“Small business is the backbone of our economy. It’s where the jobs are generated.” – Michele Bachmann
There I was: bloody, bruised and battered at the final boss’s office.
I was applying for a new company. I had been jumping through hoops, madly cutting red tape, conforming and contorting like a circus freak.
This was my seventh rejection by the system and I was tired of explaining why I could open this company.
I was exhausted from pleasing pencil pushers with itchy trigger fingers. I was done calling my contacts for wasta.
After making my case and explaining I was within legal parameters, I gave the final boss a tired look and said: “It’s so sad that I (a local) have to go through this each time I want to start a company, meanwhile foreigners get all the support they need.”
That seemed to strike a chord. My application was finally accepted the next day.
I was depleted before I even launched. I felt like my gas tank was on empty.
There seem to be obstacles around every corner. Conflicting rules and regulations from different ministries, as well as unclear legislation.
I must have a rental agreement with a physical address before I can get a Commercial Registration (CR), so the clock is ticking from day one.
All I do is bleed money while I wait. Waiting on anything is a cash flow killer.
I must say the IT system of the Industry, Commerce and Tourism Ministry (Sijilat) is great because I don’t need to physically go there anymore – and virtually everything is done online.
Response times are fantastic and the staff are well trained. But that’s not really the point.
Things are just very difficult and approvals are few and far between when it comes to complex CRs.
Our institutions are meant to support the Bahraini – the newspapers say it, all majlises talk about it. But what’s happening on the ground is far removed.
What’s worse is that we have almost completely surrendered our market to international “investors”.
Almost any nationality can open a company with minimal capital and no local partner.
What’s worse is that they get the same support designed for locals (if not better).
That might be OK in a mature market with many checks and balances, but what’s happening in Bahrain is quite dangerous and I have two examples.
First, I saw a case in which a young Asian man started a management consultancy company with BD1,000 in capital.
He went on to flood the market with cheap accounting, VAT and audit solutions, taking cash up front.
His licence specifically states he is not allowed to practice any accounting, VAT or audit, but nobody realised that because customers don’t know the difference.
He had a desk at a business centre and no employees, except for a freelance sales team.
Will he still be in Bahrain in a few months to actually do the work? Stay tuned.
Secondly, Asian employees of a Bahraini construction maintenance company quit, got flexi-permits, rented a CR from a Bahraini and took all their previous employers’ clients at half the price due to much lower overheads.
It took their previous employer years to build those clients and they were lost in the blink of an eye.
I think the flexi-permit is a great initiative in principle, but its current structure leaves much to be desired.
We need to build and support local talent – and export global goods and services. Not the other way around.
Locals are fighting for scraps as a large amount of wealth evaporates overseas.
The only people who remain will be the Bahrainis. Everyone else is only here for a visit.
There was wisdom in our old way of doing things.
Having a local partner is vital to ensure wealth stays in the country.
Protecting the Bahraini from foreign competition is important because if you break the local populace, already burdened with high fees, you’ve basically broken the market.