

One continues to hope.

One also hopes that this rather limited reactionary change in cabinet is an aperitif and not the entrée. There is at least one more who has sold Bahrain and Bahrainis that still needs to be removed, to save what is left of our face.


Renewed official stance on corruption


Like everyone else in Bahrain, I was thrilled to read our Crown Prince’s unequivocal statement that corruption will no longer be condoned and that even if a minister was implicated in corruption, he or she will get their just desert.

I also remembered that our parliament has discussed this issue and the committee tasked with formulating that new law has rendered its decision1 to approve a parliamentary discussion of this law. I hope that with the Crown Prince’s push, that law will see the light during the forthcoming new term.

This re-enforced political will is wonderful to behold especially in view of the accelerating corruption cases brought against various managers in government-owned companies like ALBA, Gulf Air and most recently ASRY. I hope at the very least these people being brought to justice will at least get those corrupt officials to sit up and feel a bit embarrassed and take their thieving hands out of the cookie jar for a while at least. One would hope that this new political will will also force them to refill those jars from whatever that had stuck to their nimble fingers.

Unfortunately however, these kind of promises have been heard before but never sufficiently followed up; or at least if they have been followed up no conviction was been meted out to the corrupt. On the contrary, in some cases, people implicated in corrupt activities were actually promoted, as we have most recently witnessed in someone who was implicated in the infamous Bandargate fiasco.

Cases like the Housing Bank, GOSI and others are still fresh in people’s minds. So calls like these – with all due respect – need to really be followed up and convictions of the corrupt be levied in order for this political will to have some legitimacy and for it to regain its credibility.

Let me remind you that corruption is not only monetary, but other forms do exist as well which must be taken care of. In Bahrain for instance, the financial corruption might not exceed other forms of corruption like nepotism, patronage, influence peddling, avoiding the law, etc. However, corruption is no longer just restricted to these traditional arenas, it is more completely defined as:

Corruption obtains when an official transfers a benefit to an individual who may or may not be entitled to the benefit, in exchange for an illegal payment (the bribe). By taking the bribe, the official breaks a legally binding promise he gave to his ‘principal’ (usually the state administration or a private company) to allocate the benefit to those entitled to it. Corruption is neither a property of a social system or an institution, nor a trait of an individual’s character, but rather an illegal exchange. Nowadays scholars have abandoned the classic view of corruption as the degradation of an individual’s ethical sense, or lack of moral integrity. If corruption is a type of exchange it can, at least in principle, be the subject of empirical, cross-country examination. For data, scholars turn mainly to three sources, the German-based NGO Transparency International; the World Bank, and, to a lesser extent, Freedom House. These agencies all produce large cross-national surveys and ranking of countries, although the data come with a variety of biases. Naturally, illegality makes it hard to measure corruption.

Which brings me to the last few years’ CPI rating for Bahrain which has degraded appreciably. One only hopes that with the affirmation and bluntness of the Crown Prince this time, that things will really get moving in the right direction. Finally.

If I may suggest a few small thing to aid in inculcating the culture of anti-corruption: create a provision in law to protect whistle-blowers, cancel that heinous Press and Publications Law 47/2002 to allow news reports to out corruption and its benefactors and let’s see some sentences handed down against high-profile corrupt public employees and appropriate their misbegotten wealth. I am sure that should these things be enacted, our CPI rating will most certainly rise. Much more importantly of course, Bahrain’s credibility both national and international will be much enhanced, and people’s lives here will be bettered.

Now what’s the Anti Corruption Hotline number again?

[1] pdf document in Arabic


Ministerial changes

The king returned back to the kingdom healthy and strong after recuperating from an illness. We thank God for his successful recovery and welcome him back.

During his recuperation period he must have done some thinking about running the country better and the rumours abound since his return of reshuffling the cabinet some, some say in the next few days and most certainly before the reconvening of the parliament.

The names imbue some trust, if they were to be correct, and we shall see the disappearance of a number of faces who have been nothing but a heavy anchor around Bahrain’s throat.

In preparation for this pending announcement, it is said that a number of ministers who have been enjoying their holidays abroad have been ordered to cut their own recuperation periods short and come back to Bahrain. Of those who were out and ordered back are

  • Abdulla bin Salman Al-Khalifa (Minister of Electricity who was undoubtedly enjoying a summer uninterrupted by power cuts wherever he was),
  • Mohammed Abdulghaffar (Minister of Information),
  • Dr. Majeed Al-Alawi (Minister of Labour),
  • Dr. Nada Haffadh (Minister of Health),
  • Ahmed Attiyatallah,
  • Dr. Nezar Al-Baharna (Minister of Foreign Affairs) and
  • Dr. Fatima Al-Balooshi (Minister of Social Affairs).

The news suggests that the new positions will be rotated among old and new ministers thusly;

  • Dr. Mohammed Al-Ghatam as Minister of Electricity,
  • Nabeel Al-Hamar returns as the Minister of Information and Cabinet Affairs,
  • Hind Al-Khalifa will finally be promoted to be the Minister of Social Affairs,
  • Dr. Majeed Al-Alawi (moved to be Minister of Health from Minister of Labour),
  • Dr. Nezar Al-Baharna will become the Minister of Labour (he currently heads the Labour reform initiative)
  • and Haya Al-Khalifa returns from heading the United Nations to take up the position of Minister of State for Foreign Affairs.

So we finally get rid of some personalities who have been described as hindrances to development and progress and some who have also been described as Muslim Brotherhood stooges and all are replaced by what look like new dynamic leadership.

About time too.

Good to have you back your Majesty!

More more…


Got Calculator?

Miscalculated electricity bill

You would think with the huge amount of money being spent on government compute power, and organisations which supposedly “professionally” over-see them – in this case I am told it is the CIO – you would think that those computers and their programmers can do simple maths, don’t you think?

Not in Bahrain!

Calculate my last electricity bill with me if you would:

    Current (estimated) reading 10,808 – Last reading 10,387 units = 421 units consumed.

So how can it possibly get to the 12,630 units they calculated?

I checked the meter when I received the bill just to be sure, I mean this is an estimated bill and the actual reading might very well be different, and it was, but by not that much of an amount. It was only 11,081.

Now the doubts in my mind are whizzing around, like most mugs on this island, I just pay it with hardly a glance at the figures on the bill, blindly trusting the government in this regard. My worry is how much of a ride was I taken with previous bills and were they in fact correct?

I wonder how many households in Bahrain have been given the same treatment and maybe as a result – although remote – got their electricity wrongly disconnected, or got filched of their monthly salary just to pay for such a mistake.

We went to the Electricity office to enquire and get an explanation, the guy apparently looked at the bill and concluded that it was in fact incorrect. He told us that we have two options: either pay a bit of it on our estimation for this month and the rest will be carried forward, or just ignore it and it will be corrected in the next bill.

Needless to say, I’ll wait for the next bill, thank you very much.

update 4 Sept, ’07: We finally got to the bottom of this issue; and the truth is even stranger than fiction:

The Electricity Dept has now informed me that the meter that I have at home is “of the large kind”. Which means that the units it registers are reduced by a factor of 30. Which means that whatever the difference between the current and last meter reading should be multiplied by 30 in order to get the actual consumption!

In this case, the difference in this bill come to 421 “Big Meter” units now multiply that with 30 and you get the actual reading they show which is 12,630. Which means that the bank balance will be really hit this month even with the “programmed” blackouts we get twice a day in our neighbourhood.

And do they have that little bit of information about the 30x multiplier anywhere on the bill? Nope. That’s left to develop our clairvoyant skills.