Consumed consumers!

Against all economic theories and all logic, consumers in Kuwait have no voice at all. First of all we have no choice but to consume because we only produce oil. Secondly we have no other amusement other than consuming. Thus, depriving us from products to consume will be like a punishment to us… not the supplier.
But the issue does not stop at this point, it goes beyond to other dimensions. As 'loyal' consumers, we are forced to settle for the quality and prices offered to us by local distributers for a number of reasons. The song lyrics 'power in the money' appears to be true in this case… There is not a single authority in Kuwait, or maybe even in the whole world, capable of standing in the way of that power.

The government has been repeatedly accused of tailoring legislations for the benefit of merchants, but I will not go that far. I rather simply assume that some corporations are becoming increasingly greedy and powerful by the day. Even the government doesn't seem to be able, and sometimes unwilling, to stand firmly against them, especially when it comes to issues like monopoly, price and quality standards of provided services.

The scene in the 'Fresh Prince of Bel-Air' when Will Smith gets busted by a policeman while he is drawing graphite on a wall and he pretends that the spray paint is just a deodorant represents my impression of government's anti-monopoly policy. They will take whatever justification they are given in order to not take any action.

Of course, the parliament doesn't have time for such issues, its members are busy classifying the six billion people on earth into two categories – those who are allowed to enter Kuwait, and those who are not. Now some of you might think that certain MPs are actually representing a family business at the National Assembly instead of representing the public interests, but I will not go this far… I will simply assume that there are people who are seeking their personal interests everywhere, including in the parliament.

One might think "I can always go to court to seek justice there!" which is true… However, you need to be aware that although justice (ideally) cannot be bought for money, the best attorneys in town can be hired for it and they know all the loopholes of every law that exists.

Even the courageous Kuwaiti press is tamed by advertisement cash, and they have little, if any, capacity to criticize business groups and corporations. I don't even want to start talking about media outlets completely owned by businesses, be it directly or indirectly, so let's just leave that aside.

Consumers are left defenseless. We have to pay the specified price for the service offered, otherwise we will simply stay without that service or product. Many industries are dominated by only one supplier. In a decent number of other cases, adding more providers didn't affect prices, nor quality of services, and we simply have to live with that.

Some companies are feeling comfortable in creating ways to channel that flow of oil revenue from government ever-inflating salary budget, through citizens, and then to their pockets and bank accounts.

The most annoying thing of all is that this does not seem to generate a public refusal or resistance. On the contrary, it has successfully produced 'consumer masochism' in Kuwait. The rather popular misconception that paying more is another good thing about any product or service is totally beyond my brain's coherent capacity. It is even somehow more shameful to argue about prices in Kuwait than in other countries. Yet everyone complains that his salary is not enough!

These are some of the effects of corporate dominance on lives of citizens of Kuwait. These effects are multiplied a thousand time in relation to the extremely vulnerable and easily-legally exploitable expat laborers. The longer this thing is kept hidden and not openly addressed the more money, power and influence these corporations will have over things essential for our very survival. An influence that is likely to become particularly dangerous with the recent tendency to 'give more power to the private sector'.

© Kuwait Times 2010

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