Mondays with Matthew: A level playing field and an honest game

Post by Matthew Lodge

corruption

Today – 9 December – is United Nations’ World Anti-Corruption Day. Is this just another “World Day”, or is it something that really matters and that we should take an interest in?

Before you answer that, let me note a few things about Kuwait that I have learned or have been reminded of since arriving in the summer:

Kuwait is an open society, with a rich history built on trade and commerce. Kuwait’s political system is more open and genuinely democratic than almost all of its neighbours in the region. This is a society with an independent judiciary, where Kuwaitis believe in the rule of law, value their rights and cherish their ability to express their views openly and freely. Kuwait is also a rich country – with abundant wealth which the Government uses to provide extensive, high quality services for Kuwaiti citizens. Kuwaiti assets are invested across the world and in international markets. But not all Kuwaitis are rich. Kuwait, like all societies in the modern world, needs to think about how best it can maintain social harmony and address the legitimate expectations of all its people.

True? I believe so. You may argue some points of detail, but the key elements are accurate.

So let’s now turn to corruption, former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan said:

“Corruption…undermines democracy and the rule of law, leads to violations of human rights, distorts markets, erodes the quality of life and allows organised crime, terrorism and other threats to human security to flourish…corruption hurts the poor disproportionately by diverting funds intended for development, undermining a government’s ability to provide basic services, feeding inequality and injustice”

Undermining democracy? Distorting markets? Undermining a government’s ability to provide services? Feeding inequality and injustice?

Left unchecked, those strike me as pretty serious risks for any society. I would argue that tackling corruption is something that should matter to us all – British, Kuwaiti or whatever our home or nationality. No country is immune. Corruption is present in every society.

Some may argue that it is part of every-day life, necessary to get things done. Even if it is, sadly, true to say that a favour here, a back-hander there can help to get things done, that doesn’t make it right. It doesn’t change the fact that corruption erodes trust between people, within societies, between businesses and amongst nations. Corruption diverts resources from where they are most needed, fuelling inequality and holding back development. Corruption also stifles economic growth and investment, and it increases the cost of doing business.

So what are we going to do about it?

Kuwait signed the United Nations Convention against Corruption in December 2003, and today the Kuwaiti Government is taking concrete steps with the establishment of Kuwait’s Anti-Corruption Public Authority. This body – and the wider fight against corruption – deserves our full support.

What are you going to do? Do you think corruption is a problem? Do you even have a clear view on what is and isn’t corruption? How do you think we can help combat it? It’s down to each of us individually to take a stand, and try to make a difference.

Post by Matthew Lodge
British Ambassador to Kuwait
Instagram: @HMAMatthewLodge Twitter: @HMAMatthewLodge


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27 comments, add your own...


  1. terp&tine says:

    Matthew – I think its too early for you to be making definitive statements on Kuwait that some of us who have lived here our whole lives know not to be true. As has been evidenced in the past, Kuwait is only an open society if you aren’t homosexual, expat, have differing political opinions, are anti war – or any number of other things to consider.

    and terms like ‘rich’ are of course subjective – as we have all learned from the recent coining of the phrase ‘1%’ – How many Kuwaitis would fall in the top 10 percent? top 20? 30? Kuwaitis are rich, comparatively. I don’t know any living on the streets or struggling to put food in their mouths. Everything is relative.

    • Murrka says:

      You can’t blame the guy for thinking that way. They probably only expose him to things and situations in where the country has its very best foot forward. You think they would let him see a single apartment packed with third country national workers living in dismal conditions in places like Mahboula? I think not.

      • terp&tine says:

        fair point. But this whole thing – it justseems the equivalent of reading relationship advice from divorced or cheating celebs. yknow!?

        • Terp&tine, That’s a fair criticism. Just to be clear – I am not trying or presuming to offer advice. I want to stimulate a conversation and offer a perspective. I am also aware that it is very early for me to be drawing conclusions. Call them initial impressions if you prefer. And of course, I am seeing things from a very privileged position. To be fair to one of my colleagues here, she advised me that my statements might be disagreed with. But isn’t Kuwait more open and more free than many others in the region? If so, that deserves recognition and a measure of praise, even if there is more to be done. As for my getting out and learning more about how ordinary Kuwaitis and others live, that’s something I want to do.

          • Kuwait says:

            Yes Kuwait is an open society – people who disagree may be unaware of Kuwait’s pre-oil history as a trade port and the ethnic diversity of Kuwaiti. Historic accounts of pre-oil Kuwait describe it as an open society. Kuwait is more tolerant of sectarian differences than its GCC neighbors – most Shia Kuwaitis are of Persian ancestry and Shia Kuwaitis are very well integrated in society unlike Shiites elsewhere in the Gulf.

          • Terp&tine says:

            Hi Matthew,

            It all depends really. Saudi takes up a lot of space – so if we are comparing Kuwait to saudi, we must seem like vegas. But Dubai, Bahrain and Oman are better places for expats (which of course, is the majority of the population here you must remember) if you are not looking at things from a purely financial perspective. There is a greater amount of equality (nowhere near perfect i’ll grant you) and mutual respect. You will find that in Kuwait – Kuwaitis, British, Americans and generally other Caucasian dominant country nationals tend to mix – whereas the other nationalities have to sort out deal with living in a secondary culture, outside of many of the privileges that are available to the first group. There is very little mixing between the cultures.

            You have a point that Kuwait is probably better to Kuwaitis than any of those other places are to their nationals – I’m sure there are a number of reasons for that. One being that in those other places there is more equality across the board, hence nationals are not put on a pedestal and opportunities abound for everyone (all very general statements, but I’m speaking in relative terms). In Kuwait, locals take an inordinately large slice of the pie believing it to be rightfully theirs – which is of course maintained by allowing expat neighbourhoods to go into ruin and squalor, major corporations cheating and not paying wages, slave labour across the board in the construction, transport, housmaid sectors and a number of racist policies that keep the low income expat population in need even though they do most of the work.

            if you are serious about seeing how others live – I recommend a trip to Jleeb al Shyouk into some of the rougher neighbourhoods – but only once and probably with someone that knows it well. You will be surprised at how one of the richest countrys in the world can allow their workers to live in such destroyed neighbourhoods.

            Or visit the labour camps. Or Al Razi hospital where the epidemic of maid abuse, a truly cultural phenomenon can witnessed first hand in the wards.

            In terms of Press Freedom, I believe there is an illusion that Kuwait is relatively free. But try and say something against the status quo – and that will soon turn ugly.

            I understand as Ambassador, your role is primarily to represent the UK to Kuwait and its nationals – which makes sense of course. But when you consider Kuwaitis are less than 50 percent of the population, understanding Kuwaitis is only understanding less than 50 percent of Kuwait.

            • Khodmooni says:

              There is plenty of cultural mixing between Kuwaitis and South Asians – many Bollywood music concerts in Kuwait feature Kuwaiti musicians, traditional Kuwaiti music is heavily influenced by Indian music and many Kuwaiti Arabic words are originally Indian.

            • kuwait says:

              Bahrain is not an example of equality or tolerance. There are locals in Bahrain living in much worse ghettos than migrants. Bahrain and Dubai are more segregated in neighborhoods, migrant workers in Dubai live in worse neighborhoods than those in Kuwait. Thousands of expats were recently deported from Bahrain due to sectarian reasons.

            • kuwait says:

              Terp&tine: It is clear that you have never visited the slave labour camps in Dubai, Bahrain and Oman.

          • Terp&tine says:

            Hi Matthew,

            It all depends really. Saudi takes up a lot of space – so if we are comparing Kuwait to saudi, we must seem like vegas. But Dubai, Bahrain and Oman are better places for expats (which of course, is the majority of the population here you must remember) if you are not looking at things from a purely financial perspective. There is a greater amount of equality (nowhere near perfect i’ll grant you) and mutual respect. You will find that in Kuwait – Kuwaitis, British, Americans and generally other Caucasian dominant country nationals tend to mix – whereas the other nationalities have to deal with living in a secondary culture, outside of many of the privileges that are available to the first group. There is very little mixing between the two sets of cultures.

            You have a point that Kuwait is probably better to Kuwaitis than any of those other places are to their nationals – I’m sure there are a number of reasons for that. One being that in those other places there is more equality across the board, hence nationals are not put on a pedestal and opportunities abound for everyone (all very general statements, but I’m speaking in relative terms). In Kuwait, locals take an inordinately large slice of the pie believing it to be rightfully theirs – which is of course maintained by allowing expat neighbourhoods to go into ruin and squalor, major corporations cheating and not paying wages, slave labour across the board in the construction, transport, housmaid sectors and a number of racist policies that keep the low income expat population in need even though they do most of the work.

            if you are serious about seeing how others live – I recommend a trip to Jleeb al Shyouk into some of the rougher neighbourhoods – but only once and probably with someone that knows it well. You will be surprised at how one of the richest countrys in the world can allow their workers to live in such destroyed neighbourhoods.

            Or visit the labour camps. Or Al Razi hospital where the epidemic of maid abuse can witnessed first hand in the wards.

            I’m sure even in your short time you have heard of wastha – which loosely translates to nepotism. In Kuwait, depending on who you know, you might be able to get away with ANYTHING … and many, many people have.

            I understand as Ambassador, your role is primarily to represent the UK to Kuwait and its nationals – which makes sense of course. But when you consider Kuwaitis are less than 50 percent of the population, understanding Kuwaitis is only understanding less than 50 percent of Kuwait.

      • kuwait says:

        Low-income migrant workers live in dismal conditions in all parts of the world. This problem isn’t just limited to Kuwait.

        Have you seen how low-income migrant workers live like in the UAE and Qatar?

      • cest says:

        Kuwait is not the only rich country in the world where migrants reside in run-down neighbourhoods. Maybe you should visit migrant suburbs around Paris.

        There are neighbourhood areas in Paris and France that truly are no go (lawlesness). Even the police don’t dare to visit those areas:

        – Seine-Saint-Denis (Saint-Denis, Saint-Ouen),
        – Paris (Paris XVIIIe)
        – les Yvelines (Mantes-la-Jolie, Mantes-la-Ville)
        – l’Essonne (Corbeil-Essonne), la Somme (Amiens)
        – le Nord (Lille), l’Oise (Méru et Chambly)
        – la Moselle (Fameck et Uckange)
        – le Bas-Rhin (Strasbourg)
        – le Rhône (Lyon IXe), les Bouches-du-Rhône (Gardanne et Bouc-Bel-aire)
        – Marseille (Marseille IIIe, XIIIe, XIVe, XVe et XVIe)
        – le Gard (Vauvert et Saint-Gilles)
        – l’Hérault (Lunel et Mauguio)
        – la Guyane (Cayenne, Matoury, Remire-Montjoly)

        The position of migrants in France is.. well utterly crap. And in some parts of England its not any better.

        The large migrant riots which happened in France a few years ago shows how much tension there is within that society.

  2. 3azeez says:

    “How do you think we can help combat it?”

    Can stop shaking their hands, going to their Dewaniyas and treating them like dignitaries when they visit your country?

  3. Kuwait says:

    Great post!

  4. Terp&tine says:

    Hi Matthew – sorry my rather lengthier explanation doesnt seem to be making here. But in summary – Kuwait is freer for SOME ppl it’s true. But when you consider that the majority of Kuwait’s population is mostly comprised of low income expat workers, it has to be conceded that there are a great many ways to do life in Kuwait and that more than half of the experience is not a Kuwaiti one. Dubai, Bahrain and Oman are all better places for non western expats and they experience more opportunities and freedom there than here – whereas as a result of that, Kuwait is able to put its locals on a pedestal and treat them VERY differently from low income expats (speaking generally of course and not merely from an income perspective). Hence freer? only to the much smaller minority.

    • kuwait says:

      60% of Kuwait’s population is Arab

    • kuwait says:

      Low-income migrant workers are NOT the demographic majority in Kuwait. 60% of Kuwait’s population is Arab (including Arab expats). Most Arab expats aren’t low income.

      Arabs are the demographic majority in Kuwait.

    • koot says:

      The International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) confirmed that migrant workers in Kuwait have legal protection (unlike migrant workers in UAE and Qatar). The ITUC concluded that the situation of low income migrants in Kuwait is better than MOST parts of the GCC.

      Expat workers in Kuwait can join trade unions and strike. Kuwait has a minimum wage for foreign workers, unlike all other GCC states.

      According to the 2014 Global Rights Index by the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC), Kuwait, Bahrain and Oman are the best GCC countries for migrant workers. The global rights index was created based on 97 indicators such as workers exposure to systematic physical violence/threats/intimidation, workers right to strike and workers guaranteed protection under the law.

      http://248am.com/mark/news/kuwait-one-best-countries-work-gulf/

      Kuwait came in category 4. The 97 indicators are strictly related to workers rights and civil liberties. Check out the full study:
      http://www.ituc-csi.org/IMG/pdf/survey_ra_2014_eng_v2.pdf

      Migrant workers in the UAE and Qatar are not allowed to join trade unions, aren’t allowed to strike and don’t have a minimum wage. In addition, migrant workers in the UAE and Qatar aren’t guaranteed protection under the law.

      Kuwait has laws in place which guarantee workers protection, whether these laws are enforced or not is another matter. Migrant workers in Kuwait are legally allowed to join trade unions and strike, some expat workers in Kuwait have joined trade unions.

  5. Zein says:

    Thank you Mr. Ambassador for addressing this topic! Yes of course it is a problem…a very big problem….and a very contagious one as well!

  6. James says:

    Corruption? I’m just wondering where all the money governments collect through “fines” and from their oil really goes. Dubai has seen infrastructure growth and some other countries who are more resource rich have not implemented any MAJOR infrastructure changes since 1990. When traffic explodes look at blaming expats who they invited over instead of wondering where all the money went and why infrastructure hasn’t been improved. I wonder why a government would not modernize their airport and airline fleet – because its used probably by expats while the people who have the money have an alternative airport so why worry about the rest. Oh its expats not corruption!

  7. dfine says:

    Interesting,
    There is defiantly a problem with equal rights in Kuwait, meaning Kuwaiti versus Expats. Unless your white from the west and you know someone and have the money your fu…ed

    Look at the labors, they are terrified to the point this country will never move forward. You think their all lazy by choice?
    They are terrified to make mistakes, because either they get kicked out,abused or thrown in jail. Do you think they will reach justice if a Kuwaiti puts his eye on him?

    Start with the justice system then you concur the corruption.

  8. koot says:

    Lots of biased, close-minded comments here trying to glorify Dubai, which has been dubbed a modern day slave state by the International Trade Union Confederation. Migrant workers in Kuwait live in better conditions and have more rights than their counterparts in Dubai. You’re not a low income migrant worker so please refrain from pretending. Bahrain has a modern day Apartheid system in which Bahraini citizens are segregated into neighborhoods on the basis of sect and ethnic origin. Bahrain is another South Africa.

  9. sami says:

    This is arguably one of the dumbest arguments I’ve heard. Maybe all of the world’s richest countries should accommodate millions of low-income migrant workers by giving them financial benefits and free housing. How do you justify your request for government welfare to expats in other rich countries when half the population of the United States is up in arms against food stamps being given to citizens of their own country?

    I wonder what would happen if I was a low income migrant in the USA. Will the United Socialist Utopia of America help me survive with government handouts and free housing, and maybe a free butler while we’re at it?

    Stop portraying Kuwaitis as the villains.

    Kuwaitis can’t find jobs while expats make up more than two thirds of population. Please don’t start giving me examples like Kuwaitis not willing to work as street cleaners or in hospitality services, there are thousands and thousands of jobs that can be done by Kuwaitis and currently being done by expats, that includes government jobs as well as the private sector.

    Kuwait has a severe housing crisis, many Kuwaitis are cramped in tiny apartments with 5 kids. Expats live in Kuwait City, Hawally, Salmiya, Jabriyah… and Kuwaitis have to wait 20 years to get a plot of land for a house near the borders.

    Most expats earn 300 dinars max (which is enough for them to afford in South Asia big houses, staff, cars, lands, properties ,etc) while Kuwaitis earn around 1,200 dinars on average (and they still live in a tiny apartments until their kids are 20 years old).

    The bread you eat, the water you drink, and the petrol you use are all subsidized with Kuwait’s revenue. Meanwhile many Kuwaitis are struggling to get by

    http://news.kuwaittimes.net/poor-kuwait/

    Right now, expats are in Kuwait, benefiting from all the subsidies on food, electricity, water, municipality services, roads, health care and so on… Just like any Kuwaiti citizen. Yes there are other “financial” advantages for Kuwaiti citizens. These financial benefits are the reason why many want Kuwaiti citizenship.

    50% of Kuwaitis are in debt. The run-down slum of Jleeb Shuyoukh isn’t going to change overnight when you villainize Kuwaitis.

  10. ask says:

    Emiratis are more privileged than Kuwaitis.

    Thousands and thousands of Kuwaitis held massive demonstrations and protests in 2010, 2011, 2012 and 2013. Why is that? Why are the Kuwaitis tolerating the scorching heat and tear gas?

    If Kuwaitis are more privileged and taking a bigger slice of the cake, there wouldn’t be any protests in the first place

    Emiratis are much more privileged therefore the UAE didn’t have protests.

  11. Kuwaiti says:

    Kuwaiti society is much open than other Gulf Arab societies, this is widely acknowledged among local Gulf Arabs from other GCC countries.

    Among the Gulf states, Kuwait has:

    * Highest percentage of local women who don’t wear the abaya

    * Highest percentage of local women who work (female labour force participation)

    * Highest percentage of local women who don’t wear the hijab

    * Highest percentage of local women studying at Western universities abroad

    * Highest percentage of locals dating (openly)

    * Highest percentage of locals wearing Western clothing

    99.9% of Qatari/Omani/Saudi/Emirati women wear the black abaya because in those societies, it’s not socially acceptable for local women to not wear the abaya

    In Omani/Emirati/Saudi/Qatari societies, the local women who don’t wear the abaya are labeled sluts by society

    Throughout the Gulf, if you ask Emiratis, Qataris, Bahrainis, Saudis and Omanis: who are the most liberal Gulf Arabs? They all say that Kuwaitis are the most liberal Gulf Arabs

  12. Kuwaiti says:

    Kuwaiti society is much more open than other Gulf Arab societies, this is widely acknowledged among local Gulf Arabs from other GCC countries.

    Among the Gulf states, Kuwait has:

    * Highest percentage of local women who don’t wear the abaya

    * Highest percentage of local women who work (female labour force participation)

    * Highest percentage of local women who don’t wear the hijab

    * Highest percentage of local women studying at Western universities abroad

    * Highest percentage of locals dating (openly)

    * Highest percentage of locals wearing Western clothing

    99.9% of Qatari/Omani/Saudi/Emirati women wear the black abaya because in those societies, it’s not socially acceptable for local women to not wear the abaya

    In Omani/Emirati/Saudi/Qatari societies, the local women who don’t wear the abaya are labeled sluts by society

    Throughout the Gulf, if you ask Emiratis, Qataris, Bahrainis, Saudis and Omanis: who are the most liberal Gulf Arabs? They all say that Kuwaitis are the most liberal Gulf Arabs


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