Ethics in Kuwait
Taken for a ride

April 1, 2006
By Marlene Johnston

The Gulf-wide outcry from foreign workers - mainly manual labourers - is hard to take when you know from direct experience the lack of ethics and almost criminal behaviour so many of them engage in. After two years of constant taxi rides, I've found that few taxi drivers in Kuwait have any professional or personal ethics. The schemes they employ are simple. Most taxi firms rent their vehicles to 'experienced drivers' who in return pay a fixed daily fee, which usually ranges from KD 4 to KD7 . Other drivers work directly for the firm and are paid a flat rate monthly for their 'driving' services.

Drivers falling into this second category also receive a percentage of their daily earnings, as an incentive for them to pick up and ferry more passengers and thus earn more for themselves and the company. They are supposed to report each customer's trip and destination in the wrap-up of the day's work. The driver's take is then determined as a percentage of the daily earnings based on the number of trips and length of destinations. The percentage depends on the age of the car and the contract the driver signed. But without a control or oversight system, many drivers aren't reporting their real earnings for the day, depriving many companies of their real per-day income.

How does it work? A customer is either provided a ride required by phone (the fee varies if you call from a company or a private number) or is picked up on the street (where bargaining is involved). In both cases, the driver is expected to inform the company's call centre about the passenger's destination. The office then allocates the amount of fee to be paid.

What happens in practice is that taxi drivers show no mercy when it comes to cheating their offices, customers or even number of rides. I've seen taxi drivers lie to their dispatchers about the address of my destination, one even claimed he had a flat tyre and another that he had an hospital emergency. I am used to unsuspecting drivers who think that the expat in the backseat who hardly mutters a simplified destination address could pick up some of their radio exchanges in Arabic. The dinar nus (KD1 .500) the dispatcher charges for the ride suddenly becomes dinarain (KD2 ) when the driver turns to me. When I tell the driver Shuwaikh, he quite often tells his dispatcher he's travelling to Khaldiya or Surra.

When I ask drivers about a clarification on the address, I'm told it's a total misunderstanding. The driver pretends like I've misunderstood their 'translation' to the dispatcher. OK, maybe once or twice, I got it wrong. But twenty times in a row?  And always, the driver says, "No problem, Madam. No problem." I've also seen drivers pretend to call their dispatchers and then ask me for KD2 . 5when I can see easily that the radio is switched off.

I'm not fooled, only angry at the constant attempts to scam me or the companies they work for. What's wrong with taxi drivers in Kuwait? Don't any of them believe in making an honest living?  "Business ethics is based on broad principles of integrity and fairness and focuses on internal stakeholder issues such as product quality, customer satisfaction, employee wages and benefits, and local community," says Jon Entine in Ethics and Accountability. Ethical codes of conduct define you professionally and personally. Having heard many complaints from taxi drivers about their miserable conditions, long hours and little pay. But I cannot help but recall the timeless saying, "what goes around, comes around."


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