Archive for October, 2010

You need wife sir?

29/10/2010

I went to get some ice from the garage today.

Unfortunately there was none left, as a customer had bought all the bags earlier in the day.

‘Can you make some more in the machine?’, I asked.

‘Yes sir. One bag every two minutes.’

‘OK, I’ll come back in fifteen minutes, as I need at least six bags’ I said.

‘Sorry sir, not enough time.’

Anyway, I came back in fifteen minutes and only three bags were ready. Fair enough – that’s still quite an impressive output for an ice machine.

When I was paying for my ice, one of the three Philipina ladies who’d been helping me with the ice situation asked if I was married. I said that I was.

‘That’s a shame sir. Our friend is looking for a nice white man husband.’

There was then lots of giggling and Evelyn, who’d been packing the ice into bags, had to blush and run into the stockroom.

So, I nearly came back from the petrol station with half the amount of ‘fresh bag ice’ I wanted, but with a new fiancee in tow.

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Passed away

24/10/2010

My mother died yesterday.

She had been unwell for a long time and the call from my father was both a shock but also not entirely unexpected.

I am very sad, but am also glad that she is not suffering any more.

She was a wonderful mum – loving, supportive, in charge but not strict, always encouraging.

She never complained when she was ill.

I spoke to her last week, fortunately. She was excited about my sister’s new job – Becca is moving to Muscat on Monday.

My cousin Ian sent me this lovely picture, taken in 1975. My mother is smiling at the camera, with my father next to her. It’s cold and it’s London, with Tower Bridge behind them.

Mummy would be 36 years old in the photo, the same age I turned today, my birthday.

We will miss her.

m and d.jpg

Retirement

19/10/2010

The image of the ‘youths’ around the overturned car in France pretty much sums what I feel is a disgraceful response to France’s pension reforms.

I can understand the grievances of people directly affected, but for most of this lot, it seems to be a chance to skip school and throw stones at the police. Pathetic. Are these 15 year olds really concerned about their pension? Idiots.

There also seems to be a complete lack of a sense of reality.

People, you can’t afford to carry on like you are – turning your country into a basketcase overnight and ruining whatever reputation is there for France as a place to do business is not going to help.

I hope the unions in the UK work with the government over our reforms and avoid encouraging this kind of disgusting behaviour on our side of the channel.

Tempting accommodation

17/10/2010

At these prices, I don’t think the Burj is going to be the exclusive place it was intended to be.

I predict noisy corridors filled with kids’ bikes and studios housing five or six non-cooking executive bachelors.

It’s tempting to move in at these prices just to be able to say you were one of the first to live there. I wonder what the quality’s like? Did they include better soundproofing than the 20cm wide breeze blocks separating dwellings that the developer judged suitable for our apartment?

A princess in Saudi

13/10/2010

A great audio slideshow from the BBC.

They don’t mention the city she visited – I am assuming it was Jeddah as they also went to Mecca.

I believe that Jeddah still has an ‘old town’ where some of the old buildings can still be seen. I hope I get to see them one day – infinitely more interesting, I expect, than the roundabout with ships embedded into the concrete and the rusty bits of metal used as sculptures by the corniche.

Sleazy Bakers

13/10/2010

These sorts of articles always brighten up my day.

Sleazy bakers of different nationalities. Disgraceful.

Tuition fees

12/10/2010

When I was home in the summer, there were two main topics in the papers, often discussed on alternate pages.

On one side would be an article featuring young people saying that they would be put off going to university if tuition fees went up and they were put in danger of being saddled with long term debt. On the next side would be an article featuring young people bemoaning the fact that they could not get mortgages high enough to pay for the property they wanted – they were unable to saddle themselves with long term debt. This always struck me as odd.

I was lucky – I went to university when there were no tuition fees. I did take out the student loans available to me to cover living expenses and paid them back at the extremely favourable rates offered once I started working.

Whilst it’d be nice if people were not forced to pay tuition fees in future, the key issue not being discussed in the various articles in the UK press is what borrowing options will be available for students. There’s a lot about leaving university in debt, but not much about how that debt is managed.

I can understand why someone might be put off at the thought of leaving university with 50,000UKP of debt. It’s a big sum – but the question is about how that debt is managed. In Britain we have a culture of buying your own property rather than renting or leasing. Taking out a mortgage for a house puts you into masses of debt. This is a socially acceptable debt people are happy to take on and manage.

Tuition fees could also be a socially acceptable debt. What matters is how you’re obliged to pay it back. What I don’t understand from the proposals currently being discussed is how the debt incurred by tuition fees will be managed. If it means paying off a minimal amount over your lifetime via a government loans scheme, who cares what the debt it, as long as it’s perfectly manageable? If there’s no help and people are being forced to take out bank loans at commercial rates, that something quite different.

Student loans had to start being paid back after you earnt more than 15,000UKP, with repayments being made on a sliding scale depending on your salary.

I have one friend who has never earned enough to have to pay back his student loans from the 90s. I was honest and told the student loans people what I was earning and paid mine back fairly quickly. Other people were less honest and paid the minimum amount back over several years after ‘forgetting’ to tell the student loans company when they started earning significantly more than the fifteen grand minimum. The debt was manageable.

So what are the options in terms of borrowing to fund tuition fees? We’ll have to wait for the government to make up its mind on the topic.

I am in favour of a government run loans scheme that will help students from all backgrounds fund their tuition fees. I am dead against the idea of a graduate tax. I think you should pay for your course, not be taxed for the rest of your life and pay potentially many times over the value of your tuition fees. This is grossly unfair. Besides, there is already a graduate tax in place – it’s called income tax. You get a degree, that improves your chances of getting a better job, which earns you more money and means you pay more income tax. Some sort of hypothecation style graduate tax is just not fair.

I would also like to see the current funding dilemma introduce some changes into Britain’s university system. Over the last few years there has been a huge rise in the numbers of people going to university. That’s a great thing in principle, but when I meet people who spent three years doing an eight hour a week ‘degree’ in film studies, you have to wonder if there’s value for money to be found across the current system. Film Studies is doubtless a valid course, but could it not be done in a year rather than three? I expect, with the current funding changes, we’re going to start seeing some rationalisation and quality control, which is a good thing.

All of this is a bit academic – I missed out on tuition fees and don’t have any university age children, so it’s easy for me to pontificate. I do hope, however, that we can get a system that gives value for money, keeps purely academic courses afloat and lets students pay for their course in a manageable way via loans scheme.

That way, people can graduate from university and be able to focus on the usual British conversational topic of what a burden their monthly mortgage payments are.

Housing ‘fee’ rage

12/10/2010

If there is one topic in Dubai guaranteed to send me into fits of rage, it is that of the ‘Housing Fee’.

The ‘housing fee’ is a tax imposed by the Municipality, charged annually at 5% of the value of a rental contract, or 0.05% of your sales contract value, paid at monthly intervals over the year.

It is positioned as being a ‘fee’ to cover local services such as rubbish collection and maintenance.

Fair enough – the Municipality is completely within its rights to charge whatever it wishes and, if we don’t like it, there are plenty of people on various Dubai forums who will offer to help us pack our bags and drive us to the nearest airport.

Unfortunately, the ‘fee’ has various issues, which I am sure the authorities will work out in due course.

Firstly, it’s not really a ‘fee’ – it’s a tax. It’s not based on real usage of services, it’s based on property ownership or rental and bears no relation to who actually uses what or how many people reside in the property concerned.

It’s also not really related to local services. I live in a private development and pay eye-wateringly high service fees to the developer to handle local services. It’s also extremely high – far higher than council tax rates in London, for example.

This might all sound like semantics, but it’s important – if you want people to get on board with paying for stuff, then at least call it what it is. It drives me crazy having to pay a ‘fee’ for something I already pay someone else to do. Just be straightforward and call it a Municipality Tax. Everyone benefits from what is, in general, excellent local infrastructure for the region and someone has to pay for that. Don’t dress it up as being about rubbish collection and garden maintenance, when the majority of ‘new Dubai’ already forks out a fortune to Emaar, Nakheel and other developments for these services.

It’s also calculated on a very odd basis for those people who own their own properties – people have paid varying amounts for similar properties which might be occupied by several people or by no-one, with each property paying a varying sum in tax.

It is also not collected or even charged evenly. It is supposed to be added to your utility bill each month and transferred to the Municipality.

Take my example. I was surprised to see 721Dhs added to my monthly DEWA bill when I moved in to my apartment three years ago. After ringing up various departments it became clear that there was no way I could get out of it. I had been automatically signed up to pay it when registering to get my water and electricity. Fair enough.

It took two and a half years, however, for the amount I was paying via my utility bill to stop simply being a credit and actually get transferred to the Municipality – during that time I was effectively paying the tax, but the Municipality wasn’t getting the money.

When we moved into our apartment, there was a period when its value reached three times what I paid for it. Other people in the building bought their apartments during that time and moved in – that means they are still paying three times what I am paying for their housing tax. Three times what I pay works out at $588 for a two bedroom apartment, per month, on top of around $10,000 per year in Emaar service fees. Ouch.

Most infuriating of all, around 50% to 60% of the people I know pay nothing whatsoever at all – nothing! I have paid 26,000Dhs ($7,000) over the last three years for my apartment. Most of my friends have not paid anything. Good for them, but hardly just.

The requirement to pay the housing tax has supposedly been around since 1962 and DEWA, the utility company, have everyone’s rental or property ownership contracts registered, so there’s no reason why the tax can’t be applied. It seems that they are taking a phased approach to charging it. I can understand that from a logistical and practical point of view, but it is still extremely unfair – why should some people pay and others not?

The phased and logistical approach also seems to be completely random. I assumed that since I was signed up to pay when I first registered with DEWA that all new registrations were being hooked up with to pay the tax. Not so. A good friend of ours who moved into his apartment about a year after us has just told me that he has paid nothing at all.

Recent announcements in the press suggest that moves are afoot to implement the tax for everyone and to link the amount for property owners to an average rental price for the area, as opposed to a percentage of the sales contract. Linking the tax to rental price is definitely a good move – I just feel sorry for people who’ve paid through the nose for years because they bought at the height of the boom. Even though we bought at a good time, it should also mean we pay less than we have been.

Even if they do get everyone signed up and paying by January 1, I still feel the amount charged is way too high.

As for the situation today… You have some people paying and some not. Of those who are paying, the tax isn’t being collected properly for everyone, as it’s sitting as a credit on the utility bill and not being transferred. Some people are paying way more than others for the same sized property. Those people in private developments whose service fees cover the services the tax is supposed to pay for are paying way more in tax for something they don’t use than people in areas actually served by the Municipality.

It’s possible to find a block of flats with similar properties filled with people paying nothing, people paying differing amounts and people paying the tax but the Municipality not getting the money.

I am sure the appropriate authorities are working on a wise and progressive solution to these problems and that everything will be sorted soon. I wonder, though, if I will be due a refund for paying too much or for paying for so long when others paid nothing? I’m not holding my breath.

For the sake of my sanity, this has to get sorted soon…