Expat Driving Ban – A Draconian Draft Law

How can our beautiful Bahrain, considered as most forward-thinking in the region, suddenly decide to go backward?

This was my first thought when I heard that Bahrain’s Shura Council has given the green-light to the controversial new traffic law that will bar expatriates from driving unless their job requires it.

According to the Interior Ministry legal affairs assistant under-secretary Brigadier Mohammed Buhamood, “The Interior Minister will have the responsibility of coming up with by-laws that will determine the expatriates who are eligible to get driving licence. And at least 26 categories will be on the list.”

“These include judges and legal counsellors, diplomatic corps, university lecturers and company directors as well as children of eligible employees, foreign students, disabled foreigners and children of Bahraini women married to expatriates.”

Whatever said, I find this new draft law shockingly archaic, and completely regressive.

In fact, I congratulate the BCCI (Bahrain Chamber of Commerce and Industry) which announced yesterday, that it will try to block the draft legislation before it becomes a full-fledged law. BCCI, I believe, is taking the right stand.

Somehow, the parliamentarians do not seem to be focusing on the practicality. They seem to be very busy finding a quick-fix cure – or a ‘quack’ fix cure – for traffic ailments, instead of the right action of prevention – by better education.

Like several others in the country, I have many questions, on this matter.

My first question is, when hundreds of expatriates come from all over the world to work in hundreds of jobs, how does one decide which categories of jobs need ‘driving’?

My second question is, even if my job does not require me to drive, should I lose my basic human right, of freedom of movement to go wherever I want? Am I a prisoner, with my job as my cage, or as my cell?

My third question is, when an expatriate-worker’s wife who has years of driving experience comes to this country, and wants to pick up and drop her kids to school, music classes, swimming lessons or dozens of other places, including shopping places for herself, she can’t? And she shouldn’t?

My fourth question is, if I am an employee who does not want office transport, but wish to commute by my own car if I can afford, I cannot? And, tell me, by buying a car, by buying petrol, by using garage services, and by paying parking fees, will I not be helping in economic growth and development?

My fifth question is this. With poor public transport-network that makes countrywide connectivity impossible, and with scorching hot summers which make waiting at bus stops impossible, should people be prevented from buying and driving their own vehicles?

I have many more questions like this. But will the parliamentarians give me justifiable answers?

One reason they have given, for drafting this law, is that most traffic offences are committed by expatriates!

But, do the MPs have sufficient evidence and empirical data on this? On what basis can a statement be made, in this blanket manner, that traffic offences are mostly committed by expats? If there is data, we would like to see the data.

Generally speaking, in a country with about 50% expat population, common logic tells us that half of the accidents may have expats involved. But can we see the numbers?

Furthermore, I think, the operative word should not be ‘involved’. It should be ‘caused’. We must address the cause. Who are the reckless drivers? Who ‘cause’ accidents? That needs investigation.

I suspect that the new draft of traffic law, which has 64 articles in it, is being pushed by the MPs, under time pressure. But Article 20, which refers to this particular ban on expat driving must be re-looked with fairness, justice and practicality as the key guiding principles.

The fact that Shura Council approved the article – with 15 members in favour, eight against and three abstentions –leaves room for some more debate that can help in a better decision.

Shura Council member Nancy Khadouri, who was among the eight who opposed article 20, called me yesterday and shared her thoughts on this vital issue. She said there are no statistics which proves that expats cause most accident. The article 20 amounts to discrimination against expatriates in a country that has long been very open and tolerant, she said.

Like Nancy, I firmly believe that this new draft law, if implemented, will take this lovely country backward, not forward.