GCC’s giant leap into economic cohesion

Updated 03 June 2016

GCC’s giant leap into economic cohesion

The Gulf Cooperation Council has achieved an economic milestone during a meeting in the Kingdom on Tuesday. In the 35 years since the GCC was established, its strength has grown. The progress has not always been consistent. But the overwhelming imperative has been for all six member countries to grow closer together. The arguments have been useful and important. They have been the whetstone on which the cutting edge of the GCC has been sharpened.
With each of its evolutions the organization has moved forward. One example epitomizes the process. All governments have ministries whose responsibilities tend to overlap. An ambitious, supranational project such as the GCC means there are likely to be more than six ministries engaged on any one issue. All the government departments concerned believe that they have a useful contribution to offer. This is understandable. But the sheer numbers involved often makes for long and detailed discussions as ministers and their officials reach for a consensus.
There comes a point where a swifter mechanism is required to focus on developments even more effectively. The GCC’s new Economic and Development Affairs Commission is a classic example of such a mechanism. It was agreed upon this week in Jeddah when Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Salman chaired the GCC’s 16th Consultative meeting.
The EDAC’s job is to tighten economic cooperation. It could have been set up years ago. But the time was not right. Had it been established prematurely, it could very well have become a talking shop, frustrating decision-making. That incapacity could have damaged the whole GCC vision.
As it is, all member states have agreed that now is the right time for EDAC. The body is clearly necessary to work through the challenges of closer economic integration and development. The radically-weakened oil price is causing a thoroughgoing reassessment of government finances. Subsidies are being reduced. Capital projects are being reviewed. Taxation options are being considered. Clearly, there needs to be an effective liaison to ensure the adjustments being made by individual member states do not impede the wider GCC integration program.
The EDAC has been given the standing and authority to coordinate the solutions proposed by governments. It will take the ideas and representations from all the different ministries. It will sort and refine them and present them as tested proposals to the GCC governments.
Foreign Minister Adel Al-Jubeir described EDAC as a “quantum leap.” Over the years, the GCC secretariat has grown in scope. It has kept member states in close touch with each other. It has produced some compelling policy papers. But it has never had the high-level brief that has been given to EDAC. The economic and development challenges before the GCC today could hardly be greater. EDAC has been designed to meet them.
In addition, EDAC is a testament to the wider cohesion and integration of GCC states. Iran has thrown down a security gauntlet. It has made clear its malign intentions. Nothing would better suit the leadership in Tehran than to sow division within the GCC. It has demonstrated its aggression toward Bahrain, the UAE and the Kingdom itself. It has sought and failed to undermine regional stability by sponsoring bloody rebellion in Yemen. It seeks confrontation wherever it can.
The sad plight of Iranian pilgrims kept from the Haj is Tehran’s latest deplorable stunt. It took exception to the Haj agreement which had been signed by every other Muslim state in the world. That agreement was designed to provide a safe and successful pilgrimage to every single guest welcomed to the Kingdom.
For Iran, the GCC is a threat to its plan for regional hegemony. The organization’s unity of political and economic purpose is clearly checking this damaging ambition. But there is another aspect to the GCC which ordinary Iranians must recognize.
The Kingdom and its fellow GCC members pose not a threat but an opportunity for their neighbors across the Gulf. It is one of the world’s wealthiest and most powerful trading blocks. In better times, the GCC will surely play a major role in Iran’s economic recovery and prosperity.
The direct message from the GCC to the Iranian people is that the confrontation sought by their government is dangerous. It does not have to be this way. The united GCC represents a formidable fist that will repel Iranian aggression. But that fist can also open out to extend a generous hand of friendship.

EDITORIAL: Jeddah floods a reminder of why we need the anti-corruption drive

Saudi drivers take a flooded street in Jeddah on Tuesday. (AFP)
Updated 22 November 2017

EDITORIAL: Jeddah floods a reminder of why we need the anti-corruption drive

It has happened again. The roads, streets and many underpasses in Jeddah were flooded with rainwater on Tuesday. Many areas were turned into lakes because of the heavy, though forecast, downpour. In some areas, water was knee-deep while in others it was chest-deep. People were stuck in their vehicles and many were seen pushing their vehicles to the side of the roads with great difficulty. In low-lying areas, citizens struggled to remove their belongings from flooded houses.

For the residents of Jeddah, rain has, more often than not, brought trouble and devastation. Whenever the skies open up, thoughts go back to that “Black Wednesday” of November 25, 2009, when more than 100 people lost their lives and property worth billions of riyals was destroyed. An investigation was opened into the disaster and some of the guilty were taken to court and tried; some of the small fry were even jailed. As has been the case in the past, the mighty arm of the law could barely touch those at the top who enjoyed immunity from prosecution.

And so it was business as usual until the rain began to wreak havoc again, reminding us that the laws of nature take their course and that hiding your head in the sand does not chase the clouds away.

Having said that, it must be admitted that, yes, lessons were learned. A disaster management team was set up. The weather forecast department became active in issuing alerts. In fact, Tuesday could have been far worse had it not been for the timely alert from the Presidency of Meteorology and Environment (PME) and a prompt decision by the Ministry of Education to suspend classes, schools and universities in and around Jeddah. That helped in keeping people and vehicles off the streets. At noon on Tuesday, it looked as if the city were under some kind of curfew.

The questions that are on everyone's minds right now are: Why is it that rain renders the city helpless and immobile at this time every year? Why have efforts to create effective rainwater drainage systems not borne fruit despite pumping billions of riyals into new projects such as dams and canals? Why is it that the authorities are found wanting whenever heavy rain occurs? More importantly, what is the solution?

Here is the answer. These floods are a stark reminder of why the current drive against corruption is so essential. It is required in order to instill the fear of law into high-ranking officials and heads of construction companies and civic bodies who have failed in their responsibilities. Those who have cut corners and have pocketed public money, those who have not delivered on the projects and who have provided substandard services must pay for their sins of omission.

This is exactly what is happening. No one is above the law. The guilty, whoever they are, however high up they are, will have to pay — and they are. In this new era of transparency and accountability — initiated by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman — word has gone down from top to bottom that no one is immune. If you are guilty you will be punished. Those responsible for the havoc of the floods on Tuesday will have no rest either.