One of the peculiar symptoms of Saudi society has been the aberrant way on how some of their civil sectors are run and managed. Time after time, newspaper reports on the misdoings of bureaucrats highlights a gnawing problem that has been allowed to linger for far too long.
Peek behind the curtains into the organisation of some public-sector enterprises, and a strange and murky smell will soon invade your nostrils. There are numerous instances of betrayal of public trust that take place on a daily basis through self-serving and unaccountable actions of bureaucrats at the top — actions that inevitably reflect in the poor service that people in Saudi Arabia have come to live with. If there is even one outstanding characteristic that the public sector has, then it is that these enterprises have become a breeding ground for unchecked nepotism.
On a recent visit to one such office, I was provided with first-hand experience of a small group working within this sector. The cushy post of the head of a certain section was suddenly created and quickly assigned to a relative of the one managing that particular division. The new entrant’s primary qualification was his blood ties with his superior.
Approvals for reorganisation were quickly obtained by lofty projections of substantial improvements, once the new system of management was implemented. Those at the very top approving these changes must not have wondered long enough as to why all the previous changes to the organisation had no positive impact on service. In fact, after just about every departmental re-engineering, the opposite had proved to be the norm! Possibly, the top honchos were too engrossed in furthering their own personal agendas.
The resulting atmosphere and actions within the department had an immediate effect. A.S., a member of this organisation was commenting on the fast disappearing morale. “Within this group, there are several individuals, each qualified in his own right, trained and educated, certified and proven in the field, and each one feels betrayed by this action,” he said. He added: “It was indeed a demoralising act that cut through the psyche of common sense and corporate ethics. It was very clear that the creation and assignment of this new post had no justification other than to cater to the promotion of an unqualified ‘brown nose’.
These divisional directors are not there to be served. They are civil servants and have to be reminded of their roles. The public sector is unfortunately rampant with nepotism, which has now become a way of life. Many of the disgruntled workers in these sectors embraced the only course of action they felt was available to them — adopting the ‘silent objection’ mode. They showed up for work on time, they sat at their desks, and they pretended to be busy! Neither their hearts nor their minds were on the job. It was just a job ... a means to provide for their families. All this at the expense of the oblivious end-user: The public.
Why was this allowed to continue in this particular sector? Is it because those at the top chose to administer through a fraternal commune of a country club? Whistle-blowing is a rare phen-omenon in the Arab world and many would rather bear with injustice and hold on to a job rather than go out blazing as heroes.
Where is accountability, I wondered? To what heights is nepotism allowed to continue in a public sector without being checked? The subordinates should have questioned these actions and carried the issue as far up as they could until satisfactory answers were provided. Their silence or meek acceptance of the status quo is indicative of the self-abuse prevalent among most civil servants.
A managing position in a public service company is one of public trust. Abuse of privileges of any sort should not be tolerated, regardless of personal loyalties. Neither should executives be granted the mandate to exercise authority as their personal fiefdom. And what about those suffering subordinates? All I want to tell them is this: If you suffer in silence, it will only end up hurting you. I adopted this self-preserving theory some time back that goes as follows: ‘In life, there are only two kinds of people, the wolves and the lambs. Now guess who ends up on the dinner table as chops?’
Tariq A. Al Maeena is a Saudi socio-political commentator. He lives in Jeddah. You can follow him on Twitter @talmaeena.