The Council of Ministers has recently approved the establishment of a high-level committee, chaired by the Ministry of Labor Adel Fakeih, to oversee the Saudization of operation and maintenance jobs in government departments. The committee will be required to activate royal decrees and implement related resolutions and present an annual report to higher authorities explaining its achievements and the difficulties it has faced.
Hopefully the high-powered committee will make a difference and can come up with better plans to boost the Saudization process. Meanwhile, the business community is weary of the Saudization strategy and those seeking employment are frustrated over their inability to satisfy the requirements of the market.
In spite of the many programs initiated by the Ministry of Labor to upgrade the skills of Saudi citizens and the large budget allocated to the Ministry of Education to raise the quality of education, many of our young graduates entering the workforce are still not qualified. Moreover the government so far is unable to accommodate the large numbers of unskilled laborers and the private sector is not willing to lose business in order to accommodate them. The Nitaqat initiative has not succeeded in addressing the creation of a sufficient number of new jobs for the unemployed and has not provided the proper environment for enabling them to contribute to the development and building of the nation.
The government continues to be challenged to revise the Saudization strategy, amend laws and regulations, and supervise and monitor a more efficient implementation of new regulations and initiatives.
It would be tragic if we compromised on international standards of safety in operation and maintenance jobs. The public needs a commitment that public services will be rejuvenated by making changes in managerial and maintenance personnel. Incompetent officials should be replaced by more creative and progressive experts, who can provide more innovative strategies for administrative services, operations, emergency rules, maintenance and technical work, all of which are vital elements in the implementation of international standards of services rendered to citizens.
Those in the industrial sector are disappointed by the poor level of skills and technical knowhow despite the revenue spent to upgrade government maintenance and operation sectors. Maintenance and operations are important tasks that require early training and education to produce qualified skilled labor. More people should be encouraged to take on maintenance and technical jobs and the negative attitude toward them should be corrected.
The public must recognize that the services of technical personnel and skilled laborers are vital to our national economy.
The persistent complaints of citizens have not been met with meaningful monitoring and supervision to implement standards in services rendered. A lot of money is wasted and archaic rules and outdated systems only make problems worse.
Let us learn about innovative practices applied in more advanced countries and create centers for research and innovation. These centers can provide research and analysis on key issues, promote creative solutions to improve the quality of services, inspire ideas for decision makers to use in tackling tough issues, offer opportunities for the public to connect with officials, and provide a platform for experts in the field to share their experiences. Such centers could enable officials to engage in dialogue with civil society. They could offer more transparency and collaboration with stakeholders in the community and could strengthen government services to the public. It is time we replace traditional government departments with “Service Centers,” which can address the needs of citizens as they arise.
The staff of these centers would meet with citizens to determine priorities and eliminate problems.
The public should have access to more effective well-designed regularly updated websites and online forums that would allow citizens to submit comments and questions online.
Decision makers must plan a broader strategic reorganization to address our shortcomings. Private sector collaboration, civic engagement and participatory practices can be more effective in identifying obstacles and providing solutions. The government must work with the private sector and not against it. An alliance between government and the private sector can facilitate the planning process. A coalition of civil society organizations can work toward implementing an inclusive problem-solving approach and help develop more adequate strategies.
(Samar Fatany is a radio broadcaster and writer. This article was first published in the Saudi Gazette on Sept. 29, 2012)