The slow-moving state of affairs at Jeddah Airport keeps grating the patience of even the most enduring of people. So many promises about the opening date for the airport just remain that — promises! While the airport authorities did indeed have a soft opening three months ago, it remained stuck at that — a soft opening. Meanwhile, in the heat of summer, most of the residents of Jeddah have to utilise the decrepit and rundown facilities at the airport’s old terminal buildings.
When the government began rounding up businessmen and public figures for corruption and crimes against the state last November, it was like a blessing. No longer did the common man have to put up with the corrupt and underhand deals that deprived them of basic services. That was indeed a positive and encouraging move by the government, an act that was well received by much of the public who have endured years of suffering by certain sections of the civil sector under inefficient bureaucracy.
Bureaucrats in many sectors may take heed that this proactive move is just the beginning. Ineffectual heads of public sector units have been put on notice that there is going to be a measure of accountability, and that they can no longer treat their sectors as a personal fiefdom to indulge in personal growth, riches and ambition at the expense of the public.
And there are many other public service sectors that the government should be looking at. Transportation, communication, health and education come to mind. It goes without saying that the public service rendered in Saudi Arabia in this time and age is wasteful. Some of the public service sectors are infested with personal ambition and nepotism. And all of this at the expense of the common man whom these officials are supposed to serve. Treating government agencies as if they were the personal empire of a section of the bureaucrats must end now. Unless the needs of the public are met in accordance with established standards and norms, the heads of these sectors must be removed immediately. With Vision 2030 in mind, the government no longer has any patience for ineffectual performance.
Meanwhile, the period before Haj brings forth an army of beggars to Saudi Arabia. One of the props used in such nefarious activity is the use very young children to earn money through beggary. Drive up to any traffic light today and you are most likely to be met with a beggar seeking alms. In the heat of the afternoon sun, it is not unusual to see an Asian lady carrying an infant in her arms and scampering her way through traffic, knocking on vehicle windows for daily pittance. Or an African child, barely beyond his toddler years, pleading for your generosity. Or a little Asian girl barely three-feet tall insisting you buy her some chewing gum.
This has become a growing epidemic in the city, subjecting children to a great deal of harm as they may be run over by passing vehicles. One wonders why the authorities are allowing this form of child abuse? And although I sometimes privately rebuke myself for not giving in to the pleas of these beggars, I wonder where does one stop? These beggars are everywhere now: At traffic lights, outside supermarkets and restaurants, and even at your front gate.
Media reports of some very wealthy beggars with big trunks full of money have certainly not gone unnoticed. And while we genuinely try to help those in need, how can we sieve the genuinely needy from the fakes?
The point is, if I can notice these beggars daily, why can’t the authorities? They should all be rounded up, for their own safety and security. The ones from overseas who are in Saudi Arabia with the excuse of Haj must be told about the dangers of seeking alms. The ones who are really deprived can be given proper care and comfort. And I would be more than willing to contribute my share. But let’s not allow innocent children being exploited, misused and mistreated.
Tariq A. Al Maeena is a Saudi socio-political commentator. He lives in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. Twitter: @talmaeena.