Middle-east Arab News Opinion | Asharq Al-awsat

Q & A with Saudi Social Affairs Minister, Abdul Mohsen Al Akkas | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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Riyadh, Asharq Al-Awsat- Saudi Arabian Minister of Social Affairs Abdul Mohsen bin Abdulaziz Al Akkas has announced that the Ministry of Social Affairs, which recently consolidated the government aid to improve the living conditions of thousands of Saudi citizens, is working to support the needy families through a number of programs including the transformation of these families that receive support into productive families by giving them easy-term loans, “beautiful loans [Reference to the Koran expression meaning a loan given for the sake of God and to be rewarded by Him],” from the National Charity Fund.

The minister says that this fund, which was established by the government with allocations of 300 million riyals, has given more than 22million riyals in loans to the projects and to support the productive families, and the total sums have exceeded 35 million riyals.

Al-Akkas says that the National Charity Fund has allocated80 million riyals for the program of educational and training scholarships in order to offer some 1,600 educational scholarships to the sons of the needy families in the regions of the Kingdom. In the current academic year, 2008,1,853 scholarships have been put in place, of which 949 scholarships have been granted at a total cost of more than 35 million riyals.

Al-Akkas points out that there is what he called “confusion” between the National Charity Fund and the National Strategy for Combating Poverty. He stresses that they are two different authorities independent from each other, and each has its own aims and programs. The fund is of a direct executive character, while the strategy is a major national project that relies on conducting detailed studies of the problem in order to identify its causes and the extent of its spread, and then draws up the solutions.

In his interview with Asharq Al-Awsat, Al-Akkas reveals that the National Charity Fund currently is studying a number of investment opportunities in order to consolidate its financial resources so that it can secure the continuity of its programs. Al-Akkas says that the Ministry of Social Affairs, in coordination with the Ministry of Finance, is pursuing the establishment of social protection units in the various regions of Saudi Arabia; these units will undertake the protection of women and children exposed to exploitation, threats, and violence. He adds that the ministry currently is sending the cases it receives to the existing homes in its possession.

The following is the full text of the interview:

(Q) In 2003 the Charity Fund for Combating Poverty was established in order to implement the National Strategy for Combating Poverty, and to alleviate the effects of poverty in the Kingdom. What have you achieved during this period?

(A) I would like to correct a piece of information that has been circulating, namely that the National Charity Fund is one of the tools for the practical implementation of the National Strategy for Combating Poverty. Generally speaking, all the state authorities, such as the Ministry of Social Affairs, the Ministry of Labor, the Ministry of Health, the Ministry of Education, and all the departments concerned, participate in the implementation of the strategy. As for the achievements of the fund, we can see that the National Charity Fund has indeed started to implement its program before it acquired the financial allocations, and a large number of programs have been implemented. However, the greatest practical launch of the fund’s program actually started following the generous support by the Government of the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques; this support has contributed to the expansion of these projects, and many of them have been implemented.

(Q) Can you give us examples of what the fund has offered?

(A) Within the framework of the productive families program and the small projects program 22,239,200 riyals have been allocated to finance 1,949 small projects. As for the educational and training scholarships, a total of 1,853 scholarships have been agreed for the current academic year,2008, and 949 scholarships have been offered at a total cost of 35,169,105riyals in the first term; also there are 904 scholarships for the second term. All the scholarships are in specialties required in the labor market, such as “nursing, customs agents, network technicians, physiotherapy, radiology, and medical laboratories.”

Within the framework of implementing the program of job coordination, the fund has cooperated with a number of sides and various institutions in the private sector to give employment allover the Kingdom to those who benefited from the program of education and training scholarships. Agreement was reached with some of these sides to employ 584 graduates in a number of specialties including the diplomas of computer networking, health, industrial production, and the arts of producing warps, dressmaking, and sewing, in addition to other various course of vocational training. The total cost exceeds 5 million riyals.

(Q) What are the differences or common factors between the strategy and the fund?

(A) This is an important question, because we notice that there is confusion between the National Charity Fund and the National Strategy for Combating Poverty. They are independent from each other, and each one has its own aims and programs. The fund has a direct executive nature, while the strategy is a major national project that relies on conducting detailed studies of the problem in order to identify its causes and the extent of its spread, and hence draws up the solution for this problem through short, medium and long-term plans and programs and presents them to the King.

(Q) What is the volume of the government and private participation in this fund?

(A) The state, as it was announced, supports the fund with 300 million dollars a year. As for the private support, it is available, and the fund receives donations from the institutions and businessmen, even if these donations have not been at the aspired for level so far.

(Q) Are you satisfied with these contributions?

(A) We thank everyone who donated and contributed to the fund; however, we aspire for better.

(Q) To what extent does the fund pursue propping up its financial resources and becoming self-sufficient?

(A) The fund currently is establishing contacts with institutions, companies, and businessmen in the private sector, and is studying the investment of part of its budget and the best secure investment fields.

(Q) Is the fund trying to pump some of its financial allocations into investment operations, or buying assets in order to preserve the real value of its resources, and to develop them?

(A) The fund currently is studying some investment opportunities in order to develop its financial resources in a way that will secure the continuation of its programs.

(Q) What are the working mechanisms of the fund?

(A) The fund implements its programs directly in some cases, most of which through cooperation with the institutions working in the charity field, such as the charitable societies, social security offices, social development centers, local development commissions, charity housing projects, and other organizations. The cooperation takes place through the fund supporting the sponsored small and household projects allocated to the targeted groups; this support is technical and financial by granting good loans, training, and helping in problem solving. This takes place after studying the projects and reaching the conclusion that they are viable and can be implemented; after that the necessary loan for establishing the project is given in installments corresponding to the stages of implementation; these loans are paid back in easy installments. In exchange, these institutions [with which the fund cooperated] in their turn contribute through the selection of the beneficiaries, participating in the moral and vocational training, following them up after the loans are granted, and providing the fund with regular reports. The fund gives these institutions a specific percentage that does not exceed 10 percent of the value of the project as a contribution in sharing part of the administrative and operational costs of the project.

(Q) It has been announced that 80 million riyals have been allocated for education scholarships for the sons of the poor in all regions. Have these scholarships been granted; what is the number of the beneficiaries, and what are the mechanisms for implementing them?

(A) The fact is that the announcement was made by the fund and not by the ministry. Eighty million riyals have been allocated to the program of education and training scholarships in order to give some 1,600education grants to the sons of the needy families in the regions of the Kingdom. A total of 1,853 scholarships have been implemented this academic year, 2008, of which 949 scholarships have been granted at a total cost of35,169,105 riyals in the first academic term, and 904 scholarships for the second academic term. These scholarships encompass most of the regions of the Kingdom; they include a number of specialties (bachelor degrees and diplomas) required by the labor market, such as “nursing, customs agents, network technicians, physiotherapy, radiology, and medical laboratories.”

These scholarships are dedicated for the sons and daughters of the needy families in the cities, centers, and governorates of the various regions of the Kingdom. According to the program, the National Charity Fund shoulders all the academic fees of the education institutions, but the student pays back 50 percent of these fees in easy installments after he gets a job; the other 50 percent of the fees are free-of-charge support to the student. In order to guarantee the seriousness of the student and his commitment, he pays a symbolic financial surety of 1,500 riyals, which will be returned to him immediately on his graduation. Moreover, according to this agreement, the education institutions offer some deductions as support for the program.

In their turn, the education authorities and institutions cooperate with the fund by advertising in the domestic press and on the sites frequented by those targeted the commencement of joining and registration for the program, and also they explain the conditions and procedures of joining and registration. After that, the student submits to the education institutions his application to join the education and vocational program. Moreover, these institutions carry out the training programs according to the approved plan through qualified specialized and experienced trainers, and provide the equipment, laboratories, and row materials necessary for the training; they pay attention to the practical aspects in order to give the student the necessary scientific and technical skills. In order to secure the quality of implementation, the institutions provide the secretariat of the fund with reports every term about the progress of the education, training, and behavior of every student.

(Q) How many loans has the fund granted to the small projects?

[Al-Akkas] There are 22,239,200 riyals of loans to the small projects and the productive families at a total cost of 35,169,105 riyals.

(Q) What are the groups that benefited from these loans?

(A) The policy of the fund is based on the principle of helping the needy to help themselves. Therefore, the fund does not give direct financial aid and support to the needy, but gives them loans to establish small projects that will give them income, or gives them vocational training to get a suitable job or vocation. According to this concept, the beneficiary groups are the needy ones from both sexes who are capable of work.

(Q) How do you support and enable the role of women within the strategy of the ministry?

(A) Women have a prominent role, and they are capable of playing their role in the ministry’s various strategies, programs, activities, and responsibilities toward all members of the society. Women receive all forms of support from the state, a fact that has helped them to prove their ability and suitability to assume leading positions in this ministry. For instance, Princess Sarah Bin-Saud occupies the post of director of the bureau of women’s social supervision in the Riyadh Region, which is a Grade 14 post. This is in addition to women occupying the posts of directors of bureaus of women’s social supervision, directors of centers for comprehensive care and training of women, and in all the regions of the Kingdom there are qualified and trained cadres of doctors, social workers, psychologists, administrators, and workers of all denominations and grades. Work is carried out according to a professional system and well-studied plan in coordination with all the departments of the ministry and other ministries and sectors.

(Q) What has the ministry done to find places to protect women from aggression and exploitation?

(A) The ministry, in coordination with the Ministry of Finance, is pursuing the establishment of units for social protection in the regions of the Kingdom. Bear in mind that the ministry currently whenever it receives a case, sends it to the existing homes of the ministry.

(Q) In many cities women who suffer from persecution or homeless children cannot find a shelter to provide them with protection?

(A) When we discover a case of harm or persecution, or a homeless child with nobody to accommodate them, they are sent to be looked after and sheltered in the homes and centers belonging to this ministry or to the charities the ministry supervises. Reports can be received and sent through the telephone or fax of the Public Department for Social Protection, or through contacting the protection commissions in the regions of the Kingdom.

(Q) What is the strategy of the ministry in supporting the civil society institutions?

(A) The strategy of the ministry in supporting the civil society institutions under the ministry’s supervision is based on encouraging the establishment and the registration of these institutions that are represented by the charitable societies and institutions, following up their work, providing them with the grants legally allocated to them, and offering the necessary technical advice in order to secure the performance of their duties in a way that achieves the aims for which they were established.

(Q) How many civilian organizations has the ministry licensed?

(A) There are 434 charitable societies licensed by the ministry, in addition to 45 private charitable institutions.

(Q) Why has the reliance on the role of the civil society and its institutions remained limited?

(A) The charitable societies play their role in serving their local societies, and their role is not restricted to offering aid to the needy, but it has gone beyond this to supporting the efforts of the ministry. There are many charitable societies that offer services to the orphans, the handicapped, and the elderly by finding homes for the cases that need this. The ministry supports these charitable societies in order to secure that they offer distinguished services to these groups. Also the charitable societies, with the support of the ministry, carry out a process of developing the human resources in general as they allocated a large part of the grants given to them for training and rehabilitating the groups they look after infields needed by the labor market. The charitable societies follow up the process of employment, whether in the public or private sectors, until the new employees become productive and stand on their own feet rather than being dependent on the aid given by the societies. In this field, the societies have succeeded as they established specialized centers in the fields of rehabilitation and employment.

(Q) How can you support voluntary work, and enrich the progress of social and charitable work through voluntary cadres?

(A) Voluntary work is supported by encouraging the establishment of charitable societies whose work is supervised by volunteers, who are members of the boards of directors of these societies.