Dr. Ali Al-Ghamdi
In my column last week, I explained that Saudization is an old problem. I drew attention to an article which eminent Saudi writer Abdul Fatah Abu Madyan wrote about the late King Faisal with regard to this topic. During his meeting with the editors-in-chief of local Saudi newspapers, King Faisal said that Saudis are normally not ready to take up menial jobs, including those of plumbers and barbers, and instead they prefer office jobs in air-conditioned rooms where they want to be served cups of coffee or tea by expatriate tea boys.
In my article, I quoted this story which took place 50 years ago in order to explain the fact that even at that time Saudization was a problem and that it remains one until the present day. In those days, the Kingdom’s population did not exceed seven million and Riyadh and Jeddah were not big cities and had more or less the features of large villages. Today some trades, such as those of plumbers and barbers as King Faisal mentioned, are still occupied by expatriates. Even a small percentage of Saudis have not come forward to take up such jobs. One could not find a Saudi barber or plumber in the past and one cannot find one today.
There are several trades that Saudis are not willing to engage in. It is hard to find Saudi workers in restaurants and coffee shops. The same is true when it comes to cleaning workers. Who brings water in tankers to our homes when the National Water Company fails to supply it through the pipeline? Who drives the yellow tankers that drain sewage from our septic tanks? They are not Saudis.
Even among limousine drivers, there are only a few Saudis. I still recall that an order was issued to Saudize the limousine sector and that at that time the late Ghazi Al-Gosaibi was the Minister of Labor. There was a deadline by which all foreign drivers of limousines had to be replaced by Saudis.
Everybody knows what happened then. The public life was affected and anyone who wanted to take a taxi had to wait for a long time. Moreover, the charges were also exorbitant. Saudi drivers began to charge SR15 or SR20 or more for a trip for which expatriates normally charged only SR10. People became upset and the local newspapers started writing about it.
Subsequently, the matter reached the Minister of Labor, who eventually withdrew the order and thus paved the way for expatriates to resume operating limousines without any restrictions. The minister then said:
“Public interests have prevailed, and only when we have achieved self-reliance in this field, will we be able to enforce this decision.” But, until this day, we have not been able to achieve the required self-reliance.
Saudization is a national issue. I don’t think that anyone would argue about the right of a Saudi to secure a job suitable to his abilities, qualifications, desire and preparedness. I believe that the Ministry of Labor had to prepare a list of trades and professions in which non-Saudis are not allowed to work. It also had to come up with the Nitaqat program that categorized firms into various colors on the basis of the percentage of Saudization that they have achieved. But this system has inflicted great damage on a number of firms, especially small and medium enterprises.
In a previous article, I dealt with the issue of the annual levy of SR2,400 imposed on expatriate workers. Apparently, this levy was aimed at increasing the cost of recruiting expatriates and subsequently compelling employers to replace expatriates with Saudis. I do not know whether this measure has brought about any concrete results and success. However, what is certain is that it has proved to be a burden on owners of small and medium enterprises. It has also become a burden for most expatriates. Some employers have come forward to bear the cost of the levy. Several expatriates have preferred to settle their accounts and leave the Kingdom for good as they think that remaining in the Kingdom by paying large amounts of money in terms of the levy and other expenses is not a viable option.
Those who talk about Saudization and the need to replace expatriates with Saudis are people who are living in an imaginary world, away from reality.
I would say that these people should realize that the development of our economy and the nation’s growth and progress were made possible only through the efforts and services of these expatriates. We are still in need of their services and hard work so as to continue our nation’s remarkable development and progress. If we heeded the words of those who called for dispensing with expatriates, we would never have progressed as a nation and we would not have the life that we have today. If we followed the course of action called for by such people, our development plans would witness a slowdown and eventually we would end up in a precarious situation.
As for expatriates, they are partners in our country’s development. We must appreciate their commendable endeavors and recognize them respectfully, in addition to giving them their due rights. We must say to those, who speak about the amount of money that expatriates transfer to their countries as if has been stolen, that this money was honestly earned by expatriates and is their reward for their sweat and toil. We should also tell them that the Kingdom has benefited tremendously from the hard work and services of expatriates. Allah showered His blessings on them for what they earned through their endeavors and services to this country and its people.
I salute those expatriates who still remain among us. I also extend my greetings, appreciation and thanks to all expatriates who have decided to return to their homeland for good. Allah will not be kind to those who do not thank people and appreciate their noble deeds.
– Dr. Ali Al-Ghamdi is a former Saudi diplomat who specializes in Southeast Asian affairs. He can be reached at email@example.com