Citizens for Bahrain analysis
The Government’s proposal to cut subsidies on meat and replace them with cash handouts to citizens has become a major issue of concern and debate among the Bahraini public.
Citizens for Bahrain asked a wide range of Bahrainis what they thought about the issue. The majority of those we spoke to had reservations about the proposal because they thought it would result in greater financial hardship and they thought there had not been enough consultation. However, many recognized the need for subsidy reform and reducing Government debt. Below is a representative sample of the diversity of views:
“We have not been well informed”
“I believe that cutting down on subsidies has a positive impact on the economy in the long run. Many of us keep demanding a civil state and these issues come as part of living in a civil state… We have to change our mindset and stop our dependence on the Government to subsidise our meat and other basic goods, if we want to move forward with a reformed state. In developed democratic nations people are not completely dependent on their Governments; hence we should learn from other nations and face these challenges as part of our responsibility towards change;” said Sara, age 38, from Manama.
“We have not been well informed with the issue of subsidies; many of us didn’t even know that meat was subsidized. I believe that this can be as a result of the lack of awareness on the people’s side. However, the Government also has a responsibility towards communicating these major issues with citizens;” said Ahmed, age 32, from Riffa.
“The main problem with this issue is the lack of communication with citizens. Officials, MPs and others should communicate with their communities, we should be told the advantages and disadvantages of such a step. Then we can establish an opinion regarding the issue. Unfortunately, people would certainly reject any decision that increases financial pressure; especially if they are not well aware of the different aspects of such a decision;” said Khalid, age 34 from Manama.
“Frustration among Bahraini families”
“It is completely unfair that the subsidy will be replaced by a low amount of cash that won’t add value to Bahraini households. The Government has not been transparent enough in explaining the planned changes and many of us still have faith that the Parliament can reject this plan. The general public are not economic experts and hence we don’t see that this can benefit us in any way… This plan has caused a lot of frustration among Bahraini families and we do not want to spend more. Many Bahrainis can afford to buy meat for higher prices. But others can’t and this is one major aspect that the Government should consider. I believe that subsidizing meat is the least the Government should do for its citizens” said Mariam, age 28, from Isa Town.
“Many have been saying that the Government should start by cutting down subsidies on foreigners and expat workers. They fail to understand that the reason why expats live comfortably in Bahrain and feel welcomed here is due to the comfortable and affordable life in Bahrain. We don’t want expats to leave our country. If subsidies are cut only for expats then they would feel that they are being treated differently and that they might as well seek a better life in other countries in the region, such a step would not serve Bahrain. On the other hand I believe that cutting down on subsidies is a necessity to lower Government expenditure in addition to many other steps that could serve the purpose;” said Hassan, age 43, Saar.
“I believe there are many ways through which the Government can lower its expenditure – ways that do not affect each and every Bahraini household. They should seek other options that do not cause such discomfort in the society… The other important aspect is that the Government has undermined Parliament with such a move and this is completely wrong. The Government should consider increasing the amount of cash to be handed out as a replacement of the subsidy; this could help in balancing things out and satisfying citizens to a certain extent;” said Ali, age 32, from Riffa.
“Time for us to stop being dependent on Government”
“Meat and many other things such as wheat and oil have been subsidized by the Government for decades. I believe it’s about time for us to stop being dependent on Government and while looking at it from a different angle, the Government is not obliged to provide families with a cash handout that replaces the subsidy, even if it isn’t a high amount of cash. We could have been living in a country where our subsidies would be cut and no cash would be handed out to us. Hence I believe that we should look at the bright side of things. It has unfortunately become a part of the nature of Bahrainis to complain about each and every thing without looking at the bigger picture or understanding it;” said Faisal, age 40, from Muharraq.
“The issue seems very confusing as we have noticed that MPs who represent us have openly rejected the decision. If the government truly considers the views of citizens and believes in the role of the parliament as part of the reform process then it shouldn’t move forward with this plan;” said Hamad, age 36, from Muharraq.
Fears and concerns
At a time when Bahrain is presenting itself as a country that promotes reform and democracy, clearly some Bahrainis recognize that subsidy reform is a necessary step towards a democratic society where citizens are financially independent and the State lives within its means.
However, a large number of people have expressed their fear and concerns that this step might lead to further economic pressure on their families and as a result it should be reconsidered by the Government.