Addiction to Qatari LNG can be â€کinjurious' to health

Vol 12, PW 21 (26 Mar 09) People & Policy

India’s dependence on Qatari LNG should worry policy-makers in Delhi, if it isn’t already.

Although politically stable, this feudal-run police state is precariously perched on a peninsula jutting out into the Strait of Hormuz, directly south of Iran. If attacked, Qatar’s 13,000-strong armed forces would quickly be overrun, as Kuwait found to its cost in 1991.

“Around 70% of the defence force is expatriate and only 4000 are active,â€‌ an analyst tells us. “They are western-trained and highly-efficient but it just shows just how vulnerable they are.

â€‌ Another worry is the transient population. Tax-free salaries and petrol at Rs14/litre explain why 75% of Qatar’s 1.62m inhabitants are expatriates – mostly from South Asia: 450,000 from India, 300,000 from Nepal and 100,000 each from Bangladesh, Pakistan and Sri Lanka.

You see them mainly on construction sites and in the oil and gas industries, the lowest of the pack earning $500/month, including overtime. Migrant workers are the backbone of the economy, enabling Qatari nationals to enjoy the highest recorded GDP/capita in the world: $87,000/annum.

If economic meltdown forced a mass exodus, as looks likely in Dubai, don’t expect local Qataris to fill the void. Most don’t know the meaning of â€کwork’ and those who do insist on five-hour days from 9am to 2pm.

“Qatari nationals make up just 7% of the actual workforce,â€‌ we hear. “Qatari women can work only in government establishments.

â€‌ Adds an expatriate: “Every time I interview a Qatari for a job the first thing he tells me is he wants to sit in my seat!â€‌ Work-shy attitudes like this explain why part-Exxon owned RasGas, which supplies more than 25% of the gas used in India, employs mainly expatriates. From its office on the massive construction site that is downtown Doha, invoices from RasGas to Petronet-LNG make up the biggest slice of Qatar’s annual $2.7bn export earnings from India.

By contrast India earns an insignificant $600m. In balance of trade terms at least, one thing is clear: Qatar needs India more than India needs Qatar, and that’s something Petronet-LNG will leverage to its advantage.