No sooner had the torrential rains which struck Riyadh and shocked and saddened the city’s residents stopped than Riyadh Mayor Prince Abdulaziz Bin Ayyaf al-Miqrin, issue the first official statement about what happened. His statement was extremely important; it was transparent and direct and made no attempt to exaggerate the situation. He said “the Ministry of Finance has been negligent in providing the required funding.” The Mayor of Riyadh added that they had been demanding that the Ministry of Finance put this budget into place, but that they had only received 15 percent of the funds they requested and that as a result of this, the Saudi capital was unprepared to deal with the heavy rainfall. The Mayor warned that Riyadh is growing rapidly, and that a “disaster” would take place if this issue was not dealt with quickly and seriously.
The centralization of the Ministry of Finance decision has become an obstacle to developmental ambitions and plans; this is no longer a secret as many officials have complained about this. This problem is not a new one, but has existed for a long time and there is a gap between the private sector and the state with regards to commitment on deadlines and specifications for projects, as well as prioritizing the cheapest projects and not paying attention to what is truly required. This reliance upon one viewpoint has led to incomplete projections and incorrect [project] specifications, causing disasters or near disasters to take place. This gap continues to expand because no radical reform had taken place within the Ministry of Finance to improve the mechanism through which the needs of provinces or cities are addressed. This is the issue that was raised by the Jeddah flooding, and we received a number of unpleasant surprises in the aftermaths of the flooding, for example that underground tunnel water pumps were not being maintained and as a result of this these water pumps did not function. This is because the Ministry of Finance believes that the amount of rainfall that falls on Riyadh is not dangerous, and that therefore there is no need to spend such funds [on water drainage]. This is why these water pumps were not allocated funds for maintenance, however when flooding did occur cars were trapped and drowned in underground tunnels as a result of this.
Reviewing the centralization of financial decisions and giving more authority to provinces and governorates has become a major and pressing demand because the public interest has revealed this to be a necessity. The capital Riyadh, which was the perfect model of strategic and long-term planning, became a victim to some financial decisions that failed to meet the cities requirements. What applies to the capital Riyadh must also apply to other regions and cities of Saudi Arabia, and this is not forgetting other elements like bureaucracy, mismanagement and poor planning and other problems. These are the same reasons that led the Saudi Shura Council to take action and move forward with a national plan to address water drainage, whether this is rainwater and flooding drainage or sewage. This comes in the wake of the deficiencies revealed by the series of consecutive disaster that struck more than one region of Saudi Arabia. In addition to this, the General Auditing Bureau of Saudi Arabia issued a statement in which it revealed administrative and technical defects in project implementation, meaning that this is a “problem” that also needs to be solved quickly. Perhaps our memories are still fresh enough to recall a statement made by a Ministry of Finance officials on the Jeddah flooding and the deficiency of the Jeddah drainage system, he said “what was spent on Jeddah exceeds what was spent on Riyadh.” This raises important questions; what is the Ministry of Finance’s role in “approving” or “receiving” projects from contractors and the relevant authorities? Why didn’t the continuous and repetitive demands for the same [water drainage] projects over two decades arouse the curiosity of the Finance Ministry, not to mention their complaints about these projects being rejected?
The bold statement by the Riyadh Mayor Prince Abdulaziz Bin Ayyaf al-Miqrin reminds me of the statement made by the Mayor of New Orleans in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina when he said that insufficient federal funds contributed to the disaster. The Mayor’s statement crossed the i’s and dotted the t’s; the major problem lies in the policy of the Ministry of Finance, and this is what needs to be addressed.