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Tue 17 Nov 2009 10:24 AM

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Short-term gain, long-term pain

Thousands of Kuwaitis are taking gov't salaries for work they don’t do. They’ll suffer for it in the future, says Andrew White.

Not everyone agrees with the old adage that we should ask not what our country can do for us, but what we can do for our country. Take the 30,000 Kuwaiti nationals who, it was reported this weekend, are banking a government salary and bonuses without even bothering to turn up for work.According to Al Watan Daily, another 20,000 local men and women will clock in for just an hour or two each day – just enough time to catch up on emails and office gossip. Meanwhile, those who don’t make it in at all are signed in by friends or colleagues on a quid-pro-quo basis.

They are protected by wasta through MPs, former MPs and other influential people, and potential whistleblowers are threatened that to interfere would be to harm their own promotion prospects.

According to latest figures the average monthly salary of a Kuwaiti employee is more than 1,000 dinars, or $3500. If we apply that across the board, then that’s 50,000 staff collecting $175m a month between them, totaling an astonishing $2.1bn a year paid out to individuals who offer little or nothing in return.

The UAE, meanwhile, is tentatively admonishing its citizens for dodging employment. Earlier this week it was announced by Dubai Government that more than 500 Emirati jobseekers have been placed on a blacklist designed to combat lax work attitudes.

The Emiratis were placed on the list for a number of reasons including being too choosy about jobs offered to them on more than six occasions, failure to attend interviews, and citing reasons such as not being able to wear a uniform or inability to work shifts as an excuse for turning down jobs.

The Emirates National Development Programme has decided to send a message, and while it’s not exactly declaring war on the workshy, it does constitute a positive crackdown on those who would prefer the state kept them.

It’s up to the government of each sovereign nation to decide what’s best for its people. But it is fascinating to see two such opposing approaches.

The UAE is poking its populace with a (roundly) pointed stick, nudging nationals away from government jobs and demanding they grapple with the challenges of the private sector. In so doing, it is equipping them with the tools they require to survive in a competitive environment where a passport does not guarantee a paycheque.

In the short-term, the benefits of such an approach are already apparent. In a region where business leaders have oft bemoaned a dearth of entrepreneurialism, the UAE is producing young talent with a strong desire to achieve in the private sector.

Kuwait, meanwhile, seems prepared to allow its people live off its oil wealth, to the extent that it is paying them a fortune not to turn up for work. The government is flush with carrots and appears happy to hand them out.

It won’t be long before we see which policy is the more effective in ensuring the long-term health and prosperity of Gulf nationals. Right now both states have small local populations, and exclusive access to some of the largest energy reserves on the planet. But that won’t last.

The GCC has one of the fastest-growing local populations in the world, and by 2020 this population is forecast to increase by one-third, to 53 million people. All this time oil reserves will be dwindling and funds will increasingly be diverted to other public services: healthcare for an aging population, education aimed at attaining ‘knowledge economies’, and necessary infrastructure projects.

With the best will in the world, Gulf governments won’t be able to employ the vast armies of civil servants currently on their books, let alone pay for staff to stay at home. That means sending locals to fend for themselves in the private sector, where they will come up against other Gulf nationals.

Those who have already been exposed to the realities of private sector employment will surely be better prepared for the test than those who have spent the previous decades dropping into the office to collect a cheque. As the battle for jobs intensifies, I’d back a hungry fighter ahead of a spoiled one.

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Anwar Hayder 10 years ago

Get your facts straight before writing up an entire piece. Your numbers are very wrong its true that an average Kuwaitis income is above one thousand Kuwaiti dinars. how ever only a fraction of that is from the government. This government compensation is given to people who work in the private sector trying to promote work in that sector. When a Kuwaiti works in the government they do not get this bonus. The problems you outlined about people not showing up to work and receiving money is true however it isn't a big problem in the private sector. The problem lies in the government sector . This is because we are a semi socialistic society where the government has to offer an individual a job therefore people end up not getting fired for slacking off at work or not attending. Anyways that's my two cents