The public has spoken - Saudi Gazette

The public has spoken

6540 views



The recent arrests and the freezing of assets of princes, businessmen and public servants have been met with robust approval by the public. With its swift and decisive actions, the newly formed anti-government commission has declared its intentions publicly and has avowed to continue targeting more corrupt people by casting a much wider net.

It should be noted that corruption has been one of the elements that served as a springboard to the Arab Spring. And we have not been immune to it. Perhaps, the most public example was the aftermath of the Jeddah rains in 2009 in which 130 people died in the resulting floods. It was determined that bribery played a major part as city officials had granted housing permits illegally on city land not zoned as residential areas. According to an independent published report at the time, the flood disaster exposed bribery and other corruption practices in government departments, which also suffered from the absence of clear policies.

In another instance, in a major charitable organization with funding in the millions, the directors of the charity started first with charitable acts toward themselves. Trusted with dispersing relief to those in need, some went so far as to pad their per diems by falsifying the number of days on their trips or on their flight expenses! And since audit and accountability were sketchy at best, they got away with it.

A new anti-corruption body was formed at the behest of the late King Abdullah to stem the rising tide of corruption and to report on offenders. King Abdullah issued a royal decree in March 2011 for the formation of the commission. This body was set up to deal with all forms of financial and administrative graft, and also to promote the principle of transparency.

At the time, the chairman of the National Authority for Combating Corruption (NACC) affirmed its intent to spare no one in its campaign to stamp out mismanagement and other malpractices at public establishments, adding that there would be no exceptions. “We will not hesitate to strike at corruption wherever it is. Our crackdown will target small and big heads...no one, whoever he is, will be excluded in line with instructions by King Abdullah,” Mohammed Bin Abdullah Al-Sharif was quoted as saying. Unfortunately, the organization has not uncovered any major wrongdoing during all this time.

Under a recent decree by King Salman, the swift action by Crown Prince Muhammad Bin Salman who heads the newly formed commission produced immediate results. Those suspected of corruption, money laundering and bribery were carted off for investigation. Their assets were seized and notice was served on many others not to leave the country.

Hussein, a businessman, says that the public should also play an active part in alerting the appropriate authorities. “Everyone has a role to play in this respect whether he is an official, a businessman, a citizen, a journalist or a scholar...the Kingdom’s anti-corruption strategy should carry over to the school curricula and must include lessons advocating sincerity and protection of public funds.”

Mona, a lawyer, believes that the declaration of assets by public servants can be one tool for checking on ill-gotten gains. “Public institutions will need to set up fair and sustainable compliance management systems. This will help to determine areas that are vulnerable to corruption. They should also launch anti-corruption training for all employees. Whistleblowing should be encouraged. And finally, public service organizations should promote the message to the business sector that the contract with the best bid and not the biggest bribe will be the winner.”

And Ali, a retired civil servant, adds his gratitude to King Salman for this move that should return some of the stolen money and property back to its rightful owners. “The public has witnessed a grand scale robbery since the early 1980s and enough is enough. Let the guilty rot in jail for even that punishment is not enough for the pain they have inflicted on people.”

The authorities’ current determination to stamp out corruption has certainly got off to a good start and people are nodding their heads in affirmation.

— The author can be reached at talmaeena@aol.com. Follow him on Twitter @talmaeena


6540 views