Editorial: New visa regime a practical move

Updated 12 August 2016
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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.