Social media keeps Saudi officials in check

Asma Ajroudi
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Mobile phones, tablets and any technological device with a built-in digital camera have become every Saudi’s favorite “anti-corruption tool” – and every Saudi official’s worst nightmare.

Local media reported on Tuesday that the director of a major Saudi hospital in Jeddah, King Fahd Hospital, has been sacked after footage showing cockroaches inside the hospital’s convalescences went viral on social media.

“The director of the center, director of nurses and maintenance and cleaning supervisors were also removed from their positions,” read a ministry statement.

Health Minister Khalid al-Falih had also ordered the shutdown of the hospital and its relocation to another a new building.

Video: Footage showing cockroaches inside the King Fahd Hospital went viral on social media which led to the sacking of the hospital director

But this is not the first time social media put into question the malpractices and shortcomings of some Saudi officials.

Caught on tape

Another video showing a health official angriliy expelling a woman and her mother from her office has been making rounds on social media recently.

Under the Arabic hashtag “Head of Najran health [department] expels a female citizen out of his office,” Saudi Twitter users were quick to voice their condemnation of the official’s behavior.

And they successfully caught the health minister’s attention: “The circulating video clip upset me and all those involved will be called for investigation and questioning,” al-Falih tweeted in response.

Last month, the head of royal protocol Mohammad al-Tibaishi was caught on tape slapping a photojournalist covering the arrival of Morocco’s King Mohammad VI in Riyadh.

Video: The head of Saudi royal protocol Mohammad al-Tibaishi was caught on tape slapping a photojournalist, leading to Tibaishi's dismissal

Journalists and bloggers were quick to spread the video on social media calling for action against al-Tibaishi’s “abuse of authority.” King Salman ordered his replacement shortly after that, generating widespread approval from journalists.

Also in April, a leaked video involving former health minister Ahmed Khatib in a heated argument with another citizen cost him his job. The minister was filmed while shouting and gesturing wildly at an angry citizen who had come to speak to him about how the ministry was not doing enough to assist his bed-ridden father.

‘Anti-corruption device’

“The mobile phone has become an anti-corruption or monitoring device for the Saudi citizen,” Saudi journalist and writer Jamal Banon told Al Arabiya News.

Corruption is spread in the Saudi public sector “in a scary manner,” said Banon.

A frequent reader of Saudi newspapers would notice that cases of fraudulent practices and shortcomings in the Saudi public and private sectors have earned an almost permanent space position among headlines.

In 2014, corruption monitoring group Transparency International gave the kingdom 49 out of 100 (0 being ‘highly corrupt’ and 100 ‘very clean’) on its Corruption Perceptions Index.

Corruption has become so prevalent in the kingdom that in 2011, the late King Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz ordered the establishment of a national anti-corruption commission.

Called Nazaha (Arabic for “integrity”), the agency’s mission was to document and report all financial and administrative corruption in government and private bodies; and impose transparency in all government bodies. Granted certain administrative privileges, the agency would only report to the king himself.

But Nazaha “cannot face all of this on its own,” said Banon. “The citizen has become the eye of the responsible.”

Most of the cases caught on tape turned out to be “genuine and non-fabricated,” said Banon.

“This means that the citizen has realized that the quality of the services he is receiving are not meeting the standards of a developed country such as Saudi Arabia,” he continued.

Today, any citizen could document an incident and quickly upload the picture or the video onto Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube, he said.

Video devices have become something like a “warning letter to those who slack,” he added.

“Nothing is a secret today. King Salman has a Twitter account. Most officials do now. Anyone can speak to them on social media,” he added.

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