Dr. Ali Al-Ghamdi
“GET rid of expats by 2020, public sector told.” This was the headline of a story published recently in this newspaper on a workshop organized by the Ministry of Civil Services. I would like to say that this headline was really shocking, provocative and quite inappropriate.
A large number of readers reacted with resentment and frustration about the outcome of the workshop, which was focused on the government’s Saudization plan. The angry reaction of readers was evident in the huge number of comments it generated and became the most viewed story posted on the website of the newspaper. The readers commented that the move to get rid of expatriates is quite unreasonable and inappropriate.
The tone of the language used in the Arabic report about the deliberations in the workshop was not compatible with what was published in the English story. As I mentioned in the beginning, the headline in the English report was provocative and inappropriate regardless of the fact whether getting rid of them was possible or not.
The report published by Okaz newspaper about the workshop was titled “Achieving zero percentage of foreigners hired by the government sector within three years.” The phrase used in the Arabic text was as follows: “The Ministry of Civil Services has asked all government agencies to achieve zero percentage of expatriate employees over the coming three years so as to reach 100 percent Saudization without compromising on the quality of services.”
Addressing the workshop, Deputy Minister of Civil Service Abdullah Al-Melfi emphasized that the plan for total Saudization of public sector jobs by 2020 is regarded as a major thrust and basis of the National Transformation Program (NPT) 2020 and the Kingdom’s Vision 2030. He noted that the deputy minister said the achievement of NTP and Vision 2030 entails the cooperation of all ministries and government departments, as well as their commitment to fulfill the requirements for the strategic objective of improving the government work culture.
With due respect to all those who attended the workshop, including the deputy minister, undersecretary at the ministry, and the rest of the audience, I would like to point out that the talks about achieving zero percentage of foreigners workers in the government sector within three years is unrealistic, illogical and impossible. This is more obvious while fulfilling the condition that there won’t be any compromise on the quality of services being offered by the government departments to their beneficiaries. How is it possible in the current scenario to get rid of expatriates working in some fields such as medicine, pharmacy and nursing without affecting the quality of services being offered in these vital sectors?
According to local newspapers, the agenda of the workshop included detailed presentation of an overall view of the current situation and procedures taken to achieve total public sector Saudization by 2020, brief review of Wafid (expatriate) system, discussions about various pathways of localization, the general summary of the main recommendations of the meeting in addition to the opinions of various government agencies plus the potential challenges in implementing Saudization.
This was not for the first time the ministry was organizing such a workshop. Nearly, two months ago the ministry conducted a similar workshop on the same topic. Several representatives of government agencies, experts and some university professors also attended that workshop. The outcome of these workshops came in the form of the recommendation to dispense with foreigners working in the public sector within the coming three years. Had the recommendations outlined specific fields in the public sector for Saudization while maintaining the quality of service, it would have been ideal. It is also possible to replace foreigners with well-qualified Saudis in each sector in a phased manner without compromising on the quality of the services being rendered.
I am sure that every Saudi citizen is proud of his or her nation and wishes to see the nation achieve self-sufficiency in all specialties such as medicine, engineering, nursing and pharmacy, as well as in blue-collar jobs like construction work, cleaning, driving and domestic work. However, their ambitions are difficult to achieve at least in the foreseeable future. As we relied on our foreign brothers in the past and at present, we will be in need of them in future too until we reach the level of self sufficiency in all these specialties or at least in some of them. They have made great contributions in implementing our ambitious development programs over the past several decades.
It’s the time for us to recall the Tradition of the Prophet (peace be upon him): “He who does not thank people, does not thank Allah.” Hence, instead of using the phrase ‘to get rid of foreigners’, we have to say ‘those who are no longer in need’. We have to be thankful to all those expatriates who wish to go back. We have to give them all their due rights and we should bid them farewell with all respect and elegance so that they would continue to remain our good ambassadors in their country.
— Dr. Ali Al-Ghamdi is a former Saudi diplomat who specializes in Southeast Asian affairs. He can be reached at email@example.com- From SAUDI GAZETTE