"It's supposed to be three pillars," explained Adel Fakhro, a prominent member of the business community, when speaking to the OBG last week. "Economic reform, education and training reform, and labour market reform. They want to push ahead with the last one because they think time is running out... The thought process is good [but] my contention is that you cannot do that before you provide the education and the training to give us a Bahraini labour force."
Some therefore see the problem in terms of a skills gap that has to be addressed first. Whilst Bahrainis are well-educated, it is widely acknowledged that although the education system provides a good academic background to university level, it does not provide the vocational training necessary for a highly skilled labour force.
"There isn't Bahraini labour available, the unemployed have no skills, so if you begin to force labour charges and fees on the private sector to make foreign labour more expensive, then the next question is where is the Bahraini?" continued Fakhro. "Even jobs like drivers, you can't get them. How can the private sector be expected to hire from a pool of people where you can't even find a driver? Education, training and the labour market reforms must go hand in hand."
However, the harsh response to al-Khawajah's comments is also being widely seen as an attempt by some senior members of the government to scuttle any open process of consultation about deep-seated economic challenges - problems that have not hitherto been discussed so openly. Analysts highlight the fact that official endorsement of the reform proposals, now widely known as the Crown Prince's, is conspicuously absent from some members of the royal family.
Whilst the ramifications of the political scuffle take hold, most stakeholders in the economic reforms are happy that the issue has been raised by a senior member of the royal family and that a process of consultation has begun. Some vested interests will inevitably have to be challenged, as with any reform process. Hopefully though, this will not be to the detriment of Bahrain's path towards openness and accountability.
A very interesting and insightful article. Read the full article here.