Peace, security and economy top agenda of Saudi Shoura session

The current Shoura Council is composed of 150 members including 30 women members. (SPA)
Updated 15 November 2018
0

Peace, security and economy top agenda of Saudi Shoura session

  • Al-Khunaizi said that King Salman’s speech will have “added political and economic significance, and it will lay out the agenda for the rest of the Shoura’s term”

RIYADH: King Salman on Monday will deliver his inaugural address at the Shoura Council, where he will talk about a range of local and regional issues and urge lawmakers to support the government in taking the country forward.
The king’s speech, which will serve as a guideline for Shoura members, will begin the deliberations of the new parliamentary year of the 150-member council.
“The king’s visit to the Shoura is of utmost importance, and his speech will define domestic, regional and foreign policies,” said Hoda Al-Helaissi, a member of the Shoura Council here on Wednesday.
“With the visit of King Salman to the Shoura Council to mark the beginning of the third year of the seventh term, we take a moment to reflect on the past year,” Al-Helaissi said.
She said that “the past year has been a year of challenges and opportunities both within the Kingdom and abroad.”
“Remarkably, as is in our nature, and as exemplified by our leadership, we have remained steadfast in our values and beliefs, committed as a country to the well-being of our citizens, not least as explained in what has now become known as Saudi Arabia’s road-map for the future, Vision 2030,” Al-Helaissi said.
“As the home of the Two Holy Mosques and as an important strategic player in the region, Saudi Arabia has an important role in global politics and we look forward to hearing the king’s speech this coming Monday,” Al-Helaissi said.
Guidelines for addressing local and regional challenges with a special reference to domestic and foreign policies will be spelled out by King Salman, she said.
“Elaborate preparations have been made to receive the king on this occasion,” said Mohammed Al-Khunaizi, another member of the Shoura Council. Al-Khunaizi said that King Salman’s speech will have “added political and economic significance, and it will lay out the agenda for the rest of the Shoura’s term.”
“The occasion marks the beginning of the new year for the council,” said Al-Khunaizi, while forecasting a number of proposals, decisions, draft legislation, treaties and foreign policy matters to be discussed and debated in 2019.
He said that the king’s speech may touch on subjects such as society, security, peace, stability, extremism, economy, financial reforms, regional challenges and foreign policy matters.
Al-Khunaizi noted that the role of women members of the Shoura Council had lent new dimension to the debate and deliberations of the council. He said that the current Shoura Council is composed of 150 members including 30 women members.


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
0

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.”