What a waste of words

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The recent rains in Jeddah once again exposed the depth of inefficiency that plagues our civil sectors. Following a brief rain, the lack of a proper drainage system caused severe flooding in neighborhoods and led to the reported death of three individuals.

Once again, the residents of the city vented their anger and frustration against this latest affront. Coupled with the ongoing high-profile investigation that has led to the arrest of several princes, leading businessmen and public servants, the public is demanding more action and wants to know how the billions of government-allocated funds for the city’s infrastructure have been spent.

Exactly 10 years ago, Jeddah Municipality held a much-touted event unveiling their “Jeddah 1450” plan. According to the vice mayor for planning and urban development at Jeddah Municipality at the time, “this vision, which we call Jeddah 1450, is guided by certain principles.”

He said, “the city is facing challenges to preserve and enhance our advantages, which include the rapid population growth, an increased environmental pressure and the onward plan to seek less dependence on oil, all of which call for innovative ideas in terms of urban management and planning, and transport and financing. We are currently engaged in developing a vision for our city with a 20-year perspective. This vision is guided by certain principles that are based on culture, history and the environment.”

Preceding Vision 2020 and Vision 2030, Jeddah 1450 (2030 Gregorian) was yet another ambitious attempt by a bureaucracy which has failed to capture the public’s trust. By setting 2030 as their target, the senior city officials ensured that they would have long retired with healthy bank accounts and be living it up somewhere in the south of France.

As a resident of Jeddah, the mess that has been created in the past few years through inefficient planning and an impotent or corrupt bureaucracy cannot deceive my visual senses. A short drive through Jeddah immediately makes one aware of the following flaws:

Besides the fact that we have no proper rainwater drainage system, our streets and roads are despicable. And the Municipality has not done its job in enforcing laws against the digging and tearing up of roads, only to be resurfaced to substandard measures. Hardly a neighborhood exists in this city that can boast of well-paved streets. It is indeed disgraceful!

Construction debris remains a menace in spite of several Municipal press releases to the contrary. They are supposed to have inspectors who monitor violations, but where they are exactly remains to be seen.

Building permits are being speedily handed out to those interested in setting up shopping centers at practically each intersection, but no thought is going into the negative impact of such construction on neighborhoods. Provisions for parking are laughable at most of these newly planned sites. And the sad part is that we have yet to learn from our mistakes.

It’s bad enough that we suffer a shortage of potable water and have to witness water tankers zipping about to all parts of the city. Or the ghastly sight and smell of septic tankers leaking their load on roads and pavements as they drive about. Or garish billboards on every lamppost. Or the lack of parks in neighborhoods. Seriously, does it really take a rocket scientist to figure out how to keep our Corniche clean and free from pests?

While there are some laws and regulations, such rules are being flaunted in full view of all and sundry, making one wonder if there is anybody at the Municipality seeing or listening to what people go through. The folly is in the enforcement, and no 20-year plan is going to set things right if existing plans are being rapidly defused through mismanagement, corruption and ineffectual planning.

We don’t need a “Jeddah 1450” for now. What a waste of words. What we need is a serious effort by those in the Municipality entrusted as civil servants to do their job properly and do it now, a “Jeddah 2017” if you will. Let the ongoing events at the Ritz Carlton in Riyadh be a wake-up call.

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


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