Monday, April 1, 2013

The Saudi Kabsa

I WANT to run a tea shop.
I don't know how to do it. But I have the money to invest in it.
What should I do?
Simple. I have to hire people who do not have the money to invest but know how to run it.
At first I hire people who can build a tea shop.
After buying necessary utensils,  I look at hiring tea maker, supplier, cleaner, accountant, and a manager to manage all the activities, because I know none of these jobs. I just want to invest my money so that I can earn more.
I, being a proud nationalist, turn to my fellow countrymen: "Dear all, would you like to work in my tea shop. I have vacancies for tea maker, supplier, cleaner, accountant, and manager."
Nobody is interested on two counts:
1. Attitude (Why should I work?)
2. Qualification (none knows tea making, supplying tactics, accountancy, managerial skills).
What should I do?
I look at places from where I can get these people to do the jobs, of course, as cheap as possible.
There is a long list of Yemenis, and Pakistanis, who are ready to do the first three jobs, and Indians (especially from Kerala) who are qualified and willing to do the second two jobs cheaper than what I thought what cheap can mean.
King Abdulaziz who established the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia was facing the same predicament -- has money but no skilled workers.
Let us not dwell deep into the life of Abdulaziz, who being forced to lead a life of a nomad at the age of 15, rose to become the King of Saudi Arabia.
Let us not dig out his history of treaties with the British, overt and covert, including those that opened up trade with British India through the Kerala coast. 
Forget the way he ditched the British and supported the Americans when it came to distribution of rights over Saudi oil fields.
(And in 1980 the American company Aramco that developed the fields was taken over by Saudi Arabia).
Remember all these were happening during the early 1900s when India was still struggling to attain freedom.
After a series of bloody wars that culminated in establishing a Kingdom based on the teachings of Muhammad Ibn Abd al-Wahhab ending the 1,400 years of tradition, and American geologists discovering oil, the immediate need was to engage people who can run the shop.
Unfortunately, there were none available in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.
The King and his 45-odd sons in 22 wives (unofficial) too had personal needs to satisfy -- heavenly gardens, palace to dwell, roads and railway lines.
Royalty has to be established.
King Abdulaziz has to wash his hands of sins of eliminating right of his father to rule the Kingdom, and contain the ambitions of his five brothers who fought side by side along with him many a battles.
Oil money was slush. Qualified people zero.
Then began the great exodus from many other countries, especially undivided India, chasing the Gulf Dream.
The population of Saudi Arabia stands at 27.1 million (2010). Foreigners, mainly Indians, account for 8.4 million. Of the Saudi nationals, more than 50 per cent are below the age of 40. Procreation was surging ahead at geometric progression leading to unemployment problems.
All government jobs were for Saudi nationals. Foreigners were recruited in the private sector, which required skilled workers. Interestingly, pay package at Government establishments were far better than the private sector.
But this did not last long. As the country progressed at a fast pace on oil money, the requirement for more and more skilled workers shot up resulting in the private sector offering attractive tax free salary package to 'outsiders.'
Naturally it led to non-nationals leading a higher standards of life than the nationals. According to  a data available, 90 per cent of the private sector jobs went to skilled foreigners.
Predictably, the largest source of employment in Saudi Arabia is in construction, retail trade, finance, and real estate sectors. The majority in these sectors are non Saudis.
As said earlier, Saudis were not willing to take up any job an expatriate would gladly accept for a low wage, as they were too touchy about social status, and a majority still do not have adequate qualifications.
Hire-and-fire policy will not work with Saudis.
With unemployment rate of Saudi youth raising, and winds of change in other Arab countries resulted in unrest and sporadic incidents of crime despite there being an authoritarian regime with absolutely no independent judicial system
The government is unable to create jobs for the youth. The private sector is creating more and more job opportunities but all is grabbed by skilled/cheap workforce from foreign countries.
Hence began the Saudisation of the economic sector in 2011 to pre-empt any whiff of Arab Spring entering the King's garden.  
It was labeled the Nitaqat system.
The focus is on gradual phase out of foreigners from the private sector. Though there is objection to it from within the government itself for obvious reasons.
According to a decree by the Minister of Labour and Social Affairs of the total workforce 30 per cent should be Saudis. But a different rate is fixed for various sectors.
Those companies which comply with these stipulations  came under the Green zone enjoying lot of privileges from the government; those companies which are expected to achieve the compliance within a reasonable time came under the Yellow zone with restrictions on visa for expat employees; and those did not comply with the stipulations are under the Red zone which are to be dealt with severely.
According to a rough estimate nearly half of the firms in Saudi Arabia come under  the Yellow/Red zones.
The real problem is, as always been, for the private companies is not the stringent quota system now being pursued by the country but is getting qualified Saudis.
So what happens?
There will be ghost employees in a company. Simply said a company having 100 employees will have to employ at least 20 Saudis or more -- mostly unqualified.
To avoid it, the company will recruit 20 Saudis just to show the records for a payout (bribe?), which will be less than the salary but better than what they will get under the unemployment scheme of the government (3,000 Saudi riyals).
They need not work at all in the company.
This adds up to the cost of the company, which, in turn, will cut into the salary of expats further or in exceptional circumstances continue with the additional burden.
Those can't bear the additional cost will have to shut shop.
It will have an adverse impact on Foreign Direct Investment in the country which is run by a motley group of 'Royal Family Members' that has wide business interests including in granting of visas and in running an unregulated underground foreign labour market.
Most of the business establishments run by these Family Members thrive because of the cheap and illegal foreign labour easily available.
So what will happen to these illegal workforce?
They have to return to their parent countries. But not without punishments.
At least Saudi Arabia has to tell the world that these people entered the country and were working there without the knowledge of its government or other authorities concerned.
What can India do?
Nothing. Pretend ignorance. 
Remember the bitter Sri Lankan experience.
The Indian Government  never interfered when these people went looking for a job in Saudi Arabia -- the British Government encouraged it, as was the case with Sri Lanka.
Indian Government behaved in such a manner that its responsibility ended once a passport is issued to its citizen.
Many of these illegal workforce were fortunate enough to get 'exit' stamp on their passport without punishments.
Possibly because of their ability to grease palms.
Those who are punished (flogging) or jailed cannot even look toward the country for help because any interference in Saudi law will negate India's stand on Italian marines' case.
Why not interfere on emotional grounds?
Arrey Bhaiyya that's what Justice Katju says in Sanju Baba's case!!
Now you understand why the whole issue smells like the iconic Saudi Kabsa -- a delicacy made of a mixture of rice, lamb, chicken, spices.
Remove one of the ingredients from it and it loses its unique character. Now Saudi Arabia wants to prepare a Kabsa without some of the ingredients.
Will it be too delicious to eat?

Photo courtesy: Google Images