Editorial: New visa regime a practical move

Updated 12 August 2016

Editorial: New visa regime a practical move

A range of important regulatory changes has been made by the Council of Ministers. Under the chairmanship of Vice Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques Prince Mohammed bin Naif, decisions were made that reflect the reality and are based on a pragmatic approach. The Kingdom will pay the SR2,000 visa fee for those coming for Umrah and Haj for the first time.
This move serves two purposes. It discourages those who make multiple pilgrimages. It therefore creates room for others to make the obligatory Haj. It also ensures that those who come for Haj more than once are able to support themselves.
The decision has been welcomed. The ambassadors from Pakistan, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka were among the first to appreciate the move.
There have also been important changes to the exit, entry, transit and other visitor fees. These are designed to boost the continued growth of economic diversification. The German ambassador stressed their significance. He hoped they would ease business between the Kingdom and its international trading partners.
The changes are part of the drive to improve the quality of official services. This includes the growth of e-government. Saudi Arabia already scores highly in terms of the regulations to set up businesses. But the government knows that local companies are operating in a competitive regional and global environment. Quality official support is essential. Improvement is not a single stride. It is a continuous process. There are always new efficiencies to be found. There are always better ways to implement them.
The Council of Ministers has also given local government a stronger income base. New fees will fund improvements in its services. These range from e-government to waste recycling. Environmental health schemes will boost health in cities. Ecologically-friendly parks and playgrounds will be added to the existing gardens and recreational open spaces.
Such developments will be part of a new national urban planning system. Municipalities will be able to learn from each other. The emphasis will be on following the best-in-class. And where local government seems to be getting it wrong, citizens will have swifter remedies. A new online platform is being established. This will not simply host complaints. It is also going to be a place where people can offer ideas for improvements or completely new services.
All of this is highly positive. But the Council of Ministers also addressed one of the great negatives of daily life. The Kingdom’s roads are among the most dangerous in the world. This is in part to do with the selfish and inconsiderate behavior of far too many motorists. But drivers do not come more selfish and inconsiderate than young drifters.
Illegal organized events where young people defy traffic cops and perform dangerous stunts on public roads often end in death and injury. They are unacceptable crimes. They cause the loss of innocent lives. The police struggle to deal with them. The youths post guards to warn of their approach. Participants then scatter. And worse, when the motorized hooligans were caught, the fines were too small to matter. Confiscation of vehicles was rare.
All this has now changed. The Council of Ministers has decreed that first time offenders will be fined SR20,000. Their vehicles will be impounded until the fine is paid. The fine doubles for second time offenders and rises to SR60,000 if a young man is caught for a third time. Of equal importance is the likelihood that drifters will be referred to a special court which could send them to prison. Vehicles can be seized permanently. If the offender is using a rented or stolen automobile, the fine will be increased to cover the value of that car.
These tough measures were overdue. As with the introduction of Saher speed cameras there will be protests. But unlike the speed cameras, there will be less chance of getting around the new anti-drifter regulations. In the short-term, some young tearaways may see the new rules as adding spice to their dangerous pastime. But once drifters have seen to feel the full force of the law, attitudes will change.
The mystery is that properly-staged drifting tournaments have not caught on. Many young drivers display high levels of skill. Those who enjoy watching automobiles skidding round and round could do so from secure platforms on designated sites. But of course the illegality and danger are part of the thrill. Now however, those who take part and risk the lives of spectators and other motorists are about to discover that there is an extremely high price to be paid for their dangerous selfishness.

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.