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The Most Abused Four-Letter Word – OpEd

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Undeniably, the most abused four-letter word used by our public service officials in the press is the word “soon”. The intent of its usage is to convey the feel-good attitude of something good about to happen. But for those who have followed the news for over the years, this four-letter word seems to convey anything but action. Instead it takes the form of a subtle drug to dispel our concerns about some public service issue or the other.

A trek through the news journals of recent history will bear truth to much of what I have to say. For example, in the early 1990’s of the last century it was announced that the national airline, Saudia, would “soon” be privatized and services would improve. For some odd reason, the new century started with new sign of progress on the privatization issue until very recently. “Soon” here translated into something like almost 15 years!

During that period, there had also been countless promises of “soon” there would be a state of the art phone-in reservation center, and the latest in aircraft technology. Try calling the airline’s reservation facilities today and if someone answers you within the first 10 minutes, then consider yourself as one of the lucky ones.

Jeddah airport, a blot on the landscape for travelers in and out of the city for its dilapidated and outdated facilities would on many occasions draw the word “soon” from those who ran this facility. Invariably after a severe bout of lashing in the press about seasonal drawbacks over the years such as lack of air-conditioning or overcrowding or broken luggage conveyor belts to mention a few, the word “soon” would be part of the contents of a press release promising the residents of world-class facilities. This exercise has been going on just about as long as the airline’s promise to privatize and improve its services.

Also back in the 1990s an announcement from the Ministry of Social Services that all public buildings would have facilities for disabled people drew quiet applause. Ramps for wheelchairs, handrails and special toilet facilities would “soon” be introduced. There would be special parking areas reserved for the disabled, with special parking stickers for their vehicles.

Take a walk in most public service buildings today and let me know if you spot such amenities for the disabled. If you do, then I should continue no more.

In the early part of this new century, the Ministry of Transport announced plans that would “soon” ease traffic problems in the major cities such as Jeddah and Riyadh. Through the use of effective flyovers and a public transport and shuttle bus system, the crowding of our streets would “soon” be a thing of the past. Many flyovers have come about in the city of Jeddah since then. But have they solved the traffic problem? All I have to do is drive on Madinah Road to know how abused and grating to the ears that four-letter word has become.

Immediately following the Makkah school fire back in 2002 when tragically 15 schoolgirls died, there were also assurances by various civil departments that all schools would “soon” undergo a vigorous fire safety inspection and offending schools would be shut down. It is nearing the end of 2011 and it is only today that we are hearing of schools being shut down today for such offenses. Does it indeed take nine years to get something as vital to public welfare as this done?

And remember those promises when we all would “soon” have proper house or building numbers along with proper street names and addresses? If my memory serves me right, those promises first emerged from robust city planners some thirty years ago. Can you post a letter to your friend’s home across the city today? Thank God for post office box numbers.

Perhaps the granddaddy of them in the use of the word “soon” by our public service officials are the multi-promises echoed by our Municipal leaders over the past forty years or so regarding the implementation of sewage and drain water systems in the city. Since the 1980s many a mayor or municipal leader had promised we would soon have a network of waste water systems that would ease all our troubles. Streets were dug up, drainage pipes were laid and yet the same streets keep getting dug up again, and the pipes removed and replaced. Somehow, Civil Engineering aptitude seems to have missed our municipal and road works officials, as most of the city still waits for the promised systems.

Over the years, there have been many other grandiose promises by our city officials promising of a better tomorrow “soon” and it would indeed take a much longer narrative to capture them all. Perhaps they expect the masses to be gullible or ignorant and would believe everything dished out to them. And “soon” this and “soon” that have somehow tempered down our expectations over the years. Maybe that has been the intent all along. Happy 2012!

Tariq A. Al-Maeena

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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