Challenges in Kuwait, promise in EgyptJuly 10, 2020
Rabie Ruziek, general manager of Terranaut Technology, talks to The Energy Year about how the company is navigating the challenges of uncertainty in the Kuwaiti market and why it plans greater expansion in the region. Terranaut Technology is a trenchless services provider active in Kuwait’s sanitation, electricity, oil and gas, and pipeline markets.
How has the lockdown in Kuwait affected your operations?
We had a plan to shift two completed rigs to Egypt. We established an office and a yard but we slowed down in recent months because of the restrictions on time and because the situation in Kuwait was becoming difficult.
In the beginning, authorities in Kuwait established a partial lockdown and it affected some our labourers, who couldn’t go out or come back. We designated two crews and took them to a remote area for quarantine where we have some accommodation and we applied the restrictions and Covid-19 precautions and basically sectioned these two crews off.
With only a two-hour warning, Kuwaiti authorities imposed a lockdown on the two areas where 80% of the foreign labourers stay. We were lucky that we managed to keep two crews out of that. We have maintained emergency calls for companies that have emergencies or urgent work to be done.
Tell us about bringing equipment to Egypt and the opportunities you see in this market.
Business in Egypt, especially trenchless work, is booming. I had a visit to the new capital that is being built now in Cairo and in 5 kilometres I counted nine rigs working. They vary from small to medium to larger maxi rigs and they are in bad need of more machinery.
They are building almost everything from scratch in this area, like electricity and telecommunications infrastructure. They also have upgrades to make the infrastructure more efficient before they kick off the city. It was expected to open in June for the government, and I think this will be delayed a little.
How would you rate the response of the Kuwaiti government to this crisis?
First of all, it wasn’t planned well, and it wasn’t clearly communicated. They didn’t give us any time to prepare. At the same time, the lockdown system has not been facilitated with solutions. We had difficulties delivering food to some of our labourers. They put this responsibility on charities, but these are not 100% committed and it depends on their availability. Still, the message that is being sent to normal people spreads more panic than knowledge.
If people had understood more and had been given the chance to learn how to deal with that crisis, it would have been beneficial to the community and the business. We are still having difficulties communicating with the authorities to secure clearance for our employees. They have been giving clearance so people can leave their homes and come back, but you have to give seven days’ notice.
There is a lot of uncertainty on the business in Kuwait at the moment, from the drilling programmes to the civil engineering – everything is on hold. What is your perspective?
We have been suffering from payment problems, which was ongoing for months before the crisis. Now the main contractors and the owners are giving Covid-19 as an excuse not to release the money. So how can people survive? I have to give my staff half salaries because we don’t have money. With this total lockdown we cannot release funds from the banks because they are closed. You cannot lock down the banks and think people will be okay. I cannot even release money for my employees.
KOC is very strict with us if we don’t show up to the site, but we are banned by the government from going to the site. There is no co-ordination. Big owners like KOC should have their own plan and communicate with ministers and the police to give clearance to essential and emergency employees. It takes ages to get it. I applied for 25 passes for some of my employees and I got five. And KOC will blame me for not showing up. It is very unsatisfying. Until now, we have been continuing to work, but we haven’t received any payments.
For us, around 90% of our business is on the oilfield. Oilfield operations have their own people and accommodation on site, where they can apply regulations and precautions. KOC, for example, has the capability to run all of this on its own. However, there is a political problem.
What has been established is a differentiation: the lockdown has been applied to the foreigners, but not to the nationals. They are very strict on the foreigners, but not on nationals. This gives us a bad feeling, and we are suffering from it. If they come to see their role and apply some exceptional support to the labourers and the companies that are serving people and have been here for 15 years doing this, they can just give some loans. They know that we are working for KOC and that we have money owed to us so they could give us loans for salaries. But nothing like this was offered.
In Egypt, where the economy is not very rich, once the pandemic started they established a programme for tourism companies that affected oilfield companies, allowing them to go to banks and take loans so they can pay salaries for six months. This helped people a lot and it helped make sure that companies didn’t lose workers, because nobody can stay for six months without a salary.
What have you learned from this crisis as a senior manager?
Managing my bases wasn’t difficult because I have been traveling a lot. We have been doing online meetings for three years now. It wasn’t tough to manage, but we have come to a point where there is nothing to manage. Everything is dead and I think we should, in the future, get prepared to expand into different countries, so that if activity is down here, at least we can tap into what is happening elsewhere. Activity varies from region to region. I am happy to have our office now open in Egypt.
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