After the conclusion of the work of the Supreme Committee to Fight Corruption, headed by Crown Prince Muhammad Bin Salman, many in the media have raised valid questions. Here is a summary of my answers to them.
— Why not? We have had to live with corruption issues for ages. Tons of cases were opened and closed, with years of investigation and few indictments. The government agencies charged with the task of fighting corruption have failed so far to give us solid results. Many of those responsible for the disasters that resulted from Jeddah floods in 2011 are still free to enjoy the millions/billions they stole in cash and real estate. Not to mention all the mega projects that were inflated in cost and deflated in quality. Or the shady deals, power abuse, money laundering and misuse of public funds and property.
It was high time someone did something about it. The King and his Crown Prince did exactly what we were waiting for – only faster and better than our best expectations and wildest dreams.
So, instead of asking why now, we should be asking why not before. And the answer to that is: We have had enough of the incompetency of the process and the processors. The system was ineffective and incompetent to deal with the issues at hand. A higher authority had to be created with the mandate and required power to do the job, quickly, efficiently and comprehensively.
Why start at the very top?
— Because that is exactly where we should start. Leaders are supposed to lead, inspire and set a model to be followed. If the example they set is low, what do we expect from their followers? Worse still, such a model creates societal culture that tolerates corruption and regards stealing from public treasure as fair game. You cannot heal a body if the head is sick.
So what is the message here?
— Actually there are two messages here. One for the Saudi people, which basically says: “We will not tolerate corruption any longer. Starting today, the cleaning process is on full speed. If you are clean you will benefit from the new environment. If you are dirty, then clean up or else!”
The second message is for the world. It declares: “Saudi Arabia is entering the race for the world’s best business and investment environment. Justice, honesty, and the rule of law are top concerns. Corruption in all its forms is at the bottom. Investors, inventors, workers and businessmen will enjoy an even playing field, where only the best may win. No one is above the law, and no VIP is privileged enough to have an easier run or a corner cut in any competition.
What has this to do with Saudi Vision 2030?
— Everything! In the new world we dream, plan and sweat for, we cannot and will not tolerate dirty tricks and money, low quality projects, overpriced services or under-the-table deals. Our new world will shine under the bright sun, and those who can only live and work in the dark have no space or place reserved.
Any unintended consequences? Bad reactions? Strong backlash?
— Maybe! For every action there is a reaction. However, these are well-studied moves. Safeguards must have been taken. Counter moves were readied.
As for the economy, I believe it will benefit from the cleanup. While foreign investors and businessmen will benefit from the new order, Saudis will also find it up to their best expectations and standards. The youth and women have been complaining for ages about an uneven playing field. A healthier environment and culture will certainly give them more space to operate. No more glass ceilings; the sky is the limit.
Is there any link between the war on corruption, local politics and regional conflicts?
— We do not live on an isolated island. We live in a dangerous neighborhood and a competitive political and business world. If we do not wake up quickly, the slippery road we have been walking on for ages will take us down – way down! With our oil getting cheaper and more irrelevant, we many soon not have sufficient income to sustain our development and lifestyle.
Time is running out. Regional conflicts are eating up our treasury. Facing Iran’s destructive intervention and sponsorship of terrorism is distracting us. The war on terror is depleting our resources. We cannot afford on top of all of that to let the corrupted steal our wealth, slow our development and damage our economy.
Is the campaign on corruption over?
— Not at all! It has just started. The Supreme Committee to Fight Corruption had achieved its goals. Other watchdog agencies and newly established regulations will continue to safeguard our institutions against the danger of corruption.
Your comments, dear readers, are welcome.
Dr. Khaled M. Batarfi is a Saudi writer based in Jeddah. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter: @kbatarfi