The servants and the served

It can sometimes be difficult to see who is the servant and who is the one being served

Khalid Abdulla-Janahi
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We have a major problem in the Middle East when it comes to accountability. In an ideal political situation, all public servants should be accountable to the people. Without this scrutiny the lines will undoubtedly blur, and it can sometimes be difficult to see who is the servant and who is the one being served.

Due to the nature of most of the ruling regimes in our region, however, many of those in public office, from the most senior down, have become perhaps a little too comfortable in their positions, almost as if they have come to see their jobs as entitlements.


I cannot think of many examples of public servants in the Arab world who resigned their position due to not having achieved their goals. Are they all so brilliant in our part of the world that not a single one has failed at any task in all these many years?

Even a casual observer would note that, unfortunately, many are not even up to their jobs, let alone capable of delivering true excellence. Despite that, almost none have had the courage and strength of character to come out and say: “I’m sorry, I failed to perform, and therefore I am resigning my position.” Instead, they have had to be removed or reassigned by the same masters who put them there in the first place.

Regulators, generally, are a great example of this very problem. Let me be clear in that I am not against regulation. I welcome high quality regulation which is beneficial to any industry, but it is important that the people in those positions be whiter than white, and saintlier than saints.

Those in public office should understand that there is no shame in resigning a position to allow someone who may be better to try something different

Khalid Abdulla-Janahi

Trickle-down effect

Unfortunately, and it hurts me to acknowledge this, many of our Middle East regulators have not been up to the level that they should be, and as a result we have all suffered. This not only affects specific industries, but the economy as a whole, including the wealth that trickles down to the average man on the street.

Those in public office should understand that there is no shame in resigning a position to allow someone who may be better to try something different. The shame is actually in clutching onto those positions the way a child will hold onto a comfort blanket. These are important positions and it should always be the general public good that comes first, not the whims of bureaucrats or their masters.

Since the Middle East seems to be taking its time in terms of developing a true, lasting solution to this issue, one in which public servants are directly accountable to the people, perhaps we should consider, as a medium-term fix, establishing an independent accountability body to audit the activities of all government departments.

It is crucial, however, that this body, no matter how limited its powers, be accountable to the people, and not to another government entity. At least this way public servants would have some fear of losing their jobs, or at the very least of their scandals being publicly aired.

The fact remains that a lot of the problems we face are simply a result of not having the right people in the right positions. The longer we carry on this way, the longer our region will lag behind the rest of the world. Government jobs should never be seen as a right for anyone.

They are a duty to the public, not to the masters in power, and no one in any position of authority should forget that. This is why it is called “public service”. It is about serving the public, and the emphasis should always be on the word “service”. There are no masters that need serving in this relationship, just the public.
Khalid Abdulla-Janahi was elected Vice Chairman of WEF’s Arab Business Council (2003 to 2007). He was also the Co-Chair of WEF's Global Agenda Council on the Middle East up to 2011. He is the Group Chief Executive of Dar Al Maal Al Islami, a Chairman of Solidarity Group Holding and the Chairman of Naseej. Khalid is based in Geneva.

Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not reflect Al Arabiya English's point-of-view.
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