OUTLOOK — By Mohammed Al Rahbi — He sat outside his small shop which used to be a large store some years ago prior to the emergence of big supermarkets and hypermarkets. His is a story of a bitter reality experienced not only by him alone but also by many small traders amid cut-throat unbalanced competition with large commercial stores and an Asian trade lobby dominating the goods market and gripping the necks of the likes of this simple citizen trader and with Omani approval that paved the way before expatriate traders and allowed them to grow rich at the expense of the country and the small traders.
It was as if those expat traders were given the benefit of the trade while the citizens are given the commercial register and the official permission only to prove that Omanisation does exist and that the expatriate worker is nothing more than a porter or shop assistant. Our trader who has spent fifty long years in the business of which thirty years he spent working with the main distributor of foodstuff in the Sultanate, has told me about the erosion of the middle class and explained in detail the deterioration of living conditions experienced by this echelon of the society amid rising food prices. He said both, the consumers and the small traders, are suffering from the skyrocketing goods prices and there is nothing they can do about it. He enumerated tens of examples of commodities whose prices increased more than a hundred per cent.
I asked him whether he discussed the matter with any officials of the Public Authority for Consumer Protection (PACP). He praised a PACP’s employee with whom he established a strong friendship and mentioned that he frequently asks him whether the PACP has a real capacity to change the situation or is it meant for collecting statistics and information and nothing beyond that. He said: “Close to my shop is a commercial store run by Asians and the store’s owner is satisfied with a specific amount of money given to him by the Asian at the end of each month because he opted for comfort unlike me. We have been struggling against all odds but we earn only little. Those Asian traders with whom we have been dealing for three decades refuse to delay an overdue bill for few days and I am sure they do not deal in such a way with their countrymen. All these are attempts to drive us away from the marketplace. They are dominating all trade activities and control commodities movement from the country of origin to the port and from distribution centres to retailer outlets in every town and village”
We delved into the matter of government purchases where the people in charge prefer to buy commodities from a single agent even if he sells the goods at exorbitant prices.
I put before him the question I frequently ask: Why do they not fight monopoly and prevent the ministries and government establishments from dealing with one distributor so as to boost competitiveness and enable the small and medium projects to have a share in the government cake instead of leaving it all to only one distributor?
My interlocutor clapped one hand against the other and said: “The weakness lies in us, when the government opened the doors of livelihood for us we opted for the quick but meager gains since we can collect it without putting much effort. How can we be successful when the elements of success are no longer in our hands? Other people are now making the best of commodity trade and we pay double price. Our chances to gain ground against those people are diminishing.”