Al-Assaf leads Saudi delegation

Ibrahim Al-Assaf, minister of state and member of the Cabinet, arrives in Hamburg, Germany, on Thursday to attend the G-20 Summit. (AFP)
Updated 07 July 2017
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Al-Assaf leads Saudi delegation

RIYADH: Ibrahim Al-Assaf, minister of state and member of the Cabinet, is leading the Saudi delegation attending the two-day Group of Twenty (G-20) Summit, beginning Friday in Hamburg, Germany.
On behalf of King Salman, Al-Assaf will lead the Kingdom’s delegation at the summit, SPA, the official news agency, said Thursday.
Notably, Germany is holding the presidency of the G-20 summit this year and Hamburg is hosting the annual summit, where more than 20 heads of state or government, as well representatives of international organizations, will meet and discuss economic and financial issues.
Hamburg is a major trade hub, with Europe’s third-largest port, cutting-edge architecture, a cosmopolitan atmosphere and a history of international relations.
The meeting assumes significance as a platform to set the economic agenda for the 20 major economies in the world, with the G-20 leaders discussing global economic growth, international trade and financial-market regulation.
This year’s summit will focus on ensuring stability, improving sustainability and accountability, addressing issues of politics, economics, finance, trade, employment and achieving goals of sustainable development.
“The G-20 summit will focus not just on growth, but on sustainable growth,” German Chancellor Angela Merkel said in a video message available on the summit’s website.
That would be a win-win situation for everybody, she added.
The visiting Saudi delegation is also expected to sign agreements with the member countries to further enhance mutual cooperation.
The heads of the World Trade Organization, World Bank and International Monetary Fund have called on G-20 leaders to take “decisive actions” to deepen global trade integration.
Roberto Azevedo, Jim Yong Kim and Christine Lagarde said in a joint statement Thursday that too many trade barriers have been preserved and new ones created over recent years.
They wrote that “such policies can cause a chain reaction, as other countries adopt similar measures with the effect of lowering overall growth, reducing output, and harming workers.”
They said that one part of reinvigorating trade needs “is to remove trade barriers and reduce subsidies and other measures that distort trade.”
Trade is likely to be a contentious issue at the G-20 summit.
China, meanwhile, stressed the need for friendly economic cooperation with the US after recent comments from President Donald Trump suggested he may be reviving his criticism of Beijing’s trade practices.
Zhu Guangyao, a Chinese deputy finance minister, said before the start of G-20 meetings in Hamburg working together was a “win-win” situation.
He said: “China and the US have very practical economic teams, we all know that peace can bring win-win outcomes, while fighting will leave everyone the loser.”
He said the two countries have maintained close cooperation since meetings in April between Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping and that China hopes to “follow the important consensus reached at the (April) Mar-a-Lago meetings at the upcoming meetings of the G-20 summit.”
— With inputs from AP


How ‘Absher’ app liberates Saudis from government bureaucracy

The Absher website also provides information on how to report wanted persons, or administrative or financial corruption. (Supplied)
Updated 17 February 2019
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How ‘Absher’ app liberates Saudis from government bureaucracy

  • Western media mistaken in portraying app as a tool of repression, leading female journalist says

JEDDAH: Absher, the “one-click” e-services app launched by the Interior Ministry in 2015, is now regarded as the leading government platform for Saudi citizens, freeing them from bureaucratic inefficiency and endless queuing for everyday services.
However, in a recent New York Times article, the app was criticized as a “tool of repression” following claims by Democratic Senator Ron Wyden and women’s rights groups.
Apple and Google were urged to remove the application from their devices over claims that it “enables abhorrent surveillance and control of women.”
In an official statement, the ministry rejected the allegations and said the Absher platform centralized more than 160 different services for all members of society, including women, the elderly and people with special needs.
The app makes electronic government services available for beneficiaries to access directly at any time and from any place in the Kingdom, the ministry said.
Absher allows residents of the Kingdom to make appointments, renew IDs, passports, driver’s licenses, car registration and other services with one click.
Many Saudis still recall having to queue at government agencies, such as passport control offices and civil affairs departments, for a variety of official procedures. Appointments could take weeks to arrange, with people relying on their green files, or “malaf allagi” — the 1980s and 1990s paper form of Absher that was known as the citizen’s “lifeline,” both figuratively and literally.
Hours would be spent as government departments ferried files back and forth, and if a form was lost, the whole transaction process would have to start again. As complicated as it was for men, women suffered more.
Muna Abu Sulayman, an award-winning strategy adviser and media personality, told Arab News the introduction of Absher had helped strengthen women’s rights.
Sulayman said she was disappointed at comments on the e-services platform being made abroad. “There are consequences that people don’t understand. It’s a very idealistic and naive way of understanding what is going on,” she said.
“The discussion on the guardianship law is internal and ongoing — it is something that has to be decided by our society and not as a result of outside pressure. We’re making strides toward equality and Absher is a step in the right direction,” she said.
“In a Twitter survey, I asked how many women have access to their guardian’s Absher. Most answered that they control their own fate. Men who don’t believe in controlling women gave them access to their Absher and that shows an increase in the participation of women in their own decision-making.”
Absher also provides services such as e-forms, dealing with Hajj eligibility, passport control, civil affairs, public services, traffic control, and medical appointments at government hospitals.
The platform is available to all men and women, and removes much of the bureaucracy and time wasting associated with nonautomated administrative systems.
On the issue of granting women travel permits, the law requires a male guardian to grant it through the portal, as well as for men under the age of 21.
Retired King Abdullah University professor Dr. Zainab M. Zain told Arab News: “I always had issues with my passport renewal as well as my children’s as they are both non-Saudi. For years it was risky not to follow up properly at passport control — you never knew what could happen, but now I can renew their permits by paying their fees online through Absher from the comfort of my home in Abu Dhabi.”
Ehsanul Haque, a Pakistani engineer who has lived in the Kingdom for more than 30 years, said: “Absher has helped tremendously with requests, such as exit and entry visas for my family and myself. I can receive approval within an hour whereas once it would’ve taken me days,” he said.
“The platform has eased many of my troubles.”
The Absher website also provides information on how to report wanted persons, or administrative or financial corruption.
In April, 2018, the ministry launched “Absher Business,” a technical initiative to transfer its business services to an interactive digital system.
With an annual fee of SR2,000 ($533), business owners such as Marwan Bukhary, owner of Gold Sushi Club Restaurant in Jeddah, used the portal to help manage his workers’ needs in his expanding business.
“There are many features in Absher that helps both individual and establishment owners,” he said. “I took advantage of the great features it provided, and it saved me a lot of time and trouble and also my restaurant workers. It’s a dramatic change. When Absher Business was launched last year, it organized how I needed to manage my workers’ work permits.
“Through the system, I could see the status of all my employees, renew their permits, grant their exit and entry visas, and have their permits delivered to my house or my business through the post after paying the fees. It saved business owners a lot of time and energy.
“I used to have to do everything manually myself or have my courier help. I believe it’s the government’s most advanced system yet with more features being added every now and then,” Bukhary said.
“Absher has eased our burden, unlike the old days when we needed to visit government offices and it would take four weeks just to get an appointment. One click is all it takes now.”