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Let’s make Gulf government innovation a high priority

The usual complaint among businessmen and entrepreneurs is the back-breaking system of procedures and red tape in our country

Khaled Almaeena

Published: Updated:

A center for government innovation was opened earlier this month in Dubai. The first of its kind in the Arab world, it will research and provide services including the organizing of government creativity labs to improve services and develop solutions to deal with challenges.

The center will work on developing a comprehensive system for advanced tools that will assist government bodies to innovate in the field of policies, public services, organizational structure as well as operations and procedures that will enhance the countries competitiveness and efficiency in the public sector.

This center should also be a model for other similar centers in Gulf countries.

The usual complaint among businessmen and entrepreneurs is the back-breaking system of procedures and red tape in our country, Saudi Arabia.

There are many cases of extenuating circumstances. Many are attributed to archaic rules and regulations, undefined laws, inefficient staff, corruption and negligence. The complaints are plenty but, unfortunately, there are no serious official channels for complaint.

Orders have been issued from the highest office in the land that citizens’ matters be resolved within days. Unfortunately, these directives are never fully implemented and the public continues to be confronted with obstacles that do not serve their interests and daily transactions. And it goes right across ministries and even the courts. No one wants to take responsibility and the matter is passed from office to office.

Public frustration and red tape

As I write this, there is the case of a person whose original land deeds have been lost in the court and he has been asked to go through the tedious process of producing new ones in lieu of those lost which could take a year or more to do. The court loses his documents and he has to suffer the delay in his work! There are other cases that involve minors like the one of a young school boy who is in jail for a petty crime while his papers are wandering from judge to judge. There are also many cases involving Saudi mothers marrying foreigners. I know a man whose daughter is marrying a foreigner. The official permission for the marriage has already been granted but the bureaucratic red tape is delaying the completion of the procedures for the marriage to take place. In the meantime, the couple has had to postpone their wedding date twice.

The usual complaint among businessmen and entrepreneurs is the back-breaking system of procedures and red tape in our country

Khaled Almaeena

Public frustration over official red tape is growing at all levels of society. The state is responsible for developing a more advanced system to expedite procedures and find solutions to deal with the challenges that prevail in the public sector.

While there has been some progress in e-government services, a lot needs to be done to address the archaic system and outdated rules that are obstacles to change and development.

This is probably the only country that has the “muaqib” or “middleman” industry. For every small issue whether in passports, customs or other ministry business we are forced to go through a muaqib to expedite any transaction, otherwise it could take us months to finalize the official procedures for any work to be done.

It is time that we address this menace which is delaying our progress and is a source of public resentment. We need government servants who are honest and efficient and who can provide us with the professional courtesy that we expect and deserve.

In Britain and the rest of the civilized world, they are called “public servants” – which means that they serve the public. And that goes for the courts, as well.

It is unfortunate that many of our bureaucrats live in a different age and are oblivious to the rapid social changes and the technological advancements that are taking place in other countries that have far surpassed us.

I say this with the interest of Saudi Arabia in mind. A major bureaucratic overhaul, good governance and accountability are the need of the hour. We need to innovate government policies as well as develop advanced tools that can boost the services of government departments. We will be lagging far behind and will not make it on the world stage if we do not enhance the proficiency of the public sector in our country.

This article was first published in the Saudi Gazette on September 28, 2014.

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Khaled Almaeena is a veteran Saudi journalist, commentator, businessman and the editor-at-large of the Saudi Gazette. Almaeena has held a broad range of positions in Saudi media for over thirty years, including CEO of a PR firm, Saudi Television news anchor, talk show host, radio announcer, lecturer and journalist. As a journalist, Almaeena has represented Saudi media at Arab summits in Baghdad, Morocco and elsewhere. In 1990, he was one of four journalists to cover the historic resumption of diplomatic ties between Saudi Arabia and Russia. He also traveled to China as part of this diplomatic mission. Almaeena's political and social columns appear regularly in Gulf News, Asharq al-Aswat, al-Eqtisadiah, Arab News, Times of Oman, Asian Age and The China Post. He can be reached at kalmaeena@saudigazette.com.sa and followed on Twitter: @KhaledAlmaeena

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