Why Saudi government workers are barred from private sector jobs
A certain rivalry has existed for decades between people who work in government jobs, and those in the private sector. Both sides do their best to promote their own roles, to highlight the advantages of one sector and the disadvantages of the other.
On the plus side, each team tries to prove it has a greater positive impact on the economy, and on society as a whole. On the negative side, there is the monotony and dull routine of most public sector jobs, weighed against relative job insecurity in the private sector; the debate rages, and probably always will. What, however, about those who try to combine the two — working as a government employee or public servant in the morning, and a private sector employee or trader in the evening?
The short answer is, they cannot; it’s illegal. Article 14 of the civil service law prohibits government employees from working in the private sector in general, and from engaging in specific commercial activities such as opening a shop, buying and selling property, brokering and exchange services, contracting and supplying businesses, and establishing or managing a company.
This does not, however, mean government employees are barred from all commercial activities other than their job. They may sell or lease their own property, invest in their own own agricultural land and contribute to companies related to their personal expertise or knowledge, provided they do not use such expertise or knowledge to engage in business activities or retail enterprise.
The law has several objectives. The first is to ensure that public sector work is carried out to the highest standards, and that government employees are aware of the importance of their role, and are fully committed to it.
The regulator also ensures there is no conflict of interests or incompatibility between government and private sector work, and that government staff do not exploit their employment connections for personal gain.
Moreover, clearly, if government employees also occupy private sector jobs, this reduces employment opportunities for others who may be seeking work.
Any public official found to be engaging in a private sector trade or profession without statutory authorization may be fined up to SR10,000. Anyone proved to have exploited government relations and connections for their own or others’ benefit may be imprisoned.
Unfortunately, despite the law and the penalties that come with it, there are still individuals and groups who exploit their government jobs, connections and influence to establish private companies. Not only that, but they do so secretly, concealing their involvement — another crime that the Kingdom has been combating since the establishment in 2015 of Nazaha, the National Anti-Corruption Commission.
Dimah Talal Alsharif is a Saudi legal consultant, head of the health law department at the law firm of Majed Garoub and a member of the International Association of Lawyers.