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Bahrain's proposal of two price system for essential items for nationals and expats, in which the latter will have to pay more, has been slammed by human rights activists and retailers as 'racist and impractical'.
Earlier this month, Members of Parliament backed a recommendation by Parliament's financial and economic affairs committee to subsidise food and other basic goods for nationals, and exclude foreign workers from receiving any financial help to cope with rising inflation in the Gulf Arab state.
Indian Community Relief Fund general-secretary C R Nambiar labelled the proposals as 'racist', while British ambassador Jamie Brown pointed out that many of the poorest people in the Kingdom were foreigners, Bahrain's Gulf Daily News reported.
"The dual pricing plan is a violation of human rights," the newspaper quoted Abdulla Al Deerazi of the Bahraini Human Rights Society as saying.
Foreign workers form about 38 per cent of the Nation's 743,000 population, although the percentage of expatriates who contribute to the country's workforce is far higher.
Retailers said the proposals were impractical due to the logistics of implementing the system and the difficulty in discerning whether a customer was a Bahraini national.
"A person who looks like an Arab can claim he is a Bahraini when he is actually from another Gulf country," a spokesperson for the Universal Food Center was quoted as saying by the paper.
"Likewise, a person who doesn't look like an Arab at all can claim he is a naturalised Bahraini," a supermarket Mega Mart spokesperson said adding that for the computer, all customers are the same and maintaining two prices based on nationality is very difficult.
The criticism comes as debate over the rights of expatriates heats up in Bahrain. In December Parliament approved plans to more than double the cost of work permits for foreign nationals.
Bahrain is also the author of the controversial six-year residency cap on unskilled expatriate workers, which it put forward at the GCC Summit in Doha held last December. The proposal was yet to be approved.
MPs have defended the dual price plan, blaming soaring inflation and the high cost of living to a rise in violent crime in the kingdom. They have voted to take the matter directly to prime minister Sheikh Khalifa bin Salman Al Khalifa for further consideration, the Arab Business website said.
Bahrain's inflation stood at 3.2 per cent in 2007, one of the lower rates in the Gulf. The state's unemployment rate among nationals stands at four per cent, with almost 20,000 Bahrainis jobless.