Last Friday in Saudi Arabia, there were joyful reactions to the announcements made by the Saudi King, declaring reformative and developmental decrees worth 350 billion SR [Saudi Riyals]. The news was conveyed through Blackberry SMS messages, one of which read: “Ladies and gentlemen of Saudi Arabia, following the royal decrees issued at 2:00 pm, we can announce that they also apply to those in retirement. Students will be given a holiday tomorrow, so we advise you not to go to bed early, for there may be more news before dawn.”
In administrative practice, expectations are considered to be highly sensitive issues, and can have a significant impact on the performance of a civil servant. Expectations can serve as an incentive, if they match reality on the ground, but they can also transform into a cause for frustration, if they far exceed the reality. Yet what is most dangerous is if the civil servant, consumer, or citizen has no expectations at all; when they have become so disenfranchised that they do not care about anything.
The Saudi people gathered around their television screens to listen to the king’s speech and the decrees that followed. The speech was an expression of thanks to the people for their loyalty towards their leadership. It was an emotional, honest address, which touched the inner consciousness of the citizens, especially mothers who burst into tears when the king asked the people not to forget to pray.
Saudi expectations were generally high, because the King had previously allocated 135 billion SR to facilitate development projects, two months after announcing a public budget of 580 billion SR. So what can we expect from the latest decrees?
The decrees were announced in a clever sequence, because they initially seemed to appease a wide range of citizens, both civilian and military, with a bonus of a two-month salary. Then they addressed the needs of the poorest segments of society, by fixing the minimum wage at 3000 SR per month. Then came the astronomical sums of money: 250 billion SR for the construction of 500,000 housing units. Because astronomical figures usually raise questions and doubts, a decree was issued to establish an independent commission to combat corruption, which will report directly to the king. This move has allayed people’s fears, and ended their doubts.
The establishment of an independent commission to combat corruption, which will come into effect within three months, acts as a guarantee for all previous and recent royal decrees. It will protect public finance and serve as the king’s watchful eye over the implementation of every single government project. The commission will undertake the implementation, operation and maintenance of projects, and will require considerable qualified staff to monitor such a huge number of development plans. If the Ministry of Trade, for example, required 500 new employees to monitor prices in the market, then this anti-corruption commission will require a similar number, as it will have branches in major cities around the Kingdom. Because the commission reports directly to the king, it will be granted independence and strength, and will show that all government institutes without exception can be called to account.
The more this commission enjoys authority, independence, and substantial privileges, the more it will serve as a safety valve for the country.
It was also pleasing that the royal decrees touched upon infrastructure issues across the kingdom, especially in the health sector. Citizens in Jezan, al-Baha, al-Jawf, and elsewhere had been complaining of poor health care, a lack of hospitals, and the deplorable condition of existing medical facilities.
As for the religious sector, it was not surprising that the fields of Dawa, guidance, mosque construction, and Koranic studies have all received considerable financial aid, for these are part and parcel of the Saudi government’s commitment to all things Islamic. In addition, the Saudi Fiqh Council is an example of the tolerance and flexibility shown by the government to bring together all Saudi jurists – regardless of their sect – in one juristic council, to serve as a religious authority studying the events of our modern age, and Islam’s stance towards them. I expect this body to have quite an impact on the Islamic world, even if it carries a local identity.
As for the decision to create 60,000 military jobs in the Ministry of Interior, and to address the health and housing needs of the military sector, this is a necessity for the coming stage. For a country like Saudi Arabia, it is necessary in view of the fact that the kingdom is a target of terrorism and sabotage, and is geographically surrounded by political hotspots that have recently reached boiling point. Moreover, by strengthening this [military] sector, this will add to the strength of the Gulf Cooperation Council.
As for the decree concerning Saudization, and how this relates to combating unemployment, this is to be continued…