The News With A Twist – OpEd


There are occasions when the local print media offer snippets of news that simply has to be commented on sooner or later.

Sometimes it is because the story may be incomplete and at other times, it may be debatable. I saved a few such snippets for today’s column. The first news item was a report that the government was considering banning all its employees from using smart phones and tablets, such as iPhones, iPads, and BlackBerry devices during working hours. According to a spokesman in the Department of Civil Status in Riyadh, the directors-general of three ministries that have excessive contact with the public have sent letters to their superiors requesting that they look into the issue of excessive usage, after receiving complaints from members of the public.

The spokesman added, “Over the last six months there have been several verbal complaints from the public about the widespread use of these devices. We in the Department of Civil Status have noticed this increasing trend. We have submitted a letter to the Ministry of Interior to look into the matter and to see whether a circular can be issued to cover the employees of all the ministries.”

He added that this issue would ultimately have to be assessed by the Committee of Experts which reports to the Council of Ministers. The resulting directive is expected “to cover all ministries and public agencies,” he added. All well and good, I say, so long as the public’s interests are first and foremost. But in today’s world, just about everybody carries one smart phone or two to remain connected and I would venture to presume that many government employees use these gadgets primarily for their work. They should not be denied possession by a blanket ban, just because of the odd loafers who if not for smart phones or iPads would be probably reading the newspapers instead and shirking their duties.

So please, no blanket bans because of a few oddballs.

The second item relates to the criticism of the Ministry of Labor for failing to provide the taxi industry with 10,000 drivers to replace foreigners currently behind the wheels of the Kingdom’s limousines. This lack of Saudi drivers has hampered the government’s Saudization program. Limousine companies, while offering no reasonable justification for poor services, also oppose Saudis working full-time in the industry, stating that Saudi drivers are unreliable or prefer to work with their own cars instead of working for taxi companies. The Shoura Council is currently studying the issue in an effort to alleviate the situation. If legislation is approved, then it is expected that Saudis would have to take up full-time jobs in the industry. But the chairman of the taxi committee at the Jeddah Chamber of Commerce and Industry Muhammad Al-Wehtan said that taxi companies should be allowed to recruit drivers from abroad to help them improve their services. He added, “Taxi companies will feel honored to hire Saudis but Saudis are not ready to work full-time for taxi companies.” Again, the real issue here is Saudization. But why is Saudization confined to limousine drivers? Are there not enough qualified and able Saudis to replace the thousands of executives working in our private sectors? I personally know of two leading construction companies whose executives are primarily expatriates, some performing redundant jobs that can be easily performed by mid-level qualified Saudi executives seeking a career change from their present professions.

Why doesn’t the Labor Ministry target this bracket? And finally as reported, several members of the Council of Senior Ulema reprimanded Saher traffic monitoring system violators including those who have taken to physical force against some of the monitoring personnel. Dr. Abdullah Al-Mutlaq, a member of the council stated that camouflaging or replacing vehicle number plates to prevent detection by Saher cameras was a violation of public-interest regulations, and is not allowed under Islamic law.

He further condemned those who attacked Saher staff and property. “Attacks against supervisors of the system, whether of the Traffic Department, municipalities or any other supervisory authority or ministry that implements the regulations and prevents cheating, is an attack on the law itself. These are forbidden and detestable acts under the Shariah. From the Shariah perspective, whoever carries out such acts deserves punishment, to deter them from such behavior in future because they are hindering regulations laid down by the state to protect them.”

The only issue I see here is why do we need a member from the council of senior ulema to tell us what is right and wrong when it comes to violence and cheating? Those are sins ordained as unacceptable and damning in religious books from time began in all cultures and civilizations, and we above all who have gone through the school system with its emphasis on religious teachings should be the first to understand that. Not unless the school system has failed us. Stay tuned for more twists to the news.

Tariq A. Al-Maeena

Tariq A. Al Maeena is a Saudi socio-political commentator and was educated at the University of Denver. He lives in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. He can be reached at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @talmaeena

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