And, when you want something, all the universe conspires in helping you to achieve it.”
When Paulo Coelho wrote his The Alchemist, he probably had no idea that this motivational quote would not work magic in Bahrain, a country that prides in being the top destination globally for expats, but where the ‘kafala’ system still holds sway.
There isn’t dearth of stories of how local CR “owners” have kicked out their expat “lessees” after the business has been firmly established. And since by law, the business is the property of the CR owner, the tenant can only cringe to see his hard work swooped up, just like a strong animal snatches prey from the mouth of a weaker animal.
The lessee has no proof of ownership. From the lease and utility agreements to the cheques, everything is in the CR owner’s name.
Maybe the legal system would let the predator in this case go scot-free for ‘lack of or no evidence’, but there isn’t a belief system on earth that doesn’t state accountability before a more powerful being one day. I wonder if their worldly excuses will save them then.
And although the government has long introduced investment visas where foreigners can fully own their businesses, the majority of the businesses undertaken are through commercial registrations owned by Bahrainis and rented out to expats.
Why is it that there is no societal concern against the kafala system? Some argue it provides a means of livelihood to Bahrainis. This affirms the impression that Bahrainis love to live off CR rents. After all, it’s easy money and no hard work.
But the way I see it, it opens doors to complacency; has the element of injustice in it; and might even curb true economic movement.
As beings with strong growth aspiration, no one likes his potential to be curbed. People love recognition and reward. Look at the innovation around us. Much of it has come from societies, where individuals are given the chance to express their creativity, in environments free of fear of losing your labour.
Given the chance, people in this region can do the same.
The kafala system on the contrary is injustice that begets injustice. You would have heard of those rare stories of CR lessees exploiting the authority issued to them by the CR owners and where they have made off with large sums of money landing the CR owner in the dock for debts or dud cheques.
Furthermore, an expat can’t even apply for his own identity card. He is at the mercy of his kafeel or some clearing agent, who will always charge him unfairly.
It’s hard for me to believe we are in the 21st century when I see free human beings chained to their feet by these puny mortal lords, who dictate with authority those under their sponsorship.
I understand this as a policy is meant to offer livelihood opportunities to Bahrainis. But rather than seeing it as lazy money, why don’t we use it as means to create commerce.
There also should be a foolproof system where complaints against rogue “kafeels” are taken seriously and acted upon so that justice can be meted out to the victims. Let them be equal partners in the business.
I know there are sane heads in the government that want to take Bahrain forward as a modern, 21st century country. But there are serious mental roadblocks at the societal level that need to be addressed so we can move ahead in cohesion.
End the kafala system is all I suggest and unleash creativity.
And by the way, renting out CRs is not Islamically valid unless you are partners, say the scholars.