The war on corruption

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IF I were to summarize my answers to press interviewers on the creation of the supreme committee to fight corruption headed by Crown Prince Muhammad Bin Salman, I would put it as follows:

Q: Why now?

A: Why not? We have had to live with corruption issues for ages. Tons of cases were opened and closed, with years of investigations and few indictments. The government agencies charged with the task of fighting corruption have failed so far to give us solid results. Many of those responsible for the disasters like Jeddah floods in 2010 and 2013, are still free to enjoy the millions/billions they stole in the form of money and real estates. Not to mention all the mega projects with inflated cost and deflated quality and the shady deals, power abuse, money laundering and misuse of public funds and properties.

It was high time someone did something about it. The King and his Crown Prince did exactly what we were waiting for — only faster and greater than our best expectations and sweetest dreams.

So, instead of asking why now, we should be asking why not before. And the answer to that is: We have had enough of the incompetency of the process and the processors. The system as is, (till last week), was ineffective and incompetent to deal with the files at hand. A higher authority had to be created with the mandate and required power tools to do the job, as quickly, efficiently and comprehensively as should be.

Q: Why start at the very top?

A: Because that is exactly where we should start. Leaders are supposed to lead, inspire and set a model to be followed. If the example they set is so low, what do we expect from their followers? Worst, such model is creating a whole societal culture that tolerates corruption and regards stealing from public treasure as fair game. You cannot heal a body if the head is sick.

Q. So what is the message?

A. Actually there are two messages here. One for the Saudi people which basically says that we won’t tolerate corruption any longer. Starting today, the cleaning process is on full speed. If you are clean, you will benefit from the new environment. If you are dirty, then clean up or else!

The second message is for the world which declares that Saudi Arabia is entering the race for the global best business and investment environment. Justice, honesty and the rule of law are top. Corruption in all its forms is bottom. Investors, inventors, workers and businessmen will enjoy an even playground, where the best may win. No one is above the law, and no VIP is privileged enough to have an easier run or a corner cut in any competition.

Q: What this has to do with the Saudi Vision 2030?

A: Everything! In the new world we dream, plan and sweat for, we can’t tolerate dirty tricks and money, low quality projects, overpriced services or under-the-table deals. Our new world will shine under the bright sun, and those who can only live and work in the dark have no space or place reserved.

Q: Are there unintended consequences? Bad reactions? Strong backlashes?

A. Maybe. For every action there is a reaction. However, these are well-studied moves. Safeguards must have been taken. Countermoves were readied.

As for the economy, I believe it will benefit from the cleanup. Not only foreign investors and businessmen will love the new order, decent locals will find it to their best expectations and standards. The youth and women were complaining for ages about uneven playground. A healthier environment and culture will certainly give them more space and horizons. No more glass ceilings, the sky is the limit.

Q. Is there any link between the war on corruption, local politics and regional conflicts?

A. We are not an isolated island. We do live in a dangerous neighborhood and competitive political and business world. If we don’t wake up quick and sharp, the slippery road we have been walking for ages will take us down — way down! With our oil getting cheaper and irrelevant, soon enough we might not have sufficient income to sustain our development and life style.

Time is running out. Regional conflicts are eating up our treasury. Facing Iran’s destructive intervention and sponsorship of terrorism are distracting us. The war on terror is depleting our resources. We cannot afford atop all of that to let the corrupted steal our wealth, slow our development and derail our economy.

Q. Finally, what does the future look with all these upheavals?

A. I would call it an historic recreation. Our world as we know is reborn. The new world is more youthful, forward, smart, decent and bright. I love it already! Don’t you?

Dr. Khaled M. Batarfi is a Saudi writer based in Jeddah. He can be reached at kbatarfi@gmail.com. Follow him at Twitter:@kbatarfi


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