GULF VIEW

 

Sep 26 - Oct 02, 2005

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PUNKAJ UDHAS TO PERFORM IN DOHA

Veteran ghazal singer Pankaj Udhas is to perform at the Majlis of Doha Sheraton on October 29. The maestro, who is celebrating his silver jubilee in the Indian music industry, performed his first ghazal concert in 1978. Since then, he has travelled to all parts of the world, performed at some of the most prestigious auditoriums globally.

Pankaj Udhas's first album, Ahat, was brought out in 1980 and he has since released 40 albums, the last being Hasrat in 2005.

He has been conferred dozens of awards such as the Indira Gandhi Priyadarshani Award, the K L Saigal Award, the Outstanding Artistic Achievement Award and Honorary Citizenship of Texas — USA.

Instead of an extravagant program to commemorate the silver jubilee, the singer has decided to embark on a 25-city performance tour with the intention of supporting social causes.

The Doha Bank Ghazal Nite is part of the tour and is being held to support the Indian Community Benevolent Fund (ICBF).

The event's title sponsor is Doha Bank while the prime sponsor is Al Ali Singhco.

The program is being organized at the initiative of a few philanthropist businessmen like Ganesh Srinivasan, Sanaullah A R, Moti Shroff, Harish Kanjani, Bhupender Singh and the group headed by Azim Abbas. It is supported by the ICBF advisory council, headed by Hasan Chougule.

DUBAI WORKERS STAGE DEMO FOR SALARY PAYMENT

Nearly 1,000 Asian workers, the bulk of them Indians, staged a demonstration in Dubai in protest against non-payment of salaries, prompting the minister of labor to order their employer to settle their dues or lose the workers and face legal action.

The workers, employed by a construction company, marched from their work site at the huge Palm project and blocked traffic on Sheikh Zayed Road, the UAE's main artery connecting Dubai with Abu Dhabi, for nearly two hours. Thousands of vehicles were held up, causing a massive traffic snarl.

Police rushed to the scene but it took some time before they could persuade the workers to return to their "labor camp" living quarters. No violence was reported.

The protesters, who included Pakistanis, Bangladeshis, Nepalese and Sri Lankans in addition to the majority Indians, complained that they were not paid for between four and six months. Their employer is a contractor on the multibillion dirham Palm Island project of Nakheel, one of Dubai's two biggest real estate companies. Nakheel has no direct connection with the workers, who are hired and paid for by the contractor.

Company officials said the contractor employed over 15,000 workers and pays them on rotation since they are employed at different construction sites, with the main project promoters setting different timings for settling their bills. The dispute involved about 2,000 workers who are owed about three million dirhams in wages dating back from May, according to representatives of the protesters.

The workers' contract pay ranged between 600 and 900 dirhams per month.

Minister of Labour and Social Affairs Ali Abdullah Al Kaíabi, who has repeatedly issued warnings to local companies against failing to pay workers' wages on time, took immediate action by ordering the contractor to settle the dues within 24 hours. The minister's decision also said that failure on the part of the company to settle the dues would free the concerned workers to take up alternate employment and their visas would be transferred to their new employers without an otherwise mandatory no-objection certificate from their present employer, who will also face punitive action from the Ministry of Labor.

The minister's decision is unprecedented in the UAE, where at least 800,000 Asians work on massive construction projects across Dubai, and it also sets an example for employers who default on wages to be paid to their employees.

KUWAIT PLANS MINIMUM WAGES

Kuwait's Minister of Social Affairs and Labor Faisal Al-Hajji has proposed the introduction of a minimum wage for hundreds of thousands of expatriate workers.

Al-Qabas newspaper quoted Hajji as saying he has submitted recommendations to the cabinet calling for a 50-dinar ($170) minimum monthly wage for foreigners hired by private companies involved in government contracts. He also proposed a 70-dinar ($240) minimum wage for expatriates working as security guards for private companies. Monthly salaries of many expatriate menial workers, like cleaners, are as low as $70 a month. Hajji said that after the recommendations are approved, no private company will be awarded a government contract before guaranteeing it will pay the minimum wage. More than 1.8 million foreigners live in Kuwait, which has a population of 2.8 million. About 900,000 work in the private sector, including about 60 percent from the Indian subcontinent. Kuwait also employs about 450,000 domestic workers, mostly from India, Sri Lanka and the Philippines. Asian workers have staged a series of strikes in recent months, claiming they had not been paid wages in several months. The government intervened and threatened action against employers if they did not pay.

The US State Department in its annual "Trafficking in Persons Report" released in June criticized Kuwait and three other Gulf states for not doing enough to halt human trafficking and child labor. Washington has also stipulated improving labor conditions and amending the labor law as two of several conditions for starting free trade talks with Kuwait. Like other Gulf states, foreigners working in Kuwait's private sector must have a "sponsor," a regulation which restricts their movement and puts them at the mercy of their employers. Officials have said Kuwait has been cooperating with the International Labor Organization for the past four years, and is considering ILO suggestions for changing the sponsor requirement. In June, the labor ministry prohibited employers from forcing laborers to work under the sun from noon to 4:00 pm during the summer months when the temperature reaches 50 degrees Celsius (122 Fahrenheit).

EXHIBITIONS

Dhahran International Exhibition Company has announced that the eight International Gulf Exhibitions here spawned many business deals.

The company said many local, regional and international companies signed deals worth SR20 million. More than 200 companies and factories from different countries like Pakistan, UAE, Jordan, Egypt, Syria, Iran, Bahrain and many other countries participated in these exhibitions.

OPEC KINGPINS SET TO PUSH FOR HIGHER PRODUCTION

OPEC kingpins Saudi Arabia and Kuwait were set to push the oil cartel toward higher production quotas even though crude prices have come off their boil, pointing ahead to when the northern hemisphere will head into winter. An increase would lend largely symbolic support to industrialized economies where consumers have been hit by sharply higher energy costs.

OPEC President Sheikh Ahmad Fahd al-Sabah reiterated his proposal to raise the cartel's output by 500,000 barrels per day (bpd) despite a huge production surplus, in comments published Sunday in Kuwait.

"There are fears in the oil market regarding crude supplies despite huge surplus," Sheikh Ahmad told the daily Al-Rai Al-Aam in New York where he attended the UN summit before heading to Vienna for a crucial OPEC meeting.

"There are quantities that the market can't take and have no buyers, but nevertheless prices are rising," he said. The Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries would therefore play its role towards cooling prices and relaxing the markets, the Sheikh said, adding that "we will do our best in this meeting, including a proposal to hike output by 500,000 bpd."

Saudi Arabian Oil Minister Ali al-Nuaimi, a OPEC key figure and among the first to arrive for a two-day meeting that starts Monday, gave unqualified support for increased production. When asked if his country, the world's biggest oil producer, backed a rise in the group's headline output figure, Nuaimi replied "absolutely yes".

Sheikh Ahmad had already proposed that the official quota be raised to 28.5 million bpd, which would be an all-time high since its creation in 1987.

An increase has also been backed to various degrees by the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Iran and Indonesia.

The decision must be made by all 11 OPEC ministers expected to attend the meeting, but the Saudi position makes it likely the others will go along. Yet analysts and OPEC officials maintain that the real reasons for high oil prices lie elsewhere.

Nuaimi acknowledged there was no real demand for more crude oil now, but added: "You have to look forward beyond today.

"Our next meeting is in December and things can change between now and December," when winter begins in many industrialized countries. In Abu Dhabi, UAE Energy Minister Mohammad bin Dhaen al-Hamli told the official WAM news agency Saturday: "Should crude prices remain at their current levels or rise, the upcoming ministerial meeting might decide to increase production by an adequate amount in order to calm world oil markets."

But he added that along with Iraq -- the production of which is not included in OPEC's official quota -- the cartel was already pumping around 30.2 million bpd.

The announcement of an increase therefore might not put much more crude oil on the market. Crude oil prices eased further last week, while remaining above the 60 dollar-a-barrel level some analysts have tipped as a short-term floor.

Prices were nonetheless well off the record of 70.85 dollars hit in New York on August 30 after Hurricane Katrina slammed into the U.S. Gulf coast.

Nuami reiterated the Saudi and market view that responsibility for high prices lay further along the production line, in particular with inadequate refining capacity, and pointed to destruction wrought by Katrina.

"You know better than I do where the constraints are, they are not on the supply side of crude oil," Nuaimi said.

They were, he continued, on the so-called downstream side that includes refining, where the hurricane damaged infrastructure that converts crude oil into products such as gasoline (petrol) and heating fuel. As for signs that growth of demand was slowing in major oil consuming countries such as China and the United States, the Saudi minister suggested that could also change within the coming months.

OPEC producers yesterday prepared to postpone action on extra crude supply, falling short of expectations among some consumer countries hoping for immediate relief from fuel price inflation.

The Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries was near a deal to make available its remaining spare production, but only when needed in a world market short of refined product, rather than crude, ministers said. "We will collectively make a pledge to have the spare capacity available if needed, but I don't believe it is needed," said Nigerian Oil Minister Edmund Daukoru.

OPEC was likely to agree to a resolution that would vow to release the spare 2 million barrels a day should it be required, said OPEC President Sheikh Ahmad Al-Fahd Al-Sabah. Official output quotas for 10 member countries would be kept unchanged at a ceiling of 28 million bpd, he said.

"We have the 2 million available if there is a call for it ó there is no need for raising the ceiling," Sheikh Ahmad said. Oil prices had eased from a record $70.85 a barrel in the three weeks since Hurricane Katrina hit US Gulf oil facilities. But crude rebounded sharply yesterday, rising $3.55 to $66.55 a barrel by 1620 GMT as another tropical storm threatened the region.

Analysts said OPEC appeared to be trying to tread a fine line between reassuring consumer countries that spare capacity is readily available without forcing unnecessary supply on to the market. "OPEC wants to be perceived as part of the solution, not part of the problem," said consultant Yasser Elguindi of Medley Global Advisors.

"But they don't want to send the wrong signal to the market. They want to continue a loose supply policy, meaning that if there's a crude problem, which there isn't now, they can supply it." Europe, rather than the United States, has led calls for more oil from OPEC, even though there appears to be no way it can sell more to refiners.

UK Finance Minister Gordon Brown, representing the European Union, last week called for an extra 500,000 barrels a day.

Brown and his French counterpart Thierry Breton said they wanted G-7 officials to visit producer countries to help increase oil price transparency.

The call coincided with the conclusion by OPEC of a long-term strategy plan that seeks to provide transparency about how it operates.

IRAN LOWERS BANKING RATES

The Minister of Economic Affairs and Finance said here Saturday that one of the government's important priority is to lower banking loan rates.

Davud Danesh-Jaffari told reporters that policies have been devised to counter inflation and lower banking loan rates. To achieve these aims, it is essential for the government to opt for fiscal discipline. "Unless discipline is infused in the system, there will be no opportunity to rein in inflation."

He said that this requires that plans would be implemented within a comprehensive economic framework. The government has also been barred from running budget deficits and is to fulfill its obligations to the banking system due to previous borrowings.

Also, there would be solutions laid out to strike a balance between demand and supply in using banking facilities so that some of the larger banking customers, who primary hail from the state sector, have access to varied sources in meeting their financial needs, the Economic Affairs and Finance Minister added.

These steps will reduce pressure on the banking sector and customers could tap into financial markets which are all helpful in lowering inflation. Danesh-Jaffari also reiterated the need for interaction with world economy in a way to ensure mutual interests. He alluded to several ways to revive the stock markets. The law on support and promotion of foreign investments in the stock market has been approved which would pave the way for inflow of foreign capital into the market.

Other officials have sounded alarm on the potential negative effects of lowering banking rates on the economy. An economy official said here in May that the bill on reduction of bank's lending rates would have many negative ramifications on demand deposits, lending ability and structure of banks.

Former Deputy Economy and Finance Minister for Banking and Insurance Affairs Seyyed Hamid Purmohammadi said that since the volume of liquidity is important for industrialists, banks should strive to attract deposits and expand pay-out of loans to the industrial and manufacturing sector. "If the demand for loans increases and their price drops, then it will create a conducive atmosphere for corruption and damage to banking funds." †Higher demand will create a shortage of supply of banking resources and banking clients including industrialists and entrepreneurs will be forced to look outside the official markets for funds which, invariably, carry higher rates.

If banks cut their loan rates by 4.5 percent in the next 18 months, as the bill stipulates, then they should either make alternative revenues from other sources, reduce expenditures or incur losses. This is because the revenues and profits generated by banks are lower than the level at which they might otherwise be able to afford the costs inherent in the provisions of the bill, Purmohammadi underlined.

BMI OPENING BRANCHES IN PAKISTAN AND IRAQ

In its bid to gain a foothold in the region, Bank Melli Iran (BMI) is planning to open branch offices in Iraq and Pakistan.

"After the necessary negotiations were carried out with Iraqi officials from the Central Bank of Iraq, they will most possibly issue the license to establish the BMI branch office in that country within the next month", a fax report quoted Mohsen Qadimi as saying.

He added that BMI's long-term strategy is to develop banking system in the region and, in line with the very same goal, the Future Bank of Bahrain as well as the Aryan Bank of Afghanistan have started to work during the past two years.

Following the opening of a branch of BMI in Iraq, the bank has on its agenda to open another branch office in Pakistan, the bank official also explained.

Currently, the BMI has 12 branch offices outside the country as well as 4 independent banks in different countries across the world.

IRAN'S NEW PLAN FOR RESOLVING NUCLEAR STANDOFF

After President Mahmud Ahmadinejad presented Iran's new plan for resolving the nuclear standoff with the West on Saturday, diplomats in Vienna reacted in various ways, which shows that each of the supporters and opponents of Iran's nuclear activities have become more determined in their positions. The new stance adopted by Iran has created a new atmosphere in Vienna, which can be called the "New York shock".

According to the Mehr News Agency correspondent in Vienna, even though Vienna-based diplomats have been holding negotiations on Iran's nuclear dossier for several days in preparation for the Monday meeting of the International Atomic Energy Agency Board of Governors, the spirit of the talks will be affected by Ahamdinejad's speech to the UN General Assembly.

Although Western delegations in Vienna had taken a more cautious view of Iran's nuclear dossier until recently, under the influence of the United States, they began preparing to draw up a tough draft resolution on Iran's nuclear program for the IAEA Board meeting after the Iranian president's speech and the announcement of the latest positions of Britain, France, and Germany.

The European Union trio, along with traditional allies like Canada and Australia and some small EU states, are adopting a tough position in response to Iran's strong stance on its right to possess the complete nuclear fuel cycle and its insistence that its cooperation with the IAEA is conditional on the agency not deviating from its legal and technical course. On the other hand, the Non-Aligned Movement members of the board, along with Russia, China and some other developing and independent countries, welcomed Iran's principled position and emphasized Iran's transparent cooperation with the IAEA. They stated that the extension of an invitation to the public and private sectors of their countries to participate in Iran's nuclear activities is in line with Iran's legal right and expressed their opposition to any threats against Tehran.

Currently 12 countries, the United States, Canada, Britain, France, Germany, Australia, the Netherlands, Sweden, Slovakia, Portugal, Belgium, and Poland, will definitely support a resolution that calls for restricting Iran's uranium enrichment-related activities. Mexico will probably join them. However, Japan, South Korea, Italy, and Argentina could adopt positions closer to those of that group under certain circumstances.

However, the MNA correspondent says Iran's active diplomatic efforts in recent days have gained momentum, and its position has been consolidated in the IAEA. Now, about 11 countries, China, India, Algeria, South Africa, Ghana, Tunisia, Yemen, Vietnam, Venezuela, Nigeria, and Sri Lanka support IAEA-supervised peaceful nuclear activities by Tehran and the settlement of the remaining ambiguities about Iran's nuclear program with the agency. Singapore and Pakistan will probably join this group. Russia can also be added to the supporters of Iran. Meanwhile, Brazil, Ecuador, Peru, and Argentina can be regarded as swing votes, but they will not abstain. An abstention would be equivalent to voting against the resolution.

If no country switches sides during the IAEA Board meeting, the fate of any resolution will be unclear. If Russia and India strongly support the NAM grouping, the advocates of a resolution against Iran will most likely face defeat for the first time.

Along with China, NAM plans to demonstrate a stronger position on Iran's nuclear dossier, which can be interpreted as a new development in the IAEA.

Vienna-based diplomats believe that the recent insistence by Tehran that its cooperation with the IAEA will remain dependent on respect for its nuclear rights within the framework of the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty is a new warning to the IAEA to refrain from taking politicized decisions.