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15 feb 2010

Schizo Roads

They did it again! Since I moved in my current apartment the roads to my place have changed at least a dozen times. Some were cancelled, others were temporarily closed, others were blocked to allow construction, new were created, some were enlarged, some were connected, others disconnected. Every time without notice, often without a justification, in some cases without a logic.
Now they have closed off a roundabout. Drivers are forced into a right turn. If you need to go straight or left that's tough luck. You can't. Nor you can make a turn into the neighborhood anymore. There is only one way of access and it can be taken only from one direction. Which means that you have to go down a couple of kilometrs and pass two traffic lights before you can make a U-turn.

It is true that Dubai is a work in progress, but it is hard to dispel the notion that bad planning predominates. And that this habit is not limited to roads. Because when a work is in progress, it is of paramount importance to understand where the plan is leading. Otherwise one is bound to get lost on a raod to nowhere.


In my professional life I had several occasions to meet with senior policy makers and leaders in several countries. Recently I participated in a meeting with a delegation from Georgia led by the Prime Minister Nikoloz Gilauri (accompanied by the Minister of Energy, the Director General of the Bank of Georgia and other diplomats and advisers).
Usually heads of governments are political figures, more at ease in forging compromises, dealing with allies (or foes) and mediating among conflicting interests. Rarely they take a keen interest in the details of policy issues and display a grasp of complex issues. That's why it was refreshing for me to see that Mr. Gilauri is an exception.
He asked questions, he demonstrated experience, he understood the implications of legal systems. In short, he was not the typical wheeler-dealer, but a competent professional. Which gives hopes that a country marred by a war with an autocratic and aggressive regime can raise to the challenge and modernize its economy.

9 feb 2010

Flooding in Riyadh

The rumors mill in the Gulf reports that in Saudi Arabia several businessmen have been arrested as a results of the investigations on the damages caused by the heavy rain in December that caused an unprecendeted flood in Jeddah. In essence the city was supposed to have set in place a drainage system, but apparently the funds allocated for this construction projects had been diverted to different purposes (or different pockets), confiding that heavy rains are a rarity in Arabia. But evidently the changes in weather patterns was fatal for an entrenched system of cozy relationships between contractors and officials.
Now, the comments, mood and gossip on the arrests in majilis and shisha joints are upbeat. If only it would rain in Riyadh, they say!!!!!

8 feb 2010

Competitiveness Guru - Part 2

Some complained that I have been too harsh in my post on Prof. Porter conference in Dubai. So II decided to give a broader account on the issues he stressed, as I recorded in my notes. They cover the general advice which is not specific to Dubai, although I choose those that are more relevant for Dubai and in general the GCC.

A sector where a local company is dominant rarely displays innovation and is competitive. In fact if a business is not forced to compete at home it will not be able to compete worldwide. Therefore it will essentially stagnate possibly under some form of explicit or veiled protectionist policy. Essentially a country needs both domestic and foreign companies to foster growth (the example of Wall Street or Silicon Valley are paradigmatic).

No country can be successful in all sectors. Core competencies and competitive advantages must be leveraged. This means that having too many clusters is not wise, because stretches the resources.

Competitiveness also requires sound macroeconomic policies (fiscal and monetary) because rarely growth is nurtured in a high inflation environment and in a bankrupt country and social infrastructure, ie education, rule of law, health and effcient political institutions.

And lastly Prof. Porter remarked that companies need to well managed, and decision making must be transparent, with official accountable for their decisions.

All in all few earth shaking novelties but definitely a useful list of reminders.