Top Tips for doing business in Qatar…….apart from the obvious one – DON’T!
Get a flight to Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Oman, Bahrain, Lebanon, Jordan, Saudi or in fact anywhere else except Qatar!
If you still feel compelled to make your life significantly more complicated and experience the wonderful and as yet unexplored world of ulcers and drinking Gavescon direct from the bottle, then by all means head to Doha. However, do your research before you go.
Know who you are dealing with. Although the Emir has supposedly rid Qatar of the antiquated ‘sponsorship’ way of doing business there, it is almost impossible not to have a sponsor. You still need a sponsor to get a residency permit, send your children to school there, buy alcohol ( and believe me if you don’t drink before you go, just give it a few months), have a business bank account and in fact conduct business of any kind.
Having the right sponsor in Qatar is like having the right air to breathe. It is essential to your success. Understand the relationship between your sponsor and the rest of the Royal Family. We dealt with some wonderful Sheikhs there who just did not have the power to help us, even though they wanted to. Remember that it is relatively easy to get meetings with most Sheikhs, however, it is not them you will be dealing with. After saying yes or even signing a contract, they will then pass you to their ‘middle management’ which in my humble opinion is the real sticking point for Qatar doing business in a global market place. These people are real ‘jobsworths’ in every sense of the word. When they graduate (which of course they all do) they are given an acre of land, 800,000 Qatari Riyals and a job for life with a government department. You can see where I am going with this can’t you! A very few are brilliant to deal with and work hard. Most could not care one way or another whether you succeed or fail or in fact whether the department they work for succeeds or fails. They are lethargic but lethal!
Find the right solicitor for your needs. Remember that every foreign firm of solicitors has to work through a Qatari solicitor and is very much beholden to them. If you find yourself up against a powerful Qatari Sheikh in a legal battle, your solicitors will invariably find themselves being squeezed from both ends. Small Qatari legal firms are, although an unknown quantity to you, often more able to act in an unbiased manner. However there are two that you should avoid at all costs. Sultan Al Abdullah of Qatar Law represents QSI, QNOC and until recently DAGOC. He managed to lose a signed loan agreement for $3million and made me sign another one. God knows into whose pocket the second $3million went. Khalid Al Attiya of KBM Law represents various sports federations and is the spectacularly wrong choice to run the Human Rights Commission. He also represents the Foreign Minister. He denies ever representing Quest and says he has no record of our contracts. The Official Receiver was fairly bemused therefore to receive a £50,000 invoice from KBM Law for services to Quest. I would recommend Fawziha Al Obaidly (If you would like her details then please contact me.) She is also, unbelievably, the last person on the list given out by the British Embassy. Avoid Eversheds (they ‘forgot’ to tell me about $30,000 they had relieved me of for ‘legal fees‘) and Patton Boggs (loyal only to The Emir whom they helped put into power and the Foreign Minister of whom they are terrified) like the plague. Also, their sponsoring Sheikhs are so powerful that if you unwittingly end up in litigation with one of their companies you will either be unceremoniously dumped your case may be compromised.
Understand whether you are being expected to pay ‘baksheesh’. This is basically a bribe to your sponsor to ‘assist’ you in your business dealings. We were told categorically NOT to pay any bribes as the Emir is trying to stamp this out as well. However, when I had lunch in London not so long ago with a prominent Qatari businessman he told me that the reason we had probably not been paid, was that we did not ‘pay the right people’. So, the new system is obviously not functioning very well then!
Understand that although most businessmen in the Middle East are intelligent enough to have got past the ‘not wanting to say no in case they offend someone’ tradition, Qatar has not.
The first time a payment to you is reneged upon, and it will be, do NOT put up with it. Do not be persuaded by the arguments of ‘you westerners just don’t understand how we work’ and ‘don’t worry you will be paid’ and ‘if you object we will find someone else because the world is queuing up to business with us’. Be firm. Right away! That is how the Americans and the French do business in Qatar and they get paid – believe me. The British way of being polite and nice DOES NOT WORK! Show them you mean business or leave before it is too late.
Do not rely on the British Embassy in Qatar. The days of Ambassadors who can help, are willing to help or have the backbone to help, are gone. They left with David McLennan, the last of the old school, who left at the beginning of 2005. It should say above the door to the British Embassy “Abandon hope all ye who enter here” – the ambassador and the staff certainly do. They are much too busy being paid, by us the British taxpayer, to enjoy themselves, than to actually stick their necks out.”
Qatar may look like the land of business ventures and a land of the future but until they get some very fundamental business and legal issues sorted out, it is a land of nightmares.
I do hope that the Emir starts to get a handle on all the above issues because, believe it or not, despite everything, I loved living in Qatar. What’s not to love about living in a perpetual Monty Python sketch!
There are so many more wonderful Qataris that I consider to be friends than ones that are enemies, but that does not change what can happen if you are not prepared. At this moment in time, it is still better to do business with any other Middle Eastern country rather than Qatar.
Remember – No-one expects the Spanish Inquisition – or indeed, the Qatari inability to pay their bills, or, come to think of it, the way they embrace with unabashed childish enthusiasm the sport of making foreigners pay the price for having the audacity to do business in their country.