Bahrain hangs on as banking hub despite political turmoil

from The Daily Star (Lebanon)..

Source: Reuters

February 22, 2013 12:45 AM By David French

An anti-government protester calls for afternoon prayers at the junction of Bahrain Financial Harbor in Manama.               An anti-government protester calls for afternoon prayers at the junction of Bahrain Financial Harbor in Manama.

MANAMA: When Ahli United Bank, Bahrain’s largest lender by market value, announced this week a rise in profits for 2012, it was more than good news for the bank alone. It was a sign that the island kingdom is surviving as a regional financial center.

Two years after pro-democracy protesters inspired by the Arab Spring uprisings blockaded Bahrain’s financial district, political tensions still weigh on its banking industry. This is deterring some investment and inflows of money, and making it harder for Bahrain to compete with other centers such as Dubai.

But contrary to fears at the time, a mass exodus of financial firms from Bahrain has not happened and local banks are proving resilient, allowing the island to remain a hub for financial services in the Gulf.

Bahraini authorities have mounted an active campaign to persuade financial institutions to stay in the country. Economic support to Bahrain from Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states, which are politically allied to the Bahraini government, has helped that campaign.

“Though Bahrain’s 2011 political crisis weakened growth potential and damaged the country’s reputation as a business services hub, we believe a post-crisis status quo has been established,” Standard & Poor’s ratings firm said in late January as it upgraded the outlook for Bahrain’s credit rating, a low-investment grade BBB, to stable from negative.

The survival of Bahrain’s financial industry is important to the country of about 1.3 million people; its oil resources are not as lavish as those of some of its Gulf neighbors.

Bahrain’s financial sector makes up 17.1 percent of its economy, which had an output of $29 billion in 2011, according to the latest central bank figures. The industry is a major employer of local citizens, with Bahrainis accounting for 66 percent of the sector’s workforce.

Link to the whole article:


Qatar finds building plans need more than money

from The Daily Star (Lebanon)..

Source: Reuters

February 28, 2013 01:04 AM By Regan Dohert

A view of the Qatar Petroleum headquarters under construction in Doha.
A view of the Qatar Petroleum headquarters under construction in Doha.

DOHA: When Qatar’s government announced a project management training course for some of its officials last month, it was frank about why the course was urgently needed.

“The National Development Strategy 2011-2016 calls for individuals and teams within the government to work in ways that may be new to them,” the General Secretariat for Development Planning said in a statement.

The course will introduce participants to key management concepts such as time, cost, quality and results, and teach them how to handle changes to projects after they have been launched.

Qatar’s huge infrastructure building plans, which envisage spending $140 billion through 2022, promise to transform the tiny, gas-rich country. They have businessmen around the world salivating at the prospect of lucrative construction and equipment contracts.

But Qatar is finding that its vast wealth alone is not enough to push forward the program. To avoid waste and confusion, the country of just 1.9 million people will need to develop or hire management expertise on a scale that would challenge much bigger nations.

For the next decade, much of the capital Doha will resemble a giant construction site, putting pressure on the small nonenergy economy, the arid environment and the social fabric. Some religiously conservative Qataris are apprehensive about the influx of foreign workers who will build the projects.

Because of these obstacles, foreign companies bidding for the projects are already discovering that the business opportunities are not necessarily as attractive as they seem. “Delays and inadequate execution of the investment program entail significant reputational risk for Qatar,” said Rupert Booth, senior economist at construction design consultant Atkins in Doha.

Qatar’s construction plans include a $36 billion rail system, a new airport that will cost $17.5 billion, a $7.4 billion seaport, hundreds of kilometers of major new roads, and an overall urban makeover. Many of the projects will prepare the country to host the 2022 World Cup football tournament, which the government hopes will seal Qatar’s arrival as a top global travel destination.

Link to the whole article:

Africa’s Two-Speed Education and Classrooms without Walls

from Think Africa Press..

February 22, 2013, BY STEPHEN HAGGARD

Africa’s record on school enrolment varies between and within countries. But educators’ focus may now be shifting from enrolment to quality and new innovative forms of training.

Screen Shot 2013-02-28 at 12.52.56 PM

When the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) for education were revised downwards last year, the slow progress of African schools in particular stood out as a problem. The mid-term progress report found that a quarter of African children weren’t in school, that half the world’s out-of-school children are in sub-Saharan Africa, and that the progress there had been was now slackening off.

Indeed, many African countries will not reach the goal set in 2000 of achieving Universal Primary Education (UPE) by 2015. Some are even going backwards: Nigeria, one of Africa’s richest nations, has seen sharply rising numbers of children out of school, to the extent that one in five of the world’s out-of-school children is now Nigerian. Failures like these are not just a personal tragedy for the 10 million African children who do not even start school. They are also a potential global threat, according to Ade Mabogunje, a Stanford University Professor who advises his native Nigerian Government. “Nigeria will go from 150 million to 750 million citizens this century”, he says. “If they aren’t trained and working, it’s a global security crisis. Look at how Boko Haram feeds off educational failure.”

But these days Africa is also for optimists, and the school story also has some happy endings. A clutch of nations have already passed the goal or are within a touching distance of doing so: these include Kenya, Ghana, Tanzania, Zambia and Mauritius. And a few others are virtually guaranteed to join them on schedule in 2015, such as Rwanda, Burundi, and Ethiopia. And for the dozen or so sub-Saharan nations who have high levels of universal primary completion, we can expect progress at all levels. Kenya, for example, is installing a connected IT suite for every secondary school thanks to a deal with Chinese IT companies…..

Link to the whole article:

Malawi: Paying the Price of Devaluation

from Think Africa Press..

February 26, 2013, BY LAMECK MASINA

Screen Shot 2013-02-28 at 12.45.06 PM

Blantyre, Malawi:

The Malawian government finally gave in to civil servants’ demands for wage increases last week, bringing to a halt rising nationwide strikes. Thousands of government workers across nearly all government departments had been protesting, calling for wage increases to counter the rising costs of living.

The civil servants claimed that the 49% devaluation of the kwacha last May undermined the value of their salaries and demanded a 65% wage increase. Initially the government insisted such a raise was impossible given the state budget. But as the strikes escalated and expanded, with hundreds of pupils joining the march on Thursday in solidarity with their teachers, the governmentagreed to a 61% pay hike for the lowest paid civil servants.

Malawi devalued?

When Joyce Banda became president of Malawi in April of last year following the death of Bingu wa Mutharika, she quickly went about reversing many of her predecessor’s economic policies. By the time of his death, Mutharika had largely fallen out with the donor community and was refusing to accept conditions imposed by the International Monetary Fund (IMF). Donors, including the UK and US, had frozen their assistance, worth a total of $1 billion, to the country. And the absence of aid inflow, which once contributed 40% to its annual budget, contributed to fuel shortages and a sharp decline in foreign trade.

Banda needed to turn this situation around and wanted to reassure Malawi’s erstwhile donors. One of the most significant ways in which she did this was to devalue to kwacha, something Mutharika had vehemently refused to do. Mutharika had claimed it would have devastating effects on the populace and had pointed to the 10% devaluation he made upon instruction from the IMF in 2011 which resulted in a sharp increase in the prices of goods and services.


Link to the whole article:

UN pays Kuwait $1.3 billion in new Iraq war compensation

from Your Middle East..

January 24, 2013

The United Nations said it paid out about $1.3 billion in compensation to Kuwait on Thursday over Iraq’s invasion of the Gulf emirate in 1990.

The Geneva-based UN Compensation Commission said the payments related to damage to Kuwait’s oil wells, pipelines and equipment during the seven-month occupation by Iraqi forces and subsequent losses to production and sales.

It said it has now paid out a total of $40.1 billion to over 100 governments and international organisations in reparations for the invasion, with about $12.3 billion still to be paid.

Payments to meet Kuwait’s claims are funded by a percentage of the proceeds of Iraqi oil sales, currently at five percent.

Link to the article:

Kuwaiti rights conditions deteriorate in 2012, says Human Rights Watch

from Your Middle East..

February 12, 2013, By Omar Hasan, AFP

Human rights conditions deteriorated in Kuwait last year as police used excessive force against protesters and the government clamped down on online activists, Human Rights Watch said Tuesday.

The setback in the human rights situation came amid a bitter political crisis in the oil-rich Gulf state between the opposition and the government, HRW said in a statement.

“Kuwait’s political crisis had a negative impact on the country’s human rights record as security forces cracked down on protests and the government grew intolerant of dissident speech,” Nadim Houry, deputy Middle East director at HRW told a news conference.

Kuwait’s information ministry blasted the New York-based rights group, saying it was “out of touch” with reality.

“Human Rights Watch is clearly out of touch with the reality on the ground in Kuwait. These are the same, tired accusations we saw last year and they continue to show a lack of understanding of Kuwait,” the ministry said in a statement.

Since mid-2012, prosecutors have charged at least 35 online activists and former MPs with speech-related crimes such as “offending the emir” and for posting remarks on Twitter or giving speeches during protests, HRW said.

“The government should reverse this trend in 2013, by dropping all speech-related charges against online activists and former members of parliament…,” said Houry.

But the information ministry dismissed the HRW claims.

“Human Rights Watch wrongly claims the government has become ‘intolerant of dissident speech’. In reality Kuwait’s strong democracy was founded on freedom of speech,” the ministry said.

“We have also seen in recent months the government repeatedly grant permits for peaceful demonstrations,” it added.

Kuwaiti rights activists who attended the HRW news conference said that “at least 300” opposition activists are being prosecuted.

Kuwaiti courts have in the past few weeks sentenced at least seven opposition activists and former MPs to between two and 10 years in jail on charges of insulting the emir.

HRW called on the the Kuwaiti government to drop the charges against the activists.

It also urged the government “to address the citizenship claims of bidoons (stateless Arabs), and protect migrant workers by ratifying the Convention on Decent Work for Domestic Workers.”

The information ministry said Kuwait is “dedicated to providing services and opportunities to all our people, citizens and illegal residents (stateless Arabs) alike,” in addition to a “set of social services to all people living in Kuwait including education and health care.”

The opposition has been demonstrating in protest against the amendment of the electoral law and to demand the dissolution of the parliament elected on December 1 on the basis of the amendment.

Link to the article:

Kuwaiti MPs give first nod to naturalise 4,000 stateless

from Your Middle East..

February 7, 2013

Screen Shot 2013-02-28 at 12.27.26 PM

Stateless Arabs hold signs demanding Kuwaiti citizenship during a demonstration in Jahra on January 25, 2013. A bill to grant Kuwaiti citizenship to at least 4,000 stateless people this year passed the first stage of approval in the Gulf state’s parliament. © Yasser al-Zayyat – AFP/File

A bill to grant Kuwaiti citizenship to at least 4,000 stateless people this year passed the first stage of approval in the Gulf state’s parliament on Thursday.

The bill, approved by 33 MPs with 14 others including nine cabinet ministers abstaining, will become effective after it clears a second round of voting later this month and after it is signed by the oil-rich Gulf state’s ruler.

Stateless, locally known as bidoons, were born and raised in Kuwait and claim they have the right to Kuwaiti citizenship, but the government says only 34,000 out of more than 106,000 qualify for consideration, while the rest hold other nationalities.

The emirate alleges that bidoons or their ancestors, destroyed their original passports to claim the right to citizenship in order to gain access to the state-provided services and benefits.

Bidoons have been deprived of basic rights to force them to reveal their original identities.

“Bidoons have been oppressed and deprived of jobs, education, health, getting a driver’s licence and even getting married,” Shiite lawmaker Yussef al-Zalzalah said during the debate Thursday.

“They are being humiliated and mistreated … What we have been doing to them is unfair.”

Stateless people have been protesting for the past two years to demand citizenship and basic rights. Police repeatedly used force to disperse demonstrators and more than 200 bidoon protesters are currently on trial.

In October, Refugees International, Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International sent a joint letter to Emir Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmad al-Sabah, urging him to end alleged abuses against stateless people.

Link to the article: